In recent years, there have been a multitude of homages paying tribute to Grindhouse cinema, proving that the spirit of the exploitation fare of yesteryear is alive and well, in both the hearts of genre fans and filmmakers alike. Nostalgia for the halcyon days of dilapidated theatres and drive-ins is commonplace and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. When Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez released their Grindhouse double feature nearly a decade ago, it spawned a resurgence of throwbacks; their tribute might have been an authentic loving ode, but it was portrayed through a commercialized lens for mainstream audiences to digest. Its unabashed audience winking went down well with some purists, but it was cinematic junk food; all style, but not enough squalor for those looking to revel in the filth of true exploitation. It ushered in the era of “Neo-Grindhouse,’’ still going strong to this day, with a routine cycle of movies that alternate between entertaining self-parody and soulless self-indulgent piss takes that make a mockery of the genre, rather than embrace it.
Thankfully, Jeremy Garner’s All Hell Breaks Loose is an example of how to do an exploitation homage right, as it strikes a fine balance between comedic and nasty. Wearing its sleaze on its leather cut as a badge of honor, the boundaries of good taste are left behind in favor of gleeful, unapologetic repulsion. Inspired by the 70s boom period of Satanic horror and biker movies, it doesn’t quite transport you back to the days of films like I Drink Your Blood, but it does embrace their camp, savage spirit; albeit with additional toilet humor and the overwhelming desire to generate laughs from repellent situations. Politically correct this is not, and that’s where the ugly beauty lies.
All Hell Breaks Loose tells the story of Satan’s Sinners, a demonic motorcycle gang acting as Lucifer’s agents on earth whenever he gets horny. When the devil needs fresh virgins, he frees them of their eternal shackles to kidnap and corrupt untarnished young women. They kill for fun, drink like fish and curse like sailors, living up to their “sinner’’ tag with pride. However, when they brutally murder Steve and kidnap his wife Bobby Sue on their wedding day, a cowboy claiming to be God resurrects the fallen groom so he can exact bloody revenge and save his best gal. Joining him for the ride is the local sheriff and a sexually frustrated priest with a penchant for rubbing women’s underwear on his crotch.
The pros and cons of All Hell Breaks Loose are indistinguishable; people will love this movie for the same reasons others will despise it, and vice versa. For a start, it is a very misogynistic film, full of morally irredeemable male characters on both sides of the fence. The females are beaten, executed and forced to strip down often, with very little opportunities to break through the confines of playing victim or providing eye candy. On top of that, it’s a very mean spirited movie with almost no restraint whatsoever; almost every single character is gunned down without so much as an afterthought. However, there is a lot of humor to be found – most of it rather juvenile and etched firmly in the toilet bowl, like unflushed faeces, but funny nonetheless – and it lessens the disturbing impact of the vile acts that take place.
It is difficult not to enjoy some of the characters, however. There are laughs to be found in a Satanic biker who thinks he’s Elvis Presley, or the anxious priest wrestling with his inner sexual deviant praying to God to send big-breasted women to his Sunday sermons. The protagonist is genuinely likeable, and given almost every other character is bottom-of-the-barrel scum, he’s an unlikely hero worth rooting for. If you’re a romantic, you might interpret All Hell Breaks Loose as a twisted love story, due to an incompetent hero’s willingness to throw himself into bullets to save his wife’s soul from the clutches of eternal damnation. It’s hardly Dante’s Inferno, but love is the driving force all the same.
The budget constraints are obvious, with performances ranging from adequate to amateur, along with special effects that are obviously computer generated. However, every cast member is clearly having a ball on screen, exuding so much energy it becomes somewhat infectious. As for the cheap special effects, they add to the charm of the overall experience. Looking at it from the perspective of making the most of limited resources, it’s quite impressive. The flaws in micro-budget movies are always evident, but it is best to just appreciate the creativity on display rather than focus on the negatives.
At the end of the day, All Hell Breaks Loose isn’t going to change the world. It’s a dirty little exploitation movie shamelessly rolling in its own absurdity and filth. It has a specific audience in mind and they’re bound to love it, as it’s one of the better Grindhouse throwbacks in recent years. For a film working on a shoestring budget, All Hell Breaks Loose succeeds through heart, passion and demented entertainment.