I’ve had this idea for years that one Halloween I should try to honor my two most covered genres by trying to review a bunch of action/horror crossovers. I knew Chuck Norris had done one, so HELLBOUND was at the top of my list. Unfortunately if this is any indication this is not gonna be one of my more worthwhile expeditions.
Our story begins in 1186 AD when Richard the Lionheart (David Robb, who in my opinion was cast in Downton Abbey based entirely on having this one his resume) battles an evil sorcerer called Prosatanos (Christopher Neame, LUST FOR A VAMPIRE, SUBURBAN COMMANDO) and locks him in a tomb using magic daggers. Then it continues in 1951 when some bandits who might’ve been professional acquaintances of Indiana Jones discover the tomb and think it would be a good idea to steal the magic daggers, releasing a force of pure evil that will, you know, cause trouble in 40-some years after he gets all the broken pieces of his shattered Magic Scepter Thing of Evil. Now he wants to conquer the world and presumably plunge it into that “1,000 Years of Darkness” Chuck Norris’s wife warned about in their anti-Obama video.
It’s about 15 lifeless syndicated TV style minutes into the movie before we get to the 1994 part of the story. You bastards – how did you make me anxious to see Chuck Norris in a movie?
Sgt. Frank Shatter (Norris) gets involved when a dead hooker (Zoe Trilling) lands on the hood of his Trans Am. She got thrown out a hotel window by Prosatanos because she walked in on him right after he pulled the heart out of a rabbi (Ori Levy). Long story.
This Sgt. Shatter (obviously a great name by the way) lives all the expected cop movie cliches. He plays by his own rules and dresses how he wants and has an angry chief (“Your attitude pisses me off! GET THE HELL OUT OF HERE!”) and a minstrel, er I mean partner named Calvin Jackson (Calvin Levels from ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, also played “Head of Jamal” in 8 HEADS IN A DUFFEL BAG). Jackson has kind of a Rick James look but more of a Jimmy J.J. Walker demeanor.
Shatter likes to play little jokes and pranks, like getting Jackson tickets to a Chicago Bulls play-off game and then making him go to Israel instead. Get it? The Israeli police wanted to talk to them briefly about what they knew about this rabbi murder in Chicago, so they had to fly there. Standard procedure.
Most of the hijinks in the movie are Jackson complaining about being hungry, or needing the air conditioning on, or getting his wallet stolen by a kid while Shatter watched because he thought it was funny, and hilarious stuff like that. See, he didn’t know they were going to a part of the world that’s different from Chicago. Shatter takes it all in stride but Jackson is a total baby about it. And a lady talks to Shatter but ignores Jackson like he’s not even a person. ha ha.
Eventually Jackson gets fed up with this demeaning treatment, and flips out. “Why don’t you just cut my nuts off with a damn dull butter knife? I’m you’re partner, man. I deserve respect!”
“If I didn’t respect you you wouldn’t be my partner,” Shatter says. See, so you should be honored by this asshole going out of his way to make you feel worthless. It’s because he loves you! He just expresses it more like cruelty. That’s all. We’re cool now, right?
Prosatanos – living in the ’90s as “Professor Lockley” – is cheesy, like a reject from a BEAST MASTER sequel. Sometimes he gets that distorted low voice that was popular in the ’80s (think the first NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) and talks about “your passage to eternity,” “I prepare to unite my spirit with this royal blood” and shit like that. He’s trying to sacrifice a lady archaeology expert (Sheree J. Wilson, also on Walker Texas Ranger apparently), who Shatter likes after running into her in two different countries.
I gotta at least give them credit for the weird contacts Prosatanos wears sometimes that make his irises look all squooshed. It’s a simple but very effective way to make him look weird and otherworldly.
Here’s a dumb little dialogue exchange that amused me:
“Aren’t you a trifle off your beaten path?”
I wanted him to say “A little? No, I asked if you were a trifle off. Is a little the same as a trifle? I’m not sure.”
Of course, being a 1994 Chuck Norris movie, the action is completely dull and generic, even when it has the minor horror touch of taking place in a dark room with lighting striking outside the window. Maybe the closest thing to a pure horror/Chuck Norris collision is when Prosatanos is in a robe in a big tomb filled with torches and candleabras, spooky statues and fog machines and shit. He’s holding Jackson up by the neck, about to stab him with a ritual dagger made of bones. Shatter says “Hey!” and it cuts to a shot of him in his jeans and cowboy boots running and jump-kicking toward the camera. Then there’s overblown scoring with a choir and everything as they punch each other and toss each other around for a while.
Prosatanos has super-strength, disappearing powers and can levitate down from the ceiling like a Dracula. His death scene (spoiler) is pretty funny. He roars, turns into a skeleton, opens up a crack in the earth, turns into a monster, explodes into sparks, etc.
The rabbi’s murder takes place on “Polanski Street,” proving that the writers are familiar with the horror cliche of making obvious references to the directors of favorite horror movies. There is no originality in this movie, and more importantly no inspired executions of unoriginal ideas. The formulas of a Chuck Norris movie and a demonic sorcerer movie oughta be able to combine in ways that would make both fresh and more absurd than ever, but they don’t really find a way to do that.
To me the most distinctive thing in the movie is a scene where Jackson’s reading USA Today with a cover story on Ross Perot, and he says, “Ah, Shatter, take a look at this. Perot says he’ll run again for president in 1996. You know, I like this guy, man. I really do.” It’s so random and out of place I gotta assume it was Norris being really excited about Perot, reading about him in USA Today that morning and deciding it was his patriotic duty to share that enthusiasm with whoever watched Chuck Norris movies in 1994.
HELLBOUND is directed by Chuck’s brother Aaron (founder of Actionfest) and written by Brent V. Friedman (HOLLYWOOD HOT TUBS 2: EDUCATING CRYSTAL, PREHYSTERIA 2-3, MORTAL KOMBAT ANNIHILATION) along with two other dudes. I guess if Schwarzenegger and Peter Hyams couldn’t do that much with the action hero vs. devil concept I shouldn’t have expected these guys to pull it off.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.