Highway to Hell (1991)
HIGHWAY TO HELL
WRITER: Brian Helgeland
DIRECTOR: Ate de Jong
STARRING: Patrick Bergin as Beezle
Adam Storke as Royce
Chad Lowe as Charlie Sykes
Kristy Swanson as Rachel Clark
Pamela Gidley as Clara
Jarrett Lennon as Adam
C.J. Graham as Sgt. Bedlam/Hellcop
Richard Farnsworth as Sam
QUICK CUT: A couple on the run to elope in Vegas run afoul of the police and a biker gang in the sweltering heat of the desert.
Charlie - An aw shucks kinda guy who just wants to marry his girl, even though her parents are against it. He'd literally do anything for her. Meanwhile, he struggles to make ends meet by working at delivering pizza.
Rachel - Charlie's girlfriend, a wannabe violinist, and she doesn't get developed too much beyond loving girlfriend. But we do get to see her be a strong person in the few moments we get with her, and she has a strong spirit that won't back down.
Sgt. Bedlam - The Hellcop they butt heads with, and he's our local unstoppable force. He's silent, strong, and will always keep coming to bring his prize to Hell City.
THE GUTS: Welcome back, Triskelions! I'm gonna close out July with a movie I wanted to take a look at years ago when I was doing a month of Kristy Swanson movies; Highway to Hell. Sadly, this was not out on DVD at the time, so I had to give it a pass. It did finally arrive a year or so ago, and I figured on the semi-anniversary of the not quite Buffy Month event, it was time to come back around and finish things up. So let's do this.
Now, this movie is more of a comedy with horror elements, but it always feels like summer is a good time for something a little lighter in flavour. Also, it's a bit of a road trip movie, which also feels right for this time of year. So the horror isn't too heavy, but just kick back and enjoy some light hearted fun..in Hell.
We dive right into the plot, with 49ers fan Charlie and his girlfriend Rachel on the run. They've decided to elope because of Rachel's father, and since they have the fear that the cops are on their tail, their fears may very well be justified in avoiding a real wedding. Charlie's fear of cops is also quite prescient with where we go.
As they leave the diner, the cop that Charlie kept looking over his shoulder at, follows them down the road. Charlie takes his car, tricked out in pizza delivery signage, down a side road just to make sure they're not being followed. Also, he figures it will be safer taking the back roads to Vegas, with his constant fears of being followed. I mean, back roads, late at night, middle of the desert...what can possibly go wrong? Right Norman? Right? Oh, oh mother! Blood!!
They pull into Sam's Last Chance Gas Station, and yes that is actually the name of it. And yes, this is a Harbinger moment, as he tries to keep them on the main roads. Also, he warns them not to fall asleep until after they've passed a pair of joshua trees. So of course, that's exactly what happens as they drive down the road late at night.
Charlie's reckless, sleepy driving draws the attention of a cop lurking behind a billboard as he skids out in front of the cop. But it is made clear this is not just any cop, as he tears off the door to Charlie's Pinto, and steals Rachel. Excuse me, but where in California highway statutes does it state you can do that??
Anyways, it turns out they have run afoul of a police officer who works for a lower authority, the Hellcop, or Sgt. Bedlam. He patrols the thin space of the backroads of the night, looking for wayward travelers to take to Hell.
Charlie tries to stop him from taking Rachel but is easily dispatched by the Hellcop, so Charlie heads back to Sam's since he handed him that warning and seems to have some knowledge about what's going on.
Sam knows his stuff, since many years ago he was just like Charlie, encountered the Hellcop who also took his wife Clara, and decided then and there to open up his gas station as a watchpost against the darkness, protecting those who might be foolish or desperate enough to take the road. I absolutely love giving a Harbinger an origin story, and it's not just "Well, I hear stories of kids going up in those woods and never comin' back!"
No, here, the Harbinger is actually part of the story, a bit of a mentor figure, and even supplies Charlie with a better car, and a weapon to fight the forces of Hell that Clara made for him. I don't know how a gun she made before being taken to Hell will help fight them, so I'm just gonna go with some excuse of it being imbued with 50 years of Sam's anger and hope.
