With a title that sounds like one of those contrived faux grindhouse trailers devised for inclusion in Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's painful vanity project from a few years' back, it's safe to say I approached WEREWOLF MASSACRE AT HELL'S GATE with extreme caution.
At the very least, I can tell you it isn't attempting a late leap onto the grindhouse bandwagon.
It opens with Lord Victor Fleming (Tim Pollard), a self-professed collector of macabre tales, sitting with a glass of wine in his lounge at night, introducing us to a yarn which - he assures us in earnest - is not for persons with a "nervous disposition".
From there, onscreen text informs the viewer that 400 years ago a village girl called Elizabeth Frankenstein (Claire 'Fluff Llewellyn) was wrongfully accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. As women in this predicament tend to do, she placed a curse on the village of Skinner's Grove moments before she snuffed it.
Then we're catapulted into the present day, where we settle in Wisconsin. Here, there has been a spate of mysterious disappearances occurring in a local spot known as Hell's Gate (formerly known as ... Skinner's Grove!).
A hooded representative from the Chicago Archdiocese (Raymond Benson) puts on a fake voice and rings a paranormal agency asking them to investigate these happenings. According to them the Vatican is concerned that, if four rocks that were scattered on far corners of the Earth are retrieved, the world will end. Three of these strange rocks have been recovered already: the fourth is said to be buried beneath the cemetery in Hell's Gate. So our holy man needs a paranormal investigator to deem the place as being haunted so that permission will be granted to dig it up and get to the last remaining rock before anyone inappropriate does.
Ghost hunters Wendy (Wendy Pierson) and nightmare-prone Ian (Jason Wollwert) agree to do just that. It sounds like a routine job - to simply scour the graveyard during the daytime and pass judgement that it is indeed haunted. However, while surveying the area, Ian encounters what he believes to be a werewolf.
He's quick to ring his gung-ho friend Flunky (James Baack). This self-proclaimed patriot is up for drinking heavily and gathering a bunch of likeminded gun-toting rednecks to go into the Hell's Gate woods and hunt down the werewolves - said to be the spawn of Elizabeth's ancient curse.
The scene is then set for a showdown between Flunky's lynch mob, the witch's werewolf legion and a married couple (Tina Boivin and Anthony Zielinski) who just happen to get caught in the crossfire.
HELL'S GATE is a very cheap venture - the budget was reportedly just $8,000.00 - which nevertheless takes itself extremely seriously. Writer-director James Baack (who obviously has a penchant for salacious titles, having also helmed DRACULA'S ORGY OF THE DAMNED and THE BLOODY RAGE OF BIGFOOT) offers the only light relief, as the hard-boozing and masked vigilante Flunky. Otherwise, we get a very sincere and doggedly stylish venture which tries its utmost to belie its impoverished origins.
It never really gets there, truth be told. But that's not through lack of trying. Baack employs a string of optical tricks in a bid to imbue his film with more style than it should rightfully have: dry-ice mist permeates through the opening scenes; the werewolf POV shots proffer a canny red-hued tint; monochrome nightcam footage and CGI gunfire attempt to liven up the action sequences.
Elsewhere, it has to be said that the film's strongpoint is its photography - particularly in terms of its use of beguiling rural locations. In terms of evoking horror, the simplest ideas work the best: figures shrouded in face-covering hoods, silhouettes of lycanthropes howling into the moon etc. Joel Rusco's ambient score is an asset too.
The main flaw of the film is that its story never really gets going until at least 20 minutes into proceedings. That's a little too late for a 75-minute film. Also, once the dialogue kicks in, it kind of ruins the effect of the early scenes' rich visuals. And the less said about the werewolves themselves, once they present themselves, the better...
Still, stick around after the closing titles sequence for a great, funny address to the screen from Pollard who has a special message to all those who have previously doubted the authenticity of his English accent.
WEREWOLF MASSACRE AT HELL'S GATE is presented uncut on this region-free DVD, which is released by Baack's own Ingy Films imprint via Cheezy Flicks.
Benefitting from being shown in its original 1.85:1 ratio and enhanced for 16x9 televisions, the film looks colourful and bright where it needs to. It's got that cheap digital look, certainly, but the transfer handles its darker scenes and smog effects well: there is no unsightly noise to speak of, and images remain sharp throughout.
English 2.0 audio is reliable for the duration too.
The disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, a motionless scene selection menu allows access to the film via 10 chapters.
The only bonus feature is a 3-and-a-half minute music video advertising the print-on-demand book Baack co-wrote with Eric S Brown entitled "Straws". This employs lots of creepy archive footage to good effect, emanating a convincing vibe of folk horror spirit in its clips of spooky scarecrows (and did I peek a glimpse of legendary 90s art-horror flick BEGOTTEN in there too?!). All set to one of Rusco's intriguing country tunes, this is good stuff.
WEREWOLF MASSACRE AT HELL'S GATE isn't a terrible film; it simply requires a viewer who knows to adjust their expectations in accordance with the limited budgetary means with which it's been conceived. It looks good on Cheezy's region-free disc.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Cheezy Flicks|
|see main review|