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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Hellhole  (1985)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
1.5 Stars
(Release Date: July 26, 2016) – To borrow a line from Kristin Chenoweth's wedding planner extraordinaire Georgia King in 2010's "You Again," wacky 1985 B-movie "Hellhole" is two scoops of crazy with a side of coo-coo-ca-choo. A bizarro amalgamation of horror, camp and lesbians-in-lockup exploitationers, the film exists somewhere between waking life and a far-out dream, and not just because several scenes take place in a red-tinted underground boiler room that looks like it was shot on the same set as 1984's "A Nightmare on Elm Street." The plot is a bit of a mess, with lead amnesiac heroine Susan (Judy Landers) fighting for screen time in the face of nude shower brawls, the deadly guinea-pig testing of misbehaving female asylum inmates, and the sleazy exploits of hardened criminal Silk (Ray Sharkey), a killer who has taken a job as an orderly at the Ashland Sanitarium to get closer to his prey. He has already slayed Susan's ill-fated mom (Lynn Borden) while in search of some coveted "papers" she is harboring, and he is now determined to yank the whereabouts of these documents from Susan's memory. Or something like that. Trying to follow the ins and outs of director Pierre De Moro's narrative is fruitless, and it doesn't really matter. "Hellhole" is clumsy and low-rent, but also so ridiculous and occasionally inept it isn't without laughs and entertainment value. From an unidentified second pair of hands popping out from behind a buxom woman as she soaps up her body in the shower, to a vicious punch-out between Susan and another patient in front of the hospital, to a sand playground where the mentally ill cavort, to cult actress Mary Woronov chewing the scenery as the nefarious Dr. Fletcher, "Hellhole" has to be seen to be believed.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"Hellhole" opens with a text disclaimer from Scream Factory that reads: "The negatives for 'Hellhole' are unfortunately missing. The only existing inter-positive for 'Hellhole' was missing scenes. We were able to locate a film print and used sections of the print to complete the film. You'll notice a difference in picture quality between the two film elements. We have done our best to make them match. We hope you enjoy the film!"

Having never been released in the U.S. on DVD and long delayed for Blu-ray as Scream Factory worked on piecing together the picture from different film sources, "Hellhole" finally makes its high-definition premiere with, all things considered, a satisfying 1080p presentation. Indeed, there are intermittent changes in the picture quality, with a few scenes appearing softer in its clarity and harsher in its colors. Throughout, there are also age-related specks and scratches, and, in one scene, green vertical lines running down the image. Taking into account its aforementioned technical challenges, however, the film remains pleasing, with appreciable detail, a nicely resolved grain field, and solid black levels that rarely waver toward gray tones. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track is offered that does the trick, albeit in a no-frills way. Those hoping to be bowled over by the audio on a low-low-budget feature from 1985 should readjust their expectations, but the dialogue, synth score, and sound effects get the job done with little to no issues.

Blu-ray Features
  • Interview with Mary Woronov (4:54, HD) – Woronov is a good-humored riot as she reminisces about making "Hellhole," a film she didn't believe would ever see the light of day, let alone one she would still be talking about 30-plus years later
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:54, HD)
Bottom Line
If you are a fan of B-grade (or should that be D-level?) exploitation genre fare, "Hellhole" should be quite an eye-opening find. Credit Scream Factory for casting a spotlight on a catalogue title that otherwise might have been destined for eternal obscurity. As a horror movie, it's never actually scary, but it is certifiably bonkers. Whether the filmmakers were in on the joke or inadvertently concocted something that works deliciously as a mini-camp classic is up for debate. Either way, there is certainly an audience for a film of this brazen, unapologetic, off-kilter nature, and you know who you are. For these viewers, "Hellhole" comes recommended.

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© 2016 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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