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.
“And once they take you to Hellhole you don’t never come back.”
For two years anticipation has been building for Shout! Factory’s release of the 1985 women-in-prison film ‘Hellhole’. Due to an incomplete print causing the delay fans have been itching to see this forgotten gem of the VHS era in HD. From director Pierre De Moro this exploitation film stars a slew of cult actors including Mary Woronov, Judy Landers, Marjoe Gortner, Robert Z’Dar, and Lynn Borden. From the start ‘Hellhole’ reworks the typical “WIP” format with an injection of haunted-house horror that keeps the audience’s attention well after the shower room is empty. The blending of these two genres helps to make ‘Hellhole’ a beautiful mess of a movie that is well worth your time.
The film opens with Susan (Judy Landers) assuring her nervous mother (Lynn Borden) that the incriminating papers she stole on her boss have been hidden away. The boss, Dr. Monroe (Martin Beck), hires deviant thug Silk (Ray Sharkey) to retrieve the papers at any cost. Silk takes the game too far and accidentally offs the mother. After witnessing the mother’s death Susan takes a nasty fall and contracts amnesia. Under Dr. Monroe’s insistence she is shipped off to a mental hospital for safekeeping until she can reveal the location of the documents. Under orders from Monroe, Silk poses as an orderly at the hospital to keep an eye on Susan should her memory return. Nice guy Ron (Richard Cox) is also posing as an orderly at the hospital spying for the medical examiner’s board. The institution’s lead physician Dr. Fletcher (Mary Woronov) has been rumored to experiment on her patients using unconventional methods in a secret lab lovingly called ‘Hellhole’. As Ron builds his case on Fletcher his unlikely connection with Susan only means Silk needs to finish the job or risk his life in ‘Hellhole’.
If a film’s plot revolves around amnesia you know it's gonna be a stinker, right? Fortunately ‘Hellhole’ has the good sense to distract from it’s myriad of plot holes with Mary Woronov in full on “camp” mode and by utilizing every women-in-prison trope imaginable. From naked lesbian encounters to a nymphomaniac mud bath, the film supplies plenty of misbehaving patients for Fletcher to experiment on in her lab. Forget about those pesky “papers” on Dr. Monroe. When the film refuses to acknowledge their importance it’s clear that this MacGuffin has sailed.
Mary Woronov’s commitment to the role as the evil Dr. Fletcher is exhilarating to watch. Appearing out of nowhere, her 8 foot tall pencil skirt cuts through the room as she brings down a hysterical patient with only the delicate grasp of a hand. Fletcher is straight out of ‘The Terminator’. With a lifeless gaze and steely composure her movements are measured and exacting. In just a few scenes Fletcher goes from a kimono-sporting hot tub seductress to a psychotic killer. Between her and Ray Sharkey’s deviant “Silk” chewing every scene to pieces who cares about glue sniffing lesbians! Every role is played straight even if the dialogue is atrocious. Well, except for Judy Landers. I fear she wasn’t let in on the joke. There aren’t any winks at the camera per se, but the film rides a fine line of acknowledging the audience’s expectations. In the opening scene we are baited into thinking there will be a shower scene with Susan. (As there should be with any self-respecting horror film.) Susan’s mom insists twice that Susan should go shower. “Aren’t you gonna be late for class? I mean you gotta take a shower.” We get one, but it’s a long shot through frosted glass. Boo!
Late in the film cult legend Dyanne Thorne cameos as a delusional patient. It would’ve been nice to see a nod to her “Ilsa” character with this role. Seeing as how Woronov is carrying the torch for her in this flick. Starring as one of Fletcher’s goons is Robert Z’Dar in his first role! Most of his scenes involve him bursting into a room of naked lesbians doing drugs. Chin first, or course! Sexpot actress Edy Williams plays the rarely clothed Vera. Silk uses her as a spy to feed him inside info on the hospital. Edy looks as if she’s trying really hard to remember her lines in every scene. When Vera unwisely flirts with a woman in the shower a full on brawl breaks out with the angriest lady mullet I’ve ever seen. “Hey slut, that chick happens to be mine!”
