Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Highway to Hell


   "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." You might be familiar with the ominous phrase from Dante's Inferno, said to be inscribed above the gates to hell. I bet you never pictured it scrolling across an electronic marquee though. Highway to Hell is full of clever little sight gags like that. It's humor isn't sophisticated, and the movie is rife with hell-centric puns, but this little gem from 1991 is a blast from start to finish. I cannot believe I hadn't seen this sooner. It's one of those movies that's so deep inside my wheelhouse that I feel like I should've watched it years ago. It's so much fun.

   The movie opens with a young love-struck couple Charlie and Rachel (Chad Lowe and Kristy Swanson, respectively) who're eloping to Vegas, hoping to tie the knot before either of their families can protest. However, a late night detour off the highway and onto a back road suck them into a world of trouble. Literally. Rachel is abducted by a zombie-like cop who takes her to Hell, Charlie has little choice but to give chase so he can rescue her. With a little help from a mysterious old guy, Charlie is kitted out with a new ride, and a special gun, but he'll need every ounce of courage and determination to make it back with Rachel in tow.

   Doesn't that sound awesome? It's pretty great. Especially considering that it never even got a theatrical release. The movie was completed in 1989, but Hemdale shelved it, and eventually dumped it on home video in 1991. It got it's first DVD/Blu Ray release only just this year. Damn. Some laptop critic said in their review that "Everything this movie does, Beetlejuice does it better." I don't get that comparison at all. The movie is absolutely nothing like Beetlejuice. Paranormal elements and hell-puns aside, the whole flavor of the two movies couldn't be further apart. Highway to Hell is like an old fashioned rescue-the-damsel actioner, with a supernatural twist. It's really fun, and really unique.

   Chad Lowe and Kristy Swanson have excellent chemistry, and the movie is full of fun little cameos like Gilbert Gottfried as Hitler, Ben Stiller as Attila the Hun, Lita Ford as a hitchhiker, and Kevin Peter Hall in his last role as Charon. If that's not perfect casting, I don't know what is. Unfortunately his role is barely a minute long. The movie's cast is solid, the acting is decent, and overall the movie is clever as hell, (no pun intended, I swear) I especially loved the bit about the roads to Hell City literally being paved with good intentions. It's as funny as it is gruesome. I mean, it's obvious as all get out, but it's another sight gag that just works.

   The real star of the movie is the Hell Cop though. He's such a cool villain who really has to be seen to be believed. I don't know if Highway to Hell had a low budget, but it certainly doesn't feel like it. Between all the effects that went into Hell Cop and his gear, to all the snazzy sets and flashy action scenes, it feels like it should've been a theatrical wide release in 1989. I've no idea why Hemdale sat on this one for a while. Critics were pretty fair to it when it finally got released too. Everyone was on the same page about it. It's not a masterpiece or anything, and it's far from high-brow humor, but it's a damn good time regardless.

   Highway to Hell is easily a new genre favorite for me. It's full of razzle-dazzle practical effects, some of the best puns and sight gags about Hell you're ever likely to see in a movie, a decent cast, a breakneck pace, and plenty of striking visuals overall. It gets a lot of mileage out of it's concepts and it's humor. It won't make you double over laughing, but it defintely got a few groan-worthy chuckles out of me. It's a deft blend of action, horror, and comedy. I can't think of any movie to compare it to offhand, but if you love fun little cult-favorite romps like The Hidden, Dead Heat, or Deep Rising, you owe it to yourself to check this out immediately. Here's hoping it cycles back onto Netflix's instant streaming. It's a hell of a fun ride. Pun definitely intended that time.

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