In the late 1970s, there was a primetime TV series called Soap. The show was revolutionary in that it was a spoof of soap operas. The show consisted of two rich families, and poked fun at all the sexual affairs, murder and other tropes of General Hospital and the like. Soap was a lot of fun. I’m pretty sure this is what writer/ directors Steve Balderson and Elizabeth Spear are going for, with the twist that there’s a psycho killer on the loose. While it’s occasionally funny, and it’s got some creative kills, it’s too uneven to succeed at what Balderson and Spear wanted it to be.
The flick is broken down into two episodes, both of which are introduced by DE’s Queen of Queens Debbie Rochon, and there’s even a commercial break between (with Rochon hawking coffee; this is one of the funnier moments). There’s a dying matriarch on life support, a nurse with perhaps dubious intentions, and plenty of teens running around a high school (perhaps drawing on Beverly Hills 90210 as an inspiration). But for the horror aspect, if you’ve ever seen a soap opera, you know exactly what you’re in for. As for the horror, you’ll know exactly what you’re in for there too, with a mystery killer who X’s out the pictures in a high school yearbook for each student he kills (borrowed directly from Herb Freed’s GRADUATION DAY).
The one question I had was why Balderston and Spear would give the flick the trappings of a soap opera. Given the episodes total about 90 minutes in run time, they could’ve made a straight horror/ thriller flick without all the faux stuff about this being a soap. The wraparound with Rochon is superfluous, and HELL TOWN would have been better suited with some fake commercials. The material within the episodes functions enough like a real soap, but if the creators wanted to take that approach, they should’ve done 10 or 13 episodes to get a greater arc on things. Balderston answers some of my questions in a quote attached to the online screener I watched: “The inspiration comes from the Netflix model of the world. It’s so much fun to binge-watch an addictive show—especially serials involving catfights, cliffhangers and murder.” But even he seems confused, because nobody binge watches a 90 minute movie.
At least some of the kills were creative, especially one involving a tray of doughnuts, and another that employs a glory hole. Over the top, Hell yes, but they include some ingenuity (and holes). The kills make up for the silly acting, as this is actors acting they way they think soap opera actors should act. The script, if not quite witty, does give them plenty of humorous lines. The setup for the next episode (which doesn’t actually exist) crystalizes soaps, and had me laughing.
I always applaud when someone tries something different. HELL TOWN combines horror and the American tradition of the soap opera. It’s quirky and uneven, but also occasionally funny. If you’re a fan of both SCREAM and The Young and the Restless, it may work for you. As for me, I’m off to binge watch Soap.