Hellhole Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Directed by Pierre De Moro
Written by Vincent Mongol
1985, 95 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on July 26th, 2016
Ray Sharkey as Silk
Judy Landers as Susan
Mary Woronov as Dr. Fletcher
Marjoe Gortner as Dr. Miles Dane
Richard Cox as Ron
Edy Williams as Vera
Robert Z’Dar as Brad
Following a harrowing escape from a fashion-challenged hitman named Silk, Susan awakens with amnesia in the Ashland Sanitarium for Women. Conditions in the facility are awful, as she is surrounded by sadistic guards, unstable patients and sexy but easy to anger lesbians. The one bright spot in this nightmare scenario comes by way of Ron Stevens, a charming orderly who genuinely seems to care not only about Susan, but also the potentially criminal activities performed by the sadistic Dr. Fletcher. It is rumored by both patients and staff members alike that something evil is going on in the “Hellhole,” a basement lab where misbehaving patients are experimented on and never seen again. Susan doesn’t know who to trust or where to run as she inevitably becomes the focus of those around her.
When the director (Pierre De Moro) of kid-friendly movies like Savannah Smiles joins forces with legendary producer Samuel Z. Arkoff (How to Stuff a Wild Bikini) and the screenwriter (Vincent Mongol) of the classic exploitation flick Chained Heat, all bets are off. Hellhole is a strange horror hybrid that mixes elements of the slasher, mad-scientist and women-in-prison subgenres. Not all of these pieces fit together smoothly, but the results are gloriously bonkers. By cramming so many familiar elements into one story, there is easily something for everyone, even if the combinations are not always satisfying. Mongol’s script provides an easy-to-follow formula, but somehow these concepts are lost on the director; despite being handed a winning combination of sex and sleaze, De Moro fails to connect the dots. Nudity is the preferred solution when things go astray and this is a welcome fix, but it becomes more laughable than titillating as it is an obvious crutch to maintain audience attention. Jeff Sturges (Murder, She Wrote) contributes an appropriately quirky score that ties the whole mess together, but the real fun comes from the bizarre acting styles of the cast.
Ray Sharkey (The Rain Killer) delivers a hilariously over-the-top performance as Silk, the murderous bully who steals the show every time he appears on screen. He is a brash, misogynistic sociopath with a quick temper, yet I found myself rooting for him as he is the most interesting character in the picture. Technically, Judy Landers (Dr. Alien) is the leading lady, but as she is a limited actress, the role of Susan appears to have been scaled back and she is more of a supporting character in her own film. If Sharkey has a worthy opponent, it is the inimitable Mary Woronov (Night of the Comet), a lady who knows her way around the cult cinema scene and handily owns every second of her screen time as the intimidating Dr. Fletcher. Here we find her sneering her way through the role of a psychopath ostensibly working to perfect a chemical lobotomy, but dominating women as a catharsis for her latent sexual hang ups. Woronov has performed variations on this hard-ass archetype for decades, yet manages to bring a sincerity to each film and this is part of what makes her such a treasure to the genre.
Richard Cox (Zombie High) fares better then much of the supporting cast, but his character Ron Stevens disappears for long stretches of time and is never really allowed to play the hero. Marjoe Gortner (When You Comin’ Back, Red Rider?) has the somewhat thankless role as Fletcher’s assistant Dr. Miles Dane, given little to do until the finale. Robert Z’Dar (Grotesque) and Edy Williams (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) are both apparently cast for their physical attributes, he of the voluptuous jawline and she of Russ Meyer fame. Z’Dar is an uber-violent guard and Williams is Silk’s main squeeze on the inside. Both are eye-catching but ultimately forgettable.
I’m not certain who this release is aimed towards, as honestly there can’t be a sizeable fan base eager to throw their dollars at this title. I remember seeing the familiar cover art on video store shelves and confusing Hellhole with Hospital Massacre, but am not certain I ever actually saw this film until now. Scream Factory deserves credit for extending their catalogue to include these forgotten gems and for going the extra mile to ensure the best possible results. In the case of this movie, the company initially had to cancel the announcement when it was discovered the source materials were missing extensive amounts of footage. They persevered in their rescue efforts and located a 35mm print, and a restoration that surpasses all expectations allowed the disc to return to the schedule. An introductory title card explains the shifts in picture quality, comparable to the one that appeared before the similarly cobbled-together version of The Final Terror.
Video and Audio:
As mentioned above, the source elements have been lost and the remaining camera interpositive is missing a substantial amount of material. Using multiple sources Hellhole has been remastered and is presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, resulting in a surprisingly pleasing new transfer with a few obvious shifts in picture quality. The colors and black levels are respectable and consistent and this is likely the best the film will ever look.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 track keeps things front and center when it comes to speaker activity, but this is a solid mix that does not disappoint. Dialogue remains clear and free from distortion and is well balanced with the music and effects tracks.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
In an all-new interview sadly running only five minutes, Mary Woronov seems genuinely surprised that anyone is seriously asking her about this film, but is game to discuss it. She appreciates that the movie must have its supporters, but doesn’t seem to understand why. Her comments are welcome as always, but the segment is too short to fully satisfy.
The original theatrical trailer is included.
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