When Mortal Kombat was released nearly thirty years ago, a slew of fighting game clones sprung up in its wake...
...Looking to cash in on the budding franchise’s popularity, they ranged in quality from good (Killer Instinct) to decent (Primal Rage) to downright awful (Time Killers). Unfortunately, the latter in that list was most common, with cheesy, bug-filled rip-offs being pumped out as quickly as game studios could make them. So, with Mortal Kombat’s latest cinematic adaptation just around the corner, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a look alike has stepped into the ring, ready to wrestle some dollars from unsuspecting viewers who are eagerly awaiting the legendary fighting game’s return to the big screen.
HellKat, the latest effort from directors Scott Jeffrey (The Bad Nun, Don’t Speak) and Rebecca Matthews (Pet Graveyard, Bad Nun: Deadly Vows) and writers Michele Pacitto and Jordan Rockwell tells the story of a down-on-her-luck MMA fighter named Katrina “HellKat” Bash (Sarah T. Cohen) who inexplicably finds herself in a hellish underworld where she is given the opportunity to fight in a tournament in order to win back her soul. Along the way she’ll have to put up her dukes against demons, monsters, undead chauvinistic bar patrons, and other spooky fare if she wishes to reclaim what she has lost.
Let’s get this out of the way: the film is schlock. Pure, artless, glorious schlock that has absolutely no pretenses about what it’s trying to do. Back in the day when Blockbuster and other video stores ruled the world, studios like The Asylum churned out straight-to-video tripe with covers and titles that possessed a striking resemblance to popular hits of their time. Their goal was to confuse unsuspecting consumers into accidentally renting or buying the movies, and so you had countless folks coming home and realizing that they hadn’t in fact just purchased Transformers or I Am Legend but their “mockbuster” doppelgangers Transmorphers and I Am Omega. The official count of how many Christmases and birthdays were ruined by The Asylum vary greatly, but almost certainly lands in the thousands, perhaps even millions.
HellKat doesn’t fall completely in the arena of the “movies” shat out by that infamous studio, but it comes damn close. Wild Eye Releasing, the film’s production company that’s also responsible for such classics as Clownado, Showgirls 2: Penny’s from Heaven, and The VelociPastor, capitalizes more on genre trends (demonic possession, found footage, etc.) rather than full on rip-offs of existing titles. Such is the case with HellKat which, though it certainly turns into something suspiciously similar to Mortal Kombat after the half-hour mark of the film, manages to be its own beast early on.
The first thirty minutes of HellKat feels almost like an attempt at surreal horror and is maybe the closest the lackluster outing gets to trying to be a legitimate film. Sure, it’s short on logic (Katrina shoots a demon in the face, watches a man slit his own throat then walk off without dying, and sees two blood red moons in the sky before finally suspecting she’s not in Kansas anymore), suffers from piss poor digital effects, and contains some of the most laughable dialogue I’ve heard in quite some time (“You can’t drink yourself to death, YOU’RE ALREADY DEAD”), but at least it’s kinda interesting.
Then the fighting tournament gets introduced and that’s when shit gets real. It’s also the moment when the viewer realizes that every cent of HellKat’s meager budget must have gone to the stunt people hired to make the combat scenes look good, because they’re definitely the best part of the film. They’re not amazing (probably the calibre of what you’d see in a Power Rangers episode) but they have some silly looking monsters and feature probably the most obvious use of a stunt double since Star Trek’s notorious episode “Arena” where the difference between William Shatner and stuntman Dick Dial is practically night and day.
HellKat is what it is: a passable, low budget cash grab with a fair amount of cringe-worthy moments and a couple of decent fight scenes thrown in at the end. If you’re jonesing for martial arts tournament action to tide you over until the new MK film arrives…well, I suppose you could watch the two previously released films in that series…also Enter the Dragon…and Bloodsport. But if your hunger still hasn’t been satisfied after that, then HellKat certainly will give you something to chew on.
HellKat comes to VOD from Uncork’d Entertainment February 2nd.
By Pat Brennan