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128: Gay Horror And The Final Boys

October 14, 2017 8:05 a.m.

Episode 128: Gay Horror and The Final Boys

You all know about the final girl in horror, that feisty possibly virginal heroine who is the last one left standing after some serial killer goes on a rampage. But are you familiar with the final boy? The final boy screamed his way into pop culture existence in 1985 with "Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge," the sequel to Wes Craven’s wildly successful 1984 film, and then appeared in "Hellbent," the first gay slasher film. Here's a look back to both.

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Related Story: Podcast Episode 128: Gay Horror And The Final Boys


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Beth: Welcome back to another edition of listeners supported KPBS cinema junkie podcast. I’m Beth Accomando.
Beth: Okay, you all know about the final girl in horror, that feisty possibly virginal heroine who is the last one left standing after some serial killer goes on a rampage. But are you familiar with the final boy?
Speaker 1: You’ve got the body. I’ve got the brain. [Laughter]
Beth: The final boy screamed his way into pop culture existence in 1985 with "Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Freddy’s Revenge," the sequel to Wes Craven’s wildly successful 1984 film. Film out San Diego’s LGBT film festival has decided to celebrate this Halloween season with a gay horror double bill of "Nightmare on Elm Street 2" and "Hellbent". And that prompted me to think about final boys. Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch explored the notion of the final boy in their epic and fabulous documentary "Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy."
Here’s a montage of interviews beginning with Joel Swanson line producer on “Elm Street 2.” Then we hear from actors Robert Englund, Freddy Kruger himself and Mark Patton the “Final Boy.”
Speaker 1: Almost all the horror films of the ‘80s featured women as the protagonist and this is not hard to understand why they were easier to portray as victims.
Speaker 2: It just made the sexual threat and the chemistry’s richer. But they, I think they had to had to have made "Nightmare on Elm Street part 2," to discover that.
Speaker 1: Because when you suddenly cast your male lead in the victim role and then you have him scream like a girl for 90 minutes, you’re going to have some people going well you know that’s not the manliest performance I’ve ever seen.
Speaker 2: In fact I may be the first male scream queen.
Beth: "Elm Street 2," is been called the gayest horror film of all time. And the home now “Nightmare on Elm Street 2.” Here’s another montage of voices from the “Never sleep again documentary.” Beginning with “Elm Street 2” Jack Sholder that provides a little back story to how all these unfolded.
Speaker 1: I simply did not have the self-awareness to realize that any of this might be interpreted as gay.
Speaker 2: And I actually don’t think that originally Jesse was written as a gay character I think it’s something that happened along the line by serendipity.
Speaker 1: I also had not the slightest idea that one of my lead actors was gay.
Speaker 3: The fact that Mark Patton was an openly gay actor I don’t think had been revealed at that time yet.
Speaker 2: We made “Nightmare 2,” absolutely clueless that it had any gay overtones whatsoever.
Speaker 4: I’m absolutely sure there’s not one moment that I remember that it was discussed.
Speaker 1: I never saw it.
Speaker 3: I didn’t get it.
Speaker 2: When I was shooting I had no notion that this was happening. Although I didn’t get a blow job on the set if that’s what you mean.
Speaker 1: But looking back it was so, it was amazing.
Speaker 3: If you call the home on “Nightmare on Elm Street,” on the net by a million pre-pubescent boys then, then a bunch of grown men had to know what they were doing.
Speaker 1: All I can say is we were all incredibly naïve, or all incredibly latently gay, I’m not sure which.
Beth: It might have gone unnoticed by mainstream straight audiences but it was readily apparent to Blake Monson. He’s part of a new wave of gay filmmakers working in the horror genre. He’s film “[indiscernible] [00:03:54] 495,” was show cased earlier this year at Film out San Diego. He says gay horror is finally coming into its own.
Blake: It’s been a long time in the making for sure, I mean there’s a lot of films of the ‘80s “Nightmare on Elm Street 2,” in particular which was just so gay and you watch now and it’s just like it’s amazing how no one, it just kind of went under the radar for mainstream audiences. I mean no one really picked it up you know.
