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Highway to Hell (1991)

Kino Lorber
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/2/2016

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/19/2016

Ambition is a strange thing. When we are young, we are told that we should be ambitious and that we should strive to be anything that we want to be. However, as we get older, ambition seems to be a bad thing. How often are people told that they are reaching too far in jobs or in relationships? It's clear that the message changes from "go for it" to "be happy with what you have". I don't see any problem with being ambitious. Even if someone fails, they should be applauded for trying. I always try to give credit where its due for ambitious movies, even weird entries like 1991's Highway to Hell.

Charlie (Chad Lowe) and Rachel (Kristy Swanson) are two young lovers who are on their way to Las Vegas to elope. They decide to take the backroads, and despite the warnings of Sam, (Richard Farnsworth), an old gas station attendant, Charlie stops on the road, and is pulled over by Hellcop (C.J. Graham), who spirits Rachel away. Sam loans Charlie an old hot rod and a shotgun and Charlie travels to hell to save Rachel. There, he finds a strange wasteland full of bizarre creatures and peculiar people. With the assistance of a mechanic named Beezle (Patrick Bergin), Charlie makes his way to Hell City in order to make a deal with the Devil and save Rachel.

OK, let's begin with a very honest assessment of Highway to Hell. Despite the fact that it was released in 1991 (and in America until 1992), the movie was shot in 1989. Why is that significant? Because this is such an 80s movie. The film has the look and feel of an 80s music video, from the costumes to the cars to the camera angles. (If this had been edited down to 3 minutes, set to music and shown on MTV in the mid-80s, no one would have given it a second thought.) I really hate to use this word, but there is a sort of overall cheeziness to the movie which is undeniably 80s. It's not campy per se, but it's sense of heightened reality which makes some of the movie, even parts which are supposed to creepy, hard to take seriously. Also, there is no doubt that this is a relatively low-budget picture. (Although, the reported budget was $9 million, which should have gone much farther back then.) "Hell" is just a seemingly endless desert location and the movie has the choppy, stuttering sort of editing which plagues low-budget movies.

Having said all of that, we must go back to our earlier idea about ambition. There is no doubt that Highway to Hell bites off far more than it can chew, but it's also clear that the team behind the camera had a lot of good ideas. Screenwriter Brian Helgeland, who would go on to win an Oscar for L.A. Confidential, has filled the film with many clever jokes which pertain to hell, with the highway construction gag being a classic. Special Effects Make-up Artist Steve Johnson lends a hand with the very creative Hellcop make-up. The movie is never truly scary, as it plays out as more of a fantasy-adventure, but once Charlie gets to Hell City, there are very creative gags which border on creepy and made me wonder if some of them weren't influential on later things like the Silent Hill video games.

The important thing to keep in mind here is that Highway to Hell is a movie which shouldn't be taken too seriously. Despite the obvious notions of damnation and religion, there are some themes about lost love and being true to oneself. But, those eventually take a backseat to a movie which is really about car chases and gross monsters. Watching the movie now, it's the cast which is fascinating. How/why is the entire Stiller clan -- Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Ben Stiller, and Amy Stiller -- in this film. Did they lose a family bet? We've also get Gilbert Gottfried, the aforementioned Richard Farnsworth, and Lita Ford (!) in cameos. Lowe, Swanson, and Bergin are all veteran actors who add a solid presence in the lead roles. Highway to Hell is a great side-trip for those who love 80s nostalgia and overall, the movie is fun without being the least bit heavy.

Highway to Hell never explains if people who are in hell can die on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Kino Lorber. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 24 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a trace amount of grain at times. We get some very mild defects from the source materials here, present in the form of black specs. The colors look good, although the overall aesthetic of the film makes them appear washed-out at times and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is just OK, and the picture looks somewhat flat at times. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get some mild stereo effects, mostly from cars going by and the in-film music sounds fine. The dialogue is always intelligible and never overpowered by the music or sound effects.

The Highway to Hell Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Ate de Jong. "Interview with SFX Make-up Artist Steve Johnson" (11 minutes) (who should play Robert Downey Jr. in a movie) allows the gore-master to reminisce about the film. He has a remarkable ability to recount details from the film's production. "Animated Image Gallery" (3 minutes) simply offers still from the film which allow us to see the make-up in detail. (Note: This is not animated.) The final extra is the ORIGINAL THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long