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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Hellmaster

September 16, 2021 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Hellmaster

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #598: Hellmaster

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that will go into the basement but isn’t going to explore or investigate those hidden tunnels because, really, when has that ever worked out for anyone, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number five hundred and ninety-eight, I take a look at the weird beard low budget horror flick Hellmaster, which came out in mid-December 1992.

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Hellmaster, also known as Soul Stealer and Them (the version of the movie I watched actually featured the Them title) and written and directed by Douglas Schulze, is one of the weirder low budget horror flicks I’ve seen. Featuring a gonzo performance by the now late but always great John Saxon and some fantastic looking rubber monster special effects, the movie will transfix you even if you don’t quite understand what the hell is going on or what the movie is actually supposed to be about. It drags quite a bit in the middle and is less bloody than I thought it would be, but its weirdness makes it a must see of sorts. I can’t call it a classic, but if you’re a low budget horror movie nerd, Hellmaster is something you will want to make an effort to see, just so you can say that you saw it. Just be prepared to be confused by the whole thing.

Hellmaster stars Amy Raasch as Shelly O’Deane, a student at the Kant Institute of Technology, which is a college in Michigan that has a reputation for getting its graduates jobs with the FBI and CIA. I’m not entirely sure how the school manages to do that, nor am I sure what sort of classes the students there actually attend. Most of the students that we do see seem to be super smart and whatnot, but, again, what are these people all studying? Why is the college important to the federal government? The movie never says. At the same time, the college is also notorious in some circles because a madman named Professor Jones (John Saxon) worked there back in the day (the 1960’s?) and conducted weird experiments. Professor Jones disappeared one day, and loads of people thought he somehow set up shop in the tunnels that are under the campus. No one could ever prove that, but that’s what everyone thought.

So Shelley is a student at KioT, along with Barbara (Lisa Sheldon), Joel (Sean Sweeney), Jesse (Jeff Rector), and others, and there’s a professor there, Damon (Robert Dole) who knows all about the Professor Jones experiments but doesn’t like to talk about them/is scared that Professor Jones is still alive and going to do something one day (Damon has a gun in a book as protection?). In the midst of all of this, there’s a reporter named Robert the immortal David Emge) that seems to be investigating the experiments of Professor Jones in modern times. Why? There are areas just outside of the college where various people have been turned into zombies for some reason and no one seems to know why. Robert, obviously, believes he knows why, and is hot on the trail of figuring out where Professor Jones is so he can stop him.

And while all of that is going on, there’s a bus filled with zombie monsters on its way to the college campus in order to block off the main entrance to the school and then fan out and start killing students or transforming them or something. The lead zombie monster here is, I believe, Bobby (Eric Kingston), and he has a cool burned skin makeup (he kind of reminds me of the bad guy in Popcorn). We see Bobby, along with Mama Jones (Ron Asheton of The Stooges fame), go after a young woman named Tracy (Melissa Zafarana), her father Harold (Jim Reithmiller), and Tracy’s young sister (listed in the credits as “Little Girl,” and played by Sarah Barkoff).

We then find out that all of the Professor Jones rumors are true, he has been transforming people into zombies, he has been living under the college for decades, and that he’s now hell bent on “finishing his work,” transforming all of the students on campus into zombies (the ones he and his henchmen don’t kill). Professor Jones also wants to prove that God doesn’t exist and that he is God. Or something like that. Professor Jones talks about the non-existence of God quite a bit.

And so the bus arrives at the campus and blocks off the entrance, a bunch of college cops get slaughtered, Robert is on the campus with a crossbow that shoots arrows with concentrated goo in them that can melt people or some bullshit, and the students try to figure out what to do. Professor Damon is completely useless here (he gets destroyed by Professor Jones and his henchmen), there are no more college cops to help (the students could probably try to call the cops in town but no one thinks of doing that), and no one seems to know how to resist the Professor Jones “mind meld” (I don’t know what else to call it). What the hell are they all going to do? Will Tracy and her little sister, who show up on the campus after escaping the bus filled with zombies, be able to help anyone?

Not really. I don’t think any of them ever figure out what the hell is going on. All they really seem to know is that if Professor Jones shows up, or if one of his zombie henchmen show up, they need to run away. There’s danger everywhere, even if they can’t quite describe what that danger is.

