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 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
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(!).
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...
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.
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