Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hellblock 13 (2000)

Low-budget horror omnibus in which a death-row prisoner (B-movie stalwart Debbie Rochon) regals her would-be executioner (erstwhile Leatherface Gunnar Hansen) with three tales of supernatural shenanigans. None of the tales are of any interest beyond some occasionally decent makeup effects (let's hear it for old-fashioned bladder effects), but I have to question the intent of the second story. The first story, about a woman haunted by the apparitions of her recently-vanished children, and the third story, about drug-running bikers participating in a strange ritual, are stock-issue plots treated as impersonably as possible -- they've been done before and will be done again, hopefully with more brio than has been exerted by director Paul Talbot. The middle story, though, about an abused trailer park denizen who attempts to free herself from her brutish husband through witchcraft, gives me pause. The last-minute reversal (clumsily telegraphed, but never mind that) might have seemed clever, but it comes off as ugly cruelty and sours the whole segment by revealing it all as pointless audience-baiting. In the teeth of that, I suppose it's comforting that the rest of Hellblock 13 settles for effortless mediocrity. Also: The framing segment is generally the most useless part of these multi-story films, but here it's notable for one thing -- it contains a remarkably uneven performance from Rochon. Normally, she's bang-on, and even in her worst films (i.e. the functionally retarded Nowhere Man) she can be counted on to be the ray of sunshine in the shitstorm, but here it seems her timing is off. Her broad psycho moments are properly overdone, but the quieter moments feel stilted. Compare this to her fierce work in American Nightmare, where she could shift from seductive to scary within the space of a breath, and you'll understand why the disappointment. I know she's capable of better than this. She's probably the only one involved in this film capable of better than what she gives, somaybe she was just trying not to make everyone look bad. But still.

Grade: C-


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