Knight at the Movies ARCHIVES
Trick or Treat Comes Early This Year:
Hellbent and Corpse Bride
9-21-05 Knight at the Movies column
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Perhaps when 1980s goth band Ministry intoned, “Everyday is Halloween” they were on to something: like the
retail market, which insists that Halloween begins seconds after Labor Day, Hollywood has also started pushing
fright flicks far in advance of Day of the Dead. Hellbent (which opens Friday in Chicago at the Landmark Century)
and Corpse Bride, two offbeat entries in the horror genre (one for gay men, one for weird little kids) arrive this
weekend, a full month ahead of Fright Night, getting things off to a great start.
Hellbent is the first all queer slasher picture, a terrifically simple idea that makes one wonder, “What took so
long?” Patterning it after the really bad slash fests from the late 1970s like Terror Train, Prom Night, and The
Funhouse is also a good idea. In fact, Hellbent so closely follows the “rules” of the genre it’s sometimes hard to
tell if it’s meant to be an homage or a parody. The best thing about it is that it’s been made for a hitherto
unrecognized audience that mirrors the primary target for most movies: young men between the ages of 18 and 34
with a predilection for action and horror. The twist here of course is that these are18 to 34 year-old men who also
happen to be gay.
The idea of doing a gay slasher film was suggested by Executive Producer Joseph Wolf (who had a hand in
creating Halloween) to first time writer-director Paul Etheredge-Ouzts. Knowing a good thing when he saw it,
Etheredge-Ouzts shot second unit footage from West Hollywood’s annual Halloween festivities before even
completing a script or casting the picture (with typical vanilla eye candy hunks). The carnival, naturally, becomes
the setting for a night of terror (of a sort).
The goriest sequence is the opener in which two young gym bunnies are going at it hot and heavy (in a car near a
deserted park, naturally) when a muscle dandy, sporting a horned mask of Satan, appears wielding a sickle and
lops off their heads. The following night, Eddie (Dylan Fergus in his movie debut), who works at the police
department along with his sister, heads out for the carnival with his friends, dressed in his late father's police
The men are most easily differentiated by their sexual tastes: Tobey (Matt Phillips) is the impossibly sexy hunk
who wants to be loved for more than his body (and is determined to prove this by wearing 40s glamour drag),
Chaz (Andrew Levitas), the tri-sexual ready for action with everyone at any time, and Joey (Hank Harris), the
perennial Jan to everyone else’s Marcia. Eddie himself has a hankering for rough trade and pines for Jake (Bryan
Kirkwood), a tattooed Marlon Brando wannabe he’s been cruising. In true slasher film style, none of this group of
hedonists seems particularly disturbed that a killer is loose among them and they’re all easily tracked as they jump
into the Halloween festivities.
Another hallmark of the teen horror genre is in place here – the goth metal songs. The movie pulses with a
soundtrack courtesy of some hard edged homocore bands (slicing and dicing just wouldn’t seem as terrifying set to
a disco beat) – unusual and refreshing for a gay feature.
As with their straight counterparts, Hellbent offers the distinct pleasure of letting the audience feel five steps
ahead of everyone onscreen and easily predicting which of the dumb dumb young male lovelies will be the next
victim of the madman (just like their straight female cinematic counterparts). Unlike many other examples of the
genre, the film is relatively short on gore and psychological explanations (to the good) though its omission of
gratuitous male nudity is to the bad. The lack of explanation for what motivates Big Daddy to start collecting the
heads of his young victims in the first place is all the better reason for a sequel and I eagerly await the next guilty
Meanwhile, director Tim Burton’s latest obsession, the stop-motion animated Corpse Bride, is another example
of his weird welding together of childlike fascination with horror and, well, horror. Who else but Burton could
make a talking maggot (the bride’s sidekick) funny and adorable? Burton, for all his big box office hits, still
belongs in the idiosyncratic class of film directors along with Gus Van Sant and David Lynch. In the grand tradition
of Hitchcock, Fellini, Agnes Varda, and the rest of their ilk, these three have spent their entire film careers making
movies that hide their rather strange fascinations in plain sight of the entire audience.
Corpse Bride is the story of a young man, Victor Van Dort (sweetly voiced by Johnny Depp) who becomes the
involuntary groom of a jilted at the altar now dead bride (the mournful Helena Bonham Carter). The movie starts
slow but kicks into high gear once the newlyweds descend to the colorful underworld. Accompanied by Danny
Elfman’s jaunty, tongue-in-cheek songs (“Remains of the Day” is one droll title), the denizens of the world below
celebrate the benefits of life in the realm of skeletons and squishy, icky spiders. But Victor longs for Victoria
(Emily Watson), his flesh and blood intended, despite her hideous, snobbish parents (nasty, funny Joanna Lumley
and Albert Finney) and his social climbing mother (shrill Tracey Ullman) and engineers an audacious (for a kid’s
film) Night of the Living Dead parody finale.
The end result is naturally darker than Burton’s previous stop-motion foray, Nightmare Before Christmas but is
perhaps more satisfying. There’s no queasy contrast between the sentimental stickiness of Christmas with the
psychologically soothing darkness of Halloween here. It’s all doom and gloom kid style. But what style! The
characters (who all have the huge-eyed surprised look of plastic surgery fanatics) are delightfully individualized
as are the intricate sets. And the stop motion is so seamless you’d swear it’s been computer generated. The
kiddies may not take this to their tiny hearts as they did Nightmare and sing along about the pleasures of being
dead but Corpse Bride certainly spoke to my goth sensibilities.
Two offbeat entries in the horror genre: one for gay men, one for weird little kids