Plot: Professor Jones (John Saxon) believed he could unlock the secrets of telepathic powers, so he engaged in a series of mysterious, dangerous experiments that were soon shut down. His test subjects were not only disfigured by the research, but turned violent and his work was vilified in the process. But decades have passed since Jones was run out of the university and he is ready to return, to continue his work and prove he was always right. He might also be primed for some payback, which his violent assistants are always happy to pursue on his behalf. Jones reopens his research and begins to prey on the students, who find themselves locked in a struggle for survival against the mad doctor and his mutant sidekicks. Will Jones enact the vengeance he has lusted after for years or will he once again be shut down, this time for good?
Entertainment Value: If you appreciate the colorful quirks of regional horror cinema, you will likely find a lot to like with Hellmaster. I think there is an “acquired taste” involved in films like this, as the wooden performances, stilted dialogue, and not always coherent narrative might shake off those used to more traditional movies, but there is also an inherent charm involved. Of course, that all depends on your appreciation level for regional horror and Hellmaster might test that at times, as it doesn’t have quite the jaw drops or insanity of some of its peers. The story kind of makes sense in some cases, then spirals into nonsense, which I don’t mind at all, since it is at least interesting and humorous in that regard. At a certain point you just accept the tangents and wait for the offbeat moments, which arrive often. The performances are mostly stiff and awkward, but Hellmaster does boat the presence of John Saxon, who hams it up, while David Emge also appears in a good sized role. The movie also shows some polish in the visuals, with terrific cinematography and solid production values overall. So despite the low rent roots here, the movie has competence and in the areas it doesn’t, the b movie vibes are able to compensate. Hellmaster never boils over into total chaos or madness, but it is a fun ride that has a lot of fun, awkward moments and for regional horror fans, is well worth a spin.
A little sleaze is on showcase in Hellmaster, though outside of a scene with topless exposure, there’s not much to talk about. I suppose if mutants are on the loose however, time for such monkey business would be rather limited. The makeup effects are plentiful however, between the various mutants and fluids going around. I love the syringe to the brain sequence, complete with a deep, self scalp massage that looks quite cool, not to mention squishy. There’s also a wonderful scene with multiple fluids coming out of someone’s nose like a small torrent, which was a lot of fun to watch, while ooze is also present in several other scenes as well. This includes a capable full body meltdown, which features a lot of goop. The mutants look weird, perhaps not believable, but fun and that’s what matters here. The dialogue is not often memorable because of the actual lines, but the performances make a lot of the exchanges stand out. I love these kind of awkward, wooden efforts and even John Saxon seems stilted at times, which again, is still fun to watch. So while the lines might not be that quotable or wild, the performances keep the entertainment value reasonable. On the craziness front, the mutants, the strange narrative, the wooden performances, and basic weirdness some points, but the movie never really goes fully off the deep end.
Overall Insanity: 4/10
The Disc: Hellmaster hits Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome, complete with a new 4k scan and restoration sourced from the original camera negative. These reviews for Vinegar Syndrome discs likely all sound the same, but that’s with good reason, as the transfers are always dynamic and remarkable. The movie looks excellent here, with a super clean print and a crystal clear overall visual presence. I think most people likely saw this movie on VHS, so the move to this new restored presentation is a drastic one, so much fine detail and visual shine here. The disc includes both the theatrical version and the director’s recut edition, though the latter is only available here in a standard definition presentation. The film’s director Douglas Schulze provides audio commentaries for both versions however, while cinematographer Michael Goi records an almost half hour long interview about the production. The extras also include concept artwork, still photos, and a featurette on the film’s locations.