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A CampBlood Exclusive Interview

 

Interview with Hellbent Filmmaker Paul Etheredge-Ouzts

Sorority 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."

Yes, 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 chinos:
Paul Etheredge-Ouzts

The Interview
CB: Why, in your opinion, do most horror movies suck?
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.

CB: 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.

CB: 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 of Reading.

CB: 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 maker?
PE: 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.

CB: 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.

CB: 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 of development.
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.

CB: 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 include it!)
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.

CB: 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 girl".
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.*

*(INSERT my rant on the lack of available roles for non-whites in Hollywood, and how this effects actors' willingness to take "risky" roles.)

One 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 gay.

CB: Is the devil really a bottom?
PE: Yes. But he's pushy.

CB: 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.

CB: 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?!

CB: 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 indulge them.

Okay, so that's me. I haven't a clue why you're so damn horror obsessed.

Queer Eye for the 28 Gay Dead Boys who Met the Knife with Grace
I, for one, am very excited to see more of this faggy fright flick, and am thrilled to have held its creator's attention for long enough to get this interview out of him. Hellbent plays at LA's Outfest on July 16th and the Philadelphia G&L Film Festival on July 26th and 27th (hey -- how about us New Yorkers, huh?), and the flick's official site will be updated with more playdates.

Huge, huge, wet-kissy thanks to the effervescent, if deranged, Mr. Etheredge-Ouzts, and best of luck from us here at CampBlood!!


Those Mormons get more aggressive every year! (from Hellbent)