ZERO STARS/**** Image C Sound A-
starring Patsy Kensit, Patrick Muldoon, Amy Locane
screenplay by Randall Frakes
directed by John Hough
by Walter Chaw An inept hybrid of Time After Time, Fatal Attraction, and Dead Again, John Hough's (Watcher in the Woods) cheapo slasher flick Hell's Gate (a.k.a. Bad Karma) suggests that Jack the Ripper had a girlfriend and that they've been reincarnated as mental patient Agnes (Patsy Kensit) and her shrink, Trey (Patrick Muldoon). The film opens in flashback as a younger version of Agnes (the character is named "Laurie Hatcher" but the actress playing her is uncredited in the closing credits) strips out of her parochial school outfit and wiggles into a pair of see-through panties, only to get kidnapped by a sicko who jolts her with a car battery until she "remembers" her past life as The Ripper's squeeze. (I say "younger" because the film says so--it seems unlikely, however, that any thirteen-year-old bombshells have lipo and implant scars.) Breaking out of the loony bin after biting off an orderly's prosthetic tongue, "old" Agnes floozes her way across the countryside on the trail of robotic Trey, his insipid wife Carly (Amy "I'm in a Coma, I Just Haven't Stopped Moving Yet" Locane), and his piping daughter Theresa (Aimee O'Sullivan).
It isn't that every aspect of Hell's Gate is ludicrously bad--or rather, yes it is: the special effects work is horrendous, the acting unspeakable, the editing on a par with public access melodrama, the screenplay (by Randall Frakes, proud scribe of Hell Comes to Frogtown) excrescent, and the plot one of those things handily encapsulated by glib comparisons to three better movies.
The nadir of the piece comes in an introduction to a flashback to Whitechapel circa 1888, when Trey has to tell poor Carly about a scary man called "Jack the Ripper." It's not that I don't believe that Amy Locane is an ignorant sot, it's that I don't believe that a college-educated linguist (Carly) is an ignorant sot--though, frankly, I don't know why not. The worst part of this isn't that Frakes and Hough think we require a definition of Jack the Ripper, it's that by including said information in this way, it suggests this is the first Frakes and Hough have heard of him. It's not patronizing, it's pathetic.
Hell's Gate does have the advantage of being unintentionally hilarious. The film is so awe-inspiring in the all-inclusiveness of its cheap worthlessness that I was helpless before its appalling sway--girly giggles are the best and only defense. In all fairness, the subtitle of the film warns "There is No Escape," and while I understand that this is referring to the idea of a closed karmic circle and manifest destiny and whatnot, it applies with more currency to the plight of the actors and, of course, the poor audience. It occurs to me in all honesty that if you rent this thing, you deserve what you get.
Artisan DVD presents Hell's Gate in a full-frame video transfer long on grain and short on distinction. The soft image betrays some blooming while the colours are muted and skin-tones just off. Surprisingly good, though, is the Dolby 5.1 sound mix, which makes good use of the rear channels (particularly when a phone rings) and features extremely nice dialogue separation and reproduction. A shame that it's wasted on something that I would wear rubber gloves to handle. A sixteen-image photo gallery, terrible trailer, and cast and crew filmographies rounds out the blissfully sparse package. Originally published: August 7, 2002.
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