The middle part of the movie drags on forever. Things happen, yes, but there are stretches of the movie where various characters talk to one another but very little is accomplished. The movie picks up considerably when Professor Jones shows up and starts injecting people in the back of the neck with his three needle claw thing, but he doesn’t show up enough. All of the other character seem to be constantly confused by whatever is going on. Saxon, likely, also has no idea what’s going on, either, but he also gets that he just needs to act bigger than life and mug for the camera and make you believe he’s completely batshit crazy and you will remember him (and be entertained and keep watching). Why the hell didn’t the movie have more of that kind of thing in it?

I’m also confused as to why the movie doesn’t just do the “typical slasher thing,” with Professor Jones going from student to student, injecting them with his three needle claw thing. Professor Jones has a surreal/Freddy Krueger vibe to him, so why not just embrace the obvious? Is it the whole zombie henchmen thing? Think about how more dangerous Freddy would be if he had a team of demon henchmen with him. Freddy would be unstoppable! So why not have Professor Jones be the leader of an army of demon zombies of his own creation? That could have been the movie’s whole thing. People would have remembered it.

The college campus is generally creepy, both the outside and the inside. I mean, there’s nothing all that weird about either part of the campus which is what makes it all extra creepy when the actual weird stuff starts happening. The tunnels have that “underground warehouse filled with medical experiments” feeling. No wonder no one wanted to go down there. And is it me, or does the campus become a sort of maze when Professor Jones shows up and everyone knows that he’s there?

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The special make-up effects are good and gross, especially the rubber monster masks that we see (check out the kid demon zombie. Can you say nightmare inducing?). The rubber look of some of the makeup may annoy some people as none of it looks “real,” but that unreality is what makes it appealing and terrifying. It’s not real, and yet there it is, right in front of you. What are you going to do about it? The lack of blood and gore, though, is disappointing. You would think that Hellmaster would be dripping in blood and guts and gore and slime when you see the main henchman for Professor Jones. And the whole three needle weapon that Professor Jones uses to inject into the back of people’s necks should generate all kinds of nastiness. We don’t get any, though, at least not in the amounts you expect to see. There are two pretty good body melt scenes, but the movie really should have had more of that kind of thing.

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The main performances are good across the board. John Saxon is absolutely batshit as Professor Jones. It’s unclear if Saxon understands the story or the plot or knows what the hell is going on, but it doesn’t matter because Saxon knows that being weird is what people will remember. And, yes, you will remember Jon Saxon’s Professor Jones after watching Hellmaster. When he starts wielding that three needle contraption you immediately get worried because you never quite know what he’s going to do with it. And when Saxon talks you can totally see Professor Jones as the head of some mutant cult. It’s too bad that this character didn’t get a sequel because, with a more coherent story, I think Professor Jones would be a big modern horror flick monster. Amazing performance.

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David Emge does a decent enough job as the reporter Robert. He tries to be a badass when he arrives on the college campus and, for the most part, he succeeds. You don’t want to mess with him, especially when he’s wielding that crossbow weapon. Emge’s performance isn’t as robust as it should be, though. It seems as though that Emge is holding back a bit in the middle of the movie, and it’s not because that’s who Robert is. It’s almost like he’s trying to help the director stretch out the movie’s runtime. It’s strange. Robert isn’t a complete chump like Stephen. I wonder why this was Emge’s last movie as an actor.

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Amy Raasch does an okay job as Shelly. She’s interesting, but she isn’t bigger than life like Saxon and that reality doesn’t help her. In fact, the only “good guy” character, outside of the asshole Jesse (Jeff Rector is such a scumbag in this movie. He’s great), that’s memorable is Sean Sweeney’s Joel Johnson. Joel has a crush on a fellow student and is self-conscious about his crutches. You wonder if Professor Jones will eventually use that insecurity to destroy Joel and if Joel will be able to realize what the hell is going on. It’s so damn sad what happens to Joel.

I am sort of fond of Jim Reithmiller’s Harold. The whole sequence with him and Melissa Zafarana’s Tracy and Tracy’s sister could have been its own movie. It’s too bad what happens to him, too.

Hellmaster is weird and confusing. It makes no sense and is slow as hell at times. It also should have been way bloodier than it is. But the movie’s weirdness is hypnotic, in a way, and while you probably won’t have any idea what the hell is going on you won’t be able to not watch it. It really is one of those kinds of horror flicks. And John Saxon is insane in this. I would have been totally down for a “John Saxon as Professor Jones” low budget horror movie franchise. People would have watched that.

