Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Devil Went Down to West Hollywood: "HellBent" (2005)

We've seen it before. A slasher film that opens on two horny young people getting it on in a parked car before a masked killer relieves them of their lives; for example, removing their heads with a giant scythe. This film marks the first time in horror film history where the two lovers are both men, and all the major characters in the film are homosexual.

Our hero, Eddie (Dylan Fergus), can't join the local police force due to an eye injury, and must instead fix law enforcement computers while scoping out hot guys on "Wanted" bulletins. It is Halloween, and Eddie takes notice of bad boy Jake (Bryan Kirkwood) while handing out flyers about the two earlier killings. Eddie has quite the variety of friends, typical for your average slasher flick: nerdy Joey (Hank Harris), oversexed bi Chaz (Andrew Levitas), and handsome comic relief Tobey (Matt Phillips), who makes the mistake of dressing like a woman as a costume but faces immediate rejection by those who think he is a real drag queen. The four friends are shadowed by the killer, a buff shirtless dude wearing a devil's mask, while hitting the bars and cruising for men at an L.A. Halloween carnival. If you have ever seen a slasher film before, then you have a pretty good idea where the plot is headed next.

This is a typical slasher film with a twist in the characters' sexuality, and therein lies the main flaw. Sure, the slasher ingredients like violence, gore, and sex are here, but the story is no different than any other slasher film to come out since "Halloween."

I really liked the cast. While all these polar opposites just happening to be best friends is a reach, the group has a nice and believable chemistry together. The direction is active and thankfully not heavy handed, and the use of the deep garish colors gives the film a different look. The script moves along quickly, one interesting aspect is the lack of motive and background on the killer's part. With all the "surprise" killer reveals in the "Scream" films (among others), the film makers wisely spent more running time on adding characterization to a sympathetic cast, so once the killings begin there is some sadness when someone gets dispatched.

When you toss in Eddie's surprise medical affliction, and very realistic scenes when he and Jake begin to get close, you might believe that "Hellbent" could revive the slasher genre in the same way "Scream" did...but this is still a typical slasher film with the added twist of gay characters.

"Hellbent" is not nearly the disaster I was expecting in the wake of recent fare like "Valentine," "Ax 'Em," and "Cutthroat Alley" (among hundreds of other examples), but the film falls prey to the mechanics of the genre, making me care for a new type of character before killing them off in the same old way. (* * *) out of five stars.