As part of my movie watching for TGGeeks I’ve decided to take a look at movies for the LGBTQ community that have probably flown under most people’s radar, and this time I’m going to examine the 2004 gay–horror movie, Hellbent.
At a park near West Hollywood, two guys are in a car and start making out with each other. One of them sticks his upper body out of the window to allow the other guy some “maneuverability.” Just as things start getting hot and steamy a stranger walks up to the car and with what appears to be a very sharp sickle, slices the head off of the guy with his body out of the window. The other guy sees this and tries to hide underneath the car, only to have his head removed as well. The next night, four roommates go to a wild Halloween street party that is being held in West Hollywood. As they walk through the same park where the murders took place they discover that they are being watched by a mysterious person. Unbeknownst to them, they are now being stalked after arriving at the street party by the same shadowy figure in the park, who was also responsible for the previous night’s murders.
Slasher movies from the ’80s and ’90s were all the rage that led to tropes that became fixtures in slasher films. To classify Hellbent in this way would provide a disservice to this unusual movie. It isn’t perfect by any means, but there are a number of things going on here that give this movie much more complexity than one might suspect. First, as an LGBTQ movie, it is rather simple. It doesn’t have any multi-faceted characters in it and instead plays with characters that almost seem a little cliché. The four friends are all in their twenties and live with a cocky attitude, except for Joey (Hank Harris), with his slightly better than average looks and less than athletic build, who comes off as the stereotypical door mouse. He is shy and is sporting a crush on a jock he knows from school. Chaz (Andrew Levitas) is extremely oversexed and will get it on with anyone with a heartbeat.
Tobey (Matt Phillips) is a billboard model and for one night decides to go in drag. Lastly, Eddie (Dylan Fergus) washed out as a possible policeman due to an injury where he lost his right eye (he sports a glass eye there now), and he has his eyes on a motorcycle tough guy he glanced at earlier in the day at a tattoo shop. Again, there is nothing spectacular about any of these characters. They are pretty much two-dimensional and offer nothing to the story except as fodder for the killer. Even the street party they go to feels like nothing more than a Halloween-themed Pride party where people are drinking, taking ecstasy, or dancing the hours away.
Then there is the slasher element. It follows the general formula of the one crazed masked guy picking specifically chosen people one at a time. What does make this one more interesting is that he collects the heads of his victims. Sadly, we never learn much more about him or what motivates him to kill people. At least with characters such as Michael Meyers from Halloween or Jason from the Friday the 13th movies we get some type of understanding as to what is pushing them to kill. We don’t get any of this with our devilish looking killer. All we know is that he likes to kill gay men and then keep their heads as trophies. One very familiar story element is the all to brief arc for Joey. Just when it looks like he might have some good romantic fortune going his way he ends up becoming the first victim of our killer. I realize that may come off as a spoiler, but let’s remember that this is a slasher movie, and in these kinds of movies there is usually only one left standing. How the rest of the characters possibly meet their demise I will leave it you to find out. I only mention Joey because it just seemed interesting to me what his character experienced shortly before being killed. This suggests to me that the writer Paul Etheredge (who also directed the movie) is a student of the B-movie slasher genre. His attempt here isn’t a 100% success, but he has the basic understanding where he eventually may be able to put out a top-notch thriller. While the earlier killings are there purely for the “gross factor,” he does deliver a tidy game of cat and mouse when the killer starts pursuing his final victim. It doesn’t have the style and tension that John Carpenter’s original Halloween had, but this one isn’t bad. There was just enough excitement to keep me watching all the way through to the end.
Sadly, the one big detriment to this film is its inconsistency in production values. The independent movie took over two years to film and was filmed largely out of order with extended breaks between filming. Because of this, the visual quality of the movie is continually changing, ranging from average quality film-stock to what looked like videotape. This was disturbing at first and made the movie difficult to watch at times, but never to the point where I felt that I was taken out of the movie-watching experience. The big downside is due to the nature of the script’s development there are parts that felt short-changed. The characters could have used better development as did the stalking. Still, managing to come up with a film as good as this given how it was filmed is a remarkable achievement.
For having a weakly developed story and characters that were unnecessarily two-dimensional, but still delivering a mildly engaging horror despite its scattered and haphazard production, I give Hellbent 3 sickles out of 5.
Hellbent can be seen on Here TV.