Speaker 1: Something is trying to get inside my body.
Speaker 2: Yeah, she’s female and she’s waiting for you in the cabaña and you want to sleep with me.
Beth: “Elm Street 2,” writer David Chaskin said it was all meant to be sub texted. Monson points out that horror provides the perfect genre to do just that.
Blake: Absolutely. You know it allows you to talk about things in a subversive was and express things without the confines of reality. Specimen, explosive, colorful vibrant way and make people think and also put people in the shoes of the people that this is actually happening and to terrify the so that maybe the audience will understand that this is something that is awful, and it is terrifying, and kind of see it firsthand that way.
Speaker 1: I’m so sacred.
Speaker 2: Jessy what are you talking about?
Speaker 1: He’s inside me. I’m sacred.
Speaker 2: Jessy who is doing this to you?
Speaker 1: Fred Kruger. He’s inside me and he wants to take me again.
Blake: Horror can be an incredible vehicle to talk about things that are really happening in the world. Not everything is poppy dogs and daisies all the time, and there is a lot of nitty gritty out there that’s really happening and I think horror has the guts to talk about it, and address things in a very raw and like visceral way. And I think there is horror for everyone I believe that as well. I think this is such a broad, broad genre and there’s so many different types of horror. The others count if you’re not a fun of flashers and gory. You know there’s those creature films, there’s psychedelic horror.
Like there’s this a huge spectrum to explore so, I’d like to believe that people can find something that they like within it.
Beth: Dominic Haxtun also had his short “Tonight it’s you,” showcased in film at first ever horror blog. He puts this new wave of gay horror into a context.
Dominic: I think it’s great. I think gay horror is a huge you know, it’s huge subgenre that I only growing and there’s a huge interest in horror films from LGBT audiences. With more recently we’re seeing more samples of just overtly clear horror films whereas before I think it was more coded, like when you had “James Well,” you know “Finger times,” films. And it goes back to the interview with the vampire.
And growing up gay you know you identify with being the other, with being alienated, with being kind of the outcast. So and that’s definitely a theme, common theme in horror films. It’s the monsters and the villains usually are that character. So we identify to some extent to horror films because of that.
Beth: Monson agrees.
Blake: And I think that just the idea of feeling I’m ostracized or cursed, or like you’re being chased by angry town’s people with burning torches, like I think that a lot of gay people can relate to that in a lot of ways.
Beth: If “Elm Street 2,” served up gay subtext “Hell bent,” which arrived almost a decade later pushed that subtext into the forefront to deliver what’s been called the first gay slasher film. There wasn’t just a final boy or boys but a serial killer how might also be gay, and a cast of characters that was predominantly gay. That film inspired Jesse Kline. His short film “Demons,” was also part of film outs gay horror block back in June.
Jesse: Yeah, you know that’s so funny you mentioned “Hell bent,” that’s literally like the only gay feature line horror film that I’ve ever seen, horror. You know that’s like our only represented film in the, that’s actually one inspired me to kind of go down that.
Speaker 1: This is where it happened. Two guys were murdered on this spot.
Speaker 2: Their heads were cut off so cleanly, the tools they weren’t crashed at all. They were wide open.
Speaker 1: Oooh.
Beth: Haxtun addressed the issue of having a film where the killer and the victims might all be gay.
Dominic: Yeah I mean, I see where that comes from because any time when you have a certain group that’s underrepresented in film media, when you do see a representation of them and it is, and it is in the negative way or they’re depicted as the villain or the monster then you get a huge you know backlash. Like you saw it with a lot of films like Sounds of lambs where the fear of the killers was transgender and “Basic instinct,” when the you know the girlfriend who was described in and she ends up getting killed.
And I don’t think either those films and you know a lot of other films are at fault for that, I think it’s just how people react to things when they don’t see them often. But I think the more representations of queer characters unless I guess reactive people would be to seeing them as villains. And I think it’s important too that we have stories that queer characters can be the villain and they can be the victim. But and it’s not viewed its like, it’s not viewed as a negative thing like the filmmakers sending a negative message.
