Halfway House, The (DVD)

Starring Mary Woronov, Shawn Savage, Janet Tracy Keijser, Stephanie Leighs

Directed by Kenneth J. Hall

Praise the Lord! After years of wretched indie shlock, I bring word to the congregation that The Halfway House is our true savior: A low-budget slice of bona fide B-movie heaven that makes one nostalgic for the glory days of Roger Corman.

Deep in the Mary Magdalen Halfway House for Troubled Girls, nubile young women are vanishing under mysterious circumstances. When her sister disappears, sexy cop Larissa Morgan (Janet Tracy Keijser) goes undercover as a runaway (despite looking in her thirties) and quickly runs afoul of trashy girl gangs, a perverted priest, and the dreaded Sister Cecelia (Mary Woronov). Of course, this is all just a set-up for a cavalcade of cheese and depravity.

Writer/director and Puppet Master creator Kenneth J. Hall knows the ins and outs of the exploitation movie and gleefully covers all the bases here. We get ample doses of blood n’ gore, gratuitious sex, lesbians, blasphemy, masochism, rubber monsters, cat fights, Lovecraftian doomsday cults, and good old fashioned T&A (without a trace of silicon, God bless). Yup, this movie has everything that makes American cinema great! And while the production values are about as good as your typical late night Skinamax flick, Hall pulls it off with real energy and skill.

Over-acting is the name of the game, and the cast of pretty faces ham it up accordingly. After being regulated to cameos for the past several years, it’s a true joy to see cult queen Mary Woronov take center stage, and she steals the show with each icy stare. I also have to throw out a special nod to doe-eyed Stephanie Leighs, the single cutest girl on the scene since Misty Mundae.

The DVD extras include a director/producer commentary, minor deleted scenes, the obligatory trailer, and a music video from rock band Insecto Circus (which may be the most unintentionally funny extra since John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China video). But the best supplement is a cool featurette entitled “Gut Raising Monsters From Hell,” which gives a surprisingly detailed behind-the-scenes look and features interviews with the entire cast and crew, who make no bones about the kind of movie they’re making.

Cheap and unabashedly hokey, The Halfway House is a total hoot and a welcome change from the rest of the straight-to-video junk. This is the kind of tongue-in-cheek flick that’s best viewed with a group of friends and a lot of booze.

3 ½ out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.