Hellblock 13 (JJC) (1999)

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Released 5-Mar-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Main Menu Audio & Animation
Menu Audio
Trailer-2
Featurette-Public Service Announcement
Featurette-Radiation March
Featurette-Aroma Du Troma
Featurette-Secrets Of Troma
Featurette-Interactive Troma
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 90:37
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Paul Talbot
Studio
Distributor
Lloyd Kaufman
JJC Entertainment
Starring Gunnar Hansen
Debbie Rochon
Amy R. Swain
Jennifer Peluso
Bill Kealey
Don Tilley
David G. Holland
Bill Robertson
Roxanne
J.J. North
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $39.95 Music Andrew Scott Foust
Eric Martin
Kirk Luther


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, of various substances
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    When dealing with the "standard" assortment of films from the Troma stable, there seem to be two distinct flavours after one has excluded the odd variations such as Drawing Blood: the exhibitions of female flesh, and the exhibitions of ridiculous violence. Paul Talbot's Hellblock 13 would appear, at first glance, to be one of the standard Troma films from the former mould, although it really depends on how you look at it. There is an abundance of exhibitionistic women in the film, but there is also an overtone of horror, especially in the first story, which brings shades of The Telltale Heart to mind. Essentially, the structure of this film is like that of Body Bags: a collection of smaller stories, each seeming to have something in common with the others (usually a mere genre).

    Hellblock 13 begins with the Executioner (Gunnar Hansen) checking in on the women that sit in various death-row cells and giving them some rather lovely one-word descriptions before he meets with the woman who is scheduled for execution at midnight that evening: Tara (Debbie Rochon). Naturally, Tara has been driven quite mad by her solitary confinement, or perhaps she was that way to begin with, but she also has been spending a lot of time writing pieces of fiction into a notebook, which forms the basis for this film. She offers to read some of her stories to the Executioner, who figures he might as well listen since he has some time to kill (no pun intended), having finished the necessary preparations. As other critics have said, this must be Texas, judging by the fact that the executioner has no qualms about introducing himself to his next scheduled victim. As each story begins, we are taken to various times and places of little importance, and told stories that really don't add up to much.

    The first tale concerns itself with Sherry Simpson (Amy R. Swain), whose children have gone missing recently, although the police are somewhat bemused by the total lack of emotion she displays. When she begins having nightmares about her dead children, however, we are given some not-so-subtle clues that she's the one who killed them, and the children are thirsty for revenge.

    The second tale is based around a white trash couple consisting of an abused housewife and an abusive husband. Fed up with her situation, the housewife goes to the local witch, who gives her the ingredients to mix a potion that will cure all of her problems. The only minor caveat in this whole deal is that one thing must not take place whilst the ingredients are being mixed together, so you can guess what happens next.

    The third and final tale is that of a bikie gang who seem to have a heavy connection in the spiritual world, with a guardian angel that eliminates undercover police officers from their ranks. One such undercover police officer is Chaney (Don Tilley), who seems to do little more than rubbish the bikies' beliefs, which are pretty ridiculously worked into the film in any case. The bikies' mixing of beer, marijuana, and LSD also looks pretty ridiculous.

    Once Tara is finished telling her tales to the Executioner, well, I won't spoil it for you except to say that I've heard it is tough to get fiction published, but this is quite over the top. Nonetheless, if Creepshow was too tame for your liking, and Stephen King hasn't been able to cut the mustard for you since that d*** awful miniseries of The Stand, then Hellblock 13 might just alleviate some of the tedium. It is slow, monotonous at times, and the acting stinks from all but Gunnar Hansen and Debbie Rochon (the less I say about the screenplays they read from, the better), but Troma fans will dig some of it.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    It stands to reason that Hellblock 13 almost put me to sleep in places, while Drawing Blood kept me enthralled and even laughing a lot of the time, but this title receives the better transfer. This is faint praise, however, as it is still of generally mediocre quality.

    The transfer is presented in the Troma standard aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced.

    The transfer is reasonably sharp, enough so that the salient details of each shot can be made out, but that's the most that can be said for it. Objects that are distant to the camera are quite blurred and indistinct, and compression-related grain is frequently present. The shadow detail of this transfer is poor, with any shot where the lights suddenly go out, such as in the cellblock at 49:54, highlighting this fact with its sudden shift from being reasonably detailed to having almost no detail at all. Low-level noise was not a problem in this transfer.

