Having fought in a long war, a soldier is driven mad and no longer sees any purpose or righteousness in killing. He returns home to a surreal world in search of his first and only love, believing that she will rescue him from his demons. Caught in purgatory on the fringes of Edge City he encounters two seductive spree-killers who oppose his efforts to return home. Desperate measures must be taken so that he can find the love and redemption that he desperately seeks.
ROAD TO HELL is Albert Pyun’s spiritual sequel to Walter Hill’s cult hit STREETS OF FIRE, however, ‘sequel’ is not a term that suits it well. While Pyun brings back characters from the original film he has made every effort to create a whole new universe for them and presents us with a vibrant and textured piece of surrealism. Tom Cody (Michael Pare) returns after two decades away at war, in search of forgiveness and redemption. He is a different man to the one we met all those years ago and he travels with a heavy burden. The weight of death is his companion and he finds himself in a strange, desolate landscape. Along a seemingly endless stretch of highway with vivid multicoloured skies he is under the ever watchful eye of Gabriel, the archangel, who guides him home. During his travels he crosses paths with two serial killer femme-fatales who attempt to seduce him as a violent power-play unfolds with dark secrets being revealed.
The opening title cards declare “A different time. A different place. Still a rock ’n roll fable!” and they serve as an important reminder that the film stands alone. Viewers expecting a faithful recreation of STREETS OF FIRE will be sorely disappointed, however, people looking for something audacious and original are in for a treat. The fundamental elements that made Walter Hill’s film so wonderful are still ever-present as Pyun recaptures the otherworldly colours and fantasy-driven violence while shrouding the narrative in a strong eclectic rock & roll ambiance. The final act, just as the original film, is comprised of live concert footage which solidifies the film as a continuation. Where Pyun has been smart is in exploiting all of these conventions and presenting them in a new, twisted and confronting way. Where STREETS OF FIRE was a fantasy driven action film, ROAD TO HELL is its surreal hellish-horror bastard child.
It’s awesome to see Michael Pare and Deborah Van Vulkenburgh reprising their roles and both seem totally invested in the story. They are supported by Clare Kramer (BIG ASS SPIDER), Courtney Peldon (FROZEN), Roxy Gunn (THE ROXY GUNN PROJECT) and Joei Fulco (HEIDI). It’s also great to hear Pyun regular Norbert Weisser (SCHINDLER’S LIST) offering his voice to an on-camera interview portion of the film.
ROAD TO HELL’s production has been a long and arduous process, which has seen multitudes of cuts produced. It made its first appearance on the festival circuit in 2008 and has since gone through various edits, few of which made it to public exhibition. It has taken 6 years for the final cut to arrive and anyone familiar with Pyun’s rapid production turn-arounds will understand that there is more to this film than most of his others. It has been a true labor of love. Over the years his reputation has been in a perpetual state of fluctuation and while average movie-goers dismiss his work, the more astute b-movie fans appreciate and value the incredible contribution he has made during his 30+ year career (52 films). ROAD TO HELL is his opus. It is not a perfect film by any means, but it is his most personal. There are things that could have been done differently to enhance its cohesion, but it’s the imperfections that make it so fearless. I have been fortunate enough to have seen a few of the previous cuts and I can assure you that this final one is the strongest.
Watching the film once is not enough and it benefits from multiple viewings. The poetic nature of the narrative needs to be absorbed, as opposed to simply being viewed. It is a nightmarish existential form of expression, built upon a strong foundation and lovers of the weird, wonderful and bizarre ought to lap it up.
Words: Glenn Cochrane (@FakeShempDotNet)