Boys, Pushy Bottoms, and Mother
I can't begin to tell you how excited I was
when I opened my Inbox and saw a note, just waiting to be clicked
open, from the one and only Paul Etheredge-Ouzts. How could
this be?! How could I have gotten in the coveted Little Black Address
Book of the writer/director of what is being hailed as the first
ever gay horror film, the WeHo-boys-in-trouble slasher opus Hellbent??
Needless to say, I was almost reduced to man-tears when the note
delivered unto me what is perhaps the greatest compliment available
to a bitchy fan-boy webmaster:
"You're a real pleasure to read, even
when you're dogging my movie."
I had somehow managed to impress this filmmaker through insulting
him -- and worse yet, months later he is still returning my emails
and answering my insipid questions about his film, his views on
the gay mainstream, and even his dear Mother. Yes, folks -- this
is the man for whom The Passion of the Christ was made. This
is a man who peels off scabs before they've dried, and probably
chews on them. This man, in short, is a glutton for punishment --
and, through no coincidence, also an independent filmmaker. Here's
what the sick little fella has to say for himself...
Likely wearing a painfully constricting torture device under his
CB: Why, in your opinion, do most horror
PE: I frequently hear the following
complaints: production companies treat horror films as disposable
product; they're merely teeth-cutting projects for unproved talent
(moi); horror movies almost invariably have lower budgets and less
access to creative resources; they're shunned by the thinkers and
innovators in the film industry because of their lowbrow status.
All these points have merit.
But I suspect the primary reason that most horror films suck is
simply because most films suck. For every Halloween, there
are thirty Freddy v. Jasons; for every Raising Victor
Vargas, there are eighty Sorority Boys.
And God love every tuck-and-taping last one of them. So what made
you want to make a horror film?
PE: The story behind my involvement
with Hellbent falls into that category that artists slaving
away at cater/waiter jobs hope and hate to hear about. The producers
of Hellbent needed a gay horror movie. They had some vague ideas:
"The killer wears a mask!" "The story takes place
on Halloween!" "The story takes place on Halloween in
West Hollywood!" One of the producers had read a few pages
of an unfinished romantic comedy I'd written (at the time, I worked
in the offices). Based on this meager writing sample, they brought
me in to create their gay slasher. I'd never directed a movie, I'd
never written a script.
Yeah, that happens to me all the time
so your making Hellbent
was more out of circumstance than passion for the genre -- were
you a horror fan at all? What kinds of films were you into?
PE: I am a horror fan, always
have been (Alien traumatized me for years...I had to visit
a therapist for awhile.) However, I've never enjoyed the slasher
sub genre (with the exception of Halloween - very clever movie).
When I was a wee guy in the 80s, I found slashers to be too cruel
and unsettling to watch. They seemed to be vehicles for gore - no
respect for the victims (and often none for the killers, either.)
Apart from horror, I enjoyed all kinds of genres. My mother teaches
film studies, so at an early age I was exposed to the cannon of
films deemed Influential and Important, ones often requiring A Lot
If I could play Freud here for a moment, how do you think having
a film-savvy Mother affected you as a film watcher and as a film
I can tell you that my mother and I share a similar sense of humor
(often dark). That being said, we are different sexes with differing
expectations from our movie experiences. Generally speaking, I have
a greater tolerance for mindless spectacle (i.e. Matrix),
and she can enjoy films that are solely about old grannies drinking
coffee together. I can enjoy this kind of film, too, provided one
of the grannies bludgeons the other by the midway point.
Can I take my mother to see Hellbent? She does like pretty boys....
PE: Our studies have shown that
you have an 84% chance of getting laid after seeing this film. If
you want to go with your mother, that's between the two of you.
I hear she's quite a woman.
You don't know the half of it. Moving on
So how did you prepare
for the shoot?
PE: I researched for several
months, familiarizing myself with all the 80s slashers I'd avoided
as a child. I discovered some gems: the original TCSM, Black
Christmas, and that howler, Nightmare on Elm St. 2. Watched
a lot of crap, too. But this exercise was more to help me recognize
the slasher movie structure and stock characters than to find a
particular director to emulate.
My conscious visual influences came from artists - particularly
Pierre & Gilles, James Bidgood, and of course the
Abercrombie and Fitch catalogues (always an inspiration!).
