Hell's Gate

Director: John Hough            
Patsy Kensit, Patrick Muldoon, Amy Locane

One of the standard scenes found in many psycho stalker movies is the part not long after the movie starts, where the lunatic escapes from the asylum they are incarcerated in. The psycho stalker movie Hell's Gate has ...but the best philosophy for THIS scene is "Brains are where the penis is"such a sequence, though it does play it out much differently than other psycho stalker movies have done in the past, and not just that the mental patient in this case is a woman. After strapped-down mental patient Maureen Hatcher (Kensit, Lethal Weapon 2) ingeniously kills the doctor who had been feeding her (shouldn't an orderly have been doing that?), she frees herself and waits for someone to unlock her door, which a female security guard eventually does while fulfilling the administration's request to look for the doctor. Killing the guard in a surprisingly easy way, she dons the security guard's uniform and manages to subsequently walk past several doctors and orderlies without any of them noticing - which doesn't make sense, when you figure out everyone in an institution like that would know everyone else, and would especially notice a new security guard that was female, especially since there aren't that many female security guards anywhere. Ducking into a room to hide, she then kills a nurse, and then spends several hours there, judging by the fact it's night when she emerges. Apparently nobody missed any of those three now-dead people during all of that time, because the staff at the front desk she walks by are still casually working, and also do not notice they have a new female security guard. The asylum staff does subsequently find out she has escaped and three of their co-workers are dead - but only after sunup the next morning.

If this sequence was an isolated example of extreme stupidity to be found in Hell's Gate, it's possible, just possible, I might be able to forgive the movie for this idiocy and swallow the entire package whole, bitter part and all. But as you have probably guessed by the way I worded that last sentence, that isn't the case. Far from it. In fact, very far from it. To put it bluntly, Hell's Gate is one of the stupidest horror movies I have seen, a movie so badly conceived in so many ways that it becomes insulting to the intelligence of even the most undemanding viewers. I can accept a little of the implausible - you have to in most movies anyway, and besides, it can be a fun part of the game to think a little detail of the movie is silly. However, this is far different than when you slap thePatrick Muldoon couldn't undersand why Peter Jackson didn't pick him to play Frodo palm of your hand on your forehead and say, "Oh, come on now!" - especially when you keep doing it repeatedly throughout the movie you are watching. By the end of Hell's Gate, I felt like a member of the Three Stooges. It's hard to believe that the director of this movie is the same John Hough that directed classics like The Legend Of Hell House and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry... until you look at the more recent entries on his resume that include such works as Howling IV: The Original Nightmare.

The movie is terrible right from the get go, starting by showing us full-frontal nudity before the opening credits have finished playing - which, as any bad movie scholar will tell you, is an unmistakable sign there will be bad times ahead. The naked girl in this case is a Fresno Catholic schoolgirl named Maureen Hatcher who apparently makes a habit of taking off her clothes in a gas station restroom for reasons not made very clear, but don't really matter to the gas station attendant who looks in via a peephole at her surprisingly developed adolescent body. On this particular day, after his peeping he barges into the restroom, chloroforming and abducting her. At first I though this was some kind of mutual sick sex game they were playing, considering how unafraid and relatively calm Maureen sounded just before and after the chloroforming, but sometime into her being strapped topless on a bed and being given electric jolts, it was finally made clear that Maureen had indeed been kidnapped, and that the actress playing her simply had no idea how to act. This jaw-dropping realization was equal to the subsequent revelation that the attendant had not kidnapped her for the expected reasons, but for reasons too ludicrous and laborious to get into here, which also goes for how Maureen subsequently gets out of the situation.

What's even worse is that the events that subsequently follow this opening sequence show they are able to stand on their own; the only reason that the sequence seems to be there is as an excuse to show some nudity, possibly because the originally cast actress to play Maureen refused to do so. It stands to reason at the last minute they wrote this prologue, casting it 10 years in the past so that they could get away with having another (and younger) actress playing the naked Maureen. Whatever the explanation might be for the opening sequence, the rest of the movie not only takes place ten years later, but now takes place all the way in Rhode Island, no doubt soYou don't know whether to laugh or cry at someone who is a Sharon Stone wannabe that the producers could find a foreign location to shoot in that not only could be passed off as Rhode Island but offer generous tax credits for foreign filmmakers (not Vancouver this time around, but Ireland instead.) In the present time, Maureen is now played by Kensit, and the explanation given to why she looks so different from the actress who played her ten years earlier is that she had plastic surgery to alter her appearance. At least the filmmakers give a somewhat plausible explanation as to why she altered her appearance; she did so to elude the authorities after having turned into a certified serial killer by those electric shocks. Now locked up in an asylum, she is convinced she is the reincarnation of the squeeze of a serial killer from the 19th century. Not only that, she is convinced that Trey Campbell (Muldoon, Melrose Place), the doctor treating her, is the reincarnation of this guy. One day Campbell tells her he is taking off for a week's vacation with his wife and daughter on an isolated island, and...

