Hellgate (1989) / Steel and Lace (1991)
Tonight's Double Feature presentations have a lot in common: Both feature a woman wronged by a bunch of lustful psychopaths, then brought back to life to enact revenge. In the case of Hellgate, she is brought back from the grave by her father who possesses a magic crystal. In Steel and Lace, the victim is brought back by her mad scientist brother. And both films feature former-celebs - Hellgate has Ron Palillo (Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter) and Steel and Lace has David "I'm a Pepper" Naughton and Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley. Enjoy!
When Horshack is headlining the movie, this is something I've got to see. I mean, it's a slasher movie with Arnold Horshack as the main actor, a decade after his days on Kotter. This simply must be seen.
It begins with three unphotogenic friends telling horror stories by the fireplace. Bobby (Joanne Ward) begins with the story of the Hellgate Hitchhiker. It happened in the 1950s...
A biker gang rolls into a local diner and starts harassing a young lady, Josie Carlyle (Abigail Wolcott). The yank off her poodle skirt and throw her on the back of a motorcycle and hit the road.
They head for the town of Hellgate - which is a fake Old West ghost town tourist trap.
Next, we have gratuitous shots of Josie running through this odd little town in her panties.... panties that no one would have worn in the 1950s.
Josie's dad, Lucas Carlyle (Carel Trichardt) emerges from one of these odd buildings and plants a throwing ax into the heads of two of the bikers. Unfortunately, this causes one to smash into Josie... and then they both smash in slow motion through a brick wall! Read that sentence again. This motorcycle, carrying a just-murdered biker is probably going 5mph and manages to literally cave in a wall.... leaving poor Josie dead among the rubble.
Some say Josie still haunts the roads around Hellgate as a ghostly hitchhiker.
Bobby then tells a Part Two to her shitty story. Many years later, an old fake miner in this fake ghost town enters a fake gold mine to perform repairs. He comes across some glowing crystals, and notices they apparently reanimated a bat he just killed.
The fake miner takes his find to the rich owner of Hellgate - Lucas Carlyle. You'll note his picture of his dead daughter in the background. Yes, she died in the 1950s and this appears to have been taken in the 1980s, but don't get hung up on details.
Lucas uses it on a goldfish - it grows into a footlong monster then explodes. He uses it on a stuffed turtle which comes alive and bites his face. Then the crystal, on its own, turns the fake miner into a swollen freak which explodes into a gory mess.
What the hell was this magic crystal doing in a fake mine shaft at a tourist trap? Best to not ask too many questions.
Lucas Carlyle puts the crystal to good use, resurrecting his dead Josie, and having her haunt the roads to lure travelers to Hellgate... and to their death.
Take note: We are 30 minutes into this movie and the fireside backstory has just ended. This movie is literally one-third backstory! That has to be a record.
So, rich graduate student, Matt (Ron Palillo - and I will be calling him Horshack from here on out, because it can be no other way) is travelling to meet his three unphotogenic friends. He stops at a diner - the same one where Josie was attacked decades earlier.
Back on the road, in the middle of nowhere, Horshack encounters Josie standing all alone. A concerned Horshack gives her a lift.
Take note: Abigail Wolcott is a stone cold 80s fox. Interesting that she never acted in a movie before or after Hellgate.
Let's pause for a moment, shall we? Take a good look at Horshack - he's not near as goofy as he used to be. Hellgate has actually taken Arnold Horshack and turned him into a leading man. Those expecting "Ooohhh! Oooohhh! Oooohhh!" and ""Very impressive, Mr Kotter!" will be seriously disappointed.
It should be noted that Palillo was in a Friday the 13th film in 1986, and left his spastic Sweathog character in the rearview mirror afterwards, playing some dramatic roles on the stage throughout the nineties.
Back to the story: Reanimated Josie lures Horshack back to the Carlyle mansion where she seduces him. (You'll be pleased to hear that we do get to see boobs at this juncture). However, Lucas Carlyle comes home and has a mind to kill Horshack with his crazy crystal; but, he escapes in his convertible Mercedes in the nick of time.
As Horshack drives off, we see Josie and her father. She tells him that she "wanted him... really wanted him." Horshack just has that effect on the ladies, I guess.
You'll notice that Papa Carlyle is looking like a post-apocalypse road warrior. It's amazing the kind of damage a stuffed zombie turtle can do.
Anyway, Horshack finally makes it to his friends, and this happens....
I really didn't want to show you this, folks. But I had to.