The film, Black Orpheus, was helpful during the early stages
The production designer (Matthew Flood Ferguson), the DP
(Mark Mervis), and I decided early on that stylizing the
look of the film would conceal a multitude of sins - which, considering
our slim budget, was desirable. As we also wanted to capture the
surreal, carnival atmosphere of Halloween, this approach worked
well for us. The original Invaders from Mars became a visual
reference for us too. We selected the forest location specifically
because it had an arching wood fence similar to the one that leads
to the sand pit in IFM.
The film looks to have a lot of skin in it -- would you compare
this to the T&A factor in 80's slashers?
PE: The first key to film making:
Know your audience! I couldn't very well make a slasher film that
ignored one of the genre's most beloved tenets. (The T&A factor
holds true for gay films, as well, so I was doubly responsible to
We did keep the actors partially nude throughout the film, but the
skin is justified. The film takes place during the West Hollywood
Halloween festival, and anyone who's been to this event (or any
gay event) knows that we are incapable of keeping our clothes on
when we congregate in groups. I firmly believe this is genetic predisposition.
It must be on the same chromosome as chemical dependency and "you
go, girl!". Did you feel any "responsibility" or
pressure to present any particular kinds of gay characters or images?
Anything you refused to do or insisted upon?
PE: While I never felt obligated
to portray specific "types" of gay guys, I was aware that,
as one of the first films in a new sub genre, Hellbent needed to
feature gay characters with some depth and humanity, that weren't
just meat for the killer's blade. (Also, I knew if I could get the
audience invested in the characters, my job of creating tension
would be that much easier.)
Just 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
Of some interest: one could call our main cast "Lily-white".
With the exception of the protagonist, Eddie, (whom I intended to
be Latino) the characters were written with their ethnicity unspecified.
To my great disappointment, we convinced only a handful of non-white
actors to audition. One day during casting, we had auditions scheduled
for more than thirty non-white actors. Not one showed up.*
my rant on the lack of available roles for non-whites in Hollywood,
and how this effects actors' willingness to take "risky"
of the producers was concerned that the audience would assume the
killer is a gay basher. I'm sure someone, somewhere, will accuse
us of gay bashing, but I make it very clear in the film that the
murders aren't hate crimes. Not to mention, the movie's hero is
Is the devil really a bottom?
PE: Yes. But he's pushy.
I knew it. Your producers took an interesting tack in PR by holding
the 'name this film' contest -- how do you feel about the results?
PE: I thought the contest was
a great idea initially. I hadn't been able to come up with an appropriate
title in the two years I'd spent making the movie, so the prospect
of using the combined power of the world's greatest queer wits to
solve the problem seemed like a swell idea. Then the title submissions
started coming in, and they were awful. Most were campy or too topical:
"28 Gays Later", "Queer Eye for the Dead Guy",
"Boy Meets Knife". They didn't fit our film at all. (In
their defense, our contributors hadn't actually seen the movie,
they were submitting blindly.) After receiving thousands of rank
submissions, I began to sweat. On the last day of the contest, one
of the final eight submissions was Hellbent. Immediately, I knew
this was our title. Simple, Aggressive, and a great play on both
the "devil" villain and the "gay" aspect of
the film. One could argue that the title describes the killer, or
the characters' recklessness. Or the film's pacing. Hellbent.
The title works.
Do you think horror films improve with age?
PE: Broadly speaking, I think
horror films "improve" with age, or at least become more
palatable. Films are reflections of the culture that makes them,
so from a historical/sociological perspective, horror films can
hold interest for audiences despite temporal distance.
I don't think horror films retain their frights, however. Older
horror movies often seem naive to me, which is kind of charming.
But ya gotta love those costumes! And where did they get that couch?!
That said, why do you think that the 'camp' category is so stuffed
with horror fare?
PE: I'm just brainstorming here,
of course... Because it's so goddamn fun! You don't have to "think"
to enjoy horror; it's primal - it appeals to our lizard brain. It
pushes our childhood buttons, it punches our adult buttons, it's
a thrill ride. I'm a big guy in my 30s, and I still can't let my
feet hang off the bed! I hate walking across my living room in the
dark! Despite how often I'm troubled by my little, skittering fears,
I admit my life would be a lot less interesting if I refused to
so that's me. I haven't a clue why you're so damn horror