United States. 94 minutes. Directed by Aaron Norris, 1994. Starring Chuck Norris, Calvin Levels, Christopher Neame, Sheree J. Wilson.
Chicago cops Frank Shatter (Chuck Norris) and Calvin Jackson (Calvin Level) are called in to investigate the gruesome murder of an Israeli rabbi. After being summoned to Jerusalem for questioning by the Israeli authorities, the do stays on to pursue some leads there. Their case soon leads them to an eccentric and ruthless archaeologist (Christopher Neame), his beautiful assistant (Sheree J. Wilson), and a demonic terror from the time of the Crusades, whose plans are finally coming to fruition. Frank and Calvin discover that they must not only solve a murder, but save the world…
Action-horror hybrids are tricky to pull off because they depend on opposing principles. Action movies work on the assumption that the hero or heroine is going to overcome the baddies and save the day. Horror movies work on the assumption that the heroine or hero might not save the day and the baddies will win. The rare hybrids that do work as horror–a very short list with Aliens and Predator at the top–do so by subverting their action instincts: almost all the badasses in the former film die in a single scene, while Dutch prevails not because he’s tougher or stronger than the Predator, but because of a single stroke of luck.
So it’s probably not much of a surprise that the 1994’s Hellbound isn’t particularly scary, and the reason can be summed up in two words: Chuck Norris. The film–co-written by Hollywood hack-for-hire Brent Friedman and directed by Norris’s brother Aaron–doesn’t even try to pretend that the star stands any chance of failure.
However, while Hellbound isn’t much of a horror movie, it’s a perfectly acceptable, although not particularly inspired, buddy-cop actioner with a supernatural foe. Norris’s action sequences, focused on the martial-arts work that originally made his name, are impeccable. And while he never was the strongest actor of the ’80s action-hero crop, but he’s got enough chemistry with Levels to make the partnership work. (A series of running gags involving Frank withholding his partner’s share of the meals stipend works much better than it has any right to.)
Most of the supporting cast does just as well. Neame steals the show as the film’s villain, spending most of his time right of the edge of the top without ever going over it; Erez Atar is an amusing diversion as Bezi, Norris and Levels’s prepubescent sidekick and Jerusalem’s answer to Short Round (because Hellbound owes at least as much to the Indiana Jones template of supernatural archeological thriller as it does to the Lethal Weapon template of buddy-cop movies). Wilson is the only cast member who doesn’t fare very well, but that’s largely because her character isn’t drawn very well, largely serving only as a clue dispenser, damsel in distress and obligatory love interest.
Aaron Norris has pretty much built his career on producing and directing vehicles for his brother, so it’s probably no surprise that Hellbound’s direction isn’t particularly distinctive, but at least the production values and location work is solid.
Hellbound isn’t particularly ambitious, but it does manage to meet its admittedly lower standards and deliver its goods. It probably doesn’t have a lot to offer audiences who are looking for a pure horror movie, though.