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Highway to Hell
Here's one from the ‘this'll never get a Blu-ray release… happy to be wrong!' file: Ate de Jong's 1991 genre mash-up Highway To Hell, now the worthy recipient of its high definition debut courtesy of the good people behind the Kino Studio Classics line.
Written by Brian Helgeland, (yes, the same man who wrote Mystic River, won an Oscar for L.A. Confidential and penned quite a bit of other mainstream Hollywood blockbuster types, though he got his start writing horror pictures like this one and A Nightmare On Elm Street IV), the story follows a pair of young lovebirds named Charlie (Chad Lowe, Rob's brother!) and Rachel (Kristy Swanson) who decide to elope to Las Vegas and tie the knot. So that they don't get cut off at the pass by Rachel's parents, Charlie drives them down a remote highway in lieu of taking the interstate.
Things are weird as soon as they start travelling down this road. It's almost as if the whole highway has been completely abandoned, until they're pulled over by the Hellcop (C.J. Graham). He kidnaps Rachel and rushes back to Hell with her, leaving Charlie initially alone in his quest to get her back. Of course, along the way Charlie makes the acquaintance of a strange tow-truck driver called Beezle (Patrick Bergin), who is just as sinister as his name might suggest. Will Charlie be able to travel the highway to Hell to retrieve his beloved from the pit of eternal fire, or will the Hellcop and his cohorts put a stop to him and keep her as one of their own?
As quirky a film as you'd expect from the filmmaker best known in North America for Drop Dead Fred, this one mixes up horror, humor, action and sci-fi in fairly equal doses. As such, the tone is pretty erratic, but it's nothing if not entertaining. Graham is awesome as the Hellcop, a tough talking S.O.B. covered in scars and genuinely eerie looking. He steals pretty much every scene he's in and after you see the movie you understand exactly why the marketing materials for the film focused so heavily on his character. Equally good is Patrick Bergin as the not so subtly named Beezle. It's quite clear very early on just who this guy is, but Bergin nevertheless creates something unique out of the character and manages to give him both personality and even pathos as the storyline progresses. The leads don't fare quite as well. Chad Lowe sort of sleepwalks through the film, rarely offering up much in the way of emotion or intensity. Part of the problem there is the way that the character is written as Charlie just doesn't have much of a personality, but the fact remains that Lowe's character is flat. Swanson fares a bit better than he does, but she isn't given as much to do, she's in it quite a bit but essentially playing a hostage, a damsel in distress even.
Thankfully, Joining the main cast members are some fun and noteworthy supporting players, notably Ben Stiller as Attila the Hun, Amy Stiller as Cleopatra and Gilbert Gottfried as Hitler, all appearing together in a scene where they dine together. On top of that, Jerry Stiller plays a desk cop in the film, and none other than former Runaways/metal queen Lita Ford pops up in the film as a hitchhiker. These supporting bits help to give the movie some much appreciated quirk in the character department and, when coupled with Graham and Bergin, thankfully make up for the fairly lackluster leads.
The film also looks pretty cool. The desert backdrop is the perfect spot to place a story like this and the Hellish visuals are often effective in how darkly comedic they are (a good example being a strip club where strategic parts of a female performer's anatomy are set ablaze, or a beer commercial for some suds made with the filthiest water from the River Styx!). On top of that we get some very cool stop motion visual effects (the three-headed dog in this movie is awesome), various oddball practical effects scattered throughout the pictures and a lot more. There's some great gallows humor worked into the script that makes it easy to overlook some pretty obvious plot holes. If Highway To Hell isn't a perfect film, it's definitely a fun cult oddity completely worth revisiting.The Blu-ray:
Highway To Hell debuts on Blu-ray (it was never given a DVD release, at least not in North America) in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer taken from a new 2015 master framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and it looks great. There's very little in the way of print damage here, the image is clean and crisp and clear from start to finish. Detail is strong throughout and color reproduction looks great too. Black levels are solid, nice and deep but never showing any problems with crush or with compression artifacts, while grain is obvious but never overpowering. This looks, as it should, like a nicely detailed and very clean transfer of top notch film elements.Sound:
Audio chores are handled by way of a DTS-HD 2.0 mix, in English, with no alternate language options or subtitles provided. There are no problems to report here. Balance is fine, the track demonstrates good clarity throughout and there's decent range evident primarily in the soundtrack. Dialogue stays clean, clear and easy to follow and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion.Extras:
Kino have done a nice job on the extras here, starting with an audio commentary by director Ate De Jong. He talks quite a bit about some the issues that the film ran into during production, with the powers that be at Sovereign Pictures meddling in the picture, but so too does he talk about the cast, the locations and the effects work featured in the picture. It's reasonably scene specific track, that starts out by talking about how the credits are a product of their time, how he hasn't seen the movie in ‘quite some time', how the scene in the diner was shot in a place that had Christmas decorations in it all year round for some reason, how in the first part of the movie we're very clearly meant to see that the characters are indeed going into a different world, the stunts featured in the movie and loads more. Ate de Jong keeps the pace quick, he's never without a word to say here, and this is a genuinely detailed and concise history of his take on what really happened during the making of this movie.
The disc also includes an eleven minute long on camera interview with SFX make-up Artist, Steve Johnson where he talks about how he got the job on the movie, what it was like working with Ate De Jong, the use of contacts in the movies to affect the eyes of the demon characters, the influence of Clive Barker's Books Of Blood stories and quite a bit more. This is a fun interview, he's very enthusiastic to talk about his experiences on the movie and he does it with plenty of detail and a good sense of humor. Outside of that we get an animated montage of stills, the film's original theatrical trailer, static menus, chapter selection and some reversible cover art.Final Thoughts:
Highway To Hell is certainly an odd duck of a movie, but it's also a whole lot of screwy fun. Horror fans should know that it's not all together scary, but there is some decent tension and a lot of macabre elements to the film that definitely keep it in line with the genre. The leads aren't always on fire but the supporting cast are great and Kino have done right by the film, giving it a pretty solid presentation and supplying some fun extra features as well. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.