Volume 75, Number 21 | October 12 - 18, 2005

Courtesy here! Films

“Hellbent,” which bills itself as the first gay slasher film, plays through October at Clearview Chelsea Cinemas.

Not the same old blood and gore

By Noah Fowle

Besides the turning leaves and the beginning of a new semester, another indication of fall is the flood of horror movie releases.

Although most are indistinguishable from one another, their one charge is to alter, however slightly, one of the horror movie staples, be it the villain’s motive, the type of victims, or the setting. But even more important than the graphic, and at times comic depiction of violence, is the sexual subtext that surrounds horror films. At their very core, scary movies are about sex objects in distress.

This month, die hard fans of the genre can get their B-movie fill with the openings of two indies that harken back to another generation with “Hellbent” and “Trapped by the Mormons.” Both works are surrounded by no-name talent and will likely be lost on the shelves of video stores as quickly as they fade from the theaters. The former attempts to reinvent the gender roles of horror films by offering itself as the first gay slasher film, while the latter reaches even further back to the time of silent films.

Despite its low production values, “Hellbent” at least strikes a chord by recognizing the overall spectacle of horror films and running with it in its own direction. Eddie is a gay cop in West Hollywood struggling to find his place in the precinct due to an eye injury that has left his policing abilities, but not his hunky good looks, somewhat lacking. On the eve of Halloween, a masked killer is on the loose, and he is intent on tracking Eddie and his trio of friends through the local Halloween Carnival.

Juxtaposing the tropes of the genre with a queer twist, “Hellbent” succeeds in harkening back to classic horror films. The opening scene pays homage to both “Jaws” as well as any urban legend containing a lover’s lane and a lurking killer, when pair of young bucks go crashing through the woods before they quickly become victims one and two. From there, Eddie and his friends are introduced, and it’s not too long before they’re systematically picked off by the scythe-wielding killer.

The carnival scenes are spot on, combining the right amount of drugs, sex and punk music to keep one’s attention in between the character’s splattering deaths.

But midway through the film, a fledgling love story becomes as cumbersome as the dialogue. “I hate condoms,” says the bad boy Chaz (Andrew Levitas). “But they protect you.” Of course, no one expects horror films to contain great writing, but the film’s climax does manage a couple of good twists planted by earlier talks of handcuffs and Eddie’s injured eye. But then the film ends as quickly as it began, with nary an attempt made at discovering the killer’s identity or his motive.

“Hellbent” can be forgiven for its ability to play off of common clichés and by the fact that it refuses to take itself too seriously. “Trapped by the Mormons,” on the other hand, takes camp and runs with it to a whole new level. A remake of the 1922 British film of the same name, “Trapped” recreates the propaganda of the era with all of the hokey spooks and grandiose gestures intact.
Downtown drag celebrity Johnny Kat does double duty as the director and star. He steals the show, capturing the aura of these films in his portrayal of Isoldi Keane, a Mormon reputed for his skills at luring women into polygamous relationships. He sets his sights upon the young and impressionable Nora (Emily Riehl-Bedford) and slowly woos her through his talk of conversion and salvation. Nora’s family and former fiancé, Jim Foster (Brent Lowder), look on helplessly as she is further ensnared by Isoldi’s vampiric guile.

Although the recreation musters a few laughs (mainly because Kat’s expressions are absurdly overboard), the film fails to justify the need for a remake. Silent films are an art form unto themselves and pail imitations only prove that. Besides poking fun at the era of its predecessor and the addition of synthesized music, “Trapped” fails to conjure up anything more than nostalgic chuckles. It is the cinematic equivalent of a French impressionist’s print, and a poor one at that. Still, at a scant 70 minutes and with an enthusiastic crowd, it might prove worthy of its one night only showing on October 19, at the Two Boots Theater.

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