The closest one usually gets to watching a game show is either the Saw franchise or one of its derivatives, so with fiercely independent “Twisted Twin” filmmakers Jen and Sylvia Soska at the helm of GSN’s new horror-themed program Hellevator, the concept gets a malicious makeover that renders this infernal descent a thrill ride worth taking.
For those of you new to the delicious machinations of the devious twins, the Soskas are the gung-ho guerilla filmmaking team responsible for B-movie classic Dead Hooker in a Trunk; inventive dark drama/seedy body horror thriller American Mary; and refreshing slasher sequel See No Evil 2, which injects a characteristic dose of cynical Soska flair into the familiar resurrected-killer storyline.
Hellevator spotlights a different real-life criminal story every episode, structuring contestant challenges around the sensational details of the culprit’s monstrous crimes. What the Soskas bring to the table is an enthusiastic love of the macabre and a droll cynicism, with which they amusedly subject their victims contestants to horrible and loathsome scenarios, and delight in the genuine frights elicited on set. Each timed challenge holds the promise of a cash reward for the contestant team, but they proceed one by one until the final round – and not necessarily everyone will make it out alive.
Two points of contention: production value is standard game-show, which persistently disengages the viewer from full immersion with the experiences of contestants (perhaps this is an intentional strategy – comforting reminder that it’s only a TV show – to coax and encourage squeamish audience members to stay the course); and the twins’ distinctly different wardrobe and hair styling on the show is a disappointment for anyone familiar with the Soskas – although they often cosplay for their appearances at conventions, they are at their devilish best in matching attire (again, perhaps the distinction was necessary for the home viewing audience.)
For the contestants and viewers, this is as close as most people are likely to get to a genuinely frightening personal experience. Within the context of each episode’s narrative, that the various settings and challenges have historical bases in fact is creepy enough, but to interact within those narratives is potentially hair-raising. Add to this the unabashed glee our hosts display at the contestants’ sundry misfortunes and mishaps, and one has the full maniacal-killer experience from the comfort of home, with endearingly dark commentary from two of the horror genre’s brightest new filmmakers – not to mention the added bonus of observing the pair undoubtedly drawing inspiration for subsequent film projects from the genuine reactions of their ill-fated contestants.
Great wicked fun, highly recommended.
Hellevator premieres tonight on GSN, 8 p.m. Eastern / 7 p.m. Central