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Hellbox (2021) Review

Hellbox, originally released in 2008, or possibly 2011, as All That is Hidden, is a semi-anthology film that runs an interesting variation on Hellraiser’s Lament Configuration. It could summon demons from Hell, but this holds a piece of Hell itself. And that isn’t good for any humans that come into contact with it.

I have to give writers Robin Sen, Sheldon Inkol and David Scott along with their co-director Robin Sen credit, trying to one-up a classic film with a budget that wouldn’t have covered the catering on Dimension’s cheap-ass sequels is a pretty ballsy move. Did they succeed? Is it at least better than Hellraiser: Judgement?

None of the segments have on-screen titles, the film cold opens, literally in a snowy field in the year of our Lord 1308. Simon (Bret Ootes) leads a small group of warrior monks tasked with hiding an object brought back from The Holy Land. But when Thomas (Christopher Mott) starts telling them distressing things, he has no way of knowing, it provokes mutiny in the ranks.

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Lewis (Sheldon Inkol) inherits his half-brother Dr. Shaver’s (David Scott) house, a place that creeps Eve (Erin Moore) out. It’s full of non-working televisions, there’s a huge bloodstain on the wall, and an ominous box with a note that it’s never to be opened.

One of the doctor’s associates Catherine Darrow (Rachel MacMillan, A Murder of Innocence, Never Saw it Coming) turns up on his doorstep, and they delve into the late doctor’s files. Primarily those relating to Michael Ballard (Gregory Cooke, Carver’s Gate). Through those files, we get the story of Jane (Megan Vincent, Possessor), a shotgun-toting paranoiac, holed up in a dark room. She’s typing out an exposé of a bizarre plot against humanity that involves the manifesting of all that is hidden. But even as she types, strange creatures are breaking into her boarded-up stronghold.

Shot on video and two hours long, Hellbox is a wonderfully bizarre bit of filmmaking. The plot, which does involve a sinister conspiracy, is convoluted, paranoid, and just plain crazy. Even after the pieces fall into place, it doesn’t entirely make sense and almost no questions have been answered.

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The segment giving us Jane’s backstory has a very different look from the rest of Hellbox. It has a shot-on-film look, complete with the odd scratch, the rest is very obviously video. It also is a fairly straightforward story of sorority sisters running into something evil in the woods.

From what I gather from Sen’s website, Jane’s story and the opening segment were shot as a short film in 2005-2006. I wonder if the rest was written later around the concept of the box itself to make a feature. It would help explain the rest of the film’s disjointed feel.

In the best shot on video tradition, Hellbox takes its bizarre plot and fills it full of nightmares, flashbacks and hallucinations, many of them bloody. It’s the kind of film where you’re frequently unsure what is supposed to be real and what isn’t. Just as you think you know, it turns out to be a flashback within someone else’s nightmare.

I mentioned that the film frequently gets bloody, and Hellbox is full of effects. They run the gamut from bloody gunshots, dismemberment and disfigurement to several Creepshow like walking corpses. The quality ranges from some obvious CGI blood spray and latex masks to a well-done suicide by gunshot and the walking corpses I just mentioned.

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If you’re a fan of the kind of SOV horror that flourished during the VHS era then Hellbox should bring you back to Friday nights at the video store, as it did me. Others may find its length, vague plotting and variable quality effects a challenge, but I think you may find it worth the risk.

SRS Cinema released Hellbox in a limited edition earlier this year, but it’s sold out. You can check their website or the film’s Facebook page for news of any other editions or streaming availability.

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