The Film (5/5)
Finally a memory movie I’m doing a review of where I actually have the Fangoria issue it was covered in! Sad to say but all my Fangs from the early-mid 80s are gone. My collection starts, I think, in 1988 and goes from there. As an added treat for any fans reading this I found that very article on the web and added it to the main page of my DVD News Flash site, so go there if you want to read it. Last night, after watching it for the first time since the early 90s, I broke out that very issue (#25, June ’90) and re-read it.
Let’s see, June 1990, I was 21 and still working at K-Mart in the stockroom, and by the looks of that date it was before I met this girl they hired and started dating, which effectively ended my employment at that fine mart. Not because they frown upon employees dating one another, because by the time we started going out (September) I was growing tired of working there, and was coming in late for, like, week or two in a row because she and I were hanging out till the wee hours of the night. Jobs hate it when their employees come on late, by the way. But I wasn’t fired. I just upped and quit one day after a manager read me the riot act for coming in late.
There are some movies I’ve seen from that chapter of my life that probably should be called “morning memory movies,” for that’s when I saw Highway To Hell. During that time I had a habit of setting the timer on the VCR in the living room to record movies that were on during the wee hours, and then retrieving the tape and watching them in my bedroom before I got up and headed off to work. Hard to believe I was okay with watching horror flicks in the late morning. I don’t do that anymore. I need the cover of night, all lights off, and cordless headphones on to enjoy any flick these days. That’s just how I roll. Near Dark, The Curse, Curse II: The Bite, Cellar Dweller, and Demon Wind are just some of the films I saw in the morning back then. The last one being Lair Of The White Worm back in 1999.
I think I saw Highway To Hell for the first time in 1992. IMDB has March 1992 listed as a release date. I don’t know if that’s the theatrical date or a direct-to-video date, but it feels about right. Damn, that means I saw it right around the time that girl and me were getting ready to break-up. What I do remember was not liking it very much. The movie, I mean. Come to think of it, I didn’t like breaking up with her either. I remember thinking Chad Lowe was such the wrong actor for this. I thought I stopped watching it at one point, but when I revisited it last night nothing seemed surprising, so it may have been a case of me fast forwarding it until something” interesting” happened, which I tended to on certain movies that disappointed me. This was one flick I was really interested in re-evaluating again to see where I stand on it, and now I just love the flick, plain and simple. Perfect timing too. Since I saw originally saw it around spring time, in the last few days it’s warmed up around here and the days are longer making it feel like spring.
Here comes a very specific warning. So specific only virginal wanna-be newlyweds need only heed it. If you in Nevada, heading to Los Vegas at night eager to get married and you find yourself on a back road called, Black Canyon Road, stop! Turn around and get yourself back to the highway! Sure it’ll probably take longer but if you continue to take that shorter cut you’ll find your virginal soon-to-bride in the clutches of Sergeant Bedlam, a Hellcop. What does Sgt. Bedlam want? Your fuckin’ chick of course! I think I just said that. And that route your on is really a highway to hell!! Seriously, man, Badlam is from Hell, and that’s where he’s going with your chick. Straight to motherfuckin’ Hell!!
Now, if that happens, you have two choices: forget about her, because she’s in Hell now, or you can go to Hell and get her back. I guess it all depends on how much you love her. Charlie Sykes (Chad Lowe) loved his virginal chick, Rachel Clark (Kristy Swanson), a whole hell of a lot. A stop at a gas station on Black Canyon Road put them in orbit around Sam (Richard Farnsworth). They were dead set on continuing down this road so all Sam could do was warn them. There are two Joshua Trees along that route, spaced a good distance apart, miles by the looks of it, and if one should find themselves between them just mind your P’s and Q’s until you past the second one. Between them the “dimensional fabric” is mighty thin and this is where the Hellcop waits. Charlie does not readily heed this warning. He encounters this demonic lawgiver, and gets his chick taken away.
Back at that gas station to which Charlie returns, Sam gives him the lowdown on this Hellcop, his own loss—Clara (Pamela Gidley) was her name, and if he wants to get her back here’s how he can do it. Sam has a special car he lets Charlie use, and gives him a double-barreled sawed off shotgun with a handful of holy shells. Yep, holy shells. Drive like a bat out of hell between those two trees; believe like a motherfucker and the gateway to Hell will welcome you in. He does, right after an earthly cop stops him and he accidentally shoves his sawed off in the dude’s face thinking he was the Hellcop.
So what does Hell look like?
Post apocalyptic Arizona, I mean.
Anyone with even the slightest passing interest in the mythology of Hell will know it has many levels, and what we learn later from Ol’ Scratch himself is the level Charlie is on, the level the whole movie is playing out on, is akin to Kindergarten. Good to know things can get infinitely worse, which is saying something since this level feels kind of like the world of Beetlejuice on a cocaine binge just before dying of an overdose.
