VOD Review – Hell Town
Director Steve Balderson with Elizabeth Spear has created a funny, little trifle here. In Balderson’s previous film The Far Flung Star, there is a movie-within-the-movie called “Hell Lake,” a cheesy and campy, horror flick. Clearly, Balderson loves such films. So much so, he decided to take that movie-within-the-movie idea and run with it, but, instead of doing one scene at a creepy lake, he stretched it into a feature-length story and set it in a creepy town. Don’t be scared though. This movie is actually one, big comedy. It’s a spoof of sorts, not necessarily of slasher films but of soap operas. Yes, the focus is on a serial killer, but this is not uncommon in the soap-opera world. Last year, Days of Our Lives did a serial killer story line, a murderer nicknamed the “Necktie Killer” who was all about being deranged and psychotic in his or her love for someone else and wanting to eliminate anything that got in the way. Balderson is basically doing the same thing here. He simply structures it in a meta-textual way.
Debbie Rochon (pictured below) plays herself, but she’s doing a kind of “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark” thing where she’s a sexy woman who’s a bit goth, introducing Gothic stories, or, in this case, episodes of a soap opera, three episodes, all of them concerning what’s dubbed the “Letter-Jacket Killer.” All the victims are high school teenagers who either wear letter-jackets, like student-athletes, or are connected to those athletes in some way.
Balderson uses sheer camp, so all the murders are played for laughs. Each one is totally ridiculous and not to be taken seriously, but he’s a little overshadowed by the FOX series Scream Queens, co-created by Ryan Murphy. Murphy’s show is also sheer camp with melodramatic twists akin to a soap opera. The difference is Murphy wants his show to be taken a bit more seriously than Balderson. Murphy’s show is ridiculous, but it has weight to it, whereas Balderson remains light and fluffy. Murphy’s show has both horror and comedy, but he leans more on horror. Balderson is the opposite, however. He leans more on the comedy. He wants to be silly.
One way that’s apparent is in the acting performances. The actors in Murphy’s Scream Queens are over-the-top and sometimes one-note, but there’s still a gravity to them that wouldn’t allow you to dismiss them outright with certain exceptions. On the contrary, Balderson sets up every person here as unlikeable and utterly disposable. They’re all one-note. They’re not characters. They’re caricatures, and in the end just human fodder, reduced to their basic archetypes like the dumb blonde, Trish Gable, played by Krysten Day (pictured below).
While that might be a criticism, it’s all to underscore the lines of dialogue, which do spoof soap operas. It’s not as purposeful as the soap-opera spoof in Joy (2015). It’s certainly not as nuanced as the more direct, soap-opera spoof Soapdish (1991). Balderson simply wants to use the soap-opera tropes to play up catty or bitchy moments between the main female actors, as well as play up the hot, shirtless man-candy that is a staple of daytime dramas and the bored housewives who watch them.
Interrupting the soap-opera spoofs are skits involving Rochon in Saturday Night Live-inspired interludes or scenes ripped straight out of The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). Rochon then continues her Elvira-like persona. Elvira was famously played by Cassandra Peterson who recently did a film called First Period (2015), a similar movie in look and tone to this one. First Period doesn’t have ridiculous murders that are riffs from Seven (1995) or Scream 2 (1997), but it does have the same comedic sense of camp and embrace of queer themes as this one.
However, when it comes to spoofs that are campy with a tad bit of horror and embrace of queer themes, the best would have to be Psycho Beach Party (2000), based on the play by Charles Busch. There are some David DeCoteau films, which are contenders, but Balderson’s work here might be the best successor to Psycho Beach Party that I’ve seen in nearly two decades. It’s not as witty or clever, but still very much fun.
Five Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but contains language, brief nudity, sexual situations, gore and violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 30 mins.
Available on Digital HD and Cable VOD on August 23rd.
For more information, go to: http://www.dikenga.com/#!helltown/cvd2.