In what we’re told is supposed to be the 1950s (even though everybody looks and dresses as if they’re from 1989, the year this film was shot), a group of bikers murder a young waitress named Josie (Abigail Wolcott). Josie’s father hacks the biker’s to death with an axe and, years later, uses a magic blue crystal to bring Josie back to life. However, Josie is inow a succubus who wanders along the highway and waits to be picked up by random travelers. She brings them back to a ghost town called Hellgate, where her father uses the gem to turn them into zombies or ghosts or something. Jose’s latest target is a college student named Matt (Ron Palillo), who is heading up to the mountains to meet up with his girlfriend and another couple. When Matt gets distracted by Josie, will he be able to escape or will he lose his mortal soul or whatever is that supposed to be going on in the town of Hellgate?
This is a confusing film. It actually feels like a hodgepodge of outtakes from several other films which were just put together in an attempt to salvage something and hopefully make some money from the undemanding direct-to-video market. That Hellgate still has a cult following despite being an incoherent mess is proof that the film’s producers were not totally clueless. People will watch almost anything if there’s a promise of nudity. Hellgate delivers that, though much of the nudity comes from Ron Pallilo so I can only imagine how the film’s target audience of teenage horror fans reacted to that back in 1989.
This movie does indeed star Ron Palillo, better known for playing Arnold Horseshack on Welcome Back, Kotter. (In the Gabe Kaplan stand-up routine that inspired the show, Arnold’s last name was actually Horseshit but they had to clean it up for network TV.) Pailillo was in his 40s when he was cast as a college student and he looked closer to 50. Still, every woman in the film falls all over herself at the sight of Ron Palillo, even the ones who aren’t trying to steal his soul or whatever it is that Josie is actually doing in this film. Ron Palillio tries really hard to convince us that he’s a college stud but it’s impossible to look at him without thinking, “That’s Horseshack with a few extra years on him.”
If the story and the acting aren’t bad enough for you, Hellgate was also filmed in South Africa in the late 80s, at a time when Apartheid was still the law of the land and Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned. Most of the supporting actors are South African. They try and struggle to sound like they live in the American southwest. It’s hard to see what the film got out of being filmed in South Africa, other than the fact that it was cheap.
Like most really bad movies, Hellgate has got a cult following but it’s not worth the trouble. Unless you’re the world biggest Ron Pallilo fan (no judgment here!), this is one you can skip.