Without a doubt one of the pottiest films I’ve ever written about for this site, William Levey’s HELLGATE is one of those movies that pretty much defies description, and it's from the director of the insane BLACKENSTEIN (1973), no less. But HELLGATE is about to be released as a limited edition Arrow Blu-ray and DVD combo pack so I’m going to do my best anyway.
Definitely the only movie to combine the Can-Can with exploding mutant fish, feature a CARNIVAL OF SOULS-type dance hall scene augmented by a flitting nude lady, and have the director providing a cameo as a severed talking head in a fridge, HELLGATE kicks off with one of the weirdest back stories committed to celluloid. Back in the 1950s the smallest bike gang in existence ride into the ‘Ghost Town’ of Hellgate having kidnapped the owner’s daughter Josie from a nearby diner and torn her skirt off to display see-through black panties of somewhat 1980s proportions and style. The girl dies when one of the bikers attempts a PSYCHOMANIA-like charge at a brick wall, while her father gets his hand mangled by a bicycle chain and has to resort to wearing a metal gauntlet.
Years later in the same town, the micro-budget equivalent of John Carradine pops down into the local gold mine attraction to mend something and discovers a magic crystal that brings a rubber bat back to life, causes a goldfish to mutate, swell and explode, and a stuffed turtle to attack our town boss so he has to apply metal plates to his face in addition to the steel glove he's been wearing for the past thirty years.
Have you decided whether or not you want to watch this yet? If not then read on...
The present. Well, actually a kind of bizarre late 1980s present that’s meant to be the US but is in fact South Africa. Ron Palillo (FRIDAY 13TH PART VI and WELCOME BACK KOTTER) meets up with his friends who have been telling ghost stories (or rather completely insane stories as they include the above). He's already encountered Josie’s ghost, who as well as having to wander eternally, also appears to have suffered the curse of breast augmentation surgery. They all decide to take a trip to the ghost town where they encounter more lunacy than even they deserve to.
HELLGATE is a very strange film. Despite having a sense of anything goes, it also drags quite a bit and you may well find yourself straying to the fast forward button. The budget is obviously very low and probably the kindest thing I can say about it is it reminded me of Jess Franco trying to direct a version of Norman J Warren’s BLOODY NEW YEAR. It’s certainly not like anything you will have seen before, but whether or not that’s a recommendation is hard to say.
As always, Arrow have gone the extra mile to provide us with extras. These include ‘Road to Perdition’ in which director William A Levey recalls how he ended up directing the film. In ‘Alien Invasion, Blaxploitation and Ghost Busting’ Howard S Berger delivers an appreciation of the movie that is affectionate, enlightening, and obviously heartfelt. In fact I’d go so far as to say that I don’t think anyone could give this movie a better, more accurate press than he does. There’s also ‘Video Nasty’ in which PUPPET MASTER writer Kenneth J Hall recalls the direct-to-video years, some lovely Graham Humphreys cover art, and a collector’s booklet with new writing on the movie by Lee Gambin.
HELLGATE is completely mental, and whether or not that was the film-maker’s intention I can guarantee you’ll never see anything else quite like it. And that’s as much a warning as it is a promise.
HELLGATE is being released as a limited edition Blu-ray and DVD combo pack by Arrow Films on 3rd February 2014