Saipan is part of the Northern Mariana Islands, an American commonwealth, but it has a history of Spanish colonialism, so there has to be plenty of superstition there. It was also occupied by the Imperial Japanese military, for extra bad karma. Alas, the evil mojo will encompass an honest real estate develop when she insists on investigating an undisclosed WWII bunker (always a bad idea) in Hiroshi Katagiri’s Gehenna: Where Death Lives (trailer here), which opens this Friday in Los Angeles.
Paulina works for Lance Henriksen (known as “Morgan” in this drive-by cameo), so you know she has to take her job seriously. They are looking to develop a nice track of unspoiled beach-front real estate, but something about the area makes the locals skittish. Alan, the title-holder, is also a complete sleazebag, so she insists on doing a personal inspection with her team. Lo and behold, they find a vast network of Japanese bunkers that were previously undisclosed. Of course, they promptly get locked in down there.
Initially, they suspect troublemaking activists, but it quickly becomes apparent something uncanny is afoot. Everyone starts having guilt trippy hallucinations. Plus, the bunker has changed in ways that makes Tyler, the sensitive surveyor, suspect they are in some sort of time warp. Bad things are down there, including Doug Jones in characteristically heavy make-up, but their own mounting derangement could be a more pressing danger, especially the already sociopathic Alan.
Despite Doug Jones doing his modern Lon Chaney thing, Gehenna is a pretty low rent affair. There is a lot of racing around corridors that obviously isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. However, Katagiri manages to keep the energy up and he incorporates some nice touches that are supposedly inspired by island folklore.
Believe it or not, Eva Swan and Justin Gordon are not bad as Paulina and Tyler, the colleagues who would be lovers, were it not for their separate tragic histories. Simon Phillips definitely came to chew the scenery as obnoxious Alan, but Sean Sprawling is a bit shticky as his reluctant flunky, Pepe.
Gehenna is not exactly an actor’s showcase (big surprise), but there are some suitably macabre practical effects and creepy make-up. Katagiri is a special effects artist who has worked on some big Hollywood productions, so he clearly wanted a vehicle that would serve his talents. Plus, the exotic Saipan setting is a bit of a new wrinkle. The resulting film is hardly a classic, but it will be weirdly appealing to real genre fans (who should note there is a somewhat amusing stinger). Recommended as a time-filler for horror fans, Gehenna opens this Friday (5/4) in LA at the Laemmle Monica Film Center and simultaneously releases on VOD, where its real life will be.