[Review] Welcome to Helltown (MidWest WeirdFest): Bizzaro Horror Comedy Short Is Well Worth the Trip

With Welcome to Helltown, cowriters/codirectors Maxwell Frey and Dominic Reno have created an endearingly oddball portmanteau short film. The vibe is offbeat and the humor is quirky in this outing set in Helltown, Ohio, “Population . . . You!”.

Toby Radloff — star of Killer Nerd (1991), Bride of Killer Nerd (1992), and Spirit Animal (2019), who first came to fame as a character in late comic artist Harvey Pekar’s autobiographical comic book series American Splendor — stars as the host of the anthology’s wraparounds, a man holding a garage sale who drinks Diet Coke and combs his buzzcut between introducing and commenting on the segments. If you have ever heard Radloff’s unique manner of speaking before, you know that you are in for a treat.

First up in the trilogy is “The Grassman,” in which cowriters/codirectors Frey and Reno star as two self-professed cryptozoologists who get laughed out of a donut shop when they make known their intentions to hunt for the Grassman, the Ohio version of Bigfoot. This off-the-wall segment that features crullers and cryptids is a fine kick-off story, setting the tone that viewers can expect a heaping helping of the unexpected.

The second story is the Independence Day-set “The Neighbors,” in which a nosy retiree (Richard Phillis) goes against the advice of his wife and goes snooping into the smoker of his neighbor (Stephen Harvey) and his family. This segment has an old-school EC Comics flavor and is wicked fun.

The third and final tale is “The Motel,” the bloodiest of the segments, and is played a bit straighter than the other two installments. This offering involves a woman (KateLynn E. Newberry) who kills her lover only to have the motel manager (Greg Stees) knock on the door with room service. Supernatural shocks ensue.

Frey and Reno have an obvious love of horror that shines throughout this idiosyncratic short. They have concocted a fun, off-center world in this anthology, which features wonderfully eccentric performances and solid production values, and I would love to see more of what Helltown holds in store.

Welcome to Helltown screened at MidWest WeirdFest, which took place March 6–8 at Micon Cinemas Downtown in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. 

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.