Horshack has sex with his girlfriend, Pam (Petrea Curran in her only acting role). If I'm stuck with this image forever burned onto my retina, so are you. Take consolation that you only have this one image - I had the whole scene, which seems to last forever as Horshack tells Pam the entire story of his mysterious encounter.
And this, dear readers, is Pam's expression when Horshack goes beneath the covers to giver her a little pleasure downstairs. I will never be the same again.
Mercifully, the sex scene is over and we join the gang at the diner. Pam and Bobby explain to Horshack that his story matches perfectly with the legend of the Hellgate Hitchhiker. The waitress (Kimberleigh Stark - the only actor/actress in the entire film besides Palillo with a photo on IMDb).
Note that the camera spins around the table a little, reminding me of another diner scene in Tarantino's Death Proof.
Horshack runs into the surviving member of the biker gang who tells him not to go back to Hellgate. Like a good 80s horror movie, the advice is not heeded. Soon enough, this annoying crew of UCLA students are at Hellgate.
As it turns out, Hellgate is overrun with zombies. Apparently, Lucas Carlyle has used his crystal to keep his town populated with the undead, who rise up out of the graveyard to inhabit the tourist trap by night.
If this sounds scary, think again. This is by the director of Skatetown U.S.A. Trust me when I tell you it is not scary in even the slightest sense of the word.
Indeed, this all gets a little tiresome. I'm sure most of the movie's budget went to the Hellgate zombietown scenes. but it's almost unwatchable. It feels almost like the Scooby Doo gang exploring a "haunted" carnival. (Was Horshack ever a guest on an episode? I know Don Knotts and the Harlem Globetrotters were... but I digress.)
Some scenes during this portion are obviously intended for laughs, and others are ultra-surreal. I'm not sure if Hellgate was meant to be a comedy, or a serious horror film with comedic scenes... but it all doesn't matter. This next scene is so awesome that all is forgiven...
Bobby and her boyfriend Chuck are dead, and Josie lures Horshack up to her room (I wonder if Abigail Wolcott knew before signing on that her role would require her to be partially naked in every single scene... and I wonder if this is why she never acted again.)
But look who's arrived - it's Pam, and she's got a shotgun. Here, she delivers the best line of the movie: "Take this you zombie bitch!" BAM!
Josie may have been the hottest zombie in cinema history, but she gets smoked by Pam. The shotgun blasts and Josie goes flying out the window in slow motion (just as in her previous death via brick wall).
The final scene is absolutely nuts. There's a car chase through Hellgate with Lucas Carlyle shooting crystal lasers at them. Many explosions and laser blasts later, Mr. Carlyle is dead, the town destroyed, and Horshack and Pam riding off into the sunset. The End.
[Ron Palillo R.I.P. April 2, 1949 – August 14, 2012]
Steel and Lace (1991)
Have you ever seen a more 80s looking title screen? Yet this is 1991. Retrospace readers are well familiar with the fact that styles don't synchronize with the decades as we'd like. Thus, 1981 still looks very much like the 70s, and '91 looks a lot like we picture the 80s.
Okay, if we can understand the opening scene, we'll get the rest of the movie. Everything that happens hereafter revolves around the first few minutes of the film.
It's the trial of Gaily Morton (Clair Wren) versus her alleged rapist David Emerson (Michael Cerveris), the son of a billionair.
We know he's guilty because we have Gaily's flashbacks. In them, we see pretty boy Emerson and his four accomplices (three are pictured above) attack Gaily and presumably rape her - although, thankfully, this part isn't shown.
The accomplices are all gussied up for court and testify on Emerson's behalf, and provide him an alibi. As a result, Emerson is found not guilty,and the courtroom predictably erupts into chaos.
During the courtroom scenes, the camera keeps drifting towards the mousy press sketch artist, Allison (Stacy Haiduk) - obviously, she'll be an important character.
Got all that? Let the fun begin!
Well, not exactly fun - Gaily jumps off a building.
After her fall, we get to see her lawyer/brother Albert (Bruce Davison) fall to the ground and deliver one of the best "NOOOOOOOO!!" screams in cinema history.
FIVE YEARS LATER...
We find that Emerson and his henchmen are busy knocking the elderly out of their homes so they can develop mini-malls. It's so stereotypically evil, it's brilliant. Worst of all, Emerson has a ponytail.
