A lurid, low-budget horror discard from the wild world of Michigan cinema, HELL MASTER opens in 1969, with a title crawl explaining that the Kant Institute was the site of the "Nietzsche Experiments" to create mental super-soldiers for Uncle Sam. In the process, nutty Professor Saxon (John Saxon) turned a disused chapel into a mad lab slaughterhouse before...read more
A lurid, low-budget horror discard from the wild world of Michigan cinema, HELL MASTER opens in 1969, with a title crawl explaining that the Kant Institute was the site of the "Nietzsche Experiments" to create mental super-soldiers for Uncle Sam. In the process, nutty Professor Saxon (John
Saxon) turned a disused chapel into a mad lab slaughterhouse before an outraged administrator shot him in the head.
Twenty years later the institute is still grooming a superior class of students, although in the film's lone crowd shot they're the usual collegiate jocks, nerds and bimbos, just getting their lectures over headphones, that's all. Soon the visible campus population drops to about a dozen and the
murders resume. It seems that Professor Saxon didn't die all those years ago, but supercharged his brainwaves and projected a duplicate of himself to take the fatal bullet. Now having assembled an "army" of four zombified street people and a nun(!), Saxon has returned to obtain mass quantities of
mutant-manufacturing narcotics hidden in the tunnels beneath the chapel.
Opposing the forces of evil are some pretty pallid heroes. There's a mischevious little girl (Sarah Barkoff), sole survivor of an earlier Saxon attack; Shelley (Amy Raasch), a psychic coed; and a crusading reporter (David Emge). After interminable dreams-vs-reality bits and much killing and
stalking, Shelley decides to fight the mind-controlling Saxon on his own terms; she allows herself to be injected with the Nietzsche drug. The final faceoff between the two somehow turns into a theological debate over the existence of God, Saxon taking the atheist position while Shelley defends
the notion of an ethical supreme being.
Let's hope God's got more going for Him than this film. Writer-producer-director-editor Douglas Schulze (who also receives credit for art direction and set design) knows a few neat camera tricks, which he simply uses over and over again, chiefly perspective shots of long halls with distant
doorways sometimes bathed ominously in red light, sometimes bathed ominously in green light.
In a strictly visual sense, John Saxon's Professor Saxon is one of the more memorable horror villains of late, stylishly clad in a flowing black leather trenchcoat, his right arm fitted with a spring-loaded triple syringe array, his left arm installed with an extra-large catheter tube for shooting
up his own veins. Otherwise this baddie is as exciting as his name. Obviously intended to combine the worst elements of Freddy Krueger and Timothy Leary, Professor Saxon has the usual goal of world-domination-thru-zombie-slaves, and his diatribes against God don't translate into depth.
Besides theology and the 60s drug culture, Schulze loads the narrative with political asides about social activism and conservatism, the latter ridiculously embodied in Jesse (Jeff Rector), a whip-wielding student fascist whom Shelley's psychic insight unmasks as ... a bedwetter. (We couldn't make
this up, folks.) More compelling is Joel (Sean Sweeney), a handicapped genius who strikes a Faustian bargain with Saxon because he's convinced that a dose of Nietzsche serum will let him cast away his crutches. It only turns him into another slimy ghoul, and his friends blow him away with barely a
Executive producer of the film was Nathan J. White, who mixed chills and religion more effectively a few years back when he wrote and directed a nightmarish oddity called THE CARRIER, also a Michigan product. As for HELL MASTER, it went directly to home video with a title and ad campaign designed
to recall the better-known HELLRAISER series, even fashioning one of its zombies--a carved-up baldie dubbed "Bobby Razorface"--to resemble the Pinhead figure from the Clive Barker movies. (Violence, profanity, substance abuse, adult situations.)
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