Beth: Which is why in his film he plays with those ideas, and twists them around.
Dominic: Yeah. The character who you think is being victimized is actually the one that you should be afraid of. And it was my goal to kind of subvert that expectation and I think it’s important too that we don’t… You know you have this characters who aren’t just the ones who are getting… You know I say they kind of, they have power you know and even if it’s a dark power they still, they’re not the ones who are being defeated.
Beth: Michael McQuiggan is the programmer for film out. He programmed Hell Bent at his first film out festival. Now he’s pairing Hell Bent with “Nightmare on Elm Street 2,” for what he’s calling a gay horror Halloween double bill on October 18th. I asked him what the significance of Hell Bent was for him.
Michael: Hell Bent was the first gay slasher film to be released I think back in 2004, and we actually programmed it back in 2004 or when we re-transitioned back to film out, and it was really exciting and invigorating, and the audience was really into it. We sold that out when we screened at Mopa, it did really well. And you know I thought is been a while, there’s a new generation out there now so let’s bring it back and show a double feature.
Beth: Now this past film out you had a block of horror shots and a few of those film makers talked about Hell Bent as being a film that was kind of significant for them. So was programming that something you were proud of, and something that was satisfying for you as a horror fan?
Michael: When I programmed that at the first time I was really excited because that was, I’d never seen anything like it, and at the time it was like kind of all the rage for you know LGBT film festivals whether it was US or worldwide, it was kind of the go to movie. You know I hadn’t seen it until I had, it was sent to screener and I was so excited… I liked it even as a screener. So when we saw it with an audience it was even more thrilling. It was really intense and it was fun.
It’s you know even though it’s gory, it’s graphic, it’s funny. It’s a thrill ride, which should definitely be seen with an audience.
Beth: Now a film like this it has a serial killer whose sexual orientation maybe sort of ambiguous and the victims are gay, did that raise any issues when you screened it? Was it something that some people felt had any kind of homophobic overtones or did it raise any kind of concerns, or was it something that was just like it’s about that you know a gay film maker got to make a horror film like this?
Michael: I think it’s about time a gay film maker got to make a horror film like this. Who cares? I mean if the killer is gay or not gay and if he’s killing only gays big deal, can’t gays get killed in horror movies? I mean you have them, the gays in the Rain of horror movies were like the gays, is like you know stereotypical killed off right away. And in this one they are all gay and they’re all killed off, well for the most part they’re all killed off.
Speaker 1: He’s got a fucking knife the kinky bastard.
Speaker 2: You are deranged Silver and I love.
Speaker 1: Was that all you got? Give us some more.
Speaker 2: Jodi, as the knife serrated all you making me hot big daddy.
Speaker 1: Well that’s so sick.
Speaker 2: Yuu huu [chuckles].
Speaker 1: You want to see sick come on big boy. You want to play?
Beth: Now for the Hell Bent screening you’re having now for this on core screening, you are getting the director Paul Etheredge to come down for a Q&A correct?
Michael: Yeah, we’re super, super excited. He’s going to come down introduce the film and then do Q&A in between the two screenings. So we’re excited to see what his thoughts are seeing it again 14 years later versus, when it first came out when he did the festival circuit, and to kind of revisit it to see what his thoughts are and to see his thoughts are on horror where then and are no, and how that’s impacted his career.
Beth: And as somebody who’s been programing LGBT film festival how have you seen kind of trends in gay horrors? It’s something that is kind of coming into its own now, or is it something that has been there all along and just not very well, that it hasn’t really gotten out there that much? I mean what do you see as kind of the trend or the arc for this?
Michel: Well I wish they were more. I think this, the past two years we’ve had more submissions than we have over in the past you know decade or so. So I’m hoping that these younger film makers that are looking at films like Hell Bent and Elm Street 2, and Bite Marks, and yeah. I think it’s about time. I mean its’ different than the usual programming when you have you know these heavy duty dramas or rock coms or specific documentaries. I think there’s an audience for this type of genre film that should be explored because the bottom line is they’re fun, they’re entertaining, and they make money.
