WINDY CITY TIMES
||Knight at the Movies: Hellbent and Corpse Bride
by Richard Knight, Jr.
This article shared 3749 times since Wed Sep 21, 2005
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 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 are 18- 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 blues.
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 pleasure.
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.
Local Screening of Note: CineJam, which is the film festival offshoot of Estrojam 2005, the women's arts festival, presents an evening of over 15 'smart, sexy, stunning' shorts by women filmmakers on Friday, Sept. 23 at Chicago Filmmakers. Tickets are $10. The lineup, curated by Wendy Jo Carlton, includes something for lesbians of every stripe. The screening kicks off at 8 p.m. with a party at Circuit ( with separate admission ) featuring the Girly-Q Variety Hour and Burlesque show immediately after. www.estrojam.org
This article shared 3749 times since Wed Sep 21, 2005
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