Charlie takes the toys and drives back and forth between the trees, trying to believe himself into Hell. His continues reckless driving makes the cops appear, and he arms up as the officer struts up to the car. Unfortunately for Charlie, it's a real cop, and not Bedlam, so he just shoved a shotgun into the face of an honest to God police officer. He takes off immediately and fortunately reaches 88 MPH so the car blasts into Hell.
Bedlam has no idea he's being followed, so stops at Pluto's Diner to get a bite to eat. Which is filled with all kinds of wacky characters, as symbolised by pretty much the entire Stiller family, most notably Mister Furious himself frying up some eggs on the sidewalk outside.
The place is filled with cops, probably real world cops who've died and were bad enough to end up in this place. And it seems like their own personal hell, as is appropriate. The service is slow as hell, the coffee is terrible, and they just sit there whining and moaning. Hellcop can apparently get some service though, but while he's distracted with the local miscreants, Rachel briefly escapes but quickly runs into a biker gang from hell.
Bedlam's not far behind though, and makes a deal with Royce to get her back. I'm not sure running off with the Biker Mice from Mars would've been a step up, but whatever.
As they drive off, Charlie pulls up, and also manages to make a deal with Royce's gang to continue on his way. Also, Charlie recognises Royce's girl, and it's Clara, not aged a day since she was taken.
We get a bit of a car chase as Charlie catches up with the Hellcop but all that ends up with is Charlie getting a bunch of speedholes in his new car.
Fortunately, a mechanic comes along to help him out, and oh, oh gods no. He has an annoying kid sidekick with him. Nooooo.
I got so twitchy at the annoying kid trope turning up, I almost forgot, the mechanic's name is Beezle. Oh, hmm, I wonder if he might have some other agenda here... Also, when Charlie asks how much he owes, Beezy just sends him on his way. Oh, there will be HELL to pay, trust me.
Beezle fixes up the car, gives Charlie some information, and sends him on his way to Hell Ci...OH COME ON. Adam the annoying one grabs onto the car and goes for a ride. It should come as no surprise that Charlie takes sympathy on the kid, and promises to take him out of Hell when he leaves. Look, Hell is the wrong place to say "Cross my heart and hope to die" because, yeah.
Charlie finds his way to a casino/dive bar/strip club/etc and hey! You wanted to go to Vegas! What's the difference here? Anyways, Hellcop also stopped here, and there's a brief reunion with Rachel. Even if despite all of Charlie's rage, she's still just stuck in a cage.
He tries to shoot the hand-cuffs off the cage to free her, but Hellcop shows up, dispatches Charlie AGAIN, with the added bonus of taking the kid's gun and shooting him with hit. Well, good guy's dead, I guess there's not much movie left!
They have done a real good job of setting Bedlam up as your typical unstoppable force. Not in the usual ways of shooting him or 'killing' him and he keeps coming, but Charlie is just so SO overpowered and outmatched here, that the Hellcop just keeps throwing him out of his way, like he's barely even worth the trouble.
I think the only reason Bedlam even bothers to shoot the kid at this point is because he keeps showing up, and doesn't want to be bothered with the constant returning mosquito. Charlie is just SO beneath him, he couldn't care less, except he just plain has to deal with him at this point.
Beezle wanders in and saves Charlie, on the condition that Adam won't run away this time. Sigh, stupid Hell and the rules of life and death being a bit more fluid down here. I guess we still have more movie to go.
Charlie races on, and follows Hellcop to some caves where he seems to live, and runs into Clara, face to face. She gives him a warning, which only tells me that her and Sam were perfectly matched to be Mister and Mrs. Harbinger.
So our hero sneaks into Hellcop's lair, and finds his fiance tied down to a bed...and the place is weirdly pink and nicely decorated for someone called Hellcop. I guess he likes to come home to nice, calm, softer side of things after racing around Hell all day long.
