Stars: Clifton Collins, Clancy Brown, Andre Royo, Robyn Rikoon, Macon Blair, Stephen Gevedon, Larry Fessenden, Dan Fogler | Written and Directed by J.T. Petty
Let me begin this review by stating this is most-definitely not your typical horror fare; something audiences will realise a mere five minutes into this raucous, sure-to-be-cult-hit, movie. Written and directed by J.T. Petty, who also penned the graphic novel on which this is based, Hellbenders is a genre-bending horror comedy that is most akin to Don Coscarelli’s recent movie John Dies at the End. If I had to narrow the analogy down I’d say Hellbenders is best described as The Exorcist meets Ghostbusters by way of Don Coscarelli and [early] Kevin Smith…
Sound interesting? Then go out and buy it. Trust me. The rest of you? Let me try and convince you why you should spend your hard-earned cash on this little indie horror that could.
Based on the graphic novel by writer/director J.T. Petty, Hellbenders follows a ragtag group of debauched exorcist Priests vigorously indulging in four of the deadly sins, and breaking six of the ten commandments. Living in constant sin, these wicked priests are a back-up plan to a conventional exorcism – they can, if needs be, take demonic possession unto themselves and, already having souls damned to hell, personally deliver the demons back to where they came from. When an infernal demon, Surtr, escapes into New York City intent on cracking open the gates of Hell, this group of highly trained exorcists sin and sin again to halt the his plans to wipe out humanity.
So why should you check out Hellbenders? Well first off it has an amazing cast.
Just look at the cast list at the top of this review: Clifton Collins, Clancy Brown and Dan Fogler. Whilst some of the cast will be relatively unknown to many, although The Wire fans should recognise Andre Royo (aka Bubbles from the show), this particular trio is why Hellbenders is such a success. Clifton Collins is a great leading man and the focus of this movie, although I could have done with a little less of his relationship issues and more demon-fighting action from him, his surly, doesn’t give a crap, demeanour is perfect for someone in a position like this. Although his demeanour pales in comparison to Clancy Brown’s ageing priest – this is a true barnstorming role for Brown, who brings his A-game, channeling the likes of Jeff Bridges The Dude and even a little Kurgan from Highlander (in so much as he has a relentless attitude for demon-hunting) for this performance. When Brown is on-screen ranting and raving about the current situation, be it an earthly or unearthly one, facing this debauched bunch he literally captivates the audience – so much so that the rest of the cast almost “disappear” in his presence during his characters key scenes.
Speaking of disappearing, I am a huge fan of Dan Fogler. Ever since he stole the film Fanboys (a personal favourite here at Nerdly HQ) in fact. So to see him so underused in Hellbenders was something of a disappointment – he can normally be relied on to provide the big laughs in any film, and he does here. It’s just that writer/director J.T. Petty focuses more on Collins’ character and his relationship with his wife and the female exorcist (Robyn Rikoon) he’s having an affair with, rather than the ensemble cast. Which means that Fogler and co. get sidelined somewhat, especially come the effects-laden conclusion.
Then there’s the story…
Until now the majority of movies that deal with exorcism have pretty-much followed the template laid down by William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (see the likes of The Rite, The Devil Inside, et al.) but Hellbenders throws all the usual cliches out of the window and instead treats the possessed like the demons they are. Writer J.T. Petty also throws in a ton a slapstick humour into the script, which director J.T. Petty then amps even further through some great gross-out visual gags and, even in the face of a low budget, some commendable CGI creature work that makes this unlike any of its exorcism brethren. And did I mention the total lack of political correctness? Which is not only refreshing, but also leads to some of the films greatest laughs.
As a fan of weird, off-the-wall movies like the work of Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, John Dies at the End), Hellbenders appealed instantly to my sensibilities and thank god (pun intended) that we’ve finally got a movie about exorcists that isn’t a mundane and stale as The Exorcist and it’s many clones.
Well worth a purchase, the film is out now on DVD from Koch Media.