Homosexuality has been in the horror film since the genre first began, but it was usually hidden in subtext and allegory. Despite a huge gay audience for horror films, there have been few that have been willing to risk a full-out queer horror assault with a straight face. Well, HELLBENT is one such film – although, admittedly, the straight face is slightly askew with a decidedly lascivious smirk!
Eddie (Dylan Fergus), is a promising young gay police cadet whose career was cut short after an accident where he lost his right eye. Now mostly relegated to a desk job, he jumps at the chance to go out and flyer the local gay community after two young men are decapitated in a lover’s lane (in a tense and surprisingly gory opening sequence). In perhaps a left field choice, because his father was a policeman – and because its Halloween – his commandeer lets him dress his dead father’s uniform.
Despite the gruesome events of the night before, the famed West Hollywood Halloween Carnival goes ahead. Eddie, still wearing the police threads, meets up with three of his best friends: Chaz (Andrew Levitas), his seemingly inexhaustible bisexual house mate; Joey (Hank Harris), Eddie’s slightly nerdy younger brother, who has the hots for a football playing jock he hopes to see out tonight; and Tobey (Matt Phillips), who is so fed up with the shallowness of the gay scene he’s decided to hide his well defined muscles under a whirlwind of drag, to see if anyone will fancy him for his mind instead of his body.
To get the night’s proceedings off with a ghoulish pit-stop, Eddie parks the jeep they are driving in at the park where the two young men were decapitated. Despite being a little spooked, they decide that the killer is probably long gone – although, Tobey quips that “… wouldn’t you want to kill us? We’re all so fabulous!”. They make their way through the woods towards the carnival, but whilst taking a stop for a piss they come face-to-face with the killer – his face hidden behind a devil’s mask (complete with horns) and holding a sickle. Mistaking him for just someone in costume, and out for a spot of moonlit cruising, the group good-naturedly taunt him by dropping their trousers and mooning him (I wonder what Jason Voorhees would have made of that!). As soon as they hitch up their trousers, they notice that he’s vanished into the dark; but it isn’t long before Eddie realises that their every move at the carnival is being shadowed by the mysterious sickle-wielding stranger …
HELLBENT treads the tightrope between being a gay themed film and a slasher flick much better than its lesbian counterpart. Whilst MAKE A WISH (2002) certainly has its moments, HELLBENT never forgets that it is designed first and foremost as a vehicle to thrill and scare – which is why it deserves to find both a gay and (open-minded) straight audience. That said, there is a romantic subplot between Eddie and a sexy biker, Jake (Bryan Kirkwood), that’s not only sweet and erotically charged – but lays the groundwork for the wham-bam slasher movie finale.
As a slasher flick, HELLBENT ticks most of the right boxes. It’s relatively slick (given its meagre, though not miniscule, budget) – although some mismatched film and video stock does make it look a little dog-eared in places (although nothing that majorly detracts). The cast is almost uniformly good – and most importantly likeable; something which is seemingly difficult for makers of horror films to get right (I mean, we all like to see assholes get what’s coming to them, but I prefer to be rooting for characters you like – even if most of them loose their heads!).
First time director, Paul Etheredge-Ouzts, handles the action like a pro, with the film unraveling with tense and exciting set-pieces. There is one scene, where one of the characters is trapped in an empty club with the killer that is sure to set your pulse racing – the only disappointment is that it’s far too short. Having the said that, the sustained climax of the film shows that the makers of HELLBENT are well versed in their early 80s slashers flicks!
HELLBENT also, refreshingly, doesn’t skimp on the red stuff. The killer – who, thank god, isn’t some post-Freddy quip making buffoon, but is definitely the silent (and deadly) type – makes good use of the Halloween camouflage – and nobody looks twice at him carrying the severed heads (in dripping red bags) through the streets of Hollywood. One of the characters remarks that he must be incredibly strong, given that when he decapitates his victims he cuts clean through their arteries and windpipes without crushing them. Now, it shows we’ve come along way in the UK when you can show such graphic bloodletting and still only score a 15 certificate on DVD! In one standout moment, a couple of club-goers find a headless body slumped in a toilet cubicle, covered in blood; they think it’s an elaborate Halloween joke until the body twitches. Another fantastic scene has the killer off somebody on a crowded dance floor, stabbing him in the gut with a sickle before decapitating him as the strobe-lights work overtime overhead. That may seem a little overblown in print, but works extremely well in the context of a slasher flick set around the theatrics and artifice of a Halloween night carnival. But perhaps the best is when one character is outlandishly saved by his glass eye stopping the killer’s sickle piercing his brain! A moment worthy of Fulci – although, admittedly, Fulci would have probably had the glass eye shatter and the sickle do its dastardly work regardless!
Could HELLBENT be considered homophobic? The makers have been careful not to fall foul of this accusation - in-fact, it seems most of the people behind the scenes of this film are gay - although, surprisingly, the majority of the actors are straight. The fact that, as one of the characters points out, the killer is probably gay himself deflects this (although his motive is never clear beyond a penchant for collecting pretty male heads). Ultimately, HELLBENT simply represents taking the elements of any number of 'straight' slasher flicks and placing them within a gay context. There doesn't appear to be any greater agenda.
Gay themed or not, HELLBENT holds its own amongst a glut of modern slasher flicks. A unique take on the subgenre, with a colourful and original setting, good performances, ample gore, hot bodies, and tension cranked up to the max, it is ultimately one of the best post-SCREAM subgenre films of recent years. Gay or straight (or anywhere in between!), for a helluva good time I recommend you search this little gem out.
female:0 / male:5
1) Male decapitated with sickle
2) Male decapitated with sickle
3) Male decapitated with sickle
4) Male decapitated with sickle
5) Male decapitated with sickle