Hellbent

Could have been a lot worse
★★
☆☆
Released: 
2004
Director: 
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts
Starring: 
Dylan Fergus, Bryan Kirkwood, Hank Harris, Andrew Levitas, Matt Phillips, Luke Weaver
The Setup: 
A killer stalks four pretty twits during West Hollywood’s Halloween Carnival.
Discussion: 

My friend and I wanted to make an effort to see this before it left the theater. This film bills itself as “the first gay slasher movie,” and since this site deals so heavily in horror and gay movies, well, I figured I’d be letting y’all down if I didn’t write it up. And though I have some issues with the movie, generally me and my friend liked it, and I am happy to do whatever I can do to convince people to see it.

It begins with the slaying of two guys having sex in what is apparently some kind of cruising ground. We can see right away that, gay victims or not, we are smack dab in genre territory [nothing wrong with that] and the director is not going to shy away from gore. There is an amusingly off-kilter element in that the car these two are trying to have sex in is filled with helium balloons [?!], which makes for an interesting obstacle, though apparently it never occurs to either of them to just tie them to the outside of the car. But it seems that the combined brainpower of every character in the entire film would not light a refrigerator light. The guys’ dialogue comes straight out of any gay porn movie you’ve ever seen.

So then we are introduced to Eddie, our main character. He is a cop, like his sister, and his now-deceased father, but an injury to his eye has left him with poor vision, and thus he is relegated to menial jobs around the police office. When we first see him he is printing out mug shots of hot thugs with bruises and such, apparently for his own private pleasures. He is given the task of distributing fliers about the killings, for which he asks if he can wear his Dad’s old uniform. Seeing the shirtless Jake he goes into the tattoo parlor and oogles him.

By now several things have made themselves apparent. One is that Eddie is very pretty. Have you seem those ads for M4M4Sex that feature cartoony pretty hunks? They’re on phone booths here in New York and in our gay magazines, and I assume they’re around in various other gay publications as well. Eddie looks exactly like one of those guys come to life. Part two of this is that it looks as though very little has ever been asked of Eddie, the character OR the actor who plays him, other than that he BE pretty. What I’m trying to say is that while his blank staring skills are very formidable, his ability to convincingly portray a human being is highly in question.

The other aspect apparent by now is that this movie is going to explore the nature of gay attraction to danger and violence, which I totally respect [another movie that does this is Capote]. I liked Eddie printing out the pictures of the felons at the beginning, and it’s also quite clear that he is excited by the naughtiness and danger that Jake represents [though he’s about as naughty and dangerous as a puppy, more on that later], and the blood that he sees in the tattoo parlor. Come on folks, Jakes SMOKES and rides a MOTORCYCLE. And if that doesn’t spell “dangerous fringe element,” well, I really don’t know what does.

The third thing that becomes apparent is that is movie is going to contain very slight little elements that are VERY GOOD. The one that first got my attention is Eddie’s excitement at a single drop of blood that slides down the skin of Jake’s back, almost into his jeans. It is a great image, and contains more information about the nature of Eddie’s erotization of blood, danger, and violence than the more obvious elements of the film and screenplay.

Anyway, so soon enough we meet the other victims, who all turn out to be Eddie’s roommates. They’re all going to the big Halloween carnival that night, which is where, one of them says “you can engage in your most perverted fantasies and no one cares.” They are all clean-cut, generic gay 20-something twits with abs. Except for Joey, the token unattractive one. The others are Chaz, the one with the cowboy hat, and Tobey, the one in drag. Other critics, both professional and on the IMDB, have described these characters as “likeable” and “not stereotypical.” We will discuss this further when we get to the part about this film’s worldview, but… NOT STEREOTYPICAL??? Except for the stereotype that all gays are ditsy superficial party boys who care about nothing except having an awesome time and getting laid? Except for THAT stereotype, you mean?

I would also disagree with the adjective “likeable.” I mean, these guys are pleasant enough company to watch getting killed over the course of 85 minutes—and they certainly are common enough types in the gay world—but these are people whose conversation covers the broad range of topics from “Who’s Hot” all the way to “Who’s Not,” and are usually the kind of people I personally do my best to avoid.

