Monday, July 11, 2016

HELLHOLE (1985) (Blu-ray Review)

HLLHOLE (1985) 
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: July 26th 2016
Region Code: A
Rating: R
Duration: 95 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono with Optional English subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widesccreen (1.78:1)
Cast: Dyanne Thorne, Edy Williams, Judy Landers, Marjoe Gortner, Mary Woronov, Ray Sharkey, Richard Cox, Robert Z'Dar, Terry Moore
Director: Pierre De Moro

Synopsis: Having witnessed her mother's brutal death, Susan (Judy Landers, Dr. Alien) gets amnesia from a fall while being pursued by the killer, Silk (Ray Sharkey, The Idolmaker). Awakening in Ashland Sanitarium, she is once again terrorized by Silk, disguised as an orderly. To pry an incriminating secret from Susan's brain, Silk forms an uneasy alliance with Dr. Fletcher (Mary Woronov, Rock 'n' Roll High School), a psychotic scientist who has been testing a new lobotomy technique, using helpless inmates as her guinea pigs. These vicious experiments are carried out in the "Hellhole," a torture den awaiting Susan as its next victim.

Hellhole (1985) begins with a leather clad goon named Silk (Ray Sharkey) breaking into a woman's home and shaking her down for some paperwork which might incriminate his nefarious employer. When she refuses to hand over the paperwork the goon strangles her with his red scarf. Her hot blond daughter Susan (Judy Landers) witnesses the murder and the criminal goes after her next, the chase ends with Susan falling from an upper story of the home to the ground below. 

The fall doesn't kill her but she is stricken with memory loss, waking up at the Ashland Sanitarium for Women with no memory of her mother's murder or the criminal who did it. At the sanitarium Susan comes under the care of a nice guy doc named Ron played by Richard Cox (Cruising). Though not everyone at the asylum is so nice as might imagine coming into this slice of exploitation, now the movie kicks into full-on Women In Prison mode as Susan must contend with evil docs and their cronies plus an asylum full of nude inmates who mean her harm. 

The main baddie is Dr. Fletcher played by Mary Woronov (Rock N' Roll High School) who runs a diabolical clinic at the sanitarium that has been dubbed the "hellhole" by the staff and patients, where the more troublesome patients are taken to be experimented on. Apparently Fletcher and her assistant, played by '70s b-movie regular Marjoe Gortner (Food of the Gods) are conducting cruel experiments in hopes of perfecting a chemical lobotomy process, one that is never fully explained or given any proper screen time. The experimentation has not been very successful, those who have undergone the process are either raving lunatics or they're dead, the survivors are kept locked away in the basement, just waiting for someone to release them so they can fuck shit up, which they do. 

That creep Silk from the start of the movie learns that Susan is now at the sanitarium, and he still wants those papers, to which end he disguises himself as an orderly and infiltrates the asylum to hassle her, hoping to jog her memory of where her mom kept the papers through fear and intimidation. In true WIP fashion the movie is crude and sleazy with loads of nude women in showers, crooked docs and menacing orderlies in place of the usual corrupt prison officials and guards, the asylum turns out to be a great setting for a WIP picture. I enjoyed the movie but don't get me wrong, the script is awful even on the typically low WIP scale. A lot of the cast come off as bland, including starlet Judy Landers and Richard Cox, the latter of who is a very capable actor, he just doesn't have much to go with, neither dioes Marjoe Gortner who is criminally underused. Thankfully Ray Sharkey as the creepy goon and Mary Woronov as the evil doc are camping it up to the nth degree, making this cheap exploitation flick a bit more fun than it has any right to be. Sure, we are denied nudity from stars Woronov and Landers, but there are loads of naked women in the shower room, there is plenty of nude cat fighting, and more of the sweet  WIP tropes we have come to expect from the sub genre, it might be dumb movie but it is fun watch. B-movie fans should also keep an eye peeled for an appearance from Rober Z'Dar (Maniac Cop) as one of the sadistic orderlies working for Dr. Fletcher! 

Reading into the movie online I was surprised to find that director Pierre De Moro who directed this also made the kiddie-movie Savannah Smiles (1982) a few years earlier, which is a movie I give credit to as being the first to make me squirt a few tears at when I was young. Not sure that movie would hold up to a watch these days, but I found it interesting that just a few years later De Moro went from kiddie-friendly kidnap movie to making this cheap slice of WIP exploitation, which was his third and final movie. 

Audio/Video: Hellhole arrives in HD from Scream Factory as a release that almost didn't happen. Scream Factory first announced it for release back in 2014 and then promptly scuttled it when suitable film elements could not be found, apparently they had in their possession an interpositive that was a TV cut of the movie minus the scenes of nudity and violence, and did not want to proceed with an incomplete version of the movie, which is understandable, who wants a PG-rated version of a WIP movie? However, they found a theatrical print of the movie with the key missing scenes and were able to marry the two sources to create a complete version of the movie, though from two sources of varying quality. . 

Here's a production note from Scream Factory about the two sources: "As some of you recall, we had to cancel the release in 2014 due to problems we had with the film elements. However, we recently located a decent theatrical print which will now allow us to integrate the sections from the film print into the interpositive we transferred originally. (The IP we had appeared to be a TV cut as all the nudity and violence from the R-rated version was missing.) Please note that since some footage is from a print there will be a minor (but unavoidable) noticeable difference to the eye between the IP and the print."

The results are way better than I would have anticipated, the new widescreen (1.78:1) framed HD transfer looks solid, not rock solid. The marriage of the theatrical print with the interpostive is not seamless by any means but the colors, shadow detail and fine film grain look nice, the spliced scenes of nudity and violence from the theatrical cut while inferior are not ruinous or near as abrupt as I had worried they might be, which is great news. The mono DTS-HD MA audio does the job, nothing too impressive but clean and free of hiss, diologue and the synth score sound just fine, optional English subtitles are included. 

Onto the extras we have a brief trailer for the movie and a new five-minute interview with Mary Woronov who speaks about them crowbarring the lesbian stuff onto her character, and the oddities of the movie which she is surprised anyone even remembers. She recalls working with Ray Sharkie, who she seems to confuse with actor Marjoe Gortner at times, who played her assistant. She comes off as a bit of a fun nut, even speaking about a scene that was deleted, a sand-pool scene which is actually on the Blu-ray version of the movie, something she recalls as "brilliant", which may be a bit too kind, haha. 

Special Features
- NEW Interview With Actress Mary Woronov (5 Mins)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) 

I love it when Scream Factory bring an '80s classic to Blu-ray with new extras and a new HD transfer, but I get even more of a thrill when they rescue one from obscurity that have never had a proper home video release, stuff like Final Warning, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf and You'll Like My Mother, and I love 'em for it. The movie is a cheap slice of WIP trash from the '80s, but Sharkey and Woronov keep it fun.