HellBentReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/22/05 23:50:31
The new independent horror film “Hellbent” is billing itself as the first gay-oriented mad-slasher movie, a boast that may seem more than a little dubious to anyone who has seen the likes of “Cruising,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2,” “Basic Instinct” or “Haute Tension”–four titles that I could mention off the top of my head that could make a similar claim. However, let us give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt and say that it is indeed the first gay slasher film. If that is true, I would heartily suggest that any struggling filmmaker should immediately go out and make another one because no matter what they came up with, it would most likely be hailed as the best gay slasher film since even 90 minutes of blank leader would still look pretty good in comparison to “Hellbent.”Like countless horror films before it, “Hellbent” starts off with the sight of a couple going off into the woods to have sex and getting their heads sliced off by a devil-masked lunatic for their efforts–since they are just as idiotic as their predecessors, the only difference on display is that the doomed lovers are both guys. Of course, you might think that the brutal slaughter of two gays in a popular West Hollywood cruising spot might cast a pall upon others in the area but no one seems to particularly notice or care–after all, it is Halloween night and everyone is getting ready for the annual street bacchanal. A group of pals stop off at the scene of the crime (where there is no police presence at all despite a savage double homicide occurring the night before–this comes off more as a plot hole than social commentary, in case you were wondering) and when they see the devil guy lurking nearby in the bushes, they taunt and tease him for no particular reason. That seals their fates–the devil then proceeds to spend the rest of the evening following them around and lopping off their heads one by one.
If you are looking for a little bit more in a slasher film, you are out of luck because what I have described is pretty much the entire story of “Hellbent.” There is no attempt to give the characters any kind of individual personality so that we in the audience might have some kind of vested interest in whether they survive or not. There is also no attempt to develop the character of the devil-psycho or to explain why he does what he does. He just pops up out of nowhere (utilizing the power to conquer time and space that is a hallmark of most mad slashers), cuts off a head or too and then disappears back into the dark. Even at the end, we never learn who he is or why he does what he does–writer-director Paul Etheridge-Ouzts is far too busy laboriously setting up a sequel (which will probably show up just in time to appear on a double-bill with “Venom 2") to bother with such niceties.
John Carpenter’s classic “Halloween” also contained a fairly motiveless character whose actions were never really explained either (aside from being called “pure evil”) but it at least was made in such an incredibly stylish manner that you went along with it. However, Etheridge-Ouzts is no John Carpenter (in terms of filmmaking skill, he isn’t even Karen Carpenter) and his effort, by comparison, is an ugly and disjointed mess featuring murky digital photography, amateur-night acting and production values and big setpiece murder scenes that are simply too absurd to be believed. At one point, a character is beheaded in the middle of a crowded dance floor and no one seems to take any notice of the guy spurting blood all over the place. Clearly, this scene is meant to be a sort of homage to the works of Dario Argento and Brian De Palma, people who could pull off such an elaborate sequence in their sleep. Unfortunately, it looks as if Etheridge-Ouzts tried to shoot and edit it in his sleep as well.The biggest question about “Hellbent” is trying to figure out exactly who the potential audience for it could possibly be. Proponents of gay-oriented cinema are likely to be appalled by the one-note characterizations and the depiction of every character as a horny idiot. Horror buffs are likely to be put off by the lack of genuine scare, the unconvincing gore effects and sub-DTV production values. Maybe evangelical Christian groups can sponsor mass screenings to illustrate to their followers about the inevitable brutal punishment that awaits anyone pursuing such a lifestyle and even they are likely to be put off by it long before the end. Too silly to work as horror and too boring to work as camp, “Hellbent” is a dumb and deeply offensive piece of junk that give both gay cinema and slasher films a bad name.
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