Tag Archives: Hell

CAPSULE: HIGHWAY TO HELL (1990)

DIRECTED BY: Ate de Jong

FEATURING: Chad Lowe, Kristy Swanson, Patrick Bergin, C.J. Graham

PLOT: A supernatural cop abducts an eloping lover and takes her to a literal Hell; her beau must rescue her from her predicament.

Still from Highway to Hell (1991)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: This is a fun movie with a cute premise, but it stays well within the comfort zone of your average ’90s frat boy. It’s a good beer-chugger, but it never jumps the cliff into weirdo land, when it very easily could have. What a shame!

COMMENTS: Just to get it out of the way, the band AC/DC has nothing to do with this movie, nor does their warbling appear on the soundtrack. The title, however, is shown in the first shot after the credits, as the title of an arcade video game. Confused yet? So are our protagonists, Charlie and Rachael, who are paranoid about being tailed by a cop due to their clandestine wedding plans, but don’t have the presence of mind to remove the huge pizza delivery sign from the top of Charlie’s car, which marks them with a big red arrow. As they head to Vegas to get married, they stop off at the proverbial Last Chance gas station, where they get warned by the attendant that theirs is not the safest course. Guess who’s not heeding that warning?

With absolutely no foreplay, the couple find themselves detained by a “hellcop,” who looks exactly like you’d expect a hellcop to look. Rachael is now a hostage and Charlie tasked with rescuing her. With a plot no more complicated than a Super Mario Brothers’ game, the festivities are now underway. The gas station attendant turns out to be just the guy to prep Charlie for his quest into the “hellzone,” the capitol jurisdiction of Hell City and the place of Rachael’s eventual incarceration. Charlie drives through a portal to get to this alternate universe, which looks just like the rural Arizona desert, and then has all kinds of encounters and misadventures with the citizens, who act pretty nonchalant about living in hell. As he careens from Satanic ice cream scoopers to patchwork biker gangs, who variously help or hinder his quest, you get the idea that this road movie was conceived with the cool-factor riding shotgun, common sense taking a backseat, and logic banished to the trunk.

What the movie lacks in depth, it makes up in pace. We hardly have time to ponder the silliness of frying eggs on the sidewalk (hell, it’s kinda hot, you know), before we’re being preyed upon by a AAA tow truck driver: “anarchy armageddon annihilation.” Then it’s off to Hoffa’s bar, where the go-go dancers are so hot that they literally set your arm on fire when you try to grope them. You have to be charmed by the extra dose of corny imagination, even when it’s wasted on lame sight gags. It’s also such a product of 1991 that it has cameos by Gilbert Gottfried, Lita Ford, and more than one Stiller. The whole comes off as a Python-esque series of sketches, connected more tightly and produced on a much higher budget. This is one movie where people can tell you to go to Hell, and they’re doing you a favor because you were asking for directions.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…doesn’t have the coin to fully create a towering vision of the underworld, but it offers enough strange encounters and environments to pass, giving the effort a nice lift when attention turns from Charlie’s panic to the land’s weirdo inhabitants.”–Brian Orndorf, Blu-ray.com (Blu-ray)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA (2005)

DIRECTED BY: Peter Orton

FEATURING: David Soul, David Bedella, Leon Craig

PLOT: Jerry Springer hosts a typical episode of his show, in which the usual horrible people desperate for one moment of fame bare their sordid lives to the world. In the ensuing mayhem, Jerry is shot. He finds himself in Hell, where Satan makes him host a special edition of his show featuring Biblical characters—who are strangely similar to the guests in the first part—with the aim of being reconciled with Jesus and gaining admission to Heaven. So long as Jesus apologizes…

Still from Jerry Springer: The Opera (2005)

WHY IT’S WEIRD: It’s an opera about Jerry Springer! Tirades of incredibly foul abuse are sung with the utmost operatic seriousness. The KKK tap-dance. And then we find ourselves in Hell, where the holiest cultural icons in Christendom bicker like redneck trailer trash. “Les Mis” this ain’t!

COMMENTS: Technically, this isn’t a movie, it’s a stage musical. However, the version specially filmed by the BBC is available on DVD, so for our purposes, it’s a movie. And oh boy, is it weird! Most people can’t imagine David Soul in any context other than a certain long-past cop show. Well, if you’re one of them, his performance here may surprise you. As the only non-singing character, he makes a very convincing Jerry Springer, whether he’s ignoring the demands of his conscience (in the shape of an “Inner Valkyrie”), recounting the true story of the real Springer’s liaison with a prostitute, or spouting empty platitudes in a desperate attempt to solve all the world’s problems—-and more importantly, to avoid the torments of Hell, which, as the Devil constantly reminds him, include anal rape with barbed wire.