Beth: And you were pairing this up with a big franchise film which is the Nightmare and Elm Street series. And in particular this is Nightmare on Elm Street part 2, which has come to be known as kind of like the gay nightmare film. What kind of fed into this kind of cult following that it gotten in its label for that?
Michael: Well it’s interesting because when I first saw the film, I don’t think over 30 years ago back in the ’80s, I didn’t even, I mean I kind of got some of the, the innuendo but I wasn’t really thinking of as a gay horror. And then over the years, you know it was kind of like the bastard child of The Elm Street series, but all of a sudden it stated growing in popularity with gay audiences. And then I think I read somewhere recently or I don’t when, but that the writers specifically had included all these innuendos and scenes that could be taken either way. But when you see it now especially with the gay audience you can’t believe that this sit what’s happening.
And well first of all, to see this with an audience it’s, I mean you miss so much dialogue because the audience is like, it’s erupting and laughter and you’re like, “Oh yeah, oh no, yeah, oh I get it. I hear that I know what this is, I know where they’re going.” And so it’s constant through the whole film.
Speaker 1: How much longer do you think he’s going to keep us out here?
Speaker 2: It should be all night. But carry these rocks half like this. [Indiscernible] [00:16:14] joins downtown.
Speaker 3: [Indiscernible] [00:16:17].
Speaker 2: He likes pretty boys like you.
Speaker 1: Get out of here.
Michael: It’s like rapid non-stop on your face gayness. So it just, it’s a fun film to see. You know, you know some of the best Elm Street out there but it definitely has an audience, so we’re going to be screening it finally. I’ve been waiting to screen it for a few years, I just never knew what to pair it with. So you know my tradition at film out is to try and schedule a double feature every October, so I thought well let’s just do that this time, that’s what happens.
Beth: The lead actor who’s in there is Mark Patton, and he’s been described as instead of being the final girl, he’s the final boy?
Michael: I’m fine with that one, if he wants to be called girl or boy it’s up to him. Hey I don’t mind having final, or how about a final gay boy. But you know, now there’s so many different suggestive lines and kind of like, it’s really kind of had a sexual vibe. But you know back then 30 years I just didn’t pick up and as many as you do now especially when you watch it with an audience. Is really in your face funny, they were up to something back in the day.
I don’t know if the director, I think, I don’t think the director was kind of in on the joke, I think it was mostly the writers who kind of, and Mark. I think Mark Patton and Robert Englund I think they were both kind of in on the joke, but I don’t think the director was.
Beth: And were any other big franchise films like that, that ever kind of tackled something like that, or that ever tapped into gay themes or gay audience like that?
Michael: I’m trying to think of the big franchise like, definitely not Halloween or Friday the 13th or saw or any of those, Texas chain saw any of those. No I think Elm Street is the only one that’s done it subliminally at least anyway. I can’t think of any major franchise genre films that have kind of gone this route, no. So we need more, or maybe there’s some out there that we just haven’t discovered yet.
Beth: All right well thank you very much and I look forward to the horror double feature coming up.
Michael: Yes please spread the word, we want a full house. It’s fun to screen and laugh with a crowd full of 25o people.
Beth: That was film programmer Michael McQuiggan. He’s screening Hell Bent and Nightmare on Elm Street 2 on October 18th. He’s also bringing Hell Bent director Paul Etheredge in to hold the Q&A with the audience. To get you primed for that interview, or in case you’re not in San Diego to enjoy it, here’s my interview with Etheredge from earlier this year. He reflected back on making the first gay slasher film and how that affected his career.
Speaker 1: The one night of the year Halloween when you get to indulge your most twisted fantasies.
Speaker 2: Play me penis.
Speaker 1: You’ve got three right there.
Speaker 2: And when swallowed your hooked.
Speaker 1: Life is made for living.
