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HIGHWAY TO HELL

That title is literal, as this flick is indeed set on and around a highway leading to Hell. Donít get your hopes up too high, though, as itís essentially a so-so action-comedy with horror elements thatís nearly redeemed by an inspired script--though not quite!

The Package
     The makers of this 1991 film were apparently trying for a commercial horror-comedy a la BEETLEJUICE, but were stymied by the fact that director Ate De Jong isnít nearly as talented as Tim Burton. There was also the unfortunate fact that its distributor, the UK-based Hemdale Film Corporation, was in the throes of bankruptcy, and actually went belly-up during HIGHWAY TO HELLíS blink-and-youíll-miss-it theatrical release.
     HIGHWAY TO HELL represented the award-winning Dutch filmmaker Ate de Jongís second and last attempt at forging a Hollywood career (the first was DROP DEAD FRED, another middling Tim Burton wannabe). The screenwriter was future Academy Award winner Brian Helgeland, whoíd go on to script L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and MYSTIC RIVER. The cast was headed by the (then) up-and-coming Chad Lowe and Kristy Swanson, as well as the top-billed Patrick Bergin, of SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY and MOUNTAINS OF THE MOON (and whose ďstarĒ was already on the wane when HIGHWAY TO HELL appeared). Also featured were quite a few comedians, such as Jerry Stiller as a demonic sheriff, his son Ben in dual roles as a cannibalistic fry cook and Attila the Hun, and the always irritating Gilbert Gottfried as Hitler(!).

The Story
     Charlie and Rachel are on their way to Las Vegas to elope. They stop off at a gas station manned by an old dude who warns them to steer clear of two suspicious Joshua Trees up ahead...as the trees mark the entrance of the highway to Hell! Charlie doesnít take the old man seriously at first, but has a quick change of heart when Rachel is whisked away by a demonic cop.
     The old man explains that ďHell CopĒ has a habit of kidnapping nubile young women and taking them back with him to Hell. Charlie elects to pursue Hell Cop into the underworld--although this Hell isnít ďunderĒ anything. Rather, itís a ground-level inferno that looks an awful lot like the Arizona desert. Among its attractions are a roadside diner that serves human flesh to rotting corpses, a gambling den whose patrons include Cleopatra, Genghis Khan, Idi Amin and Adolph Hitler, a recycling plant that grinds up human flesh, and a roadway packed by a never-ending swarm of Volkswagen Beetles.
     Eventually Charlie manages to cross the River Styx to the Devilís Lair, a massive high rise where Rachel is imprisoned. Charlie manages to rescue her but is caught in the act by the Devil, a.k.a. Beezle. Charlie makes a deal with Beezle that if he can outrace Hell Cop he and Rachel will get to head back to the here-and-now. But as we all know, deals with the Devil are always unwise...

The Direction
     There isnít much here worth savoring from a filmmaking standpoint, although Ate De Jong does at least keep the proceedings moving swiftly, and wrings a lot of production value out of what was clearly a low budget. Acting-wise Chad Lowe is surprisingly not-bad and Kristy Swanson adequate as his personality-free love interest, while Patrick Bergin is...well, pretty disappointing as the Devil, a juicy role whose possibilities are left largely unexplored. The same can be said for the film as a whole, which contains one of the tamest cinematic infernos on record. It was lensed entirely in Arizona, which never looks like anything other than itself.
     Brian Helgelandís script contains many pleasingly imaginative elements, most of them based around visual and literary puns: Handcuffs that consist of actual clutching hands, an emergency call box whose operators advise patrons to forego highway assistance and keep walking, a cake-maker whoís actually made of cake and a beer company called Styx Beer. HIGHWAY TO HELL is largely a missed opportunity, but it isnít entirely without interest.
 

Vital Statistics

HIGHWAY TO HELL
Hemdale Film Corporation

Director: Ate De Jong
Producers: Mary Anne Page, John Byers
Screenplay: Brian Helgeland
Cinematography: Robin Vidgeon
Editing: Todd Ramsay, Randy Thornton
Cast: Chad Lowe, Kristy Swanson, Patrick Bergin, Adam Storke, Richard Farnsworth, Jerry Stiller, Ben Stiller, Gilbert Gottfried, Pamela Gidley, Jarrett Lennon, C.J. Graham, Lita Ford, Anne Meara, Rags, Amy Stiller
 

     

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