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Wednesday, August 10, 2016
Do you ever start out watching something that looks lame at first, but then just keeps getting better and better until finally you end up loving it? Hey, me too!
In fact, that just happened to me again today when I watched HELL TOWN (2015), the night-time soap opera spoof hosted tongue-in-cheek style by scream queen Debbie Rochon (MODEL HUNGER, RETURN TO NUKE 'EM HIGH, THE THEATER BIZARRE).
HELL TOWN, according to Debbie, was originally a (fictitious) primetime soap that ran for three seasons, but unfortunately only a few episodes of season two survive (you don't want to know where they were found and what was scraped off of them).
Thus, we pick up the story in progress at the start of season two and get to know the many characters involved on the fly, chief among which are the members of two families, the wealthy Gables and the lower-class Manlys.
This gets easier as it goes along and our interest rises with the body count, racked up by Old Town's mysterious "Letter Jacket Killer." The bloodthirsty stalker seems to be eliminating all the former boyfriends of the local high school's popular homecoming princess, Trish Gable (the delightful Krysten Day), a spoiled, ditzy blonde who stands to inherit her father's fortune while eliciting the hatred of her boy-crazy sister Laura (BeckiJo Neill) and jealous rival Chanel Manly (Amanda Deibert), both of whom would love to see her dead.
Trish can't wait to lose her virginity (no, not THAT one...the OTHER one) to handsome stud Blaze Manly (Matt Weight), who's banging Trish's BFF. Blaze's brother Jesse (Owen Lawless), meanwhile, is struggling with his feelings for Trish's gay brother Bobby (Blake Cordell) while also agonizing over the fate of his mother who lies in a coma at home while being watched over by an unscrupulous nurse (both played by Pleasant Gehman).
In the midst of all this, wrongly-convicted Butch Manly (Ben Windholz), Trish's old boyfriend for whom Laura still carries a torch, returns from reform school to shake things up even more.
If this all sounds confusing, it is--but not for long, especially for viewers who are old hands at watching soap operas. Not only does this one cover a lot of the familiar bases--one episode even showcases the requisite catfight between two major female characters, while shirtless hunks pop up here and there--it also throws us several unexpected and frequently funny curves that make the show every bit as absorbing and addictive as a regular soap opera.
One delightful nod to the "real thing" is the replacement of a particular actress at the start of episode two (a narrator's hushed voice intones, "The role of Laura Manly will now be played by Jennifer Grace.") This is familiar to any soap veteran, as is the very concept of two main families--one rich, one poor--whose fates are intertwined as they enact high drama and fevered romance amidst a humble smalltown setting.
Horror fans will also appreciate the "Letter Jacket Killer" subplot, which features mild to occasionally-graphic gore and some creative deaths (one of which involves doughnuts).
What really sells it, however, are the performances, most of which possess just the right balance of deadpan and farce, and the sharp writing of co-directors Steve Balderson and Elizabeth Spear, which often skirts the edges of brilliance and occasionally steps right into it. Even the faux preview for the nonexistent next episode in the series is littered with clever little payoffs that make the finale all the more satisfying.
One possible reason that I ended up enjoying HELL TOWN so much is that I recently watched a soap opera spoof done wrong--really wrong--and this one just seems so much better by comparison. But it stands on its own as a pleasantly perverse bit of fun that overcomes its shortcomings by being all that it can be.
Hell Town will be available to rent or own starting August 23rd on Dish Network, Cox, Charter, Verizon Fios, iTunes, Amazon Instant, Google Play, Vudu and more from Gravitas Ventures.