Starring Ray Sharkey, Jusy Landers, Mary Woronov, Marjoe Gortner
Directed by Pierre De Moro
Distributed by Scream Factory
The sleaze factor is off the charts for Scream Factory’s release of Hellhole (1985), a movie that lives beneath whatever scum could be scraped from the bottom of a barrel. This is a gloriously riotous film, stocked with ludicrous moments of depravity and nudity. So much nudity. The women in prison (WIP) subgenre works best when the pictures within its wheelhouse know what they are and fully play up their strengths. Viewers expect brutal wardens, madcap science, frequent catfights, constant torment, and an unyielding torrent of bare breasts. Hellhole delivers in spades while also adding to the mix a trump card in the form of Silk (Ray Sharkey), one of the main antagonists and unquestionably the main provider of split sides. Imagine an extra from William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980) wandered onto this film’s set and stepped into the role of a loudmouth, flamboyant killer. Add in cult icon Mary Woronov, dozens of Playmate of the Month rejects, questionable lobotomy techniques, and a lead actress with the mental capacity of a hamster and, friend, you’ve got yourself one helluva hedonistic good time.
For reasons never made entirely clear (something about money and documents… like it really matters), hitman Silk has been hired by some shady men in suits to kill Susan (Judy Landers) and her mother (Lynn Borden). He succeeds with the latter but the former runs off. When Silk confronts her on the second story of a nearby house under construction, she falls and gets knocked out. Susan later awakens in a mental hospital with amnesia, unsure of how she wound up there or the events that transpired prior to her fall. Silk’s employers want her dead, amnesia or not, and they conscript the killer into joining the hospital’s ranks, posing as an orderly. As if that doesn’t put Susan in a bad enough position, the hospital where she’s staying is notorious for violence, sexual assault, and the “hellhole” – a building on the grounds where Dr. Fletcher (Mary Woronov) and her assistant Dr. Dane (Marjoe Gortner) conduct experiments on unlucky patients. They say those who go in never come out.
The only aid for Susan comes in the form of Ron (Richard Cox), a milquetoast hospital employee who wants to put an end to Fletcher’s shenanigans. His battles are tough to win, though. A call put in to the investigatory board yields a surprise visit, but Fletcher, ever the champion of her own game, manages to obfuscate the truth while also appearing effortlessly charming. Caught between both Fletcher and Silk, Susan is going to have to grow a brain and figure out just how the hell to get out of this place or else she’s going to wind up another lobotomized zombie in Fletcher’s hidden hellhole.
Director Pierre De Moro opens the tap on a keg of crazy and just lets it ooze out all over this film. It can maybe be understandable that Susan looks like she just stepped out of a Whitesnake music video, considering the style of the times and all, but virtually every other patient at the hospital looks like a stripper doing side work as an actress. One of the ladies Fletcher takes back to her private spa has such stark tan lines you’d be forgiven for thinking there’s a tanning bed installed somewhere on the premises. Not only are these women gorgeous but they act like they’re pumped full of testosterone; they are always ready for a fight or a fuck, both of which are done frequently. It’s apparently not uncommon to find a couple women squirreled away in one of the hospital’s hot tubs or mud baths, railing away lines of coke while making out in the buck. This hospital doesn’t accept male patients, does it?
Here to take this grimy grindhouse film up another notch is Silk, the stylin’ and profilin’ hitman with a savvy fashion sense and a thick “New Yawk” accent. Good thing he’s also a terrible hitman – he passes up numerous opportunities to easily kill Susan – because if he were any good at his job we wouldn’t get to spend so much time with him. Watch as Silk casually goes from sexual predator to physical abuser when his mud bath soiree with two patients – one of which is played by Edy Williams, the sex hungry co-star of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) – turns violent. Sex and violence are closely linked in this film, with the appearance of one not far behind the other. Silk is king in a film of caricature characters; it really seems like he showed up for the wrong movie and the producers decided to just use him anyway. In a perfect world he’d have gotten a spinoff feature.
Hellhole is filthy fun; a trashy slice of exploitation that knows exactly what it is – and what you, the viewer, wants – delivering across the board. Scrutinizing any portion of the story will yield plot inconsistencies aplenty, so it’s best to just ignore logic and just roll with the eye candy. I like to think the film is so self-aware of how terrible it is that the filmmakers decided to simply stuff enough T&A and violence into every scene so viewers would forget there should be some semblance of a plot. I mean, what exactly is it Fletcher is trying to do? She’s trying to perfect chemical lobotomies for what purpose, exactly? I could ask a hundred and one questions about illogical decisions, but I would be asking them about a film that doesn’t seem to care either way. You want slimeball entertainment? Here it is. Revel.
A note displayed at the start of the film explains the original negative is thought lost, so the only option left for Scream Factory was to use an interpositive, which was missing scenes, and a release print that contained those missing scenes. As a result, the quality can shift considerably during scenes. Think of it like watching something in HD with SD inserts. Despite this, the 1.85:1 1080p image looks better than the caveat would lead viewers to expect, inserts aside. Detail is evident and occasionally strong, but there are many scenes that have a softer appearance, too. Grain is moderate and filmic. Colors look natural, but don’t expect much of a pop. This is a dark, grimy picture. Cigarette burns and emulsion scratches appear sporadically, though they also add a nice touch of “grindhouse” aesthetic to the film. Black levels are often hazy, never truly pitch black. In my opinion, this isn’t a film that should look too polished. Sleazy movies should look like they’re playing on a screen in some dingy little theater, and for that reason I’m going to say this transfer – deficiencies and all – is perfectly acceptable.
There isn’t much in the way of dynamics for the English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track. Despite the use of multiple prints, the dialogue and effects generally sound consistent and clear. There are no issues to report. Subtitles are available in English.
“Interview with Mary Woronov” – The actress, still hip & eclectic as ever, offers up some very candid recollections of her time making this film. Gotta say, for a lady in her seventies she still looks great.
A theatrical trailer (HD) and a DVD copy of the film are also included.
- New Interview with Actress Mary Woronov
- Original Theatrical Trailer
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