Hellgate (1989) review

Hellgate posterDirector: William Levey

Starring: Ron Palillo, Abigail Wolcott, Carel Trichardt, Petrea Curran

“Take this, you zombie bitch!” (Pam, Hellgate)

Have you ever suffered from PMS? I have. No, you fool, I don’t mean that. I’m talking about Plot Missing Syndrome.

You know how it works. Sometimes you’re watching a film and you’re slightly tired. You nod off without realising it and wake up 30 minutes later, none the wiser.

Slowly you start to realise that the film isn’t making sense any more. Characters are talking about things that haven’t happened. The hero and his love interest suddenly hate each other for some reason. One guy’s missing a leg.

It eventually dawns on you that you must have fallen asleep. You rewind back to the last scene you remember and, more often than not, are stunned that you managed to miss around half an hour without noticing.

When I first watched Hellgate, I thought PMS had struck again. So I watched the film a second time from start to finish and realised, to my bewilderment, that it actually hadn’t.

Hellgate pic 1
I didn’t quite react like this, to be fair

Now, the nature of this site means that many of the films I watch are likely to feature bits that don’t entirely make sense.

It goes without saying that most of the 80s horror films I endulge in tend to have moments that are so charmingly bizarre all you can do is chuckle and mutter “what the fuck” to yourself.

But Hellgate is so batshit insane and its plot makes so little sense that even explaining the film’s plot becomes a messy string of confusing words and ideas.

But I’ll try anyway.

This is an evil mutated goldfish. I don't know why, it just is. Get off my back
This is an evil mutated goldfish. I don’t know why, it just is. Get off my back

Okay, so the film opens with a woman telling her friends an urban myth about the Hellgate hitchhiker. Apparently a biker gang kidnapped a teenage girl and took her to the nearby town of Hellgate, where her father tried to rescue her and a big battle broke out.

The girl died, her dad’s face was permanently scarred and the leader of the bikers, badly injured, escaped and vowed never to befriend any strangers again. Whatever that has to do with anything.

Fast-forward an indeterminable number of years and Hellgate is a ghost town, albeit one where the girl’s dad is still living. Some drunk guy enters a cave and finds crystal which brings a dead bat to life. He shows the crystal to the girl’s dad, who uses it to bring that goldfish in the pic above to life.

Oh, and this turtle.

It's an evil turtle, you see. Don't expect me to explain it
It’s an evil turtle, you see. Don’t expect me to explain it

Somehow, even though everything he brings back is evil, the dad decides he’s going to use the crystal to resurrect his daughter. The deal is that his undead daughter will seduce men and bring them back to Hellgate, where her dad will kill them for reasons never explained.

Said daughter does indeed come to life, and she does indeed seduce a chap and bring him back to Hellgate. However, he escapes and finds his mates in a nearby town, telling them about the shit that just went down. They decide to go to Hellgate to sort them out.

Oh, except, when they get to Hellgate it’s full of fucking zombies and ghostly can-can dancers and a weird English guy who cuts his fingers off and I don’t fucking know just leave me alone.

Why are you here? I don't understand. Please go away, the people of Hellgate don't want you
Why are you here? I don’t understand. Please go away, the people of Hellgate don’t want you

I’m deliberately missing out all the other random nonsensical stuff dotted throughout the movie that only throws you even further off the plot.

The local cafe worker who is instantly smitten with the main guy in a way I’ve never seen anyone act before. The disgruntled garage worker who I think is supposed to be the Hellgate hitcher but never really reveals it and slowly disappears from the rest of the film.

Oh, and there’s a scene where police officers talk about what’s going on and then are never seen again in any other scene. It should be clear by now that I don’t know why this is.

As if it doesn’t help, the acting is atrocious. On one hand, it’s understandable – the film was shot in South Africa and almost all the cast consists of South Africans trying to do American accents. On the other hand, I don’t care what country you’re from, this shit doesn’t fly with me:

Come on missus, that's ridiculous. The poor man down there must think you're taking the piss
Come on missus, that’s ridiculous. The poor man down there must think you’re taking the piss

By now you’re probably all but certain that there’s going to be, at most, a single Trevor mask at the end of this review. You may be surprised to see the final score, then.

You see, the thing is, I don’t rate films based on their quality, I rate them based on how much I enjoyed them. There’s a difference. And as incomprehensible and confusing as Hellgate was, I still had fun watching it.

So, amazingly, I recommend it. Don’t watch it expecting a coherent plot or a satisfying three-act story, but do watch it if you want to see something you can happily say you’ve never seen before.


There are a few different ways to get hold of Hellgate. The UK’s had a DVD version of it for a couple of years ago, though the quality isn’t the best. Meanwhile, in the US it’s available on a double-bill DVD along with the excellent The Pit.

By far the best version, however, is the UK Blu-ray/DVD combo recently released by Arrow Video (the version this review is based on). It’s limited to only 1000 copies but the quality’s fantastic and it contains some brilliant extra features, including a half-hour chat with the director (who it seems may be a tad over-confident).

Alternatively, it’s available to stream on US Netflix.



3 thoughts on “Hellgate (1989) review

  1. Me and a mate used to rent three films (for the princely sum of a quid, or two at the most) from the local Spar or corner shop and marathon them in one night. Most of them were utterly useless ’80s horror shite and out of the dozens we got through, none gave us more stupid joy than Hellgate and, of course, Slugs. So thanks for the memories, Mr. Sculls. I’d forgotten about the bat.

    (PS I’ve been aware of your games journo stuff for years and had no idea you ran a film site too until I just found your review of Rubber on IMDb. Bookmarked to read more!)

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