Another stand-out performance comes from David Bedella. Like everyone apart from David Soul, he isn’t really a movie actor, although parents of young children may know his voice from his performances as Victor and the Duke of Boxford in the US version of the “Thomas the Tank Engine” franchise. Which doesn’t mean you should let the kiddies watch this! There’s a staggering amount of very strong language indeed. David Bedella as the over-ambitious warm-up comic is responsible for quite a lot of it, especially in the second half, in which he really comes into his own as the Devil. In fact, he’s displaced Peter Cook in Bedazzled as my favorite movie Satan.

But it wasn’t profanity that caused a record-breaking 55,000 complaints received by the BBC, 47,000 of them before the show had even aired… or the protesters picketing the live production… or the unsuccessful lawsuits. It was the blasphemy. Technically (and as it turned out, legally) the show isn’t blasphemous. The second half obviously takes place in the head of the seriously wounded and delirious Jerry, which is why the celestial beings look and behave exactly like the people he’s just interviewed. And indeed why, in an interlude in Limbo, his guilty conscience causes him to imagine the accusing presence of guests who have died horribly as a result of appearing on the show we’ve just seen, although there hasn’t been time for this to happen yet.

Alas, religious maniacs have no imagination! It’s Leon Craig’s performance that caused most of the trouble. In Act I he’s hilarious as a man who gleefully reveals to his horrified fiancée that his secret sexual fetish involves dressing as a baby and pooping his pants. In Act II, he reappears as Jesus Christ (by the way, he’s a stout black man who in no way resembles the traditional Jesus), and portrays him as a well-meaning but naïve fellow who is ultimately very selfish. He also admits to being “a bit gay,” the line that caused at least half the fuss. Leon Craig sings very well and has a gift for comedy, but he doesn’t seem to have appeared in anything else since; perhaps being the focus of so much hatred scared him out of the profession.

In fact, this musical subverts religion more subtly by saying that none of us are all good or all bad, and by exploiting these desperate, damaged people, Jerry Springer is neither better nor worse than they are for letting him do it, or indeed we are for watching his show. And all concerned have a tremendous amount of foul-mouthed fun reaching this not terribly profound conclusion. Ironically, the one person genuinely entitled to be offended, Jerry Springer himself, actually liked it! Well, anyway, he said he did. But he can afford to be generous, given that, as the lyrics tell us, he’s:

“Bigger than David Letterman, bigger than Bob Hope;
And give or take a few million, bigger than the f***ing Pope!”

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a foul-mouthed crowd-pleaser…”–Total Film

CAPSULE: THE DEVIL’S CARNIVAL (2012)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Terrance Zdunich, , Briana Evigan, Jessica Lowndes, Dayton Callie

PLOT: A suicide, a jewel thief, and a thug’s girlfriend die and find themselves at an afterlife circus run by the Devil; he reads the stories of their sins retold as fables, which they re-enact to musical accompaniment supplied by carnies.

Still from The Devil's Carnival (2012)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Devil’s Carnival is a lot like director Darren Lynn Bousman’s previous horror musical effort, Repo: The Genetic Opera, only on a smaller scale. If that one didn’t make it onto the List, then logically this one shouldn’t, either.

