Home Video Hovel: Hellhole, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi


Shout Factory’s horror label Scream Factory is at it again with this Blu-ray/DVD release of the 1985 cult horror flick Hellhole. What starts out as a rote slasher turns into a lurid women in prison sanitarium feature with more than a little camp. You’re either going to love it or hate it… There’s no middle ground on this kind of picture. As tends to be the case with these releases, the special features are slim but better than nothing.

After stumbling upon her mother’s dead body, 1980s fashion-coiffed Susan (Judy Landers) flees her killer (Ray Sharkey). After a tense confrontation, she falls backwards out the second story of a partially constructed house. The accident leaves her with amnesia and locked up at the Ashland Sanitarium for Women. Her killer continues to pursue her while working undercover as an orderly, but there are far worse things afoot. If a patient misbehaves one too many times, they are sent to the Hellhole to undergo Dr. Fletcher’s (Mary Woronov) deadly experiments of fatal passion.

Director Pierre De Moro of Christmas Mountain fame creates a palpable sense of dread, but the screenplay by Aaron Butler, Lance Dickson, and Mark Evan Schwartz is hardly up to the task at hand. A loose plot shifts between genuine terror, gonzo gore, and gorgeous lesbians with little aplomb. Most of the actors have flat line readings aplenty, but Richard Cox and Mary Woronov make the best with what they have to work with. Hellhole as at its best with its surreal torture scenes and offbeat lesbian sex comedy bits (“Let’s make a sandwich. Why don’t you be the bread, she can be the provolone, and I’ll be the bologna?” is a line of dialogue I won’t soon forget). Hellhole makes for an amusing film for those in the mood. It doesn’t try too hard, and that’s part of its charm.

Although the feature opens with a disclaimer about its image quality coming from disparate sources, I found the picture to be quite good. Most scenes have a blue tinge to them with little grain, but the picture quality degrades noticeably as the movie nears its third act. Alas, the sound mix is soft and on the lesser side of mediocre. There’s a fun interview running just under five minutes with Mary Woronov revealing her mixed feelings on the film; she appreciates Pierre De Moro letting her adlib on set but wasn’t crazy about the out of context “lesbian stuff”.  A theatrical trailer is also included. In a thoughtful touch, this release is a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.

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