Essays · Movies

The All-Time Greatest Cinematic Universe Is Branching Outward

By  · Published on September 3rd, 2016

Hell’s Club is back and it’s literally gone down the toilet.

Remix culture is constantly evolving, but its current peak specimen arrived exactly one year ago in the form of a short film titled Hell’s Club. Created by French filmmaker Antonio Da Silva, it mashes up numerous movies by placing their characters in a nightclub run by Carlito’s Way’s Carlito Brigante (Al Pacino), and appropriately its soundtrack, the music of the club, also consists of mashups.

The title location is described as “a place where fictional characters meet, outside of time, outside of all logic.” Not only does Carlito interact with Tony Manero (John Travolta), and Blade (Wesley Snipes) get into a gunfight with the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), but there are also doppelgängers abound. Pacino is also Tony Montana, Ewan McGregor is both Obi-Wan Kenobi and Mark Renton, there are two Travoltas, two Tom Cruises, and two Keanu Reeveses. It’s not just a collage, though. There is a semblance of plot.

Six months later, Da Silva dropped a sequel titled Hell’s Club 2: Another Night. Like any good follow-up, it’s ramped up in many ways, including its length and action. It also, like any typical sequel, overloads what was great about the original. There may be too many characters this time, though the techniques used to mash them together is improved and ultimately it’s a more intensely thrilling if not also greater overall film. Fittingly it’s like Terminator 2: Judgment Day. A lot, but not all, of it is better than part one.

There is an actual Hell’s Club 3 in the works (maybe subtitled Ode to Joy), as an image on the AMDS Films Facebook page featuring Tim Curry’s Darkness from Legend indicates. These obviously take Da Silva a long time to produce and he doesn’t seem to have gone the crowdfunding route to do them full time as he once considered. But while we wait for the next sequel, he did just drop a new Hell’s Club installment, a spinoff called Bathroom Secrets. Set during the events of the first film, it shows us what’s going on in the club’s apparently unisex restroom.

Bathroom Secrets is still good but isn’t on the level of the other two. If this was to be considered the third installment of a trilogy, it’d be like Return of the Jedi compared to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. I still love what’s going on and the world it’s in, but it is weaker, especially in its story telling. It’s also not as seamless in its construction, probably because of the different color scheme and spatial issues of a more confined, more familiar kind of location. It’s also obviously cruder, more lowbrow comedic, with its bathroom humor. There are more moments I dislike in this episode.

The comedic aspect is something that caught me off guard a bit. There are some goofy bits in the other two main Hell’s Club installments, but they’re brief, much less Jim Carrey there than here, as one example. And that pushes it more than the others towards what is expected of mashup and remix media: parody. Much of it has to be parody in order to not be legally considered copyright infringement. You couldn’t publish a book with all the characters seen in Hell’s Club interacting with one another (unlike public domain mashups, like the “Thursday Next” novels). But you can do so in a “parody” video on the internet, for the most part.

Funny mashups can also be works of genius. Another favorite remix artist who works with movies as his media is Aldo Jones, who this week released his latest “weird trailer” version of Justice League (watch it down below). He’s like Darren Wallace, who made the totally surreal Jurassic World trailer remix and Disneyfied Star Wars: The Force Awakens “parody,” but more regularly released, less refined. Both incorporate a lot of immature and downright silly visual gags, but overall they’re appreciated for their clever corniness and utterly bizarre insertions. They’re really over the top.

There’s more subtlety and seriousness to the Hell’s Club films that make me refer to them as short films and not just funny internet videos. I’d watch a feature set in the world of Hell’s Club made the way these shorts are made. But to do so would cross a line, right? I liken those shorts to tracks on the Beastie Boys album Paul’s Boutique (which, yes, also has a good deal of immaturity – the “dick in the mashed potatoes” bit, for instance). That record probably couldn’t be made today, at least not in the same kind of commercial sense. And you couldn’t ever make a real movie equivalent.

But Da Silva can make these videos as they are, not-for-profit, and he should be doing more of them. Maybe aside from the latest short (and even there it’s still partially true), they have a substance to them that isn’t just “look, things thrown together.” Just as great hip-hop and electronic sampling and remixing – not, say, Girl Talk (which is still awesome for what it is) – is similarly mashup as medium, as a tool in service to an actual, distinct work of art, not just some comedy piece.

Sure, the pieces are there and being put together in a way that’s often intended to reference their source context, but only on a slightly removed level from much of pop culture and its mashing up of influences. It’s surely no accident that the first two Hell’s Club installments start off with Star Wars characters, as that franchise is legendary as a remix product. This year, both Hell’s Club and Star Wars offer spinoffs from their main series that share stories basically happening to the side of their original installments. But Star Wars can be the commercial cinematic universe for writing over its mashed together influences rather than explicitly collaging as Hell’s Club does.

**This is where I would offer up Michael Heilemann’s visually annotated version of Star Wars, if it was still allowed to exist online. But I’m including the following image of its purgatory status anyway for a point (you can find plenty of side-by-side annotated scenes if you search, but not mashups like this):

We’re heading in a direction where movie brands do crossover in a legal, commercial manner, and of course it’s mostly for comedic properties. The LEGO Movie is a lot like Hell’s Club only it too remakes and rewrites instead of sampling, and meanwhile a lot of its content is parodical. Then there’s the promise of a mashup of the Men in Black and 21 Jump Street franchises. Like The LEGO Movie, that can mainly happen through studio synergy, the animated film a Warner Bros. release primarily incorporating Warner Bros. characters and the MIB23 idea joining together Universal IPs. It’s akin to the Beastie Boys sampling heavily from fellow Capitol Records artists.

I’d love to see Da Silva find a way to produce more videos regularly, be it by crowdfunding each individually or through Patreon or whatever. Bathroom Secrets may not be the best of the series, but it does show that we can venture to other places, maybe even outside the club, in that universe. These films work with common tropes in film, like club shootouts and bathroom fights, and there are a ton more to mine from, especially involving locations (a supermarket shootout? a day in an office space?). Tear down the walls separating fictional characters and let them run amok. It’s the future.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.