Written By: C.M. Sasaguay
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Rating = 2 and 1/2 Graves
One October night, way back when I was in high school, I plopped down in front of my basement TV. My family was out for the night. It was a perfect opportunity to watch a movie. Through my pursuit of searching for queer content other than romance and tragedies, I had discovered a little horror unknown. After all, my eyes had caught the easiest marketing tag to snag me at the time: “The first gay slasher flick.” Now in college I decided to revisit the film — and man, what a camp fest.
Not the Same Old Story . . .
Released in 2004, Hellbent follows four young men as they party it up at West Hollywood’s annual Halloween bash, unaware a Satan-masked slasher is eyeing them as his next victims. It’s a simple premise. A masked killer prowls for victims and a final survivor fights back. However, here comes the twist that changes this generic plot from the usual bucket of slasher flicks. All the central leads are queer men.
Lets Hear it for the Boys!
Instead of a cast of sexualized women, Hellbent gives us Eddie, Toby, Joey, and Chaz. While their acting may lean them closer towards earning a Razzie rather than an Oscar, what they bring to the table does manage to create a friend group we care about. However, a glaring misstep is who the “final boy” ends up being. My adolescent-self was hungry for some queer horror content, so I was more forgiving back in the day. Upon my contemporary rewatch, I found “final boy” Eddie just bland. He was a do-gooder, a little clumsy to gain audience sympathy and looked like an Abercrombie & Fitch model. Eddie didn’t have Laurie Strode’s charisma (Halloween) nor Sidney Prescott’s strength (Scream). Which brings me to the bigger issue at Hellbent’s rainbow-bleeding heart. The slasher character tropes were brought in and their sexual orientation was changed. Which yes, is somewhat progressive. But there isn’t anything to challenge the viewer or more importantly, bring something new to the table.
Making Horror Queer
In the more positive context, this isn’t a homoerotic flick. Eddie and his friends are queer and open — no subtext needed. They talk about sex, they kiss, and they attempt to engage in sex. It’s a breath of fresh air. Yet, even for a low-budget slasher flick — especially so — the level of sex here is quite tame. In other words, it’s “safe.” Gratuitous sex within slasher films have become almost as much of a trope as the final girl. So to see the men here hardly lose the amount of clothing that many women in prior and still very much present films, are involved in shedding, show something is off. This is made even more obvious when only a year later Brokeback Mountain would be released. Spoiler alert (not really) Brokeback became not only famous for its historical cinema queer story but for its sex scene as well. Despite being marketed as “the first gay slasher,” Hellbent had some very careful people behind it. Looking at its box office numbers of just over $180,000 USD, audiences didn’t seem interested in a slasher queer flick either. They seemed to be hungry for something more artful. If my adolescent-self had done more digging, I would have also found out that Hellbent’s tagline wasn’t entirely truthful . . . High Tension (2003) anyone?
While it attempts to be different but never escapes its genre tropes, Hellbent is still a campy and fun flick where logic slowly fades away. Which makes it great for drinking games! For what it’s worth though, more originality would have pushed it to becoming something more impactful. The lost potential here is evident. However, to be able to add Hellbent to your DVD selection as I have, is a rare opportunity. That is a major tragedy in of itself but one to talk about another day. For queer cinema lovers who want some inclusivity and horror fans searching for something a little different, give it a try. Will you come away shaken? Probably not. Will you come away amused and entertained? For sure, for sure.
** I give this flick two and ½ graves**
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