Dirty and low budget ‘Hellhole’ tries to not only titillate its audience but also throw in some good scares, too. The Hellhole sequences are lit and shot as if it were a sci-fi thriller or even a zombie flick of the lowest order. When Susan runs into the caged patients in Hellhole they look like zombies caught between life and death. When one grabs her through the cage bars another busts through a plate glass window. The dynamic lighting, pulsating synth music, and babbling demonic patients make this a damn scary scene. Keep the remote handy because you’ll want to rewatch this part a few times.
Thankfully ‘Hellhole’ is a decent film without all the nudity. I can see why the TV edit was the first sourced print for 2014 Blu-ray that was eventually abandoned. Cutting out the numerous scenes of topless patients snorting glue wouldn’t halt the plot. Shower fights with Vera? That didn’t really propel the movie forward either. Susan remaining clothed for the duration of the film should be a clue as to how this film was initially distributed. ‘Hellhole’ has some brilliant moments and is a blast to watch, but with numerous plot holes and a dough eyed lead actress slinking around we’re seemingly waiting for the next sleazy scene to appear. With a film like this does that really matter?
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Hellhole’ shrieks onto Blu-ray thanks to Scream Factory. The Blu-ray disc is housed in a standard two tray keepcase with a DVD copy of the film. The disc opens to the Shout! Factory logo followed by the Scream Factory logo before settling onto a static menu screen. When you hear the ultra creepy synth music you’ve made it. This is your last chance to turn back!
Presented in 1080p with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, ‘Hellhole’ had a rough trip to Blu-ray. In 2014 Shout! Factory announced the title before quickly removing it from their release schedule. Citing an incomplete print as the cause for delay fans are now overjoyed to see the cult title hitting HD. The interpositive originally sourced for the 2014 Blu-ray was a TV edit that was missing most of the sensational aspects of the original film. Combined with a newly discovered print containing the missing scenes Shout! Factory can now claim to have the most complete version of ‘Hellhole’ available.
The interpositive image looks astounding to say the least. Deep blacks, even skin tones, and with very little noise in the image. Colors are clear and bright. Fine film grain is present and looks great. Leaving the Interpositive we’re given a dark, muted image from the restored elements. Film grain is heavy and colors are muddled. It nearly resembles a VHS transfer. Focus wavers and image flickering is evident. Noise and fragments are visible throughout these sequences, too. It's not terrible but a sharp contrast in quality is evident. Chances are the core audience for ‘Hellhole’ isn’t going to suffer the least bit watching this Blu-ray. It’s a great looking image given the film’s long strange trip.
Scream Factory supplies ‘Hellhole’ with a solid DTS-HD MA Mono audio track. There is one sync issue during the opening chase scene, but otherwise dialogue across the two sources is aligned correctly. The Mono track carries the synth based scoring throughout the feature nicely. Low bass tones resonate with a balanced treble voice. Volume and recording levels are consistent through the film.
Interview with Mary Woronov (HD)(4:54) Cult actress Mary Woronov fondly reflects on the production and legacy of ‘Hellhole’.
Theatrical Trailer (HD) (1:54)
DVD Copy of the Film
From Mary Woronov’s intense performance to the film’s creepy synth tracks “Hellhole’ is an exploitative mess of a movie that deserves to be on every collector’s shelf. It checks all the right boxes, hits all the highs and certainly all the lows. Cringe worthy dialogue that's easy to laugh at along with some genuine scares and sleaze-tastic scenes make it worth every penny. Scream Factory has put together an admirable package for this forgotten horror film. With a respectable 1080p transfer and a serviceable audio track it’s only the special features that leaves me wanting more. Half hospital horror and half women in prison exploiter ‘Hellhole’ is a film that deserves a rabid fan base immediately. Recommended.