Just in time for Halloween, the gay horror movie HellBent—with its ridiculously good-looking cast and buckets of blood—is now out on DVD. Windy City Times conducted an e-mail interview with the film's director, Paul Etheredge-Ouzts, and talked about sexy killers, punk rock and childhood therapy.
[ SPOILER ALERT: A couple of plot items are discussed. ]
Windy City Times: Do you see yourself as a ground-breaker of sorts for directing what many are calling the first gay horror movie?
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts: I hesitate to say 'the first gay slasher'—as soon as I do, someone's going to drag out a reel of Super 8mm and prove me wrong! I admit I fantasize that HellBent is claiming a place in film history. There are a number of LGBT horror films in production now—even a gay horror series on here!TV. I'm very curious to see how—and if—the genre continues.
WCT: Why is the murderer never revealed?
PE-O: I chose to keep the killer something of a blank slate, allowing the audience members to interpret his agenda according to what makes sense to them. People's fears are so varied and personally specific. I knew that if I assigned some motive to the killer, half the audience would immediately reject it as ridiculous. I found that each detail I added to the killer robbed him of menace; the best approach was to define him as little as possible. Also, in real life, serial killers' motives don't make sense—that's why we call them 'crazy.' My decision to not reveal the killer's motive may seem like a violation of the slasher formula, but there is precedent. Consider that in Halloween, Michael Myers never reveals his motive, and by the final credits of Black Christmas, the audience knows neither the killer nor his motive.
I should mention that—atypical of many films in the slasher genre—HellBent doesn't equate sex with death. The characters aren't 'punished' because of their sexuality. That isn't a message I'm interested in perpetuating. I make it very clear in the film that the murders aren't hate crimes.
WCT: Are any of the main characters based specifically on anyone you know—or are they composites?
PE-O: The characters are composites of real and fictional people. For fun, I used the slasher stereotypes as starting points for the characters. I thought the audience would be amused by the gay slant on the familiar stock characters: 'the slut', 'the ingenue', 'the tough guy', 'the final girl'. Of course, as I developed the characters, I fleshed them out with details from my own life.
WCT: The music is refreshingly different from that in most gay films. Could you talk about how the songs were selected?
PE-O: I'm really happy with the soundtrack. The music is all rockabilly/punk rock from ( mostly ) local gay bands. ( A Chicago band, Three Dollar Bill, contributed as well! ) I worked closely with my music supervisor, John Norris, to choose underground music that would help create a darker, more aggressive soundscape than the standard circuit music would allow. Also, on one level, the film is about drawing audiences away from the gay stereotypes they're used to seeing—the music had to reflect this.
The murderer is pretty sensual—even though the crimes are pretty grisly. Why did you go with the sexy approach?
Slasher films typically depict 'evil' as repellent and ugly—it's an obvious choice. But think of real serial killers—often their victims trust them because they're attractive in some way. Externally, they don't fit the 'model' of evil.
I wanted the Devil in HellBent to be the muscled embodiment of someone's fantasy—disarmingly handsome and sexy. The killer gains access to his victims in part because they don't recognize him as dangerous.
Another fun fact: the actor who portrays the Devil is an Abercrombie & Fitch model. Yowzaa!
WCT: Without naming anyone, did any of the actors have initial problems with the sexuality portrayed in the movie?
PE-O: One of my actors dreaded wearing heels for the entire shoot—and he did take some nasty spills. But other than that, the cast was game for anything.
WCT: What type of insight do you think the movie will provide to straight audiences about gay people?
PE-O: If anything, I think the film shows that gay people come in infinite variety.
WCT: What was the most surprising thing you learned while directing HellBent?
PE-O: I recently reread the original HELLBENT script. My biggest surprise ( and I say this without a shred of regret ) : how different the final film is from what my original vision was.
A Hollywood adage: When you create a movie, you actually make three different films. The first film is the one you write, the screenplay. The second is the film you actually shoot, which is the screenplay interpreted by the cast and designers, etc. The final film is the editor's best efforts to make sense of the interpretation.
WCT: What are your own favorite horror movies?
PE-O: I tend to love the horror films that favor characters over gruesomeness, such as Rosemary's Baby and The Shining. My favorite horror film is Alien. I saw it during its first release in '79, and if affected me horribly. As I walked out of the screening into the sunny afternoon, I was so traumatized by the film that I couldn't remember anything I'd just seen. That evening, the nightmares started. Eventually, my family took me to a counselor, but I continued to have regular nightmares for fourteen more years.
WCT: Tell me about your next project.
PE-O: I'm attached as a director to several scripts in various genres; I'm slated to be a director in a new horror anthology for a premium cable channel; I'm developing a comic book into a feature film franchise; I'm developing a television series with one of the executives behind C.S.I. And I continue to write new screenplays. The list goes on and on. The viability of any project is so slim, you have to keep a lot of balls in the air.