Etheredge: I’m not a flasher fan, or I wasn’t growing up, so that was the furthest type of film I wanted to make. But I was working with a production company had for a couple of years as a post supervisor, and you know various things around the office. Helping the you know, the films get made. And I was walking down the hallway one day and our head producer jumped out and said, and dragged me into a pitch session. And they were two money guys who wanted to make a gay horror film. He said, “What do you got?” We bonded over a couple of films from the ‘1960s that we’re both familiar with the block operas getting chief among them, and they really liked that idea of a killer acting kind of crazy Halloween festival.
Speaker 1: Have you planned tonight?
Speaker 2: I’m going to the carnival with a few friends.
Speaker 1: I’m guessing you’ve heard about the boy’s murdered last night, the homosexuals?
Speaker 2: Yeah.
Speaker 1: You didn’t know him did you?
Speaker 2: I did not know.
Speaker 1: Our community liason asked us to help get this out around the neighborhood for tonight. I know your work here hasn’t been everything you wanted, I wouldn’t normally ask you to do this but everyone is tied up with the carnival I could use your help.
Speaker 2: Can I wear my dad’s uniform?
Speaker 1: It’s Halloween.
Speaker 2: Yeah.
Etheredge: Then they sent me off to write the script, and I just struggled with that thing. I’d never written a script, a script before.
Beth: When you were working on that did you feel that you were breaking new ground, or doing anything that was different from what had been done before?
Etheredge: What I was chiefly aware of is that in slasher films the victims, the young people are punished for having sex, and you know that’s kind of it’s part of the titillation. And I felt very strongly that that should not be something I drag into Hell Bent, and I’ve danced a lot around that. Because that was really my main focus, because I didn’t want to demonize gay sex, or have people you know in the audience cheering because you know sexually active guys were being killed. In this day and age, had I to do it again, I probably would have changed it up. And you know I think it’s more permissible to be more acceptable for gay guys to be seen having sex, whereas at that time not so much.
Beth: And this was made in 2004, so what kind of was the industry like in terms of someone wanting to make a gay slasher film like. I mean you said you had accompany that wanted to make it.
Etheredge: Yeah.
Beth: But was this something that was considered a risky gamble or something…
Etheredge: Yeah definitely. Yeah definitely. This is before the red camera came out. So making a film like this was very low budget and technically challenging to make, because the technical resources just weren’t there yet. Now with the red camera you know has a great picture and it’s accessible to everybody, it just wasn’t that way at the time. You know Hell Bent had a tiny budget. I’m not even really sure what the final is, but you know half a million or less. The producers were you know straight like men, honestly I don’t know why they wanted to make something gay. They never told me that.
But they were very sensitive about you know the subject matters. I had to make revisions to the script to make sure that nothing was going to be ruffled in audience… Yeah it was challenging. And also getting actors, that was a challenge.
Beth: The other thing that seems challenging and this seems to be the case whenever you’re dealing with a group of people who ae underrepresented in the main stream media, is you get a push back. Because I’ve seen this with women who do horror, and want it depicted like a female killer, or female serial killer.
Etheredge: Right.
Beth: And the push back is, “Oh you should be ashamed of yourself for not depicting women in a better light.” And your killer, if I remember it’s been over a decade since I saw your film but if I remember right it’s like the sexual identity of the killer, or whose sexual oriental was not entirely clear and you’re…
Etheredge: Right.
Beth: There was this sense of you weren’t sure if he was homophobic or if he was you know deliberately targeting gays. So I’m just curious if you had any kind of a push back or feeling that you met with criticism for like, “Hey it’s, you shouldn’t be depicting gays in any kind of a negative light.”
Etheredge: Sure. Yeah, I mean there there’s plenty of criticism all over the board. You know it wasn’t gay enough, it was too gay, it was you know how dare you know give the enemy any sort of fodder to use against us. You know all of that. That’s expected I guess. I’m trying to remember if there was anything really specific. It wasn’t very upsetting. I mean there were plenty of legitimate complaints to… But yes absolutely.
