FEARNET Movie Review: 'Hellbenders'


hellbendersOne has to be cautious when describing a scrappy little foul-mouthed indie horror comedy. For example, one could say that the new movie Hellbenders wants to be Ghostbusters meets The Exorcist with some Bad Santa attitude, a dash of Boondock Saints religious irony, and a little Dogma-style blasphemin' on the side. But that'd be overselling Hellbenders in a big way. It's choppy, sometimes sloppy, and even a little chintzy towards Act III -- but there's also an irrepressibly raucous and enthusiastic approach to such crazy material that makes Hellbenders, for all its faults, a little difficult to dislike.

The hook is unarguably amusing: there's a team of exorcists in New York City who must remain knee-deep in sinful behavior at all times so that they will seem especially delicious to any demons they may have to exorcise and then escort back to hell. (Read it twice.) This gives writer/director JT Petty (The Burrowers) ample opportunity to have some outrageously vulgar fun with actors like Clancy Brown, Clifton Collins Jr., Dan Fogler, Macon Blair, Andre Royo, Robyn Rikoon, Larry Fessenden, and Stephen Gevedon. (You know all of those actors, even if you don't know their names; Ms. Rikoon is a relative newcomer who is both very funny and simply adorable.)
The plot, which is based on Mr. Petty's own graphic novel, is a scattershot affair that kicks off with a demonic Rabbi Weinberg (ha!) who foretells the end of the world through some outrageously evil and Satan-flavored occurrences. This means our anti-heroic Hellbenders have to A) ramp up their sinful activities in a big way, B) prepare to do battle with demons they've never seen before, and C) contend with a "snobs vs. slobs" subplot that feels copied straight from the Ghostbusters playbook: of course there's a stuffy authority figure who wants to destroy the "Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints" at all costs, and it's some of the best stuff in the movie!
For all its budgetary constraints and cosmetic (evidently post-production) problems, nobody can accuse Hellbenders of laziness. Between the cast, the concept, the action bits (both the horror-style violence and a few fantastic moments of flat-out physical comedy), the arcane subplots (one about an estranged wife is darkly amusing), and the homages to genre classics, Hellbenders is destined to become one fanboy-friendly cable flick. No, probably not a "cult classic waiting to happen," but there's something earnestly charming about an ensemble-led action / horror / comedy that embraces demonic possessions, Three Stooges pratfalls, and a stunningly joyous approach to blasphemous behavior.
At its best moments, Hellbenders is either a slapstick comedy with a rowdy cast or a clever idea -- saints who are absolutely required to sin --  that's explored to a satisfying (if never its maximum) potential. If the editing style often feels rushed or confused, one can take solace in the amusing "documentary" segments that frequently interrupt the narrative. (Plus there's one "comic book panel" diversion that's bizarre but also simply funny.) Slapped together with spit, glue, comic book source material, several funny people, and a clear commitment to cinematic misbehavior, Hellbenders is not exactly a great movie, but it is pretty damned fun one.