They hear Hellcop coming, and Charlie gets ready to shoot him when he comes in the door...but Hellcop is smarter than that and busts through the wall like evil Kool-Aid Man. And once again, throws Charlie around like he can barely be bothered.
Charlie gets damned lucky and lands next to Bedlam's gun, and uses it to shoot the Hellcop, making him disappear in a Stargate. Spoiler, he's Not Really Dead, but we'll get to that. For now, it's back to the happy couple's reunion.
All seems happy and good and Rachel is all hot and bothered to make love to Charlie, and something is wrong. Charlie catches a glimpse in a mirror, and sees that this Rachel is actually a demon in disguise to tempt him, and she's somewhere else entirely.
So Charlie ends up struggling with the temptress demon, fights her a bit, and eventually shoots her and she falls back onto the bed, and into a deep pit. That can't be comfortable to sleep on, and say hi to Joey from Elm Street!
The journey continues, and we eventually arrive at Hell City, so the plot is getting close to ending. But first, Charlie has to cross the River Styx, which will probably prove difficult. Starting with getting past the three headed claymation effect, Cerberus.
He fortunately has his dog that's been wandering through the movie, and distracts his canine counterpart so Charlie can descend deeper into the wasteland.
The next challenge is Charon the ferryman, and Charlie knows not to pay him. But that's good, since Charon is willing to let him cross, since he's not dead, and he's not a stickler for rules.
Finally finally, Charlie makes it to the big white tower in the center of all this to get things over with, and he finds Rachel surprisingly fast. He must think so too, as he instantly checks a mirror to make sure she's real.
And while she is the real Rachel, she is also very tempted by Hell's offerings of fame and fortune. I can't say I blame her. True love is great and all, but a grungy, mundane life compared to being a famous violinist...is a tough choice.
So that's when Satan finally walks into the movie, to lay things out for Charlie and Rachel, and how ultimately it is her choice to stay or not. And she makes the decision to go, since she's so young, and she'll die normally anyways some day. Why be in a rush to get to Hell?
The devil is not so easily stopped though, especially when the prize he seeks is sitting in his own lair. Rachel tries to appeal to the better angels of his nature, asking if he's ever felt love, and how he must know how they feel. And there is a surprisingly deep line, when he says he has known God's love, and he knows how everyone feels. The devil, that deepest darkest part of ourselves, would of course be well aware of everything we feel, and I really like the line, especially because they don't overplay it.
Anyways, the devil decides to let them go, with the Lot clause of not looking back. Which Charlie manages to do for all of five seconds. Fortunately, no one turns into a pillar of tasty salt, and instead they are just besieged by demons and the like.
Oh, and during all this, the devil changes himself and it is revealed he was Beezel all along. Gasp. Surprise.
Needing a faster way out now that the demons are coming after them, they decide to steal and hotwire the Hellcop's ride. Which I am sure will only endear themselves to him, and not add any more time on their inevitable sentence.
They make their way back to Sam's car and take their own ride, leaving Bedlam's car with a shot up engine. While they make their escape, Hellcop waits for it to get fixed, and why doesn't Beezle help? We know he's a great mechanic!
Charlie and Rachel come upon another big tower, and oh, there's Beezle and Adam again, revealing that part of the plot to our heroes. Oh, and they're taking Adam with them, because sigh.
There's also a great moment with the devil, musing upon how people think the world has gone to shit, is going to end soon, and have just stopped caring. And you get the sense that this makes the whole thing less fun for him. But Charlie...Charlie still cares, and that is interesting, and that has put a smile on the devil's face.
Anyways, Charlie offers to race Hellcop, and if they win, all three of them go free. And if they lose, the devil can keep Adam. To which he says not interested, and I don't blame him. Until Rachel throws herself in to sweeten the deal, and the race is on.
Oh, and just to make the race more interesting, Royce and his gang show up, since he's also interested in getting out of Hell.
Before the race begins though, the devil has one last offer for Charlie, to make him a quarterback for the Rams. And in one of the best setup gags I've seen, Charlie grabs his ever present hat, puts it on, and reminds us he's a 49ers fan, so no deal.
