Pretty blonde Susan (Judy Sanders) takes a shower one evening while her mother (Lynn Borden) busies herself preparing their dinner downstairs. Unbeknownst to the pair of them, an assassin by the name of Silk (Ray Sharkey) - complete with studded leather wristband and a moustache that turn the Village People green with envy - lurks outside with a flick-knife.
Within seconds, Silk has made his way into their home and begins to throttle the mother, demanding that she tell him the whereabouts of some all-important bank statements. Alas, she dies before has can prise this information from her.
Upon vacating the shower, Susan happens upon this grim scene. She flees, Silk giving chase. A fall renders her unconscious; the next time she awakens, she's been committed to Ashland Sanatorium for Women on account of her amnesia.
We soon learn that Silk has been hired by shady Doctor Monroe (Martin Beck), who Susan's mother worked for, to retrieve those dodgy bank statements at all costs. To this end, Silk is given an orderly uniform and sent to work in the Sanatorium - which, coincidentally, Monroe sits on the board of Governors of - and set about grilling Susan for their whereabouts. His only instruction is that she must not die before she's given him the info he requires.
Meanwhile, Susan gets acquainted with her new surroundings. She's introduced to fellow patient Daisy (Mae Campbell) who takes her under her wing, protecting her when an inevitable catfight breaks out between two other inmates and warning her not to get into similar bother. If she does, Daisy forewarns, she will be put into the dreaded Hellhole: a mysterious building that unruly patients are marched to by uniformed militia-types (look out for MANIAC COP's Robert Z'Dar as one of them), never to be seen again.
Disconcertingly, we learn early-on that seemingly friendly doctor Fletcher (Mary Woronov) presides over whatever horrible things are going on inside the Hellhole.
As life in the hospital becomes more and more akin to a women's prison (communal showers boasting a fine array of bushy groins an heaving natural bosoms; fist-fights in the bathrooms, dining hall and outdoor exercise area; lesbianism trysts, etc), Susan becomes increasingly curious about the fabled Hellhole and what use for the patients they have in there. Needless to say, the one time she mentions it to friendly porter Ron (Richard Cox), he warns her from ever speaking of it again.
With Silk still loitering on the premises and trying his best to intimidate Susan into remembering what the fuck it is he's talking about, and Monroe in cahoots with sadistic Fletcher, it seems inevitable that eventually Susan is going to end up in the hospital's darkest building.
What's going in the Hellhole, and will Susan be able to escape - not only from Silk, but also the crazy hospital - to tell the tale?
HELLHOLE is an oft-overlooked 1985 slice of exploitation that perhaps owes its lack of reputation to its confusion over what it wants to be. It starts off very much in the horror mould, before turning into a prison drama and then even journeying through action movie territory with a spot of soft-core eroticism thrown in along the way.
Despite the schizophrenic nature of the action, the film is always briskly paced (though a little overlong) and benefits from a quality cast who pump energy into each ridiculous, exaggerated set-piece scene.
Sharkey is great as the camp killer, looking like a younger and slimmer Joe Spinnell. Woronov is always good value for money (even though Britt Ekland was originally cast in her role). Z'Dar doesn't have much to do but it's always great to have his presence in a film. Beck is good fun, if underused. Landers plays like a bargain basement alternative to Linnea Quigley, and does it well. Cox does his best catalogue model impression as the pretty/pretty useless hero. Edy Williams gets to steal the few scenes she's in during the film's most impressive moments of gratuitous topless shenanigans.
Jeff Sturges' electronic score is an atmospheric, pulsating affair that clearly borrows from John Carpenter's works. It's a great effort on its own terms, perhaps more suited to slasher fare than what essentially amounts to a cheap women-in-prison flick.
The direction, from Pierre De Moro, is surprisingly efficient. He doesn't go in for swish visuals or carefully considered set-ups, admittedly, but he does know how to deliver a frills-free action ride that breezes by quickly enough to ensure the cheesy dialogue never truly registers before the next scene of nudity or fisticuffs is upon us. Violence may be a tad on the tame side but there's a mean spirit running throughout the film that helps it stand up favourably against similar, more polished efforts like CHAINED HEAT.
HELLHOLE comes to region-free DVD courtesy of Cheezy Flicks. It is, at the very least, uncut at 95 minutes in length.
As for picture quality, it's up to their usual standards. That is, the transfer suffers from a soft, overly dark and VHS-like quality. Presented in 1.33:1, the picture is also cropped (as evidenced by the fact that the opening titles sequence plays out in the correct 1.78:1 ratio). Colours are decent, blacks look a little worn, detail is lacking. Overall, however, I found this to be watchable enough, given the trash that it is (albeit enjoyable trash at that).
English mono audio is more consistent, with only minor noise now and then hampering what is essentially a good, clear track.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, a static scene selection menu allows access to the film via 10 chapters.
In terms of bonus features, all we get is the usual 4-minute promo reel for other titles available in the Cheezy Flicks roster: BIKINI BEACH RACE, ILSA THE WICKED WARDEN and STRIPPERLAND.
HELLHOLE is cheap, trashy fun that makes good use of a decent cast and sleazy concept. It's not art, and it certainly hasn't been shown much respect by Cheezy Flicks' DVD, but it's definitely worthy of a watch regardless.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Cheezy Flicks|
|see main review|