HOLY HELL is a Troma film NOT made by Troma. By that I mean it's outrageously dumb and intentionally bad. This is the kind of film that would have once been filmed on dodgy VHS, with grainy, washed-out image quality that might have added to the rough, cheap experience. Instead, it has a crisp, modern digital look - but that doesn't mean it looks any less homemade.
Father Augustus Bane (Ryan LaPlante) is a man of God living in a world of debauchery, sin, and excess. While he's visiting a family of parishioners, a goofily vicious gang breaks in and threatens to murder everyone unless Father Bane breaks his anti-violence stance and uses a gun to stop them. He refuses, and the family is massacred in front of him. After somehow surviving six bullet wounds and a partial crucifixion, Bane is a changed man, embracing ultra-violence and vowing to get bloody revenge on the gang and any undesirable who stands in his way.
In addition to starring as priest-turned-Terminator Bane, Ryan LaPlante writes and directs. And he's not the only one playing multiple parts - it's clear he roped in a lot of friends and family to make this project happen. Many of them can't get through lines without laughing, and the acting styles range from ham to lots of aggressive yelling. The soft, young, nerdy LaPlante - whose religiously flavored one-liners are awkwardly dubbed throughout the film - is massively out of place in the role of the murderous priest. This would have worked better with an older and grizzled actor in the role, but I guess his appearance is meant to add to the preposterousness of it all.
HOLY HELL is as un-politically correct as you can imagine; it's packed with cross dressing psychopaths, baby killing, rape, offensive slang, and strangely frequent occurrences of simulated oral sex. In a sometimes overly-PC world, I do appreciate the rare willingness to offend, but when you're so determined to shock, the audience will end up resisting. The novelty wears off quickly, especially since everything is so hokey. It's all played for laughs, including rather unpleasant scenes of sexual assault - a phenomenon that was common in exploitation cinema of the past, and surprising to see today.
The grindhouse feel LaPlante is going for requires a defter touch than it once did. It's hard not to be "meta" these days and reference everything that's come before. This film has its tongue firmly planted in cheek, and an eye winking at the audience so hard you'll think it's having a seizure. The silliness negates any impact the offensiveness could have, and that's a problem.
The gore - which is sold as a main attraction of HOLY HELL - is underwhelming. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of blood, but much of it is digital. Why?! Get someone to build a few practical effects! Yeah, sure, the actors cough up fake looking syrupy blood, but let's go back to the old days of arms and legs being lopped off, or heads being crushed. That's what made Troma films so fun and brought them up out of the low budget muck.
I just can't imagine there's much of a market for this sort of thing anymore, especially considering Troma only just scraped through their recent Kickstarter for RETURN TO NUKE 'EM HIGH VOLUME II. This brand of movie lived and died in the mom and pop video stores of old. Sadly, it's kinda hard to see where HOLY HELL fits into the new landscape of low budget cinema.
It's not all bad though. There are a couple of genuinely funny gags here and there. It could have done with some trimming though; 90 minutes of HOLY HELL is too much. At the very least, it seems they had fun while making it.
HOLY HELL will be Toronto Premiere at Blood in the Snow Film Festival on Friday, November 25 at 11:59pm as part of the Grindhouse at Midnight.