Royce tries to stab into the car to take out his anger and daddy issues on Charlie and Adam, but Clara intervenes. She wraps her scarf around Royce's face, and he takes a spill off the cliffside, killing them both, or as dead as you can get in Hell, I guess.
So that leaves just Charlie and Hellcop, and Adam finally has some useful information; shoot Hellcop in the glasses and he'll be destroyed. Charlie asks why he didn't bring that up before, and it comes down to, "Because we still had an hour of movie to go!"
Rachel drops their last bullet while reloading Johnny Blaze's hellfire shotgun, and Hellcop picks away at their car with his own weapon. Things look pretty bleak, and that's saying something when you're already driving through Hell. Fortunately, while fumbling around, she finds a nitro system that Sam built into the car, and it rockets them forward to the end of the race, and freedom from Hell.
Unfortunately, they may have escaped Hell, but apparently no time has passed on this side, and the cop is still standing there after getting a shotgun pointed in his face by a wreckless driver.
Charlie's getting arrested, and he's never been happier. That happiness is cut short though when Hellcop bursts back into our reality, not caring about the devil's dealings.
He grabs Charlie and slams him against the car, and he's pretty much had it with this guy after the day he's had. But that's when Rachel shows up and puts a bullet into his RayBans. I absolutely love that at the end of the day, it's Rachel who ultimately saves herself.
So, Hellcop explodes, our heroes are free, and we get a brief bit of text explaining how happy everyone's endings are.
For Beezle...the game goes on...
Video: Absolutely rock solid. It's early 90s, so has that still kinda dull look to it, and some of the sets look like sets, but overall, it's great. Especially the fire looks good.
Audio: It sounds pretty good.
Sound Bite: "Bastard? Down here, that's a compliment!" Royce, summing things up of how Hell is different.
"I can fix anything; cars, people, horse races..." Beezle being subtle.
Body Count: A lot of non-deaths, since Hell is questionable, but still a nice amount for this sort of movie.
1 - 29 minutes, ice cream dude in Hell gets T-1000'd.
2 - Hellcop shot by Charlie, but we know he'll be back.
3 - Rachel-impersonating demon dropped deeper into Hell.
4 - Demon mechanic gets slammed in the car hood.
5 - Royce gets his face covered in scarf and goes off the cliff
6 - And takes Clara with him
7 - Hellcop go boom
Best Corpse: Probably the first, since it's the most in your face. Every other one is breezed past or vague.
Blood Type - D+: Not a lot of blood for a hellish movie. A little here and there, and most points I give for great looking, iconic, memorable makeup on Bedlam and the Devil.
Sex Appeal: If you like droopy demon boobs...
Drink Up! every time Hellcop flings someone out of his way.
Video Nasties: Hellcop's death is memorable enough, and fiery enough, to feature in a clip.
Movie Review: It's a little silly, it's a little camp, but it's an enjoyable ride through Hell. It's not really funny, and I wish their attempts at humour were even fewer. The Stillers being the Stillers and doing silly stuff is distracting enough, but when Gilbert Gottfried shows up as Hitler and shouts at some fellow residents of Hell for a few minutes, it just gets goofy. They're not bad scenes, they're chuckle worthy, I just feel like they distract from the plot. The humour is slapped in during unrelated scenes that you could almost completely remove. But it's a fun adventure popcorn flick, enjoyable enough, and Hellcop and Beezle are compelling bad guys. I also wonder if there's a more metaphorical level to the story, that works as a story for Charlie struggling to do things that would make himself worthy enough in his own eyes (And consequently her father's) , and literally doing anything to get her back. I think there's SOME of that, but I think some of it is also accidental, and they could have made more of it. Still, it's fun enough, and well made enough, with some truly iconic and memorable bits. Three out of five pairs of hand-cuffs.
Entertainment Value: It's a fun ride, and an interesting way to tell a story that's familiar yet not. Charlie is likable, and so are the villains in their way. If the humour wasn't so awkwardly added in, it might be more fun, but it's still entertaining. Three out of five joshua trees.