Four gay friends try to navigate the Halloween Carnival in West Hollywood, while being stalked by a serial killer.
Spoiler Level: Moderate
As a gay man who grew up in the 1970s and 80s and who loves horror films, I never felt that I was fully represented in the horror genre. If a movie included a gay character, they were usually a cliché or the big bad. Films in general, propagated the stereotypical notion that gay men were overly effeminate, and women were masculinized, and both were often used for comic relief. There were art house movies and low budget films that strived to compensate for this, but really there weren’t many wide released mainstream genre films that portrayed real gay men and women. In the 1980s, there were directors like David DeCoteau who gave us movies that weren’t necessarily LGBTQ+ themed, but pandered to a certain demographic, but most of these were low budget, badly acted and campy. So, in 2004, with the release of Hellbent, I finally got a well done, sort of mainstream horror film that showed regular guys who happen to be gay.
The story is a basic stock horror plot. On Halloween night at the carnival in West Hollywood, four good looking, young, male roommates are out partying while a masked serial killer is stalking them. Eddie (Dylan Fergus) works as a technician with the LA Police Department, where his sister is also an officer. Eddie had wanted to be a cop as well, but due to an accident was no longer able. He dresses in his father’s cop uniform as his costume. Chaz (Andrew Levitas) is an extroverted partier who is promiscuous with both men and women and is in a sexy cowboy outfit. Joey (Hank Harris) is a shy boyish character who has a crush on a college jock and his main goal for the evening is to try to get his number, wearing leather he borrowed from Chaz as his disguise. And finally, Tobey (Matt Phillips) is a good-looking jock who decides to wear drag for the first time as his costume. Early in the film, Eddie meets tough guy Jake (Bryan Kirkwood), who he instantly is attracted to and attempts to pick up at the carnival, all the while, the killer, a muscled shirtless man wearing a devil mask and uses a sickle as his killing instrument, is killing his friends who have gone off to find their own fun. The killer finally gets to Jake and Eddie and a struggle to survive ensues.
The thing I like about this movie, is for the most part, these are just normal guys. The cast if very strong and incredibly good looking. First time writer, Paul Etheredge-Ouzts, didn’t want to fall into the stereotypes of the past, but instead, studied the horror movies of the 80s and derived the basic stock characters from those movies. You have “the final girl”, “the ingenue”, “the slut”, and “the tough guy”, along with a few others and Paul wrote gay versions of these heterosexual tropes. The people in the film are not battling over the question of “is it ok to be gay” but have already accepted themselves and are just regular young men out for a good time. With a micro-budget, Etheredge-Ouzts who also directed the film, studied movies of the 1950s to see how he could mask the low budget, giving it a more polished and professional look. He did an outstanding job, especially since this was his first time directing a full-length motion picture. After reading an article about queercore (gay punk music) scene in LA, Etheredge-Ouzts, contact the band mentioned in the article, Nick Name and the Normals to see if they would do the films soundtrack, and Nick Name, who had also been an Abercrombie & Fitch model, was also asked to play the killer in the film. Along with some other queercore bands, the soundtrack for the production is “equal doses of club tracks and Korn-style nu metal”.
I do have a few issues with the film, most of them on a personal level. The first could be considered a case of, “be careful what you wish for” syndrome. Where I have wanted a film that focused on a group of normal gay guys, but what I didn’t realize, is how much I would empathize with these characters. At times in my life, I was, or I wanted to be like each one of these characters and with such a connection, it was hard watching any of them die. The actors did such a great job and the personas were all likeable that I didn’t want any of them to meet that fate. Second, no history or reason was given to why the killer was killing. In fact, he never speaks, and we never get a back story. This was done on purpose. Etheredge-Ouzts wanted the audience to cast their own fears onto the murderer and felt that no matter what voice he chose or what back story he used, it would detract from the creepiness of the character. I on the other hand, like a mystery to solve, I like the more complex plots where characters use their brains to figure out a solution. This is a very minor issue. The final issue, I don’t really fault the film for. Diversity in the casting. The initial intention was to have a very ethnically diverse main cast, but very few ethnic actors of high enough quality auditioned. In fact, it has been said that Etheredge-Ouzts had lined up thirty racial and ethnic minority actors to audition and not a one showed up. In the early 2000, there was an unwillingness to play a gay character, which is attributed to why very few minorities were interested. In addition to the lack of racial diversity, all five leads were straight. There is no reason given for this, but I must imagine it was for the same reason.
Over all, the film is very well done as it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to be. A basic slasher flick that just happens to center around a group of gay friends. It is not heavy with plot, but with strong performances by the cast that create likeable characters who we strongly empathize with.
Gay Pride Month: Hellbent
- Writing - 8/108/10
- Storyline - 8/108/10
- Acting - 10/1010/10
- Music - 9/109/10
- Production - 10/1010/10