COMMENTS: Hell is eternal musical theater! I knew it! The Devil’s Carnival looks like refugees from a circus took over unused sets from Moulin Rouge. Hell’s color scheme is candy apple red and hot dog mustard yellow, and all the demons have mime-white faces with black and red designs equally inspired by medieval harlequins and KISS. The plot to this musical is delightfully warped, in more ways than one. It involves suicide, thievery, and women in masochistic relationships, but it also benefits from a wild narrative that veers between reality, fantasy, and song and dance numbers at a whim. Fittingly, none of the denizens of the carnival seem the slightest bit surprised by any of it; the three hellbound souls receiving their poetic punishments wonder why they’re suddenly at a state fair designed by David Lynch for all of five seconds before they start accepting the dream at face value. I always like it when a movie script takes on too much and mixes its metaphors. Carnival starts off as Dante by way of Cirque du Soleil, then, one-third of the way in, after each of the three stories is already in progress, the Devil starts reading a book of Aesop’s fables which illustrate the sins (adding to the confusion, the last section, “The Devil’s Due,” doesn’t even refer to Aesop—the quote’s from from Shakespeare and the plot’s from nowhere in particular). Along with the three fables, we also get a backstage peek at the Devil’s lieutenant casting the night’s morality plays and a subplot about the Lucifer-God rivalry, all shoehorned in around a dozen songs in a movie that’s only an hour long. The script’s a mess, but I don’t mean that as a criticism: the overabundance of ideas and references in The Devil’s Carnival gives the entire enterprise a loose and crazy feeling that’s appropriate and appealing. The costume and set design is superlative, and the demonic hoofers—the Hobo Clown, the Painted Doll, and plastic-haired greaser Scorpion—are all a morbid hoot. Where The Devil’s Carnival loses me is with the songs. They are impressively staged and consistently performed in a Weimar-era German cabaret style. The Hobo Clown, ragged hat extended for alms, croons a demented doggerel silhouetted by footlights while a topless woman is whipped in the background (like all of Carnival, this is a surprisingly PG-13 rendition of some very dark material). But the melodies, while appropriately carnivalesque, aren’t memorable, and the libretto can’t match the ambition of the mise-en-scene. There’s too much repetition, and more than once the lyrics fall back on the cheap trick of incorporating children’s nursery rhymes to cop a little irony. Songs like “Kiss the Girls,” with a man menaced by a gang of sexy clowns in Bozo’s of Hollywood lingerie, look great, but make little sense. The lip-syncing is also frequently off, providing another distraction. Ivan L. Moody, a veteran of several minor metal bands with a surprisingly melodious baritone, gives the best performance; but the best conceived number is “Prick,” a love badly sung by a painted waif to a bullfrog that makes clever use of the double meaning in the title. Still, there is nothing here that you’d want to put on your I-Pod (Repo cultists, many of whom bought this soundtrack on the release date without having heard a note, may naturally disagree). Divorced from their presentations, the songs are all competent but forgettable, and, like its predecessor Genetic Opera, it’s that lack of memorable tunes that keeps The Devil’s Carnival from making the leap to the next artistic level. If Bousman could just borrow the talents of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, or even , for just a week sometime, he might make something really magical. The film is part of a planned series, and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Carnival may not have blown me away, but the best compliment I can give it as that it has me looking forward to the next installment—and, it makes me consider looking backward to reassess Repo.

While Bousman continues to make horror movies like Mother’s Day within the Hollywood system, The Devil’s Carnival cements his credibility as a cult filmmaker and suggests he’s dedicated to the more interesting, less-marketable horror-musical concept. The mid-range production values, cable TV-friendly naughtiness, cliffhanger ending and hour-long length of Carnival make it look like a pilot for an HBO series, although there’s no evidence it was ever intended for the small screen. The marketing of the film, which was self-financed by Bousman and partner Terrance Zdunich (who wrote the script and plays the Devil), is innovative: a VOD/Netflix streaming release, supplemented by a collector’s edition DVD/Blu-ray (limited to 6660 copies) and a “carnival road tour.” Hopefully this nontraditional distribution strategy will work and allow the pair to retain their artistic independence by selling directly to the fans.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Dismiss Repo and Carnival as weird musicals for weird people if you like, but there’s always room for a filmmaker who treats his ticket-buyers well and delivers something sort of … unsafe.”–Scott Weinberg, FearNet (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: HELLZAPOPPIN’ (1941)

DIRECTED BY: H.C. Potter

FEATURING: Ole Olsen, Chic Johnson, Martha Raye, Hugh Herbert

PLOT: Although Ole and Chic work tirelessly to undermine any consistent plot, the film is

ostensibly about their attempts to sort out a love triangle between their high society friends in time for a big musical revue.

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Made at the height of Hollywood classicism, Hellzapoppin’ breaks every rule of conventional filmmaking, then makes up a few more so it can break them, too. A nonstop barrage of postmodern comedy infused with explosive surrealism, it only has a few spare that moments that aren’t weird in one way or another.

COMMENTS: Adapted from comedy duo Olsen and Johnson’s long-running Broadway musical of the same name, Hellzapoppin’ is an unruly, unstoppable hodgepodge of absurd running gags, mind-boggling non sequiturs, and endless meta-humor, all of which are used to disrupt its self-consciously hackneyed romantic storyline. This is take-no-prisoners, joke-a-minute filmmaking, with no regard for cause-and-effect, segues, or good taste; in fact, with their fondness for violent physical humor mixed with disorienting editing tricks, Olsen and Johnson could be the hallucinogen-puffing cousins of the Three Stooges.

