"KEEP BUSTIN'."

Hellbent

HELLBENT (2004) opens with your traditional lovers lane murder, well shot with colorful tinting that seems to come from a light shining through a bouquet of helium balloons they have in the car. The two lovers are beheaded by a dude (Nick Name, who also provides some of the soundtrack with his band Nick Name and the Normals) with a scythe and devil mask/helmet thing. We’ve seen a million scenes like this, but there are two things unusual about this version:

1. the lovers are both men

2. the killer is shirtless

Well, mostly #1. The 2014 remaquel of THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN had a male-male couple killed in a lovers lane, but this one takes place entirely in the gay community in West Hollywood, so it’s fair to call it a gay slasher movie. The hero – Final Boy? – is Eddie (Dylan Fergus), who works a desk job at the police station. He’s not an officer – an injury prevented him from finishing the training. He gets recruited to pass out flyers warning people in West Hollywood that there’s a murderer loose, and uses Halloween as an excuse to wear his dad’s old uniform when he does it. (Strangely he won’t get into any kind of impersonating-an-officer trouble while wearing it. But I guess it reminds him of the shoes he’s trying to fill.)

At night he goes to a Halloween carnival with some friends, where you have your typical slasher movie debauchery (except gay) while the devil mask guy follows them around looking for a window to behead them.

The horror aspects aren’t original at all, but that’s okay. They’re well done, and benefit from a good cast. Eddie seems really nice and his more obnoxious friends do it in a charming way. I’ve seen reviews that call him bland, and I think I get it, but to me he has sort of a Clark Kent boy scout type of charm. A friendly, smiling, self-effacing guy who also happens to have muscles and be heroic. Of course there is more to him, he has some sexual repression going on, but I don’t think he’s a dark character at all, and that’s kinda rare in horror movies.

The production value of the locations is impressive. The majority of the movie takes place at this carnival with numerous extras. The streets are full. They must’ve done some of it guerrilla style during the actual West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval [sic].

The friends get separated and the amount of people around actually helps the killer to blend in. He sneaks up on them in bathrooms, alleys, even a dance floor. There’s some crazy shit going on at this party. A performance with fake chainsawing of heads and limbs makes it so people don’t take it seriously when somebody is beheaded for real in the crowd, under the strobe light. We never actually see the part where they realize it was real and freak out.

There’s a part that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it doesn’t matter because it’s cool, and somebody clearly realized it was cool because they used the image on the poster: Eddie gets hit right in the eye with the tip of the scythe, but it turns out he has a glass eye, so it just scrapes it.

As long as I mentioned that I also want to praise something it sets up, but I’ll mark this one a SPOILER. In a later confrontation the devilman leans in and licks his glass eye. That was a hell of a thing to do. Kinda mysterious, very intimidating.

It would be cool if there were other unusual things like that, but the novelty of being the gay slasher movie is enough to make it feel fresh. Usually in a horror movie when people are killed while making out in a car it comes across as a repressed psycho judging his victims for having premarital sex (even if we don’t make the same assumptions about the Zodiac). In this case of course you have to wonder if the killer is a bigot, or a closet case in denial, or what. Why is he specifically after gay men? Is he set off by seeing the men in the car at the beginning, and by our protagonists mooning him?

SPOILER. We don’t find out the answer. He’s a mystery, like the killer in SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE. He never says a word (I read that he did have some lines, but Etheredge decided to cut them so that even his voice would remain mysterious) and the movie doesn’t stick around long enough to figure who he is or why he did it. I kind of like that. Gay movies shouldn’t always have to be about homophobia just like black movies shouldn’t always have to be about racism.

(In an interview with CampBlood, writer/director Paul Etheredge-Ouzts specified that the killer is not supposed to be a homophobe: “One of the producers was concerned that the audience would assume the killer is a gay basher. I’m sure someone, somewhere, will accuse us of gay bashing, but I make it very clear in the film that the murders aren’t hate crimes. Not to mention, the movie’s hero is gay.”)

In most ways the fact that the characters are gay doesn’t make a huge difference as far as I could tell. Possibly the couple at the beginning are more nervous about getting caught in the car because they’re not straight. And when Eddie and Jake (Bryan Kirkwood, “Stalker” in one episode of CSI) go to bed together and Jake keeps pulling away from him and then is rough with him it brings up a fear that wouldn’t be applicable with a heterosexual couple. Otherwise the one gay-specific thing I picked up on is that after Eddie survives an attack from the killer he tells an officer, “Don’t let them turn this into a fag bashing, okay? ‘Cause, uh, it would ruin me around here. You know that.”

