Wednesday, July 26, 2017

#2,393. Hellblock 13 (1999)

Directed By: Paul Talbot

Starring: Gunnar Hansen, Debbie Rochon, Jon Miller

Tagline: "Once Inside You'll Pray For the Chair!"

Trivia: The original title, "Hellblock 666", was changed to Hellblock 13 because of the heavily Christian area the movie was being shot in

In most anthologies, the wraparound is there simply to ease the transition from one segment to the next. But in Troma’s 1999 horror compilation Hellblock 13, the wraparound is the best part of the whole damn film!

Serial Killer Tara (Debbie Rochon) is on death row, waiting for the Executioner (played by Gunner Hanson) to take her to the electric chair. To pass the time before the switch is thrown, Tara reads the Executioner a few of the short stories she wrote during her incarceration, tales of the macabre that she believes will one day make her as immortal as Poe and Lovecraft.

In the first (titled “Watery Grave”), a mother (Amy R. Swain), hoping to hold on to the new man in her life (Kirk Bair), drowns her two children, then tells the police they’ve been kidnapped. But the little tykes refuse to stay dead, and every night their bloated corpses rise from the lake, determined to take their revenge.

Next up is “White Trash Love Story”, about a battered wife (Jennifer Peluso) who’s tired of being her husband’s (David G. Holland) punching bag. To end her misery, she visits the elderly witch (Michael R. Smith) who lives across the street. Sure enough, the witch provides a spell that’ll cut the woman’s husband down to size. But if the wife isn’t careful, this spell might just backfire on her.

Finally, we have the tale of “Big Rhonda”, a biker chick who died years earlier and has since become a religious icon, worshipped by her former gang members. To initiate their newest recruit (Bill Kealey), the bikers make their way to the cemetery where Big Rhonda is buried and perform a ritual that is supposed to bring them good luck (for their upcoming drug run into Mexico). At first, the recruit doesn’t buy into all this hocus-pocus, but he has a change of heart when the spirit of Big Rhonda (J.J. North) pays him a visit during the night... 

Unmoved by her trio of horror fables, the Executioner informs Tara that, the minute she’s dead, he’s going to burn her notebook, thus ensuring nobody will ever read her work. But Tara has already taken steps to guarantee that both she and her stories will live forever.

Despite my rather bold statement concerning the wraparound, the three segments that make up the bulk of Hellblock 13 have their strengths as well. Though clearly inspired (at least in part) by the “Something to Tide You Over” sequence in 1982’s Creepshow, “Watery Grave” is genuinely scary, and “White Trash Love Story” features a respectable (at times even comedic) performance by Jennifer Peluso as the wife who’s been pushed too far. The most uneven of the three is “Big Rhonda”; I did like the nighttime ritual that the bikers performed in the graveyard (which began with them exhuming Big Rhonda’s rotting corpse), but the segment runs a tad long, and I saw the twist at the end coming from a mile away.

As for the wraparound, it works on just about every level; Debbie Rochon is excellent as the batshit crazy serial killer who is convinced her spooky yarns will make her a literary legend, and Gunner Hanson’s Executioner is the perfect foil for her delusions of grandeur. Also, the location chosen for this segment is as eerie as it is fitting (it was shot in an abandoned prison in South Carolina), and there are some decent special effects, not to mention a surprise or two that takes the story in a direction I wasn’t expecting.

On the whole, Hellblock 13 is an entertaining horror movie, and is worth a watch. But thanks to Rochon, Hanson, and company, it’s the wraparound that will linger in your mind well after the film is over.

1 comment:

CpT GoThMcLaD said...

Loved this film Debbie Rochon and the late great Gunnar Hanson were perfect in their roles and as you stated in your review the wraparound was basically perfection itself