Well, they might have watched that had Hellmaster been a more successful horror flick. Still, Hellmaster is worth seeing for horror movie nerds and John Saxon completists. Just be prepared to be confused by the whole thing. Confused and transfixed.

See Hellmaster. See it, see it, see it.

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So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: Lots.

Undead bodies: Even more than lots.

Explosions: None.

Nudity? : Briefly.

Doobage: Letter typing, a room filled with dead bodies and crazy people covered in blood, a kid in his underwear covered in blood and grime, a college lecture, a big hooha discussion about God or some bullshit, a book with a gun in it, a student that uses crutches, bullshit about mind control experiments, flat tire hooey, a radio news report about a murder, a scary bus with a giant cross on the front of it for some reason, body dragging, a monster in the back seat, hand wound fixing with a tampon (maybe), weird liquid in a tube, talk of a church fire, a fish tank destruction in slow motion flashback, a 3 needle contraption, CB radio hooey, a lunch box on the ground, off screen hanging, strangulation, a lingerie photo shoot, of screen dead body dragging behind a police car, a zombie nun injects stuff into the back of the neck of a zombie kid, bloody and bandaged feet, a whip vs. night stick fight, attempted fist fight, wrist snapping, a night stick with a hidden blade, barrels of needles, platform jumping, serious shin hacking, yellow liquid attack, a montage of empty rooms on campus, keys on a string, a bloody hand, bloody foot prints, knife to the back, multiple body kicks, .357 magnum hooey, kid zombie killing, metal on metal, attempted crutch as a weapon, a human sized puppet, multiple injections, face slapping, a “pregnancy mind trick,” a spinning coffin, runaway coffin, bullet to the head, a crutch beating, inept use of a firearm, more dead body dragging, more injections, some bullshit about being able to control hallucinations, bleeding walls, straight jacket hooey, a flashback, hand shooting, some bullshit about God being life, body melting, and a sort of Flash Gordon/”Ming coming to retrieve the ring” sequence.

Kim Richards?: Big time.

Gratuitous: a “God is Dead” quote, David Emge, John Saxon, attempted social commentary, “tell the homeless to get jobs,” a gray school bus with a giant cross on the front of it, a guy with a whip for some reason, a lingerie photo shoot, a nun, barrels of needles, David Emge with a crossbow, Walkman hooey, “six little Indians,” John Saxon injecting stuff into a metal tube thing on his wrist and then having an orgasm, a selfish guy with crutches, a guy on TV wearing a Batman T-shirt, and the prospect of a sequel that we never got.

Best lines: “Tell me, what do you see?,” “Barbara, tell us your thoughts on the United States. And the laws of physics,” “Is God an issue here?,” “That guy loves me,” “Shelly, would you date me if you were Barb?,” “Please, Tracy, let’s not discuss your mother right now,” “Lighten up or take off,” “I wonder why I’ve never seen underwear in your dresser before,” “I liked your thoughts on the homeless,” “It’s written all over your face. Why would I have to read your mind?,” “Your students were guinea pigs!,” “Who killed those students?,” “Holy shit! That looks like the janitor’s car!,” “Black is beautiful,” “Jesse! Look! The lights just went out in the gallery!,” “Have fun, suckers. I have a lady waiting,” “Joel, this isn’t funny,” “So, are you like a real nun or is that your evening wear?,” “Shit really works,” “Hello. Remember me? I can play now,” “If a God created this world in six days, and I can make hell of it in one night, then God must be dead,” “It’s his miracle drug. It’s an acid. It will eat away at your brain unless it’s diluted with blood first. Jones dilutes it and makes them his slaves. I use it straight. PERFECT WEAPON,” “Just enough to make you one of us,” “When do you have time for the cripple?,” “My handicap was born. Yours was chosen!,” “I’m a fucking cripple! You can thank your God for that,” “If I can make them I can make God,” “That, Joel, makes me God,” “Thank God you’re alive! Drake, I’m going crazy. I thought a coffin was chasing me,” “It’s an illusion. But how?,” “It’s drugs. These things are controlled by drugs,” “You need a miracle. Not me,” “Stop! This! Madness! Madness has achieved the impossible!,” “Tell me, what do you see?,” and “Oldest trick in my book.”

Rating: 6.0 /10.0

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Check out the latest Cult TV!

