Tuesday, 9 December 2008

HellBent

2004
Dir. Paul Etheredge-Ouzts

Slasher movies have always been associated with rampant, nubile teenagers drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, smoking pot and indulging in pre-marital sex, oh my. And that’s not when they’re being murderlised in gory fashion by a hulking brute in a mask as they wander off from each other through creepy, maniac infested woods or down dark and stabby alleys. Is there anything that can be done now to distinguish these films from each other and add anything fresh and interesting to the genre? Does anyone care anymore?

Paul Etheredge-Ouzts, director of HellBent and former property master/set dresser, seems to think so. He has created what’s been dubbed the first ‘gay slasher movie.’ The protagonists are all gay, funnily enough, what with it being the first gay slasher movie (not counting A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge).

This certainly provides an interesting angle and some wonderfully spiky and bitchy dialogue; however the film still lacks any real invention other than the ‘queer’ novelty factor. General critical analysis of slasher movies dictate that the randy teens are usually dispatched because of their sexual explorations. Any characters indulging in sex are murdered and only the virginal girl who remains chaste throughout the film will survive. Critics have also drawn metaphorical parallels between sexual repression and the rampage of the killer. It’s in this subtext that HellBent is at its most interesting and amusing. The whole ‘ambiguous’ morality factor: are the victims being murderlised because of their sexuality or is the killer a repressed homosexual or am I just reading too much into what is generally just a substandard stalk and slash film? All of these possibilities are of course discussed by the savvy, pop-cultured cast and there are a few not-so-sly asides to Psycho thrown in for good measure.



However there really isn’t anything that will make this anything more than a gay spin on a tried and tested (and tired) formula. Right down to the obligatory pre-credits murder sequence involving a randy couple making out in a car in the middle of nowhere and getting themselves murderlised, the film sticks so rigidly to convention.

There is also a flicker of interest sparked when the protagonist, who also works in a police station, says to a cop friend, ‘Don’t let them make this just a gay-bashing thing.’ Apart from this quip, the film makers don’t politicize events too much throughout the film. Although in their own way, they also adhere to this plea from the character and invest enough interest in the other characters in order to elicit some emotion from the audience when the killer strikes. It’s not just a ‘gay thing’. Well, it is, but with more care and attention lavished on the characters than usual in a slasher movie.



The silent, seemingly invincible killer in HellBent is a bodybuilder type who wears a devil mask and wields a scythe, and while this is an unusual, striking get-up for a slasher, he never really elicits the menace you feel he should. Too busy looking buffed and polished. And a bit ridiculous.

HellBent, like many slashers, is a film best watched from the bottom of a pint/wine glass. This isn't a bad thing - just make sure its a good wine.

Visually speaking, the film features many lurid set pieces that have an Argentoesque feel to them; in other words everything is bathed in livid red lighting and creates quite an arresting, unsettling atmosphere.

Ultimately, this is a fun film and might just appeal to open-minded fans of the genre. It won’t offer any surprises (but fans of the genre should be used to this by now) however, and is very tame stuff indeed. It should provide slashy entertainment for an hour and a half and will go down well with a bottle of something red.

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