So the bimbos park in the very spot where the two guys at the beginning were killed for the meager frisson that would provide. One of them expresses that it’s “kind of sweet” to think that they were killed while “boning.” [“Sweet” in a “cool” kind of way, that is, not "sweet" in a “he sent me the cutest card” kind of way.] They speculate that the killer is “probably some 40-year-old guy who just came out.” They then walk through the woods, where they encounter the killer [though they don’t know it yet], taunt him and moon him.

These, by the way, are the “likeable” characters.

So they work up the “courage” to go inside the world’s most tepid leather bar, where Joey, the less attractive one, wants to get the number of some guy he’s obsessed with, dressed in football gear. It is clear that football guy is out of Joey’s league, and he is a totally snide asshole to Joey when Joey attempts to speak with him.

By the way, Joey is wearing a leather codpiece OVER his jeans. I couldn’t tell if this was supposed to be about how today’s gay youngsters are too timid to really wear leather, in which case it’s very true-to-life, or if the filmmakers really think it’s acceptable. One of the characters tells Joey that this is how “it’s supposed” to be worn… and I still can’t tell if we’re supposed to think he was lying to make Joey feel better or he really thinks this.

Anyway, so football guy turns out to be all into Joey, which is highly unlikely and has “contrivance” written all over it. Football guy says he HAD to be an asshole to Joey because his friends were around. And Joey, rather than saying ‘FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING WORTHLESS PRICK, I DON’T CARE HOW HOT YOU ARE, NO ONE TREATS ME LIKE THAT,” pretty much accepts that Football guy HAD to be an asshole to him because his friends were around. And then… well you know how in most horror films the black guy dies first? Well, in gay horror films, apparently, the ugly one dies first.

The rest of the film goes on following the predictable trajectory of the slasher film, with a few good touches. There’s a quite nicely done, though ludicrous, slaying in the middle of a dance floor [remember kids, if you do drugs, you are marked for death]. If you look closely, you will see that porn star that’s trying to be a singer [I SO have to see the documentary about that], and Paul Lekakis [though I didn’t actually SEE him, just his name in the credits], the guy who brought you the dance hits “Boom Boom Boom [Let’s Go Back To My Room]” and the hilariously titled “You Blow Me [Away].”

Anyway, so the police have discovered the body of Joey, and have closed down the club. Nevertheless, there’s something of Jake’s [motorcycle guy] inside, so he and then Eddie climb over the fence around back in, where they are menaced by the killer. Now, hopefully it won’t occur to you that the killer would have had to elude the police in order to get back IN to his own crime scene. Whatever.

There’s a very good surprise that is alluded to [but very cleverly not given away] on the poster for this movie. And then Eddie's sister is obliged to comment on how hot Jake is, and how lucky Eddie is to score him, which seems somewhat inappropriate after the two were just nearly hacked to pieces. So they go back to Eddie’s place, where there is a lot more thematic material about the intersection of danger and allure, and where Jake delivers the obligatory really obvious and pandering safe sex message, delivered in soliloquy: “Condoms suck, but they keep you safe.”

I am SO glad I saw this movie, because otherwise I wouldn’t have known that.

So it goes on, with a very clever bit—and again, very true-to-life, when you’re talking about a houseful of himbos—wherein Eddie can’t find the cordless phone because it is inconceivable any of them had the shred of responsibility or foresight that would result in its making it back to the charger. Eddie displays the classic bit of slasher movie instincts that finds him standing with his back to [multiple] open doorways while a killer is in the house. The end pays tribute to Halloween and The Shining, and leaves Eddie, to quote a hilarious joke from the review over at bloody-disgusting.com, “keeping an eye out for danger in the future.”

And now, a rant. This movie expresses a VIEW of the gay world that is extremely common, and also extremely infuriating. So, while what I’m about to criticize here isn’t so much the problem of this movie itself, it can be said that this film didn’t have the brains to avoid it.

