Written and directed by Paul Etheredge-Ouzts
Distributed by Liberation Entertainment
How you react to those two little words will determine whether or not Hellbent is a film for you. If they turn you off or make you uncomfortable -- for whatever reason (we're not here to judge) -- then you'd best sit this one out. If, on the other hand, you're open-minded about such things or even, like me, a bit turned on by the idea and enjoy a good slasher every now and again, then Hellbent has your name written all over it.
Hellbent has been out on DVD for a few months now, and I could have sworn we had a review of it already up on the site following its limited theatrical run a year or so ago, but it must have somehow gotten lost in the shuffle when we moved from the "other" place. So, in the interest of covering all the bases, I thought I'd write up a quick review following my receipt of the DVD a short while ago.
The film opens with two young male lovers doing what lovers do in the front seat of their car, which is parked in a secluded area of West Hollywood. Before you can say, "Oh, baby, don't stop!" things come to a screeching halt when a sickle-wielding bad guy emerges from the woods and cuts off both of their heads and takes them home (or wherever) as a souvenir. Some sizzling opening credits follow, and then we're introduced to Eddie (Fergus), a young, gay wannabe police officer who works as a gopher type assistant for the LAPD. His sister is following in their dead dad's footsteps and is a full-fledged officer, but some sort of prior injury prevented Eddie from making the cut. It's the day after the murders, which just so happens to be Halloween, and Eddie's assigned the task of distributing flyers warning people about what happened throughout the predominantly gay community, which is also where the annual Halloween Carnival is taking place that evening. He meets and exchanges a few words with bad-boy biker Jake (Kirkwood, who oozes a sexuality that's likely to appeal to both men and women alike), but it's apparent Eddie is out of his element when it comes to encounters such as these.
So he heads back to the comfort of his home, where he lives with three other guys: his younger, also gay brother Joey (Harris), who is obviously inexperienced in the ways of sex and love but nonetheless totally enamored of a hot jockish stud muffin he's determined to meet that night; underwear model Tobey (Phillips), who decides to use this particular Halloween celebration as an opportunity to get in touch with his inner drag queen; and my personal favorite Chaz (Levitas), who will basically fuck anything with a pulse, male or female, preferably both at the same time. While it may sound like a bunch of stereotypes, to their credit the four main cast members (actually five counting Kirkwood), all of whom are straight in "real life," do a stellar job of reining in any overly gay mannerisms and come off as quite believable and sympathetic overall.
Costumes on and ready to have a good time, our fearless four, led by party boy Chaz, take a shortcut to the Carnival and wind up at the exact spot of the previous night's decapitations. As they head off on foot to the festivities, first stopping to take a leak in the bushes as men always seem to do, they realize someone is stalking them. They verbally taunt the fellow, who sports a pair of horns and a rather excessive amount of glitter over his mostly naked body, finishing with a group mooning, and then run off to join in the fun and frivolity of the Carnival. Of course Eddie spots Jake, and his friends convince him to shed his inhibitions for once as they all follow him into the Meat Locker, where our crew drink and dance and one by one break off from the rest for their own special encounters with the devil man. Without a doubt the most spectacular kill takes place amid a swirling mass of humanity on the dance floor and is punctuated by pulsating strobe lights. Hat's off to the filmmakers for pulling that off so successfully; the end result looks great.
In fact, when compared to most of your typical slashers, there's not much wrong with Hellbent in any area. The acting starts off a little shaky (the scene with Eddie and his sister in the squad room is a tad forced), but once we're at the Carnival and the chase is on, it's non-stop fun and games. The pacing is such that I didn't even think about the time passing; it flows at just the right speed. The guy-on-guy action is as natural as most of the guy-on-girl stuff you'll see, and the chemistry among all the actors, especially Fergus and Kirkwood, is more than sufficient to make viewers care about what happens to them. And best of all we are told absolutely nothing about the killer. Is he straight? Is he gay? Is he even human? Who cares!?! He cuts people's heads off in one stroke for no apparent reason -- what more do you need to know? The cinematography, editing, set design, and scoring are all above average for a low budget indie film. It's somewhat predictable (but honestly, what slasher isn't?), and I would have liked a little more in-your-face blood and gore, but taken as a whole the effects get the job done.
The only other real gripe I have with Hellbent is the lack of extras on the disc. There's just one featurette of interviews with the cast, writer/director Etheredge-Ouzts, and a few of the producers (much mileage is derived from Joseph Wolf's involvement with both Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street). It's interesting and entertaining enough on its own, but do you mean to tell me that for such a "groundbreaking" film -- it's touted as the first gay slasher movie -- they couldn't at least provide a measly commentary? Or how about a blooper reel? Surely with straight guys playing gays there had to have been some pretty funny outtakes. But truth be told, at the end of day no one will remember Hellbent as anything other than another respectable entry in the slasher subgenre. Yes, it revolves around gay characters, but that's really inconsequential to the outcome. Nice looking, horny people have been getting sliced and diced by crazed killers for years now, and so long as there are a few clever gags thrown into the mix (Hellbent's particularly inventive scene involving the devil man's sickle and one of the character's eyeballs is sure to stick with you for at least a while afterwards), I don't see why anyone would care if the victims are straight or gay.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to check out that bedroom scene between Eddie and Jake one more time … just to make sure I didn't miss anything important to the storyline you understand.
Backlot Featurette: Hellbent
3 out of 5
1 out of 5
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