"HellBent": Even killings get a laugh in gay slasher flick

On the same weekend that brings us the ultra-lame voodoo snake thriller "Venom," the flaming queens of "HellBent" have arrived with a light and lively dose of '80s-style horror.

Well, OK, they're not exactly flaming, per se, but the guys in "HellBent" wouldn't mind if you called them queens. After all, they're fittingly costumed for a fabulous night on the town, and the Halloween parade in West Hollywood — a gay bacchanalia if there ever were one — is their chosen destination. Unfortunately, a mad, muscular slasher with a sharpened sickle is stalking them, and heads are gonna roll.

If there are any other gay slasher films in existence, this reviewer hasn't seen them, so "HellBent" has both novelty and back-to-basics ingenuity in its favor, along with memorable characters and the deft combination of gory shocks and comic relief that's essential to the genre.

Like the Mardi Gras sequence in "Easy Rider," the all-night bash in West Hollywood was captured as it happened (in 2001), and that footage provides a lively backdrop for gruesome events, beginning when Eddie (Dylan Fergus) and three buddies discuss the killer's motives after the decapitations of two gay men the night before.

"It's gotta be about his mother," says lonely male-model Tobey, decked in drag as a blond bombshell. "It always is."

That's the kind of humor writer-director Paul Etheredge-Ouzts employs to punctuate the killings, all of which are executed (pardon the pun) with above-average flair, wisely avoiding the genre's mainstream equation of sex-equals-death. When the twitch of a headless corpse gets the movie's biggest laugh, it's clear that Etheredge-Ouzts knows what he's doing.

As a generic slasher film with a difference, "HellBent" should neither be dismissed out of hand nor overpraised for its uniqueness. Still, there's something refreshing about its likable cast and B-movie vitality, recalling bygone days when cheap, independent horror films could get theatrically released and deservedly appreciated. And even though the killer's motives are never explained, he still gets the last laugh, and it's a good one.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"HellBent," with Dylan Fergus, Bryan Kirkwood, Hank Harris, Andrew Levitas and Matt Phillips. Directed and written by Paul Etheredge-Ouzts. 85 minutes. Not rated; contains sexuality, graphic violence. Harvard Exit.