Hellbent: A Queer Occurrence

Slasher has gone through many phases, cycles, changes from its early inceptions to the present day. These films have a varied founding, with conflicting ideas of their origination (some saying with TCM or Black Christmas in 1974 and others pointing to Hitchcock’s Psycho). Whatever the case may be, there have been many imaginations of the formula. Hellbent (2004),

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directed by Paul Etheredge,

is a re-imagining of the horror subgenre, not in that it does something new with the narrative structure, rather it plays with notions of gender and sexuality.

One commonality amongst many slasher films is the final girl. Carol Clover coined this term in 1993 in her book Men, Women and Chainsaws, which, simply enough, identified that there was typically one surviving female character who was ultimately victimised and terrorised until she is either saved by a man or saves herself. Hellbent reinvents the final girl by shifting her gender to a male character, thus creating the final boy.

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Not only is the final surviving character’s gender altered, but so too is his sexuality. What remains, then, is a semblance of the same heroic male figure who must sacrifice himself in some form for the final victim’s survival.

What Hellbent has done, however, is not change solely the final surviving character, rather, the entire stereotypical character pool has undergone a sexuality shift. Where they haven’t shifted, however, is through the fetishisation or sexualisation of the minoritised body.

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As you can see in the photo above, both men are figured as sexual objects to one another. But through their positioning, we understand that the final boy is looking at/lusting after his male, shirtless, counterpart. Not only is this preconfigured through editing and positioning, but it is also configured through the accentuated lighting, which highlights in darkness an idealised/fetishised male physique. Moreover, we can even move as far to say that, through our identification with the final boy, we the viewers are meant to fetishise the sexualised male. However, this is not meant to be a critique of filmic practices, rather an exploration of their alteration to queer an arguably heterosexual subgenre. I do find this an important step of progress in filmmaking, considering that, since the release of this film, there have been several new installations of queer horror.

One criticism I will give this film is that it is overly indebted to negotiating gay male stereotypes, which I find as a gay man to be at times frustrating. Etheredge obviously has in mind a vision to combat negative stereotypes often attributed to homosexuality, however he does not do so effectively with all of them. In fact, through this attempted negotiation, he perpetuates them further, entrenching the gay community into frivolity, capriciousness and promiscuity. The final boy is not the chaste figure the final girl presents, even though this is not so much an issue. What is an issue is that the final boy is easily provoked into sexual relations, a signal that even the most ‘moral’ of gay men are not moral. I admit that sexual interactivity is important to become visible, but not through weak characters. I’d rather see man whores who are proud of their various partners than a character forced into something. Moreover, it positions the final boy as a feminine character, moving away from an independent queer ideology that can be read from the final girl.

My final thought is this: I appreciate the efforts of the film and enjoy it as a film, but as a film that trumpets itself as ‘the first gay slasher’ it really needs to take a page out of Sleepaway Camp (1983) and focus on more non-normative affects of sexuality and identity.

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