    The colour saturation of this transfer is fairly typical of single-layer Troma DVDs, with individual colours being murky and indistinct. Composite artefacts such as cross-colouration were noticed in such things as the finely spaced black of a bikie's hat at 54:00, to name my favourite example.

    MPEG artefacts are rife throughout this transfer, usually in the form of minor pixelization, with subtle macro-blocking found in an overhead shot of a back yard at 33:06. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of moderate aliasing, with clothes lines and the tops of grave markers being the most noticeable culprits. Film artefacts were occasionally found in the form of scratches on the picture, but these were surprisingly rare considering the source of the film.

    There are no subtitles available on this disc, so Hearing Impaired viewers, or those who don't speak English, are out of luck.



Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The audio transfer is better than the video transfer, in that it is wholly unremarkable, with no particular highs or lows about it.

    There is only one soundtrack on this DVD: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 2.0 with a bitrate of 224 kilobits per second.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, more so than you might have wished, given that it is also often clumsy and sophomoric. Some of the lines Gunnar Hansen are given are just embarrassing, although I'm sure they beat the hell out of the dialogue he was given in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There did not appear, at least to my eye, to be any problems with audio sync.

    The music in this film is credited to Andrew Scott Foust, Eric Martin, and Kirk Luther. It supports the onscreen action well enough, but the problem with this is that the onscreen action has so much redundant dialogue in it that it tends to bog things down. Nonetheless, when the film itself occasionally ascends into what could be called genuinely funny or creepy, I found the score music to be well-linked with those moments.

    The surround channels were not used by this soundtrack, which is a shame since they could have been used to spread all sorts of sound effects or music through the sound field and made some moments that little bit creepier. The subwoofer was not specifically encoded into this soundtrack, and was silent throughout all moments except the music cues, when my Dolby Digital processor redirected a small amount of signal to it.



Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The main menu features some very simplistic animation and an extremely repetitive 48 kHz Linear PCM 2.0 soundtrack, as do most of the static menus. It is not 16x9 Enhanced.

Trailer - The Toxic Avenger

    This three minute and eleven second effort is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Trailer - The Rowdy Girls

   This one minute and fifty-nine second trailer is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Featurette - Masturbation PSA

    This two minute and forty-seven second featurette features Sergeant Kabukiman describing how unhealthy and evil the title topic is, with a hilarious satirical twist in true Troma style. It is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Featurette - Radiation March PSA

   This fifty-four second, 1.33:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 featurette is by far the oddest Public Service Announcement in the Troma catalogue, which is saying quite a lot.

Featurette - Aroma Du Troma

   This one hundred and six second montage of classic shots from the Troma film library is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and set to a rather aggressive-sounding Motörhead song.

Featurette - Secrets Of Troma

   This seventy-six second featurette is basically an advertisement for the biography of Lloyd Kaufman. It is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Featurettes - Troma Interactive

   Divided into several titles, this tour of Troma Studios begins with a fifty-six second introduction by Lloyd Kaufman himself before going to a submenu that features different "departments" of Troma. Selecting one of these eleven departments will bring up a quick featurette that doesn't reveal much about how a Troma film is made. One of them made me sick from watching, so Kaufman is not kidding when he says it is not for the faint of heart.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 disc misses out on;

    Viewers with hearing impairments may wish to import the Region 1 disc, but there does not seem to be any other compelling difference between the two. The major review sites seem reluctant to review any Troma product, which makes assessing the differences a little difficult, and the Troma online store is not much help, either. When all is said and done, the only reason to import the Region 1 version is if you require subtitles.

Summary

    Hellblock 13 is a valiant effort at a multi-story horror film that is let down by the quality of the stories it has to tell. Gunnar Hansen has never looked better, but the rest of the film is just a miscarriage that only occasionally rises to become one of the less funny Troma blood and gore flicks. If you're a mad fan of the Tales Of The Crypt style of horror, then this film might work for you.

    The video transfer is mediocre, but watchable.

    The audio transfer is average.

    The extras are numerous, but please, Troma, could we start making them more specific to the actual feature?

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Saturday, September 15, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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