Toronto 2015: PORTAL TO HELL!!! One Last Taste of Roddy Piper's Greatness
Jack would like to read his book in peace. The trouble is, he is the superintendent of a low-rent building with inhabitants that require too much of his time. Toilets get clogged. Bulbs burn out. Toasters no longer toast. Then there are the two crusty old guys down in the basement in their bathrobes and y-fronts carrying out an occult ceremony that will open the door to R'lyeh, the sunken city that imprisons the Great Old One, C'thulhu.
But that last bit is not in Jack's contract so as long as they do not violate their Renter's Code they can do whatever the R'lyeh they want. Problem is, they open a portal to R'lyeh and C'thulhu wants out. It is up to Jack and the other residents to close the portal before that happens.
There is a lot of expectations when you watch a short film like Portal to Hell!!! given the talent that has been involved in the project. You expect Piper to be a great presence. You expect Steve Kostanski's makeup effects to be icky, gross, and entering into the territory of silliness. Then I will admit to being an awful and unpatriotic Canadian as I know of the work that writer Matt Watts and director Vivieno Caldinelli have done in the past and may have stumbled upon it once or twice in the past. If their work here is any indication then I have lost out on a bunch of good stuff.
Piper, ever the consummate entertainer, is terrific. His performance is nuanced and a touch cantankerous at first. Then as the portal opens Piper opens up with both barrels and his soft growl turns into a roar by film's end. His own input into the characterization of Jack (which I will reveal when I finish transcribing an interview I did with Watts and Caldinelli) will further emphasize the benefits of companionship by film's end.
I was probably expecting a bit more of a throw-down between Jack and the Great Old One but there is only so much you can do with this story in the short run time. There is also so much that you could have expected of a 61 year-old ex-wrestler to do physically. There will be no turnbuckles in R'yleh it seems. But Piper's comedic presence is spot on.
Matt Watts' humorous script is underhanded and subtle. It also has a touch of heart in it as well that alludes to the bigger story that Watts has in mind for the feature. Not only in his script really funny but it also makes the statement that perhaps going through life on your own is not the best way to go about it and the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Fresh toast in the morning for the win (once-you've-seen-it-reference #1)!
Kostanski's makeup effects are great. If you have seen his work on the Astron-6 films then you know of his work. If you have not, who are you and what have they done with the real you? Kostanski's work adds the right amount of horror to match Watts' comedy and even help it along.
I do not get angry about Death that much, this is the way of life after all, but in this case I will make an exception. First of all, Piper passed away two days before TIFF announced that Portal to Hell!!! would be accepted into the festival. He would never know of the reception it got at the screenings. He would never read the feedback from the reviews or hear from his fans when they see it. That, fucking sucks.
Second, Portal to Hell!!! was made with The Harold Greenberg Fund's Shorts-To-Features Fund with the intention of creating a feature film. With Piper's passing I dare not think of anyone who would be appropriate to take over the role of Jack when (not IF) the feature film gets made. For now, it really seems sacrilegious to even toy with the idea of re-casting that role.
So, fuck you, Death.
When a feature film version of Portal to Hell!!! does get made it will open the story of Jack up to a much larger scale. When it does, this perfect balance of humor, horror and heart could give us a horror comedy for the ages. Time will tell of course.
For now, keep that cassette tape on repeat playback and the generator topped up with fuel (once-you've-seen-it-reference #2), for the Great Old One waits on the other side of the Portal to Hell!!! waiting for us to drop our guard and bring Hell on Earth.