Beth: Film out is going to be showing a collection of short horror films, and their first gay horror blog. And what’s interesting is that a number of those have the gay characters as the killer or as the character that is meant to be scary or threatening, and not in a negative light. I mean the killers are kind of like the main characters that you are sympathetic to, and…
Etheredge: They’re justified in their killing.
Beth: These horror films seem to be taking kind of an interesting look at gay issues in the sense that they’re not afraid to depict characters who might not be role models. And they also seemed to be taking an interesting way of pushing back at a lot of the stereotypes and prejudices that they may be experiencing as film makers, those people.
Etheredge: Right.
Beth: So horror is always an interesting genre I feel for dealing with kind of dealing with social issues.
Etheredge: Absolutely.
Beth: And…
Etheredge: It gives you a lot of leeway to really push some boundaries. I think that’s awesome that the film makers are feeling confident in portraying their characters that way. Like I said if I were to do Hell Bent again now I would approach it differently. At the time so many of the gay representation in horror were of killer, and because they were psychotic or twisted, or you know somewhere broken and I was very sensitive about that. And that’s great that they are, you know these new film makers, are able to let us be more nuance I guess, you know and have more of the roles and huh I’m very curious about it.
Beth: Well I’ve always felt too that with underrepresented groups that for like, for seeing women characters on screen, the never goal for me is never been like other it should be positive representations. I always felt like there should just be more representations.
Etheredge: Yeah
Beth: So you could have variety, and not feel that because there’s only film, with the female director, or one film with a strong female character like that that one has the burden of…
Etheredge: Yeah, oh I agree. I agree with that, that you’re sort of the only one then all eyes turn to you know the character that you’re creating. And those have to yeah represent everybody. This is not enough, there aren’t enough voices.
Beth: Did you look to any other films, or did you feel any other films were an influence on you when you making Hell Bent?
Etheredge: Sure, yeah, absolutely. I watched Halloween a lot partly because one of my producers was heavily involved in the original Halloween. So I know that that was sort of playing up to what he was familiar and comfortable with, especially since that had made some money. I also looked at films like, just to help influence my visual style, films like the original and bears from mars, because I knew I wasn’t going to have a lot of money. So but I wanted to just have a look. Let’s see what else did I watch a lot of? I played a lot of blind of the former.
Beth: It’s Hollywood. I mean yeah, it’s West Hollywood during Halloween.
Etheredge: Yes.
Beth: Which is, you mentioned that you wanted it to be during some big crazy event.
Etheredge: Yeah. We chose the West Hollywood festival probably in the first meeting. In the first pitch session. The idea was there was this you know people in masks and costumes, and nobody knew who the killer was. There was going to be very colorful and a lot pageantry that kind of thing. Just the, I mean in part to help separate it from the Halloween series and a lot of the films that were set in Halloween, we wanted to really embrace the dressing up and you know the kind of the buck and all element.
Speaker 1: Hey, I like your costume. You’re a girl right I could tell. You’re playing sports? What gym do you go to? Well you've got enough candy already? You couldn’t use a little more? I don’t always look like this you know. You superficial faggot. It’s Halloween Jesus.
Etheredge: And we shot for two years at the actual West Hollywood parade which was interesting.
Beth: I was going to say how difficult was that to do?
Etheredge: It was, it was very challenging. You know in part there’s the technical stuff. You know you’re having to get photo releases from people that you’re filming, and avoiding you know costumes that are too topical. So we shot right after 9 11 in on our first, yeah that’s before we even had a script. We just went out and shot a bunch of footage and of course we had to avoid anything that can point at 9 11 first responders or whatever.
But also there’s a really the elements of oh everyone in the crew’s is getting drunk, everyone in the crowd is getting drunk. A lot of drag queens, diving up to the cameras and vomiting that kind of thing. A lot of hell B roll there.
Beth: How did you decide on the direction that you didn’t want to take that script and the story you did want to tell?
