Arrow Video gives Hellgate a surprising Blu-ray release, albeit limited to only 1000 copies. The Z-grade horror flick is straight from the era of VHS rentals, one of many cheapie horror productions that littered rental stores once upon a time in the 1980s and early 1990s. Directed by William A. Levey, a man that helmed such “classics” as Blackenstein, the movie is a pastiche of bad horror tropes and odd special effects. While not totally unwatchable for hardcore fans of cheap B-movies, Hellgate doesn’t have much going for it one can recommend to new viewers. It’s a pure blast of cheap nostalgia for those old enough to have seen movies of its ilk on VHS.
The storyline is a hodgepodge of horror concepts. A group of graduate students become caught in the web of a beautiful hitchhiker, whom so happens to be the re-animated corpse of a local business owner’s murdered daughter. Matt (Ron Palillo) comes across a woman stumbling down the middle of a deserted road, Josie (Abigail Wolcott). Matt is supposed to be meeting his girlfriend and another couple, but instead ends up taking the beautiful and mysterious Josie back to her father’s place. As Levey candidly admits in the special features, Wolcott was a first-time actress on Hellgate. She had been a model and was cast for her looks, which shows in her awkward acting.
Josie was killed some thirty years before by a biker gang in her father’s ghost-town carnival attraction, known as Hellgate. Lucas Carlyle (Carel Trichardt) finds a crystal on his property that has the ability to re-animate the dead and uses it on Josie. The crystal can also shoot lasers, I kid you not. A lot of the plot for Hellgate seems driven by the cheap FX and what could be included on the screen. It throws everything at the viewer, from typical zombies to more ghostly subjects.
Needless to say, Lucas finds Josie and Matt on the verge of becoming intimate and starts shooting him with the crystal laser. Matt escapes and eventually finds his friends, telling them his crazy adventure. Matt somehow talks his friends into going back and finding Josie. It’s sheer lunacy from there, as the group become typical victims in the horror mold.
Hellgate doesn’t really work as effective entertainment; story and acting are laughably bad. Outside of Ron Palillo, performances ranges from poor to atrocious. The VHS era made less demands on these type of cheap horror films. As long as they were filled with some skin and had a provocative title, that was often enough to satisfy a curious person browsing the aisles of the rental store. Hellgate hasn’t gotten better with age and still lacks that extra factor that sometimes elevates poor movies into cult classics.
Special Note: Arrow Video’s Blu-ray set is limited to 1000 units and is locked for Region B.
As with Hell Comes To Frogtown from UK distributor Arrow Video, Hellgate is strictly limited to 1000 copies on Blu-ray. Once again, the Hi-Def transfer has been licensed from Lakeshore Entertainment. That turned out pretty well for Hell Comes To Frogtown, but Hellgate is an entirely different matter. The presence of cue marks in the film indicate an older telecine transfer struck from an actual film print of the movie, which almost never produces satisfying video results on Blu-ray. Hellgate was a cheap, direct-to-video production to begin with and using such a master produces fairly poor picture quality in this case. The original transfer looks quite dated, possibly preceding the Blu-ray era.
On a technical level, Arrow Video has done the best they possibly could with the ragged HD transfer. The main feature is properly presented in a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080P resolution, slightly altered from its native 1.85:1 composition. Hellgate runs 91 minutes, encoded in AVC at an average video bitrate of 35.00 Mbps. The video is a somewhat noisy affair, having problems handling the rough grain structure, possibly captured during the older film scan.
Hellgate is softly lit and lacking sharpness, though a few stray shots produce decent levels of texture and detail. The low-budget horror flick employs a number of dodgy-looking VFX, both of the practical kind and with matte shots. The 35mm film production was quickly shot with little concern for outstanding cinematography, much like other cheap horror films of its day that were intended to provide filler for rental stores. Probably the best aspect of this Blu-ray’s presentation is the lack of issues with its color timing. Color saturation and flesh-tones are appropriately balanced with no issues.
If you are one of the few people who like Hellgate, this Blu-ray’s video quality is disappointing. It provides modest improvements in terms of color fidelity, fine detail, and overall definition over DVD. Some scenes look no better than up-scaled DVD, displaying little added texture or depth to the image. There is no demonstrable evidence of catastrophic digital processing, as this transfer was likely made before DNR became a widespread phenomenon. Low-amplitude halos of an analogue nature show up but they will be largely unobjectionable to casual viewers.
The original monaural audio is included in an acceptable-sounding 2.0 PCM soundtrack. A lot of the dialogue looks to have been dubbed after the fact, a not uncommon occurrence for a movie that was originally shot in South Africa. The soundtrack is what it is, a limited sonic offering with limited bass and a muffled dynamic range. This is probably as good as the film will ever sound, so in that sense it is quite adequate. There are no obvious deficiencies like drop-outs or recording issues.
No subtitles have been included by Arrow Video.
Arrow Video gives Hellgate probably more attention and effort than it deserves, including a few choice video featurettes and their typical package of custom art and handsome booklet. A DVD version of the movie has also been included in this combo pack.
Road to Perdition, B-Movie Style: An extensive interview with Hellgate director William A. Levey (36:30 in HD) – Levey goes on at length about Hellgate’s production and his personal experiences working on films. He fondly talks about actor Ron Palillo, a personal friend that had recently passed away before this interview was made sometime in 2013. There is some interesting background information to be gleaned from Levey in this interview, as he talks about the realities of making low-budget films in the VHS era.
Alien Invasion, Blaxploitation and Ghost-Busting Mayhem: Scholar, Filmmaker and fan Howard S. Berger reflects on the intriguing film career of William A. Levey (13:05 in HD) – Former rental chain owner and fan of Hellgate ( he might be the only person willing to admit he regularly watches it on video) discusses his memories of the film and some other highlights in the odd career of Levey. Levey also directed Skatetown, U.S.A. and Blackenstein, among others.
Video Nasty: Kenneth Hall, writer of the Puppet Master series, speaks about the direct-to-video horror boom that allowed Hellgate to become a classic of the cassette rental era (08:16 in HD) – A brief look back at a time when VHS rental stores dominated the home video landscape.
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
Collector’s booklet featuring writing on the film by Lee Gambin, illustrated with original artwork and stills
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