HellBent (2005)

[In honor of Halloween, I am republishing my movie review of the gay slasher film HellBent, which was written for and published on Gay.com. Sadly, the company was sold and the old media site no longer exists, so this recreation may be the only online source of my original review.]

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(2005, USA)
Director: Paul Etheredge-Outzts
Producer: Steven J. Wolfe, Joshua Silver
Starring: Dylan Fergus; Bryan Kirkwood; Hank Harris

by Kevin Goebel

Now out on DVD, HellBent is a pretty standard slasher film, with one important distinction: The principal characters are all gay. But though the movie is dripping in gayness (it’s set in West Hollywood on Halloween), the emphasis is more on horror than T&A. That’s a departure from the homoerotic straight-to-video films of David DeCoteau, which have their own appeal, but which are never going to have a theatrical run.

For the most part, HellBent follows the standard template for the genre, but gay aficionados of horror films will probably delight in the predictability of its by-the-book approach.

Like most films of this type, the first ones to die are caught having sex outdoors. (Since this occurs before the opening credits, it’s not exactly a spoiler.) But in this case, the lovebirds are two guys, and that sets the stage for the bloodfest.
The mostly likeable cast are themselves fairly formulaic. Eddie (Dylan Fergus) is the main guy, with the genre-standard defect (in this case, a physical flaw) that must be overcome if he is to survive. In standard slasher films, his character would almost certainly be a girl.

His friends and roommates include Chaz (Andrew Levitas), who will make it with anything that moves; Tobey (Matt Phillips), the hunky model who dons drag for the first time and carries it off as unconvincingly as a straight guy would; and Joey (Hank Harris, who played Emory Dick in Popular), who tries to counter his geekiness by borrowing Chaz’s leather for the evening. Jake (Bryan Kirkwood) rounds out the cast, playing the oh-so-edgy object of Eddie’s affections (he has tattoos, smokes and rides a motorcycle).

As in most horror films, characters stay when they should run, taunt when they should keep their mouths shut and trip at the most inopportune times. Our heroes invite danger by revisiting the scene of a pair of gruesome murders. They traipse through the woods and goad a masked man, never imagining — despite the fact that he’s wielding a nasty scythe at the scene of a murder — that he might be a serial killer. (Well, it is Halloween.)

And of course, once they taunt him, they become his targets, and he continues to hunt them down through the crowded West Hollywood clubs, despite the ready availability of other victims.

Some of the killings occur in very public places (including the floor of a nightclub), but miraculously, no one seems to notice. And that provides the one slight deviation from the standard template: Once the characters start to lose their heads (literally), their friends — rather than spending the rest of the film running around in a panic — don’t even notice until it’s their turn to meet the masked devil.

The killer’s motivations are never explained, and ultimately they don’t really matter. It doesn’t appear to be some sort of homophobic thing, though it’s hard to say. (The killer doesn’t seem interested in Tobey, the guy in drag, until he pulls off his wig and reveals he’s a boy.)

All the characters are attractive in different cookie-cutter ways — even the nerdy Joey who, with the right grooming, could look, maybe not studly, but at least cute. (He’s like the bookish girl in every teen movie who becomes a bombshell when she takes off her glasses and lets down her hair.) Even the killer is shirtless, to show off his defined pecs.

But despite its flirtation with titillation, HellBent seems less risqué (and a little less gory) in the end than your standard slasher flick. Will that help it attract a broader audience in its theatrical run? It’s hard to say whether the film will be able to reach beyond the narrow niche of those interested in both gay and horror films.

Some gay filmgoers may be attracted to HellBent simply for the novelty of the idea. For that matter, so might fans of horror films who might not otherwise go see a gay-themed movie. While some straight-to-video gay films have been set against a horror backdrop, they’ve been played more for camp than chills. HellBent is the first to take its genre seriously, with gay characters played as honest-to-goodness people rather than for comic relief or cannon fodder. With gay characters played as heroes in a genre that has traditionally had macho and even homophobic overtones, that makes the film all the more groundbreaking and significant.

Originally published on Gay.com and PlanetOut.com