Etheredge: That was a real process. Like I mentioned before I wasn’t a fan of slasher films. I’m actually made pretty quizzy by people getting killed which is funny because love horror. You know initially I was like there will be no blood in my movie, and of course it’s pretty bloody. And I wrote a number of versions of Hell Bent before it became anything like it what it is. And they were kind of awful and gruesome, and I was so unsettled by them.
I mean a lot of cannibalism and you know the handsome guy keep, you know just the, who’s the gay killer who is hot and kept you know drills into people’s head and… What’s that fellows name?
Beth: Oh yeah, was it Jeffry Dunmore.
Etheredge: Jeffry Dunmore, yeah those sorts of elements. Like I can’t live with this story for as long as I need to make a movie. You know my kind of, kinder gentler sensibilities started taking over. And you know what this is going to be a gay romance they’re just going to have this killer obstacle. So that’s kind of how I focused on. And then once I got into it and kind of broke the ground on the story that is Hell Bent, I started embracing the killer more, the violence. And understood how fun it could be. It was definitely an evolution for me.
Beth: Describe your killer because he is masked and so describe how you wanted him to come across in the film and look.
Etheredge: I wanted him to be very sexy and appealing and eye catching. We actually cast at Africombi search model in that role. I think the double was such as distinctive silhouettes that’s what I focused on. You know that could, I knew I would be back lighting a lot. And the forms were, the still they were threating, yet still kind of sensual that I liked that image. I did put him in shoes that had different size heels so that he would walk with a kind of a funny crookedness. But I cut around that pretty much, because it just didn’t not work.
He looked really pretty ridiculous when he was moving around. So I just, that’s you kind of discover on set. But I did want his sexuality to be nebulous, like you weren’t entirely sure what, what was motivating him. You know my thought was that this was a celebration for him as well. You know this was his parking all his way and expressing it and you know everybody was fair game. This you know, this quartet of guys just happened to be the ones to attract his attention because of their encounter in the park. And then it became you know the game of stalking. I never saw him as like an angry, just as a someone who has a different sort of left.
Beth: And he didn’t really have the kind of boogie man’s super natural elements.
Etheredge: Not quite, no. I mean we, he is still alive at the end after being shot in the head, so there’s that bit. But you know it wasn’t, I never thought of him as being something super natural.
Beth: And do you remember how the film was greeted by gay audiences, was it embraced by them, or..?
Etheredge: Some yeah. You know I think people had fun, I don’t know my… You know to be honest my relationship with the film at that point, it was my first film and I had a lot emotional rawness at that point. I’m trying to remember how other people reacted to it. I definitely still get people writing fan mail or coming up to me in bars saying, “Oh my God I loved your movie. I watch it every year. We make it a ritual.” And I definitely appreciate that. There were plenty of you know gay crowds who, or people in the gay crowds who did not respond well to it. But there you go I guess it’s just you know that’s how it goes.
Beth: And do you feel that making that as your first film, did that kind of color or change do you feel the way you’re career went or how you ended up in the industry?
Etheredge: Yeah, I do. I’m very proud of it. It’s the most personal thing I’ve created. And there’s a lot of me wrapped up in that, a lot of my own experience. And I’m you know grateful for the opportunity all that. I do feel that what I expected to get out of the film never materialized. It was very hard for me to get another directing job after that, or you know that’s mainstream you know agents and all of that. It just, I didn’t really know what to do with it. You know it wasn’t, it was rough, it wasn’t shot on film, and the subject matter was still a little [indiscernible] [00:35:25] so yeah.
I mean I think that, yeah I think it did. It did make it a little, little rockier right after the release than I had anticipated. I thought I was going to get shot out of a canon. You know.
Beth: Well horror as a genre by itself is always, I always think it’s kind of a tricky genre because in some ways it’s easy to make a horror film and people expect it to do well at the box office, and it can get you some notoriety. But a lot of people don’t want to stay in the genre.
Etheredge: Right.
Beth: And then some people feel like they get tinted by it. I mean I love the genre, and I really admire…
Etheredge: I do too.
Beth: The film makers like David Cronenberg and Clive Burke.
Etheredge: Oh my God, yeah.