REVENGE KILL #1: CRAIG
Craig (one of Emerson's henchmen) is played by John J. York, who most will recognize from soaps, but I remember him best from his short lived TV show from the 80s, "Werewolf". Anyway, his car breaks down and a mysterious babe in a short pink miniskirt (actress J. Cynthia Brooks) picks him up and takes him to a tacky hotel room.
Unfortunately for Craig, this happens: The mysterious woman rips her face off, revealing she is actually Gaily, and then a drill emerges from her bosom which bores a hole through his chest.
The shot of Gaily leaving the room carrying her mask/face is priceless. A nice touch - thank you, director Ernest D. Farino.
It should be noted that this is Farino's only director credit in film. He's primarily known as a special effects guy. Among his credits: The Terminator, The Thing, The Abyss, and Ghostbusters' Pillsbury Doughboy.
Hey! Look who are on the case: David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London, Makin' It) as Detective Clifford T. Dunn and David "Squiggy" Lander as medical examiner, Schumann.
Dunn has been given orders by the chief to lay low on the case; the DA is about to complete their case against Emerson, and they don't want anything making waves. Unfortunately, here come some waves...
Allison the sketch artist has become a reclusive arteest, painting disturbing imagery not fit for any coffee table book. Her publisher recommends that she compile a book of her court room sketches.
First up are the Gaily Morton trial sketches. So, Allison goes probing around - just the thing to create waves in the Emerson investigation, and get Dunn in hot water with the chief. Oh, dammit! This spells trouble.
REVENGE KILL #2: TOBBY
Tobby (Scott Burkholder), another of Emerson's accomplices, is ready to go to the feds with information in exchange for immunity. Unfortunately for Tobby, the federal agent rips rips his own face off, revealing he's actually Gaily, then proceeds to show a bit of cleavage and literally rip Tobby's head off.
At last, we learn what the hell is going on. Gaily's brother Albert is a mad scientist who has transformed her into a cyborg to enact revenge on her assailants.
I just love shots of old technology. These shots of Albert at his computer monitor are classic.
Detective Dunn interviews another Emerson henchman, Oscar. I should mention here that the dialog/banter of this film can often be satisfyingly humorous and intentionally awkward. In particular, the scenes between Naughton and Squiggy. As Emerson's cronies get more and more nervous as their friends drop dead, their scenes become quite funny... an unexpected quality in a straight to VHS/Cinemax film such as this.
REVENGE KILL #3: OSCAR
After Craig and Tobby's death, the misfit crew of rapists are paid visits by the Emerson secretary, Ms. Fairweather (Brenda Swanson) collecting money for flowers for the funerals; obviously, this means she'll be important later.
Brenda Swanson provides the film's only glimpse of nudity as she (you guessed it) rips her face of and literally f***s Oscar to death - presumably via some sort of pneumatic drill between her legs. Ouch. Criag and Tobby had it easy in comparison.
Meanwhile, Dunn and Allison renew their relationship, as Allison gets nearer and nearer to finding the killer... but who cares about all that when there's this....
REVENGE KILL #4: NORMAN
Norman (Brian Backer - Ratner from Fast Times) is scared shitless, so he's ready to escape on a helicopter. Allison offers Norman an alternative: go to the police and tell them everything about Emerson.
Ratner makes the wrong choice. The pilot is Cyborg Gaily who lifts him up off the ground where the top of his head is sliced off by the helicopter blades!
Finally, the climactic scene...
REVENGE KILL #5: DANNY EMERSON
Allison is kidnapped by Albert and Cyborg Gaily, but she manages to break free just in time to almost spoil the final revenge. (Allison, the meddling tortured artist is so annoying by the way.) Thankfully, Cyborg Gaily manages to set Emerson on fire and then he falls off the building.
But Allison tries to grab Danny's gun still lying on the ground to presumably point it at her savior, Cyborg Gaily (I told you she was annoying). However, Albert grabs it first....at the exact moment when, conveniently, Detective Dunn arrives and shoots a whole through the poor brother.
A wounded Albert and Cyborg Gaily jump from the roof and the movie ends.
Not a very satisfying finale; much like the entire film - it's found seriously lacking. Yes, there are some spectacular revenge kills, but the rest is pretty boring (aside from the aforementioned moments of humor). Despite having two gorgeous female leads in Stacy Haiduk and Claire Wren, neither contributes any sort of eye candy. Remove the four kills and the Ms. Fairweather scene, and this could have passed for an episode of Hunter. That may be a good thing for some of you; for me, not so much.
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