Hellbent, produced by Joseph Wolf, who previously brought horror fans such classics as Hell Night, Halloween II, and A Nightmare on Elm Street, is being billed as both "the first ever gay horror-slasher flick", and a "terrifying" new feature. Really, though, this first writing and helming effort by Paul Etheredge-Ouzts is much more than a "gay" film - and perhaps not quite as terrifying as the film's PR team might like you to believe.
The film follows the adventures of a quartet of gay guys on the night of the wild and crazy West Hollywood Halloween Carnival. The boys are just trying to have a little fun, score a little sex, perhaps, and avoid being decapitated like the two guys in the park the night before, who were just having a little steamy fun in a parked car before a psycho-killer relieved them of their heads.
Our four heroes are Eddie (soap actor Dylan Fergus), who just wants to be a cop like his deceased father, but can't because an injury destroyed his depth vision; Chaz (Andrew Levitas), a cynical party-boy out for a good time with anyone - male or female - who will have him; Tobey (Matt Phillips), a studly model who's trying out dressing in drag for the night, and finds that it's harder getting laid as a drag queen than he thought; and little Joey (Hank Harris), the kid brother of the group, who looks up to Chaz as a role model and wants desperately to be noticed by his secret crush, a hot guy who doesn't know Joey exists. The quartet becomes a quintet when Eddie manages to pick up Jake (Bryan Kirkwood), an aloof studboy with a motorcycle, who's really a nice guy underneath the gruff exterior.
Chaz, the daredevil of the pack, decides they should park their car where the guys were murdered the night before, and then walk to the carnival from there, through the dark, spooky park. Can everyone say, "that's probably not a good idea"? I knew you could. Then, when they see a scary guy dressed like a devil in latex following them through the park, do they run like hell, screaming bloody murder? No, they do not. They moon the guy, then get offended that he isn't hot for their fannies. Okay, so nobody said these are overly bright guys.
The shadowy devil-guy (who, of course, really is the murderer), follows our boys through the carnival, waiting for the right opportunity to strike. Why is he targeting these guys, out of all the people parading around West Hollywood on Halloween? We don't know, and we don't have to. This is a horror flick here, not a thoughtful political discourse or even a romantic comedy. It doesn't have to all make sense, so long as most of the people die in horrific ways that make you say "Eeewwww!" by the last frame. And Hellbent, in which lots of people lose their heads, which the bad guy then carries around in a plastic trick-or-treat bag, definitely fills that bill.
The friends end up at a West Hollywood club called The Meatlocker, where fake, bloodied bodies in various states of dismemberment hang from the walls and ceiling (trivia: the Meatlocker scenes were actually shot in a church, and the crew had to scramble after a Saturday night shoot to remove all the fake bodies before the Sunday service!).
At The Meatlocker, Eddie hooks up with Jake, Joey sees his dream boy, Chaz is distracted by all the nubile, dancing, costumed bodies around him, and poor Tobey's feet hurt from walking in high heels. So our heroes decide to break one of the many Cardinal Rules of horror flicks: Never, ever, get separated from your friends. And you know, don't you, what's gonna happen next? Sure you do. Murder, mayhem, blood and guts, and lots of fun.
While I was watching it, I couldn't figure out whether Hellbent is one of those films that's so bad, it's good, or if it was really good in a campy, off-beat sort of way. After letting it stew awhile, and mulling it over in the light of day - sans the fun pack of loud, rowdy, gay guys tripping on acid behind us during the screening we saw, who laughed hysterically every time the killer added another bloody, dripping head to his macabre collection - I'd have to say that it's the latter. Hellbent is silly sometimes, sure, but it's silly in a very self-aware way, kind of like Scream.
One thing I particularly liked about Hellbent was that Etheredge-Ouzts takes on some of the issues rife within the GLBT community - touchy subjects like bisexuality and the way transvestites and transexuals are viewed within the queer community. He doesn't proselytize on these subjects, which would be a drag in a fun little flick like this, but he does put the issues out there for the viewer to chew on a little bit.
So, for the big question: is this a "gay" film or a "horror" film? The only thing that really makes this a "gay" genre film at all is that the lead characters are gay. The film itself, the language the characters use, what happens in the film, are not explicitly gay for the most part, other than that these are gay men who are interested with other gay men. But so what? Is a film "gay" (in the sense that primarily gay people would be interested in seeing it) just because it has gay characters leading it? It's not a porn flick, for Pete's sake.
Admittedly, there will be people who won't even go to see this film because they've heard it's a "gay" film. That's too bad, because Hellbent is really quite a good film, for a slasher flick. I can't say I was terrified, or biting my nails, or hiding my eyes, while watching it, but I was certainly tense and nervous as the murderer trailed the guys. Setting the film during the West Hollywood Carnival - a scene filled with sexy, costumed bodies writhing to loud music, darkness offset by flashing lights and strobe action, and packed crowds - really lends itself to a horror film. While you don't have the spookiness of, say, a single, scared girl backing her way through a pitch-black forest, jumping at every cracking twig and hooting owl, the disconcerting effect of the club-darkness, music and crowds as the killer trailed his unsuspecting future victims was very effective in its own way.
If you're a fan of horror-slasher flicks, don't be put off from Hellbent just because you think it's a "gay" film. Really, aside from the fact that the characters are gay, that aspect really doesn't play that heavily in the film. Hellbent is a fun, scary-in-the-right-places, cheeky gem of a horror film, and a definite strong start for a filmmaker bent on bringing films about gay people into the mainstream. Go see it, and get an extra-large popcorn to see you through it.