There’s one era-specific technology thing: Attacked in his apartment, Eddie has to press the button on the phone base to find his cordless phone, then while he calls for help the killer disconnects the phone base. (I actually do still have a phone like that, but I’m sure most people don’t, and it’s not the only phone in the apartment.)

The cover says “FROM THE CO-CREATOR OF ‘HALLOWEEN’ AND THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF ‘A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET,’” I guess because producer Joseph Wolfe has his name on HALLOWEEN II and III and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (as well as HELL NIGHT and FADE TO BLACK). Director Etheredge-Ouzts had worked for another one of the producers as an art director, and was trying to get a romantic comedy off the ground, but took a shot at their idea of a gay horror movie with a masked killer at the West Hollywood carnival.

He later did ANGEL OF DEATH, the 2009 web-series-turned-movie starring Zoe Bell.

HELLBENT played mostly gay and lesbian film festivals before a limited release in September of 2005. Box Office Mojo says it was only on 11 screens, Wikipedia says 39. I think something like this could get a little bit wider of a release now, but then again maybe it would be stuck on VOD. Here’s some odd trivia: they struggled to come up with the name, and chose it from submissions to an online contest – but the entrants didn’t know about the devil mask, so it’s kind of a coincidence that it’s the perfect title.

Thanks to Mr. Majestyk for recommending this way back in 2012, and to Murder Slim for reminding me a few times since.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 29th, 2019 at 9:13 am and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

8 Responses to “Hellbent”

  1. I think it’s great that you’ll take suggestions for this search. I remember when you watched The Pool on my recommendation and I loved that.

  2. Wow, this was a legendarily difficult movie to see back when I first heard about it. The DVDs were like 70 bucks for years. And now you can just stream it through a major company! What a time to be alive.

    Glad you finally got around to this one, Vern!

  3. Just added this to my amazon streaming cue last weekend. Glad to see it’s at least kinda interesting. I used to live in WeHo and spent a few Halloween’s out in the throngs of Sunset/Santa Monica blvd’s bacchanal. I’ll let you know if it was filmed on location when I give it a look see.

  4. Thanks, Vern. Glad you mostly enjoyed the movie. One of the joys of horror is that it pushes different viewpoints. I like to hope that in 10 years time, folks will watch a mainstream gay love story and no-one will give a shit that the characters are gay. They’re simply people in love.

  5. It’s been so long since I saw this that I don’t remember many specifics, but even aside from the obvious novelty of its premise, I always appreciate a good urban slasher. Any asshole can set a slasher plot in motion at an isolated cabin out in the woods but it takes some elbow grease to get one going on busy streets full of witnesses. It makes it a little scarier knowing there’s all these people around and still no one’s safe. Reminds me of Laurie going to the neighbors in HALLOWEEN or the last shot in the full-frame version of TEXAS CHAIN SAW 2 where you see that truck in the background and realize all this madness was happening right off the highway. Violence isn’t out there, man, it’s right here among us.

    I should probably rewatch this one since my name will forever be linked to it.

  6. Counterpoint: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN, the worst of the FRIDAY THE 13TH series.

  7. That just proves my point, because they completely balked at that movie’s entire premise. There is one (1) scene of Jason on crowded city streets. There is no slashing involved. The rest of the movie is on a giant barely occupied boat, in a desolate sewer, on an unpopulated standing back alley set, and in those infamous enormous isolated Manhattan shipping yards that you can just pull a rowboat up to that every New Yorker knows so intimately, what with Manhattan being synonymous with wide open empty spaces. The filmmakers didn’t even try to deal with the logistics of a slasher plying his trade in a crowded urban environment, and that’s why the movie is the worst Friday.

  8. This seems like it could be one of those concepts that could result in either a good thing for an under-represented and often condemned segment of society or very much not. I couldn’t help but think of the fact that there were a SHIT-TON of gay men targeted by different serial killers in the 60s, 70s, and 80s and they were able to get away with it and go on to kill so many because the police, and society at large, didn’t care about the victims.

    But, that’s a common topic of discussion with slasher movies in general, just with women as the victims. I probably shouldn’t even bring up the topic, since I haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t know how it’s handled. I’m just saying, it was something interesting that popped to mind. I’ll have to check this one out.

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