The Film (4/5)
Struggling with finding success, front man Lemmy and his punk rock band are strapped for cash to complete their demos and without full payment in hand, the recording studio has threatened to erase all the band’s work up to date. As much as Lemmy hates to sign with Mr. Tanas, a shady music mogul and owner of a sleazy S&M bar, he has no choice but to sign a deal for his immortal soul in order to save his band from complete dissolution. The deal sends Lemmy into a state of constant inebriation and immoral collaboration with Mr. Tanas and his ruthless gang of murderous thugs, squeezing hard in on people who don’t pay Mr. Tanas back his loan. Jones is, unfortunately, one of those people and when he ends up floating face down in the family pool and his son kidnapped, his wife plans revenge to get their boy back at all cost, even if that means blowing everyone involved away.
Richard Casey’s 1988 satanic punk rock action-horror film “Hellbent” journeys through the selling out under the misapprehension of a certain type of music, the stimulation of perversity in all the sense of the meaning, and the transitioning mirror image of self from good to being downright bad. On the surface, “Hellbent” has a structure similar to a music video for The Ramones, stylishly shot through various colored tints, mosh pit punk music, and a taste for the rebellious theatrics, but told on a steroid-induced disturbing level that can’t be sedated. Under the skin, the bones of the film are much different as Casey blitzkriegs through the meat of story told in a fit of alcoholic rage and variations of gratuitous violence.
Phil Ward takes on the desperate, guilt heavy role of good intentions Lemmy. Ward has been through a thin string of independent films, TV series, and shorts over a span of three decades, including Richard Casey’s last film, a sequel to “Horror House on Highway 6” entitled simply enough “Horror House on Highway 5.” For the extravagant nature of “Hellbent’s” story, Ward fully immerses himself into Lemmy’s powerless and hapless situation. However, Ward’s love interest with Lyn Levand’s Angel didn’t genuinely provide enough girth and seemed almost lazy in the attempt to create a connection, or even breakdown a connection, between them with the exception of their first scene together where Levandprances around in her underwear as Ward gawks and then trails off when rambling on about Van Gogh’s ear as soon as he notices her skimpy attire. I was more impressed with a couple of bad guys because, you know, bad guys are more interesting, as they say. Phil Therrien and David Marciano as the brute Duke and his devilish employer Mr. Tanas, a jumble of Satan. Therrien had that gangster gait and mentality and hits every vice hard as if his life on Earth could cease to exist at any moment. Every scene with Therrien is entertaining and enjoyable. Marciano is the complete opposite when considering performance as Mr. Tanasdoes very little, but manages to still powerfully overshadow his crew and his property. A formidable force performed well by Marciano with his striking eyes and dark complexion, a couple of attributes you may recognize him more from his regular stints on FX’s “The Shield” or Showtime’s “Homeland.”
For a independent feature, “Hellbent” is a paragon of being a maverick inside the low-budget spectrum, accumulating big ticket items such as extras, high-power weapon props, and dressing locations with eloquence and detail that really add to the production value. A big slap on the back for her part goes to costume designer Mary Cheung in creating a unique line of diverse character wardrobes while still unifying the various decade styles from the 40's through to the 80’s incorporated to drum up an ambiguously time violent universe. The well-constructed cinematography made “Hellbent” a superb knockoff of a big budget picture, like being the untrained eye shopper at a sidewalk sale for Gucci handbags in Chinatown.
Audio / Video (5/5)
Vinegar Syndrome's "Hellbent" Blu-ray and DVD combo has been constructed from it's original 35mm negative print to a scanned and restored 2k that's absolutely amazing in the sharp detail where the dynamic characters and the various numerous colors pop in the widescreen 1.85:1 format. Bolder colors, red and dark blue, and the non-color black are prevalently encouraged and warmly welcomed. Skin tones fair naturally with very defined shadowing and glistening sweat that precisely firm to sell the actions and the scene.
The English DTS-HD Mono Audio is slightly low-key, but the audio track is in good shape. Dialogue is forthright and the surrounding ambiance is balanced through the channel with no hissing or pops or distortions confining the tracks volume. The mosh punk grittily spurs energy with a leveling presence amongst the edited in sequences.
Bonus features include a lengthy making of featurette entitled "A Little Chaos" consisting of interviews with Phil Ward, David Marciano, Cheryl Slean, Brad Slaight, Steve DeVorkin, Troy Fromin, and director Richard Casey that go through the behind-the-scenes of "Hellbent's" independent roots and actor interactions when the camera wasn't rolling. The release, which is a limited edition 2,000 copies only release, has original and blazingly rad artwork by Cody Brown on the cover, which is also reversible.
With Santa Claus suit-clad drive-by shooters, addicted to cough syrup double-downers, and with an affixed dependency to the perverse, "Hellbent" is an inferno of violence and punk rock. Add in the very busty adult star Tantala Ray and the Richard Casey title and Vinegar Syndrome distributed release will sell itself. One part Fernando Arrabal "Car Cemetery" and one part the worst crime from the major cities of the 1980's, "Hellbent" is a dual genre and indomitable force to reckon with and the film is nothing we've ever scene before and probably will never something similar ever again. Did I mention the Vinegar Syndrome release is a limited edition of only 2,000 copies? Recommended!