It sounds like a perfect set-up, doesn’t it? A past-her-prime (assuming she ever had one, and as she’s played by Z-grade actress Penny Arcade that’s a dubious proposition at best) hooker (to judge by the way she’s dressed, at any rate) drops the baby she’s carrying on its head while she’s being accosted (and later, apparently, raped and murdered) by two fully-grown conjoined twins. The kid, named Eugene, ends up being mentally retarded, wheelchair-bound, and raised on the streets by his homeless aunt. When she — how’s this for coincidence? — is also raped and murdered by a couple of winos (one of whom is portrayed by L.A.-area cult semi-icon Johnny Legend), wheelchair boy (brought to less-than-convincing life by Ron Litman, who’s at least 35 fucking years old) swears revenge on all “normals” — shorthand, I guess, for mentally and physically functioning folks like you and me. Anyone’ll do — if you can walk and talk, you’re dead. Bums, strippers (porn legend Hyapatia Lee), aerobics chicks (a slumming Michelle Bauer), steroid-pumped muscle-heads — it just doesn’t matter. If you’re of sound mind and body, Eugene’s out for your blood. Honestly, what could go wrong?
The answer, apparently, is plenty, because 1992’s shot-on-video, straight-to-VHS production Hellroller, the “brain”child of co-writers/co-directors/co-producers Gary J. Levinson and Stuart Wall is, without doubt, one of the most rancid, incompetent, thoroughly lame flicks ever unleashed on the world.
In other words, it’s all kinds of awesome. Provided you have the same warped definition of “awesome” that your humble host here does.
First off, it looks like shit — even for SOV. Half the time Wall, Levinson, or whoever was manning the camera doesn’t even bother to clean off the fucking lens. Secondly, it sounds like shit — you can hardly parse out the dialogue underneath the actually-almost-passable music score half the time, not that it probably matters much. Thirdly, no one involved with this thing can act, especially Litman, who’s probably the least likable slasher ever — you actually want him to get killed himself, rather than do any more killing, and speaking of killing —
This production is so goddamn cheap (notice that well over half the film is shot on the exact same rooftop, for instance, including the purported TV news studio scenes) that they only show ketchup/blood twice, with all the other “murders” being implied through the use of standard camcorder effects like negative images and washing out the screen in red. I imagine the entire “budget” was blown on Bauer and Lee, who spend about ten minutes each getting naked (naturally) before getting killed, and that left Levinson and Wall with 60 minutes to kill and no money to do it with. Hell, Eugene doesn’t even ride around in a real wheelchair — it’s a standard household wicker chair with a couple wheels jerry-rigged to the bottom.
Still, the absolute disregard and/or basic knowledge of what makes for passable film-making exhibited by monsieurs Levinson and Wall results in the creation — entirely by accident, mind you — of a universe all its own for Hellroller, where the normal rules of style, competence, and even space and time themselves no longer seem to apply. When Eugene encounters the conjoined twins who did in his mom again decades later, for instance, they don’t appear to have aged a day (and they’re still wearing the same two purple shirts with their “attached” middle arms visibly dangling freely inside), while he’s grown to adulthood. Script continuity, anyone? Bueller? Bueller?
Of course, all of this could be forgiven, I suppose, if the film-makers were playing things purely for laughs, but that doesn’t appear to have been the case here. Legal wranglings surrounding the post-production of Hellroller lead one to believe that Levinson, at least, thought he’d made a genuinely passable piece of cinema here. First off, both men sued another fly-by-night (did I mention this was released on VHS by a one-and-done outfit called Dark Side Home Video?) shady home video operator for the supposedly “unauthorized” use of one of their stills of Bauer on the cover of a cheap “scream queen” documentary he put out — the case was taken up by none other than Judge Wapner himself on The People’s Court, which saw our two — uhhhmmm — “heroes” walk away in defeat. Then, Levinson bought out Wall’s 50% stake in the film, struck his former partner’s name from the credits as co-director, and seems to have launched a one-man campaign to redeem his pride and joy’s image all by himself. Witness, for instance, the three positive reviews (among nine total) on IMDB for this flick that all say more or less the same thing — that this film is “not a ripoff, unlike so many other slashers,” that the “effects (which, according to the VHS box, were done by the “creator” of Evil Dead 2 and Luther The Geek — yeah, right) are awesome” and that it has “the best cast ever assembled for any horror movie,” including “Ruth Collins, Elizabeth Kaitan, and Mary Woronov.” Ya don’t say? I saw Kaitan and Collins for, oh, roughly ten seconds apiece, but I must have blinked when Woronov made her purported “appearance,” because I didn’t see her at all — nor is she listed anywhere in the credits. My bet is that all “three” of these glowing appraisals originate either from Levinson himself or a friend that he put up to it, using different names, and given that none of the “three” people have posted reviews of any other movies on IMDB, so I feel this is a pretty safe assumption I’m making.
Still, this kind of blatant hucksterism — attributing the effects work to people who have worked on larger productions (even billing them as the “creator” of said bigger productions), claiming that the movie stars people it doesn’t, and then putting up phony “shill” reviews online to promote this piece of shit over two decades after it was made — are the kind of things we salute around here, so my hat is off to Levinson or whoever might be behind this no-budget guerrilla “marketing” campaign. The spirit of carnival barker-style publicity a la Herschell Gordon Lewis and William Mishkin definitely lives on, even in the internet age.
And while we’re at it, I also doff my cap to the triumvirate behind VHShitfest.com, who have had the audacity to recently release Hellroller on DVD as a completely bootleg effort. I’m not sure how much publicity the guys want for this, but shit, it’s on the front page of their website, so I guess they don’t have too much to hide. While I can’t for the life of me understand why they chose to blow the image up to widescreen rather than just leave it full-frame — unless they wanted the movie to look even shittier than it already does — they’ve otherwise assembled a terrific package here. There’s a text interview with Wall; an on-camera interview with actor David H. Sterry, who plays two parts in the movie; two commentary tracks, one of which is a mash-up of them and some friends reading the film’s original shooting screenplay with the other being a more “traditional” track by the guys accompanying the flick itself; their original YouTube review is presented in its entirety; and they’ve even included the People’s Court segment mentioned earlier! Plus, as if all that weren’t awesome enough, in my package containing the DVD that arrived the other day, they included an actual paper copy of the flick’s original shooting script, complete with hand-scrawled, last-second director’s annotations! Sure, the fellas don’t have the encyclopedic knowledge of all things cult cinema that we’ve come to expect from the folks behind labels like Code Red, Scorpion Releasing, Vinegar Syndrome, Blue Underground, etc. — they seem to have no working knowledge of who Hyapatia Lee or Johnny Legend are, for instance (although their description of Legend as an “Alan Moore-looking motherfucker” is pretty awesome) — they more than make up for it with sheer enthusiasm for what they’re doing. This is one killer disc they’ve put together that’s well worth the under-twenty-bucks they’re asking for it. Not that we encourage the piracy of copyrighted works around here, of course, your honor.
Seriously, folks, if you’re looking for the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the barrel, this just light be it. 555 and even Black Devil Doll From Hell look like Hollywood blockbusters in comparison to Hellroller. Shit, even Nick Millard’s shot-at-home-in-one-afternoon numbers exhibit more professionalism and ability. How many ways can you say “move this to the top of your ‘must-buy’ list immediately”? What are you waiting for, an invitation?