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The Master Episode 1: “Max”

The Master Episode 2: “Out-of-Time-Step”

The Master Episode 3: “State of the Union”

Episode 4: “Hostages”

Episode 5: “High Rollers”

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Things to Watch Out For

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The Gateway: This is some sort of new low budget crime movie that has Frank Grillo and Bruce Dern in the cast. How did that happen? I get Grillo being in the movie because the low budget action/crime movie world is his domain, but the Dern casting is a little weird. I mean, Dern has done low budget crime movies before (he was in that WWE movie with Triple H), but this seems like a paycheck for him more than anything. That doesn’t mean Dern won’t kick ass in it. I will be doing a full review for this movie very, very soon. Can’t wait to see what it’s all really about.

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Out of Death: The amazing thing about this new low budget action/crime flick featuring Bruce Willis is that the title wasn’t already used by Steven Seagal because, when I first heard the title, I thought it was a Seagal movie from the mid-2000’s that I missed. The title is also weird because, shit, what does it even mean? “Out of death?” Shouldn’t a movie with that title sort of be an anti-action movie, or something where the main character can’t kill anyone anymore because he’s “out of death?” Maybe he’s found religion or grew a conscience and just can’t do it, but somehow gets pushed back into the killing business? Anyway, this Bruce Willis movie is apparently all about a shady sheriff and some bullshit he gets into or something. I’m sure it will probably be sort of watchable. Jaime King is also in this. Anyone out there check this out in a movie theater? I know it played somewhere.

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American Badger: I’ve never heard of Kirk Caouette, but according to imdb he’s been a big deal stunt performer and coordinator and fight choreographer for decades, so he obviously has some serious chops. And it looks like American Badger, which he stars in and directs (he also write the screenplay), is a low budget flick where he can show everyone what he can do. I’m always down for that kind of low budget action flick, and here’s to hoping that this is good. I like the trailer, and, again, I’m always in favor of supporting stunt performers that want to keep alive the idea of the real deal action star.

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Hunters: This appears to be a new low budget post-apocalyptic sci-fi action flick of some sort. The fine folks at Shout! Factory are behind this release, so you know that, even if the movie is just okay, the home video release is going to be top notch. Ian Ziering is in this, as well as Ed Morrone, the star of the director’s low budget crime flick Final Kill (check out my review of that flick here). Definitely worth a rental, just to see if it’s any good. It has a nifty enough trailer. Anyone out there see this?

(Go here to check out the trailer. I have no idea why Shout! Factory and Shout Studios don’t have a “regular” trailer for this).

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Black Widow: I failed to see this in theaters when it came out earlier this year, and while it got decent enough reviews it didn’t seem to have the same kind of “release buzz” that it likely would have had if the pandemic hadn’t happened and the movie was able to come out in 2020 like it was originally scheduled to. And I’d imagine that the recent “Scarlett Johansson suing Disney over money” has dulled some of the buzz for the movie (people who agree or disagree with Johansson are likely tanking the movie in a way). I still want to see it, though. I’m a Marvel movie fan, and I’m sure this is like most Marvel movies, generally good.

FromBeverlyHillstoHootervilleBook

From Beverly Hills to Hooterville: Exploring TV’s Henningverse 1962-1971: This is the latest book from Daniel R. Budnik, the man who gave us the awesome ’80’s Action Movies on the Cheap. Instead of action movies, though, this new book is an examination on how three classic 1960’s sitcom all existed in the same TV universe. Those three sitcoms are The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres. Now, until I was made aware of this book I had no idea that these three sitcoms, which I’ve watched on occasion over the years, were all related in some way. And now that there’s a book that examines how all that happened and what it all means is simply amazing, and it’s something that I think all classic sitcom fans (and fans of good, insightful writing about TV shows and whatnot) will want to get and check out. I know I plan on doing so. Buy it from Amazon here.

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Next Issue: It’s the weird beard low budget horror flick The Dead Pit!

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Read it here!

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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.

Hellmaster

John Saxon– Professor Jones
David Emge– Robert
Amy Raasch– Shelly O’Deane
Edward Stevens– Drake Destry
Robert Dole– Professor Damon
Jeff Rector– Jesse Jameson
Melissa Zafarana– Tracy
Sarah Barkoff– Little Girl (Tracy’s Sister)
Ron Asheton– Mama Jones
Jim Reithmiller– Harold
Sean Sweeney– Joel Johnson

(check out the rest of the cast here)

Directed by Douglas Schulze
Screenplay by Douglas Schulze

Distributed by Action International Pictures Home Video, Mackinac Media, and Vinegar Syndrome

Not Rated
Runtime– 96 minutes

Buy it here. It’s also available on Shudder and Tubi as I write this.