I have absolutely no idea when I watched Hellgate's opening scenes, but it's been several months, at least. I couldn't tell you why I turned it off the first time, because it's amazing--but not in the way the filmmakers had intended.
As many important people have observed, there are two main types of bad movies: there are "good" bad movies, which you watch at their expense, and there are actual bad movies which are a genuine waste of your time. Hellgate is one of the former, thankfully, and I am happy to add it to the ranks of "So Bad It's Good" films like Megaforce, Plan 9 From Outer Space, Troll 2, and The Room.
Hellgate begins as Bobby (a woman, which I point out only because it's the sort of thing you point out when there's a woman named Bobby) relates a local urban legend to two friends who are spending the night in the proverbial Cabin in the Woods. In the legend, in which a biker gang invades a small-town diner, scares off the locals, and corners a virginal teenage girl in her father's Gen-u-wine Olde-Time Western Town tourist trap. The girl's dad tries to rescue her, but she is killed in the fray. Now the girl haunts the backroads of--wherever the hell they are--where she cons unsuspecting motorists into giving her a ride home. Once they get there...she thanks them and tells them it's time to leave.
While Bobby is telling the story, Matt is getting lost on his way to the cabin. He stops to pick up a beautiful, young hitchhiker named Josie, who navigates him to her father's house. On the way, they pass through a ghost town called Lucas Carlyle's Hellgate. Matt wants to stop and ask for directions, but Josie tells him not to talk to the "strangers" who are thronging the streets.
At daddy's house, Josie disrobes in an attempt to seduce Matt, but her father comes in brandishing a machete, and Matt decides that it's time to go. Finally meeting up with his friends at the diner from Bobby's story, Matt relates his experience, while the attractive waitress tries unsuccessfully to seduce him. Matt's raw, animal magnetism is an unexplained enigma, in light of the fact that he's played by Horshack (Ron Palillo) from Welcome Back Kotter.
The kids (who, by the way, are played by 30- to 40-somethings, but are definitely supposed to be college-age) decide to go to the ghost town to investigate.
At this point, I'd like to address the protest you tried to lodge two paragraphs ago: "Wait," you say, "if the ghost town is full of people, then it can't really be a ghost town." Well, it's true that the "strangers" populating Hellgate are a bit more solid that most ghosts, but then somebody calls Josie a zombie after watching her walk through a wall, so you got me, Jack. The respective definitions of "ghost" and "zombie" are only the beginning of the problems of Hellgate, which includes:
- The single worst sex scene I've ever seen.
- The second worst sex scene I've ever seen.
- The best (read: worst) beheading I've ever seen.
- Crossed eyes. You'll know what I mean when you see it.
- A leaping, zombie snapping turtle and an enormous mutant goldfish.
- A magic crystal which shoots a concentrated blue laser capable of causing explosions and deformities and resurrecting the dead, according to the whims of the screenwriter.
- The least-threatening bikers in history.
- The diner which can't decide whether it's the '50s or the '80s.
- ...and various & sundry other assaults against good taste and your intelligence.
In trying to describe the plot, it occurred to me that even though I just finished the movie, I think I have its chronology wrong, so I looked it up. As it turns out, no one really knows what happens in this movie. The plot is an unbelievable mess, supported by awful acting, bargain-basement "special" effects, and the most laughable dialogue in recent memory. The trailer has the audacity to claim Hellgate comes "from the people who brought you Hellraiser and Hellbound", two movies that I like in spite of myself. The qualitative difference between those two movies and this one is so great that I can only imagine that "the people" connecting the three films might be, say, a film stock distributor or an accounting firm or a caterer.
Nobody involved in Hellgate had much of a career. Other than Palillo, most of the actors appeared in this movie, and nothing else. Part of that can be explained by the fact that this is a South African movie with a largely South African cast of heavily-accented non-actors, but the American actors are just as bad--possibly worse, because they get more screen time to deliver the bad dialogue. Writer Michael S. O'Rourke and director William A. Levey are certainly more to blame than anyone else, and both men have (thankfully) pitifully small resumes.
Big tentpole Hollywood movies, when they fail, are not very noteworthy. Everybody knows that Gigli and Norbit were awful, and nobody wants to sit through them again. Small, indie fiascoes are often intrinsically fascinating because they tend to be created in a hermetic environment, free from any sort of studio supervision, and Hellgate is one of these. It plays like a movie that would be on in the background of another movie, a sarcastic parody which the audience isn't supposed to pay much attention to, but which the cast and crew watch for laughs during the wrap party. It's probably not the worst movie I've ever seen, but I found myself in constant disbelief over its sincerity; I think they were trying to make the best horror movie they could, and it's such a spectacular failure. I'd feel so mean savaging a small production like this, except that I am absolutely recommending that you watch it. And by all means, force someone else to sit through it with you.
Here's the trailer.