2004’s Hellbent was called the “first gay slasher.” Let’s say it’s the first openly gay slasher. Four queer friends are stalked by a masked killer at a Halloween Carnival. The men are likeable and it’s sad to watch their fates. The writers chose to tell us nothing about the killer’s identity or motives. For some critics this was a strength. For me it robbed the film of intrigue.
2022’s They/Them and Bodies Bodies Bodies tried to subvert the slasher genre with mixed results. Hellbent sticks to the basics. Let’s have a look in this spoiler filled recap.
Act One: Meet the Boys
Scene One: Cruising Park. West Hollywood.
TWINK: Let’s have sex in the car!
TWUNK: It’s crowded. Let me just stick my head out the car window.
(A muscle man in a DEVIL mask decapitates TWUNK with a sickle.)
Scene Two: Halloween Night.
HIMBO: Let’s go to the carnival! We’ll take a shortcut through the murder park!
NERDY: Gee. I dunno if we should.
VANITY: I’m tired of being hit on. I’ll dress in drag so no one will notice me.
BORING: That’s just internalized misogyny. You need… Wait. My nickname is Boring?
VANITY: You don’t really have a thing. Except that you wanted to be a cop but couldn’t because…
BORING: Hold on. Why’s that guy staring at us?
HIMBO: Like what you see?
(The friends moon the DEVIL. The DEVIL pulls out a sickle. The friends run away.)
HIMBO: Now let’s forget that happened and make no effort to protect ourselves for the rest of the movie.
Act Two: Killing Spree
Scene Three: Night Club
(Carnival performers drag NERDY on stage and pretend to saw him in half. He goes to the restroom to wash off the fake blood.)
NERDY: That was awesome! Do you think my Jock crush noticed me?
JOCK: I did. Here’s my number. (JOCK kisses NERDY and leaves.)
NERDY: Wow! This is the best night of my…
(The DEVIL pops out of a restroom stall and decapitates NERDY.)
Scene Four: Carnival Games
BAD BOY: Hey stud. Wanna try the shooting gallery?
BORING: I used to shoot. But I can’t aim now on account of my…. Never mind. It’s not important.
Scene Five: Dance Floor
(Strobe Lights Flash. HIMBO takes drugs and dances.)
HIMBO: This is the best night of my…
(The DEVIL decapitates him. Nobody notices.)
VANITY: Hey handsome.
(The DEVIL ignores him.)
VANITY: Oh, I get it. Because I’m dressed like a woman you don’t want to hook up. Well look at me now! (Strips out of drag.) I’m super masc. You know misogyny in the gay community is really…
(The DEVIL decapitates him.)
BORING: Where’d everybody go?
(The DEVIL stabs BORING in the eye. The police arrive and the DEVIL vanishes.)
BORING: I’m okay. It’s a glass eye.
Act Three: Final Boy
Scene Six: Boring’s Apartment
BAD BOY: I’m sure your friends are fine. Let’s have sex.
BORING: Gee I hope you’re not the killer.
(The DEVIL stabs BAD BOY and throws him to the floor.)
BORING: So much for that theory.
(A chase. A struggle. The DEVIL licks the glass eye out of BORING’s socket. BORING pulls a gun and points it at the DEVIL. The DEVIL holds up BAD BOY like a shield.)
BAD BOY: Aim at me!
(BORING does. He pulls the trigger and the bullet hits the DEVIL.)
Scene Seven: Ambulance
(BAD BOY kisses BORING before being loaded into an ambulance. The DEVIL is loaded into another ambulance.)
BORING: He’s still alive?
BAD BOY: It’s tradition.
(The DEVIL smiles. BORING’s glass eye is clenched between his teeth.)
Wouldn’t you want to kill us? We’re f—ing fabulous!Hellbent
Queer slashers usually involve queer people attacking their own. The homophobe hunter in this year’s They/Them is a rare exception. We don’t know the Devil’s sexuality but his Tom of Finland look is a hint. Why did he pick his initial targets? Why did he almost spare the man in drag? Is he a self-loathing closet case? A metaphor for AIDS? A vengeful demon? If the screenplay doesn’t tell you, then anything you decide on is “non-canon.” If the murder mystery has no solution, is the story complete?
As for the survivors, what is the lesson learned? Keep an eye (ha) on your friends? And don’t mock sexy strangers with weapons. The film’s not punishing them for their sex lives as much as their recklessness. Hellbent lacks the flavor of queer horror films that would follow. But it laid the groundwork and deserves a place in cinema history. Plus that glass eye is a great twist.