It’s fitting, then, that Hellzapoppin’ should be introduced by Stooge Shemp Howard, who plays Louie, the film’s grumbling projectionist. He rolls the opening credits, and a line chorus girls—with a very literal “BANG!”—is transformed into a gaggle of garishly costumed demons, all of whom promptly fall into the bowels of hell. This is definitely strange, as is the infernal musical number that follows, but it’s nothing compared to the incipient arrival of hell’s “prize guests” (naturally, Chic and Ole). The second they burst out of their cab, which is inexplicably driven by an irate jockey, the two of them begin shooting off wordplay and self-referential jokes like machine gun fire. Each zany incident tops the one before it: one of Satan’s minions is drafted into the U.S. military; a woman and her adult son fall through the floor and into an untapped oil reserve; and Chic accidentally blows up the cab with his breath.

That last point leads into a rather revealing scene where Chic and Ole, curious to find out how the explosion occurred, demand that Louie rewind the movie. “What’s the matter with you guys?” cries Louie. “Don’t you know you can’t talk to me and the audience?” Undaunted, Ole Continue reading LIST CANDIDATE: HELLZAPOPPIN’ (1941)

CAPSULE: NECROMENTIA (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Pearry Reginald Teo

FEATURING: Layton Matthews, Chad Grimes, Santiago Craig

PLOT:Various characters lives entangle when the gateways to Hell open.  They seek lost loved ones or retribution, which can be granted by learning the mysteries of a Ouija board… carved into human flesh.  Of course there is a price to pay, and it isn’t pretty.

Still from Necromentia (2009)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It is an unoriginal and ho-hum horror movie. Once you get past the human Ouija board, all you are left with are uninteresting characters and standard “torture porn” clichés. Almost nothing is overtly weird, and nothing is exactly new either.

COMMENTS:  I keep waiting for a new horror movie that is going to knock me for a loop. “Torture porn” and the recent resurgence of vampire lore has overstayed its welcome.   For a genre that seemingly has unlimited weirdness potential, horror usually churns out the same old recycled thing.  I caught the trailers for Necromentia a year ago and it looked dark, exciting and new.  It should come as no surprise, but in fact, it was a huge let down.

The box cover declares this movie to be a cross between Saw and Hellraiser, but “better than both.”  Um, no.  During my younger years, I ate up Clive Barker’s twisted visions.  Barker was the more dangerous Stephen King, focusing on horrors of the flesh and demons straight from Hell.  Necromentia borrows heavily from Barker’s “Hellbound Heart” which eventually was adapted into Hellraiser (instead of using a puzzle box, the filmmakers decide to open up Hell by carving a Ouija board onto someone’s back).  The iconic villain Pinhead is poorly replaced by a dude wearing a gas mask and cranial-halo headgear screwed into place. Even a summoned demon is an updated Hellraiser Cenobite… it’s the Chatterer, on steroids!  Necromentia is a blatant rip-off in many regards.

We have four central characters: Hagen, who longs to bring his lover back from the dead; Travis, who wants to join his handicapped brother in the afterlife; Morbius, who is bent on revenge against those who have betrayed him; and Mr. Skinny, the mysterious figure who holds the secrets to the Ouija board.  Their stories come together by the end, but by that time I couldn’t have cared less about any of them.

There were obvious budgetary limitations.  The gateway to Hell is seen as a long corridor that could be any old building’s underground tunnel leading to the boiler room.  The props for torture are the usual mutilation tools:  hooks, chains, and primitive (but admittedly cool-looking) multi-bladed medical equipment.  It gets gory for sure.  Precise cuts penetrate skin.  There’s a realistic severed pinky.  At one point, we are supposed to be shocked that a female character is not being tortured against her will, but is actually paying for this pain.  Those crazy sadomasochists!  One character, who tortures while striking Christ-like poses, is trying to kick heroin (because that’s obviously worse than torturing people).  And you have scenes of disemboweling and intestines being paraded around.  Are you starting to get the idea?

If this movie has anything that remotely flirts with weirdness, it comes in the form of a character wearing a pig mask manically playing a piano while reciting a song to entice a handicapped boy to commit suicide.  It’s a weird little scene thrown in the mix with a hallucinatory atmosphere captured by warped camerawork.  But as far as suicide ditties go, it doesn’t hold a candle to the catchiness of Big Fun’s “Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It)” in Heathers.

As much as I kind of liked this scene, I couldn’t help thinking how cool it would be if Pinhead came into the picture and began tearing this pigman apart, or maybe just dismembered the generic gas mask man.  I quote from Hellraiser: “The suffering…the sweet suffering.”  I suffered watching Necromentia, but it sure as hell wasn’t sweet.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…wastes no time in becoming very weird… Teo’s latest dark and twisted foray into the mad and macabre is a competent thinking man’s horror.”–Lee Griffiths, Total Sci-Fi Online (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by reader “dclxvi” [we’re pretty sure, although he called it “Necromania“]. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)