Theatrical Release: March 13, 1992 (USA)
Blu Ray Release: February 2, 2016
Director: Ate de Jong
Review by James Klein
Highway to Hell was one of those movies I used to see at the video store and bypass every time I passed it. I hated the VHS cover, it looked so cheap and silly with this cheesy demon face and Rob Lowe’s younger brother standing in the middle of the road with a gun. It looked cheap, it looked too silly and after finally watching Kino’s blu ray, I was half right. It is a lower budget film and it is silly and comedic however I found it to be a lot of fun and original, thanks to screenwriter Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential and Payback).
Chad Lowe and Kristy Swanson star as Charlie and Rachel, two young lovers who have run away from home to elope in Las Vegas. Nervous about their surroundings in fear that their parents have put the law out on them, they decide to drive down back roads to get to Vegas. The lovers stop at a run down gas station, run by Sam (Richard Farnsworth from Misery). Sam advises these two youngsters to watch for the second tree by the road and to not fall asleep while driving. Kind of an odd warning but of course, Charlie drifts off and sure enough gets pulled over by the police after he almost crashes his car. But this officer is no ordinary cop, he’s Hellcop, a demon from Hell who kidnaps young women to bring to Hell for Satan himself.
When Rachel is taken away and straight to Hell, Charlie races back to see Sam who tells Charlie that his own wife was taken to Hell 50 years ago. Armed with a shot gun and borrowing Sam’s 1940 Ford V8 De Luxe, Charlie is able to travel to Hell and search for his bride to be in the barren desert landscape.
The interesting thing about Highway to Hell is the idea that Hell takes place in the desert and there are many strange and evil characters running about who run into Charlie as he searches for Rachel. This is where the film starts to get a little too comedic with various cameos by the likes of Ben Still, Jerry Stiller, Gilbert Gottfried, Lita Ford, Anne Meara, and Kevin Peter Hall. The characters are too zany to take seriously and while I was enjoying the action and catching these brief and strange cameos, I wanted the film to be a little more scarier but in hindsight it really isn’t that type of film. It’s more of a supernatural action film than say a horror film. Make up artist Steve Johnson’s effects are fantastic and they are the highlight during the Hell sequences.
That is not to say everything else is bad; the actors do a good job in their roles and director De Jong does a decent job as well. The film is very fast paced, at times too fast as the movie never seems to take a breath but I’d rather see a fast paced film than something dull and boring. With all the sequences taking place in the daylight, I thought maybe with the HD transfer the make-up would look cheap or noticeable and it is not. In fact, Johnson’s make-up work still holds up 25 years later. Helgeland’s screenplay is very off the wall and it’s a breath of fresh air to watch a movie that’s at least original given the state that film is at now.
Kino’s HD transfer looks really amazing. Although I have never seen Highway to Hell on VHS, I can only assume it looks nothing like this spotless transfer. The 2.0 DTS audio is ok but for a film with so much action and car chases, a 5.1 mix would have been awesome. That being said, it still sounds fine but feels like a wasted opportunity. The blu ray has an audio commentary track by director Ate de Jong who discusses bluntly the rather troubled production as it seems as if he didn’t get along with many of the crew and now admits he may have been arrogant in his youth. There is an interview with an even more blunt Steve Johnson who discusses his work on this film. Johnson is always a treat to listen to as he’s very animated. I particular like how he thought Ben Stiller’s improv on set was both distracting and bad (although de Jong found it hilarious). Rounding out the special features is the film’s theatrical trailer.
Don’t expect a scary horror film with Highway to Hell. It’s a bizarre, comedic, action-packed roller coaster that is a lot of fun to watch but is about as scary as a Looney Tunes cartoon.
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