HellBent

2004
Dir. Paul Etheredge-Ouzts

Slasher movies nearly always feature a group of teenagers being menaced and murderlised in gory fashion by a hulking brute in a mask. As a sub-genre, the slasher film can be relied upon to stick closely to a familiar structure and a set of conventions established by the likes of Halloween and Friday the 13th - oblivious teens are picked off one by one as they seperate and wander off to investigate strange noises or look for someone who's gone missing. Eventually only one (usually a young woman - the 'final girl') is left to defeat the killer alone. The only variation is the location in which the mayhem unfolds (summer camp, quiet suburban neighbourhood, sorority house, college campus etc). It's a rare thing for a slasher to deviate much from this template.

In a post-Scream landscape however, is there anything that can be done to refresh and bring something interesting to the slasher film? 

Enter Paul Etheredge-Ouzts, director of HellBent, which has been described as the first gay slasher movie. Coming as it does in the wake of Scream, HellBent features a savvy, pop-cultured cast of characters who discuss the killer's possible motives, as well as liken their perilous situation to the plots of various horror films. There are also more than a few not-so-sly asides to Psycho as well as some discussion about the connection between sexual repression and the violent rampage of the killer. This is when HellBent is at its most interesting: are the victims being murdered by a homophobic maniac, or is the killer slaughtering these young men as the result of his own internalised homophobia and a twisted attempt to repress his own desires?

While this approach provides a fresh angle and some positive LGBT representation, other than the cast of gay characters and subtle queering of various slasher tropes, HellBent still sticks rigidly to the rules and conventions of the slasher movie, right down to the pre-credits murder sequence involving a couple making out in a car in the middle of nowhere.



Social commentary sparks when the protagonist, who also works in a police station, beseeches a friend on the force to not let the murders be dismissed as 'just a gay-bashing thing.' This moment serves to highlight social inequality, injustice and violence against the LGBT community, highlighting intolerence and police brutality that ensured victims of violence were generally ignored, if they reported attacks at all, or for it to be implied that they were somehow 'asking for it' because of their sexual orientation. The script invests enough interest in the characters to elicit some emotion from the audience when the killer strikes. The characters are drawn as relatable and likeable - and unlike other characters in slasher films, this lot actually seem to really care about each other - so that when they inevitably fall by the killer's blade, there is some emotional impact.

The silent, seemingly invincible killer in HellBent wears a devil mask, wields a scythe and has obviously been working out. An unusual, striking slasher villain, he elicits feelings of fear and desire, which lends proceedings an unnerving, heady feel. 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, at times taut and unnerving film that will appeal to fans of the genre. It should also go down well with a bottle of something red.

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