HellBent, the directorial debut of Texas-born art director Paul Etheredge-Ouzts, makes the rather unique claim of being the world's very first "gay slasher flick," a classification that's enough to turn one demographic on while leaving another one fairly disappointed. (Slasher flicks often have tons of hot babes and naked boobs, yet HellBent is, for obvious reasons, fairly bereft of both.) But putting easy labels aside, it's a pretty well-crafted and surprisingly intelligent little psycho-thriller, and one that manages to surpass its own gimmicky description while giving the adventurous genre fans something interesting to chew on.
The plot is certainly nothing revolutionary: A group of fun-loving friends plans to spend one wild Halloween together -- despite that fact that a local lunatic has been slashing gay guys to ribbons while they make out in parked cars.
That's pretty much it, plot-wise, but hey; it's not like Friday the 13th is a masterpiece of brilliant narrative structure, so off we go to the Halloween slash-fest. Those expecting some sort of pedestal-standing tract on the equality of homosexuals will be pleased to note that HellBent does not preach or make speeches. It's just a nasty little hack-'em-up in which the victims simply happen to be gay guys instead of horny football jocks or vapid-yet-busty cheerleader chicks. The director does make a few interesting swipes in the directions of acceptance and alienation, but these facets would be at home in just about any sort of half-decent flick, so don't go in to HellBent afraid that it's some sort of weepy apologia or homosexual recruitment flick.
Basically, it's a fun time, for the most part. The actors are surprisingly strong, the kills are enjoyably and gruesomely nasty, and the subtext is clear and obvious enough as to avoid a feeling or button-pushing or outright pretense. The straight-guy horror fans who are secure in their own sexuality will find a solid handful to enjoy here, and the gay guys will undoubtedly appreciate a basic genre flick that even bothers to acknowledge that gay folks actually exist. Plus the guys are all very pretty, so the gore-lovin' gals will probably have a good time, too.
It's not deep and it's not unique, but HellBent approaches an oft-abused sub-genre with just enough originality and creativity to warrant some praise. It's certainly not made exclusively FOR the gay community, although I expect that the flick's target audience is the one that'll appreciate it the most.
Video: The anamorphic widescreen transfer is passable at best. I realize this is a low-budget piece of filmmaking, but the image quality isn't so impressive. Flat colors, consistent grain, blotchy shadows, etc.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0. Solid enough, nothing amazing.
There's a 29-minute EPK fluff piece called Backlot Featurette. Lots of cast & crew members chatting about their gay-friendly slasher flick. Interesting enough, I suppose, if you really dug the movie, but not much more than a bunch of chatty interview segments and movie clips. Also included are the trailers for HellBent, Third Man Out, Dante's Cove, Julie Johnson, April's Shower, and Deadly Skies.
Generally I have a problem with movies that seem created solely for one specific demographic, but I found more than enough in HellBent to give it a passing grade. It might not have the body count of many of its genre brethren, but it's offering a fairly novel spin on a very old concept. Plus the gore is pretty darn solid.