The 2000 film, Escape From Hell, tells the story of two doctors.
Dr. Marissa Holloway (Emily Jo Tisdale) believes that there is a Heaven and that there is a Hell and that, at the end of your life, you go to one of them. The film lets us know, early on, that she’s right by letting us into the mind of a good but irreligious family man who is on the verge of death. At first, the man sees himself heading into a shining light but then, suddenly, he’s plunging into flames! That’s right. The good man who loved his family and helped people out and who never did anything wrong to anyone still went straight to Hell.
Dr. Eric Robinson (Daniel Kruse) doesn’t believe that there’s an afterlife. He believes that everyone who says that they’ve seen either a light or a glimpse of Hell was suffering from a hallucination. He’s hostile to Marissa’s beliefs. Could it have something to do with his difficult relationship with his estranged father? Who knows?
Together, Dr. Holloway and Dr. Robinson solves crimes!
No, actually, they don’t. Instead, they star in a low-budget, evangelically-themed remake of Flatliners. After his father dies, Dr. Robinson is more determined than ever to prove that there’s no afterlife so he decides that the smartest thing to do would be to die for a few minutes and then be brought back to life by another doctor. Like I said, it’s basically Flatliners all over again. The main difference, of course, is that Flatliners imagined a New Agey afterlife with no God while Escape From Hell leaves little doubt that there’s a Heaven and a Hell and just about everyone’s going to the second place.
Dr. Robinson does originally go to Heaven and it’s a nice-looking meadow. (Apparently, he just gets to skip Purgatory so lucky him.) However, the doctor is soon informed that he doesn’t belong in Heaven so bang! It’s down to Hell that he goes. Hell is essentially a rocky place with constantly burning fires. The whole place is tinted red and looks like something you might expect to find in an old video game. Unfortunately, Dr. Robinson doesn’t get to talk to the five people you meet in Heaven but he does get to talk to a handful of people in Hell, the majority of whom are confused as to why they’re down there but who also realize that they somehow massively screwed up and will never get a chance to escape. One of the people that Robinson meets turns out to be a demon. There’s a lot of really cheap CGI that looks kind of silly but, at the same time, still possesses a certain low-rent charm.
While Dr. Robinson is learning about the afterlife, his colleagues are trying to bring him back to life. If they don’t bring him back quickly enough, Robinson, much like Franklin Delano Roosevelt will be stuck in Hell in forever!
(I should admit that we don’t actually see FDR in Hell. I just assume he’s down there.)
If you haven’t picked up on it by now, I have a weakness for achingly sincere films that feature primitive CGI. It’s easy to make fun of movies like Escape from Hell but I tend to view them as being examples of outsider art. Yes, it’s a flawed film that was apparently made by people who weren’t really sure what they were doing but that’s actually the film’s charm. The bad acting, the melodramatic dialogue, the cheap CGI, the extremely literal definitions of Hell and Heaven, and the final message that almost everyone on the planet is destined to suffer eternal torment; all of it contributes to make a film unlike almost any other (except, of course, for the original Flatliners) It’s silly, preachy, and entertaining in its own bizarre way. It’s the cinematic equivalent of the school prayer advocate who says that children who don’t want to pray can, “Simpy lower their heads and think about how they’ve got it all figured out.” It may not be good but it’s always watchable in its own twisted way.