Portal to Hell!!! sees Roddy Piper retracing his bubblegum chewing steps to take one last stand against evil, this time pitted against the Dark Lord himself, Cthulhu. The mere thought of a return to his Carpenter glory days surely piques everyone’s excitement, right? This is definitely the lifeblood behind director Vivieno Caldinelli and scribe Matt Watts’ motivations for creating such a nostalgia-oozing short and you’ll be amazed at just how on the nose their ode to the late ’80s really is.
Just as They Live found Piper playing an average Joe out to make a fresh start and lead a normal life, Portal to Hell!!! sees him play Jack, a mardy and solitary janitor working in an apartment block full of nit-picking tenants and all he asks for is five minutes of peace and quiet to read a book. If the tenants’ daily grumbles weren’t enough cause for distress, two Satanists sporting undies and dressing gowns attempt to open a portal to the dark side in the basement “where the great old one (Lovecraft’s cosmic entity Cthulhu) waits dreaming.”
Watts’ script is (just as They Live was before it) the ultimate quotable schlockfest with standout dialogue ranging from “Butter it?” to “Take this you stupid tentacle,” all recited by the cast, particularly Piper, in deadpan perfection. Further kudos to Watts for his performance as Mark, a tenant with an excruciatingly bad case of acrophobia whose fears are shrewdly implemented to create some of the short’s comedic high points.
The film’s tonality is also perfectly complemented by the creature designs served up by Astron-6 effects wizard Steve Kostanski. Expect plenty of Lovecraftian slime and ooze which, whilst intentionally comedic, includes some absolute gross-out moments much akin to the intestinal slapstickery of the recent indie hit Turbo Kid. The icing on the ‘80s throwback cake is Steve Greene and Voyag3r’s score with all involved wearing their Carpenter atmospherics influences proudly on their swirling synth-playing sleeves.
In short, Portal to Hell makes perfect use of its overblown characters, ludicrous practical gore effects, and an indescribably preposterous predicament to create a gagged up, outrageously spellbinding ode to the ’80s. Supported by the Harold Greenberg Fund’s Shorts-To-Features programme a feature length version is in the works and if this short is the taste of things to come then we are all in for a non-stop riotous ride to hell. It was always going to be heart-warming to see the late, great Piper back in John Carpenter mode for one last time and I’m sure he’s up there somewhere feeling prouder than proud of this extraordinary parting gift he’s left for us all to cherish time and again.
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)