On Friday nights, we hit the movie theater to see a film, and tell you all about it the next day. We call it Cinema Saturdays. This week, we went to see Hell Town.
Steve Balderson‘s Hell Town is a cool idea that seems more like a rough draft than a final product. Three episodes in the middle of the second season of a lost soap opera, with a murderer on the loose, seems like a solid idea, right? The concept — that people binge-watch TV all the time and to recreate that experience, but theatrically — is pretty cool, until you consider the fact that this has been done before, and most of the results (The Master Ninja, Time of the Apes) ended up being skewered on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Hell Town is not a good movie, but it is a pretty fun movie built on a solid concept that just needs a little work. Were that everyone understood that soap operas don’t have f-bombs, nor is there a need to be playing to the back of the room, community theater style. Plus, nobody on even the most outré soap would use the phrase “69 position.” It plays less like a trio of lost episodes and more like one of Charles Busch’s scripts, only sans the whimsy.
The acting is decent, with a couple of performances in which the actors which seem like they know what’s supposed to be going on. A clever conceit is swapping the actress playing Laura Gable after the first episode, which actually results in a better performance. Beckijo Neill establishes the character, but Jennifer Grace fucking kills it. This woman knows soap opera. You play that shit straight, not with deadpan irony or overly arch winking at what’s being done. Grace sells director Balderson’s script like nobody’s business, and every single one of her scenes is an absolute delight.
If the rest of the cast were willing to commit to the premise, the film would’ve generated more outright laughter than light titters. Ben Whindholz as Butch plays his role like he’d studied Jake Gyllenhall’s work in The Good Girl and amped it up with the ridiculousness of Bubble Boy.
Funnily enough, what really hamstrings the production is that Hell Town just doesn’t look like a soap opera. This movie actually looks too good to be mistaken for the real thing. The funny thing is, to make Hell Town look more like a soap opera would’ve cost more. To get the proper atmosphere, this should’ve been shot entirely on a sound stage, with far fewer locations and nearly no exterior shots.
All-in-all, it’s not bad. As a slasher, it works fairly well. There are solid kills, with the deaths looking absolutely authentic. The attention paid them made the rest of this look better by association. Hell Town might not be the sort of movie I’d recommend catching, but it’s certainly not something you should avoid. Upcoming screening information can be found here.