...really, I don't think there is any point into going into further detail of the plot. Even if I hadn't told you about Maureen's escape at the beginning of the review, I am sure you would have guessed that she quickly breaks out of the asylum and starts stalking Dr. Campbell, and that his wife and daughter will be put in danger, and there will be a climactic scene where she has his wife and daughter hostage blah blah blah. Not only is Hell's Gate filled with stupidity, it is painfully predictable, predictable in ways that practically slap us on the face. For example, when the Campbell family arrives on the island and meet the babysitter they hire, they make special emphasis that although their daughter is a great swimmer they don't want her to go near the water. Naturally, we immediately guess that the daughter will at one point be cornered by Maureen and have to enter the water to escape. That's indeed what happens, though since the movie is so cheap they don't actually show the daughter swimming, instead showing her up to her ankles in water, then when we next see her she is on dry land but wet all over. There are no surprises in Hell's Gate. Not one. You have seen everything here before. You'll guess correctly about the twist about the identity of this 19th century serial killer as soon as this character is brought up. You'll guess correctly which characters will live and who will die. You'll always be several steps ahead of everybody and everything in the movie. None of the plot "twists" are the least bit fresh. If the no-name brand section of your supermarket had a video shelf, this plot of this movie would fit in nicely.

Is it then not surprising that none of the cast seems to stand out, considering this tired material that they have to perform? To some aspect I can't really blame them for their inadequate performances, but on the other hand there is little sign that they are even giving a token effort to rise above the material by adding something of their own. In Muldoon's case, it could be legitimately argued that he is completely miscast as both a psychiatric doctor and a family man. When he's at work, he seems to need to struggle to come up with the right words or deductions that should be second nature to a professional like him. At home, there is no feeling of family between him and his wife and child; he seems like a newcomer in both "Geez, I can tell from your eyes that you had a rough night..."roles. It's also unforgivable that Muldoon more or less keeps his voice and emotions at a monotone throughout, even when a major crisis has his character blurt out "Please, God" three times in a row. Not any better than Muldoon is Kensit as his nemesis. Her character is portrayed as a genius despite her psychotic tendencies (which starts to get silly when it's revealed she knows how to do things like pilot a police boat effortlessly), two characteristics when combined that could make a frightening villain. But even though she commits violent murder several times in the movie, she never comes across as particularly threatening. She hides her rage and obsessive feelings for the most part, giving off shy smiles and speaking in a matter-of-fact tone, even when she's about to plunge the knife.

Everyone else is merely bland, except for Patrick Byrnes, who plays the familiar role of the tough cop who complains of bleeding hearts who don't allow psychos to be put behind bars. Though there's nothing exceptional about his character, he at least gives some (seemingly intentional) funny facial expressions with the aid of his stained crooked teeth, which does add some welcome goofiness. One thing I couldn't figure out about his role is that after he's established as a mainland cop, he's later seen as a member of the island's police station, proved by a nameplate on his desk. I also wondered why his character requests a DNA test to identify a burnt corpse when checking dental records would be quicker and easier. While such plot stupidities like this can be blamed on the screenplay, a lot of the blame for Hell's Gate's downfall still falls on director John Hough. There are the typical screw-ups here that you find in other bad movies - bad photography, cheesy gore effects, cheap sets, etc. - but there are some screw-ups here that suggest Hough wasn't even trying to make a good movie. There are shots where people are clearly driving on the right side of their cars, blatant continuity errors like when Dr. Campbell enters a music store without his glasses but is wearing them inside in the next shot, and most insultingly, Hough films several cases of lesbian smooching at angles where we never actually see the lips meet. When a movie can't even exploit something as easy as that, you know something is very wrong.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Look for source novel "Bad Karma" by Douglas Clegg

See also: Death Game, Death Weekend, Seven Hours To Judgment