A straight-ahead slasher pic with the big difference of an all-gay male character cast, “Hellbent” is fun — if minor horror fun — ably handled by first-time feature helmer Paul Etheredge-Ouzts. Slick indie’s novel tilt will both help and hinder, ensuring high profile at gay fests and on gay rental/sales shelves, but limiting the exposure item might have won in more mainstream avenues.
By-the-genre-book prologue has horny couple — hunky young men in this case — making out in their car, in an isolated lover’s lane. A couple of false scares later, they’re both fatally visited by a scythe-wielding intruder wearing devil-horn mask. Subsequent grisly discovery of the headless corpses lands on the desk of rookie cop Eddie (Dylan Fergus), who’s followed the family career path but has been reduced to desk-cop by an injury, and is further nervous about being “the gay guy” on the force. (Though since this is West Hollywood, one seriously doubts he’d be the only one.)
Eddie’s bland model-handsome protag is supported by three flatmates who soon get into their costumed finest for the night’s Halloween street fair. Shy Joey (Hank Harris) has donned leather, hoping to impress a golden boy he’s pining for; brash bisexual Chaz (Andrew Levitas) is dressed as a cowboy; insecure Tobey (Matt Phillips), in wig, gown and pumps, hopes the getup will snare someone attracted by brains rather than looks.
Demonstrating classic slasher-pic obliviousness to danger, the foursome parks several blocks from the party, having to cross through woods (oh yeah, those famous West Hollywood woods) where the murders took place just the night before. En route, they have a creepy silent encounter with Devil Guy, who they treat as a mere prankster despite that highly visible scythe. Natch, mystery man (or monster?) then pursues the friends all night throughout the Halloween fete.
We soon discover, again as per genre norms, that it is not life-preserving to be a) the least cute major cast member, b) zonked on recreational drugs, or c) soused enough to flirt with the killer (who happens to be carrying two blood-dripping, head-shaped sacks).
While formulaic progress is more entertaining than scary, the hyperbolic climax raises the pulse somewhat as lone survivors Eddie and his rough looking but secretly nice pickup Jake (Bryan Kirkwood) find themselves locked in Eddie’s apartment with guess-who.
Baddie’s identity and motives are left blank, not to mention why he chooses to persecute these particular men when the streets are jam-packed with potential victims. Numerous suspensions of disbelief are required, notably the ludicrous notion that a person could get stabbed to death in the middle of a crowded dance floor without anyone noticing. But then logic, plot intricacy and character depth are not really hallmarks of the slasher genre. Fans will find no more reason to quibble with the script than usual.
Perfs are adequate, with Levitas providing the most spark as an unabashed hedonist who’s also a conscientious friend. Garishly colorful production design and lensing take full advantage of the carnival milieu (some footage was shot during actual 2001-02 West Hollywood Halloween celebrations). Editing has a music-vid feel, and soundtrack includes equal doses of club tracks and Korn-style nu metal.
Trivia note: “Hellbent” was a title arrived at via an Internet contest that also reaped the felicitous proposal “28 Gays Later.”