Grade: C-

“HellBent” is a slasher movie reduced to its absolute essentials. No clever twists, no explanatory back stories. Just a bunch of horny pals getting picked off in bloody fashion by a masked killer for no reason whatever. The production is threadbare and the acting hopelessly amateurish. It does have one distinction, though: all those stalked by the madman are gay. Unfortunately, the only thing “HellBent” proves is that in a slasher movie, homosexual victims can be as dumb as heterosexual ones. This is progress?

The hero of the piece is Eddie (Dylan Fergus), a hunky but shy guy who wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps by becoming a cop until his loss of an eye limits him to desk duty in the West Hollywood P.D. On the night of the big neighborhood Halloween costume bash, he’s assigned to post warnings around the area about the gruesome murder of a gay couple in a local park–both of them decapitated by a scythe-wielding maniac dressed in devil garb. Eddie, wearing his dad’s old uniform, puts up the necessary flyers and then goes off to the shindig with his three buddies–wallflower Joey (Hank Harris), who dons leather and chains for the evening; gregarious Chaz (Andrew Levitas), in a cowboy getup; and Tobey (Matt Phillips), in full drag-queen mode. Along the way the four antagonize the murderer, who thereupon pursues them. Following the rule book of such movies, he dispatches Eddie’s pals before coming after the hero himself, who’s hooked up with ruggedly handsome Jake (Bryan Kirkwood) and taken him back to his apartment. There they will have to face off against old Beelzebub instead of enjoying the frolic that Eddie had hoped for.

Anyone looking for rhyme or reason in a picture like “HellBent” is, of course, doomed to disappointment. It’s merely a string of genre cliches, cobbled together without any concern for coherence or logic. The fact that the killer’s motivations are left completely undisclosed is clear evidence of that. (Perhaps in this case the intent is to suggest that gay-bashing has no reasonable excuse, but that’s probably a stretch.) The best one can say of it is that writer-director Paul Etheredge-Ouzts seems fully aware of the slasher flick conventions and is content to observe them religiously. So the picture opens with the gory slaughter of the gay couple in the park and doesn’t waste much time in getting down to the main business of Eddie and his friends being pursued by the nameless bad-guy. Each murder naturally has a cautionary element to it: don’t make out in a car (and especially don’t stick your head out an open window if you do); don’t get stuck in the restroom alone with a psycho on the loose; don’t get fogged out on drugs; don’t get drunk. And the denouement has other lessons to teach: don’t spend too much time primping in front of the bathroom mirror prior to getting down to it, and for heaven’s sake don’t let your would-be partner handcuff you to the bedposts. (It’s also good to have a gun around, as it turns out–and to have taken target lessons with it.)

No one in front of the camera or behind it distinguishes himself much here. Fergus boasts a broad smile and an impressive physique, but his thespian abilities are rudimentary, and Kirkwood makes Jake the sort of brooding loner one might want to avoid rather than spend a night with. Harris, Levitas and Phillips, meanwhile, strike the poses demanded of them without adding even a drop of subtlety in the process. Etheredge-Ouzts’ direction doesn’t bother with any niceties, either, being content to plow on ahead while Mark Mervis’ camerawork, betraying the all-too-customary defects of lensing on HD video, emphasizes the garishness of Matthew Flood Ferguson’s production design.

“HellBent” is hardly a stellar addition to the stalker-movie library. But as a niche picture, it will probably find favor with its target audience, especially at midnight screenings, especially if there’s lots of company and maybe a few of the products that some of the victims in the picture would have been wiser to avoid using.