© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Hellbent


            A while back, I read about an online contest to name a new gay-
    themed horror movie, and some of the suggestions (made by individuals
    who hadn’t seen the film) ranged from the campy (
28 GAYS LATER) to
    more literal (
TRICKS OR TREATS) to the eventual winner   -–
    
HELLBENT.

            Eschewing the ironic take on the slasher films of the 1970s and
    80s that Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson overlaid on the
SCREAM
    series, writer-director Paul Etheredge-Ouzts returned the genre to its
    roots, albeit with a gay twist. He opens the film with a typical scene with
    a pair of lovers who begin to engage in sexual activity only to attract a
    homicidal maniac who kills them. American horror movies have always
    equated teen sex with death (even before the advent of the AIDS crisis).
    Here, Etheredge-Ouzts applies the same theory but with a campy twist.
    As soon as the film opens with its studly lovers traipsing through a fog-
    enshrouded wood in the West Hollywood area, the audience titters
    with recognition.

            Once the opening scene sets up the killer’s modus operandi, the
    film takes a step back and introduces its four main characters, a group
    of contemporary gay men in Los Angeles who live together. There’s
    Eddie (Dylan Fergus), who works at the police station and more than
    anything wanted to be a cop but was hindered by a physical ailment.
    Chaz (Andrew Levitas) is the Don Juan of the group who will literally
    sleep with anyone (he’s introduced having a threesome with a tourist
    couple). Joey (Hank Harris) is the inexperienced one, desperately trying
    to hook up with a hunky jock. Finally, there’s the muscular Tobey (Matt
    Phillips).

            The action of the film unfolds on Halloween, with the foursome
    planning to attend the annual carnival in costume. Eddie opts to wear
    his father’s police uniform, Joey gets done up in leather, Chaz goes
    as a cowboy, and Tobey, in perhaps the least prudent idea of them
    all, dons a drag, complete with long blonde wig, high heels and blue
    sparkly gown.

            The friends can’t help but visit the scene of the previous evening’s
    gruesome crime and soon they’ve attracted the attention of the killer,
    who wears a devil’s mask and goes around with his shirt off, the better
    to expose his muscular torso. As the buddies attempt to make
    connections with various guys (Eddie is especially interested in a
    motorcycle-riding bad boy type named Jake, played by Bryan Kirkwood),
    the killer is monitoring their moves and waiting for the moment to strike.

            Etheredge-Ouzts has laced the script with character-based humor
    and he’s managed to create four individuals that the audience comes
    to care about before they face off with their assailant. Despite working
    on a limited budget, the production is eye-popping and using an actual
    Halloween carnival as a backdrop gives the piece verisimilitude.

            The cast of relative unknowns is uniformly terrific with Fergus
    emerging as the breakout star. (He went on co-star on the campy
    daytime drama
“PASSIONS”). HELLBENT has the potential for
    crossover appeal. Despite its gay milieu, it has enough laughs and
    scares to attract all audiences. It also heralds the arrival of a new voice
    in film, Paul Etheredge-Ouzts.


                                              Rating:                           B+
     

                     Viewed at  NewFest 2005 at the Loews State Theater
www.newfest.org