Hellgate is a pretty atrocious 1989 B-movie that makes very little sense. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of horror tropes that have been thrown into one movie along with a nod and a wink. You know it’s bad, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off it.
The plot has no logic whatsoever – it involves urban myths, ghost towns, magical crystals, zombies, killers, bikers and teenagers (that look forty). Director William A. Levey brings them all together in this South African-shot (but US-set) film that has almost no narrative cohesion. It’s total horror exploitation, but at least the film wears its tongue in its cheek. In an odd way it’s like an Ed Wood movie that has somehow been shot in the ‘80s (although there’s a 1950s-set flashback that confuses matters). Hellgate is pretty much worth your time for the ghost train-like ending which has some interesting imagery – but it is far from a horror classic.
Watching Hellgate made me long for celluloid. Today, most low budget horrors are shot on digital and they have that dull plastic sheen – but Hellgate has grain and texture. It makes you feel like you are watching something with much more weight, even though everything (including plot and set walls) is paper thin. Today it would just look cheap, but you know that someone scrambled and scraped to get money to pay for film stock – that shows dedication. Today anyone can just pick-up a camera and film whatever they want and that has led to some serious cinematic abominations in recent years. That’s not to say Levey’s film is good, but there’s a cinematic honesty in how it looks.
Hellgate is a film for connoisseurs of cheesy schlock only – it’s not scary in the least and it features more unintentional laughs than anything else (the standout being a particularly fake looking bat). However, it’s honest in its intentions for wanting to entertain.
This Arrow Blu-ray comes with some wonderful extras. There’s a detailed chat with William A. Levey who (rightly or wrongly) believes he has made a good movie, a discussion with Puppet Master creator Kenneth Hall on the 1980s horror video boom and Howard S. Burger talks about Hellgate in a geekish and fever driven interview. A great package for fans.