This film exists very much in the extremely common worldview that ALL THAT MATTERS IN THE ENTIRE GAY WORLD IS BEING YOUNG AND PRETTY. It’s evident from the casting of the attractive-but-talentless [save Bryan Kirkwood as Jake] cast that this is not a viewpoint being expressed IN the movie, but is the viewpoint of the movie itself. The movie also doesn’t betray any sense that the characters ARE puddle-deep idiots, which also implies that the writer/director is unaware that they come off—to some, at least—this way. And by extension, their single-minded pursuit of sex and looking hot at the expense of ANY other topic is entirely endorsed.

What grates about this is the implicit denial that gays who are NOT young and/or pretty EVEN EXIST. Or if they do, that they have any value as human beings whatsoever. For all the discussion about diversity, really all we see in the mainstream gay media are pretty young twits like the ones in this movie, and I found it annoying that this film expected its audience to like and accept its characters because, after all, they’re just so cute. And really, what is there to all of human existence except for being cute?

One line that stands out for the vehemence of its contempt is that the killer is “probably some 40-year-old guy who just came out.” Now, I think the point of this line is that it's his sexual repression that is driving him to murder, but why is it important that he be 40? Is it because a 40-year-old couldn't possibly attract the young hotties like the ones in this movie, and the frustration that causes makes him become a psychopath? Or simply that he IS 40, and therefore so alien and repulsive that he is prime serial killer material? After all, a 22-year-old couldn't POSSIBLY be psychotic. I understand that it's a character in the film that expresses this viewpoint, but since the film takes no ironic distance on these characters, and seems wholly behind them, this seems to express the viewpoint of the filmmaker as well.

But consider, if a closeted 40-year-old saw THIS movie, why would he WANT to come out?

The irony as presented in this movie is that this gay worldview, specifically as it applies to the leather scene, is so naïve. Here in New York the leather bars officially died out [after a long, slow, and painful death] about four years ago, and now the Eagle has leather “nights” where you can find about four guys in leather [I mean LEATHER and not “oh-I-have-a-leather-wristband-and-a-vest-I’m-SO-into-leather” leather] amid the throngs of jock types in “butch” T shirts with artistic facial hair and construction boots. This movie very well reflected the state of those guys out there—like Joey—who are just too scared to wear leather. Who want to try it but have no idea what to do—in part because of their rejection of anyone over 40, who might teach them. The leather bar presented in this movie is filled with a bunch of under-30 tough kittens trying really, Really, REALLY hard to come off as butch, but they have only the most superficial idea of what that is. There’s a short moment when Joey is propositioned by two “daddies” that appear to be about 27 years old. And let us not dismiss how Jake is presented as being so dangerous and butch because he has tattoos, smokes, and rides a motorcycle. Well, maybe that WOULD be a little dangerous if you weren’t a clean-cut little 22-year-old who confuses being an asshole with being confident.

I don’t think the writer/director is aware of this, but the view of gay life presented in this movie—while accurate—is a little sad and limited. And I fear that it is the values that hold ONLY the young and pretty as worth any energy that are exactly what’s limiting them.

Remember one character’s quote that Halloween is “when you can engage in your most perverted fantasies and no one cares?” Before gays achieved the level of acceptance and presence in the mainstream media they have today [and I would point out that it seems to be ONLY the white, pretty, bourgeois vision of gay life as exemplified by Will & Grace and Queer Eye that IS accepted today], they WERE considered perverts, so to dress in leather and act out your perversions was not something to afraid of, or engaged in only on special occasions. What has changed is that as this clean-cut and pretty image has become the accepted one, more people feel the need to emulate it, and by extension those who can't achieve it feel worse. People over 40 feel worse. And being gay, which used to have strong overtones of sexual freedom and the ability to express yourself and be accepted for being any way you like, is now moving toward its own set of [extremely bourgeois] mores that censure those who step outside them—or who dare to be above 40.

Is it better now? In some ways, surely. But how sad for the many guys, like the ones in this movie, who can’t engage in their most perverted fantasies ANY night of the year, and how sad for them that THEY CARE who cares.

Should you watch it: 

Yes. Regardless of how I feel about how this movie personifies a lamentable aspect of current gay culture, it's still a valuable and enjoyable piece of work, and Paul Etheredge-Ouzts shows real promise as a director.