The Hellcop was my personal favorite piece of eye candy. Actually there are three pieces of eye candy in this movie. Not counting Bedlam, there’s this bloated, saggy titted (Titted? Is that a word? Fuck it, it is now) she-demon (courtesy of FX artist Steve Johnson, who did all the practical FX) and a stop-motion Cerberus (courtesy of Randall William Cook).
Along the way we meet a biker gang lead by what I refer to as the Devil’s disappointment. His real name is Royce (Adam Storke) and his bitch his Clara. Yeah, that’s right, Sam’s Clara, who actually likes living in Hell now. Well, she certainly made her choice didn’t she? I guess Royce was supposed to be the heir or something to Satan’s throne and, well, he didn’t work out, for whatever reason.
Beezle (Patrick Bergin) is the next person Charlie meets and right from the start this guy is bad news. First off he’s way to helpful and non-threatening. He runs a local garage and tows Charlie’s car in and fixes it. With no charge. Unreal! It’s no surprise, plus we can sort of figure it out right away Beezle is Satan, and he’s the kind of Satan who knows why Charlie’s here and gets off on watching “the game” play itself out. Even helping the kid where it matters, just to make it all the more interesting and worth his while.
The entire Stiller family is in this movie too. Ben (this was his movie debut) plays a whacked out cook at this donut shop where all corrupt cops go. Their hell is they can’t get any coffee or donuts. Ben’s father, Jerry, plays one of the cops, and his mother, Anne Meara, plays the waitress. Ben has another role later on in this strip club as Attila the Hun and his sister, Amy, plays Cleopatra. Trivia: Jerry, Anne and Amy were also in a Monsters (1988-1990) episode called, “One Wolf’s Family,” about a family of werewolves.
Highway To Hell is a road movie that takes Charlie to all these slightly askew destinations. That Donut Shop being one them, and then that strip club, and then through other more widely known landmarks like a Good Intentions Construction site on the highway. You know the old saying, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ Here we see what happens to those souls that did evil in the name of perceived good. They’re ground up in a machine. There’s also the Road To Nowhere, which actually goes somewhere, straight into the clutches of temptation and that she-demon I mentioned. Charlie even rides the river Styx, after getting past Cerberus and convincing Charon, the boatman (Kevin Peter Hall) to take him all the while occasionally catching up to the Hellcop and tangling with him.
I must speak more of this Hellcop, since he was my favorite creation of the film. He’s basically a demonic version of the Terminator. He has no lines in the movie whatsoever though, but like the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Series 800 he just will not stop until his mission is done and that mission is to deliver Rachel to Hell City. If that happens, she’s lost to Charlie, which means he has to stop him en route. He’s a genius creation. His handcuffs are actually hand cuffs. I mean they’re these gruesome appendages linked together that he slaps on your wrist. And his weapon of choice is this crazy looking high tech gun. I don’t know what it shoots since he’s never seen reloading it but where inanimate objects are concerned the effect appears to be like any real world bullet, but if he shoots, say, something like Jerry Stiller in that donut shop, the effect is this whirling, disintegrating vortex that I think hints at the many other levels of Hell. That’s just my theory.
What does Bedlam look like? He’s tall, played by C.J. Graham, who played Jason Voorhees in Part VI (1986), has an orange-y head with portions of the bible carved all over his skin and wears a pair of powerful, reflective shades. His Hell Car is cool too. And that name, Bedlam, pure genius. Just pure fuckin’ genius.
Up till now Highway To Hell has never had any kind of legit DVD release. I can’t speak for outside the country, but this is the first time Director Ate de Jong’s movie has ever been on legit disc. And not just DVD, but blu-ray too!
The 1080p 1.85:1 high definition widescreen transfer looks terrific and the 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio sounded equally so! Unfortunately there are no subtitles.
As for extras you’ve got two great ones: a commentary with Director Ate de Jong who reminded me of Paul Verhoeven, probably because he’s Dutch too, and a 10:47 long interview with FX Artist Steven Johnson. Just a couple of things I learned from this immensely informative commentary was that it was filmed in ’89 but didn’t get a release until years later because Hemdale went bankrupt and they were shooting for a PG-13 rating, but no mention why it got all R’d up instead. Johnson is always great to listen to, he never pulls any punches in his reminiscing. And to round out the extras you get an Animated Image Gellery (2:51) and the movie’s theatrical trailer.
I know this flick became a cult classic, but I’m still shocked it never caught on enough to generate a franchise, or even a standalone Hellcop movie. I mean, Hellcop, why do we not have a movie in existence called Hellcop? Get ready, people, because I’m about to hit you with some personal genius here. Hellcop needs to get made and here’s the tagline on the poster. Brace yourselves—
No, please, no standing ovations…this was just my humble genus at work once again, but I’ll take it, if you insist.
If I had a mic right now, I’d drop it.