Beth: The film makers who stay in the genre, and expand it.
Etheredge: I love horror and I do not regret, I mean still play around in it. I still hope to make more horror films. You know there was a whole decade where we were kind of stuck in a “The saw,” and the torture porn and all of that. I don’t respond to that at all. I don’t think it has a thought in his head. But you know the Cronenbergs, I don’t know that that’s necessarily scary stuff but it is. It is horror commentary I guess and I love that. I like the smart challenging types of horror, and the visuals that you can put with it. And there’s kind of stories you can tell that can be so outlandish and yet disturbing and moving, and in ways you don’t expect. I love that. So I don’t regret doing horror at all.
Beth: I had a chance to interview Cronenberg and what he…
Etheredge: Lucky.
Beth: Well and the thing that he said that I always struck, because I think his films are in the horror genre. They’re not conventional horrors by any means.
Etheredge: Yes.
Beth: And what he gets to is far more disturbing than what most main stream horror does.
Etheredge: Yeah.
Beth: But he, the comment he made is he says, “I’m not interested in making comfortable cinema.” And that seems to sum up his films is like they just, they’re disquieting and they are disturbing, and they are uncomfortable and they get to something that that’s really kind of core to what horror is about.
Etheredge: Yeah, but they didn’t… You don’t even know that it’s there in you. Love that, love that.
Beth: What other horror film makers do you admire or you like?
Etheredge: Well like I mentioned before Brian De Palmer. I grew up with D Palmer. My other is a huge Brian De Palmer fan. I was scared to death of Texas chain saw massacre even seeing. I saw like the first three minutes of it and turned it off and I couldn’t watch it you know for probably 15 years. I have grown to appreciate that movie quite a lot.
I actually was at a friend’s house on Valentine’s day several years ago and Toby Hoper showed up to this, this party of like 14 gay guys with a new print of Texas chain saw massacre and screened it for us. But what I remember vividly at the beginning of it, he said, “I shot this to be a comedy.” And it, I watched it as though it were and it comedy and it completely changed my experience I loved it. It was so much fun. Aliens is my favorite horror film. I had tow, I go into therapy after seeing that movies.
You know there’s some recent horror films that I’ve appreciated it follows I really enjoyed the Barba Duke, I don’t look at those directors have you know enough under their belts to say you know this is a horror film director, but there you go.
Beth: So it’s a genre that are, you would like to return to. Do you have any like concrete ideas? Would you..?
Etheredge: Mainly I have been in my head, yes I do have one concrete idea that I’ve been flashing out for I don’t a couple of years. I was asked to do it like a gay horror comic book at one point, and I came up with something that is never left me, and I have been re-tooling that. Usually when I think about horror I think of it in the shots form because there is something very specific that I want to address. Yeah I mean I’ve got some ideas for that too. But I mean I’m not out there pitching horror currently, been trying to do more idiom to self-thriller stuff.
Beth: You mentioned that if you were making Hell Bent now t would be a different film.
Etheredge: Yeah.
Beth: What kind of things would you change? If you were to make, if somebody came to you and said, “Let’s do a remake of Hell Bent tomorrow.” What kind of things, how would you kind of re-envision it for today?
Etheredge: I would develop the killer more, not necessarily give him a back story and a horrible scene with his mother, anything like that. But you one of the complaints I heard most frequently was we don’t really understanding anything about the killer. So I don’t know, I don’t, everyone has to know his name or anything but I would develop him more so that he’s sort of understood his motivations. Hell Bent was conceived as being more than one film, at least in my mind, and we talked about doing a sequel for a while but… And so I think I made the rookie mistake of holding on to too much to reveal in the second film and then of course the second film never came.
I’d also make it more sexual. I wouldn’t shy away from that. I think that now that we are you know that the Apps, the dating apps and that aspect of you know anonymous meeting, and that is sort of permeates our gay culture. I would involve that more. The willingness to be risky. We didn’t have that when I was, made Hell Bent. You know we didn’t have IPhone’s yet. So I mean think that would an interesting element to bring in. Talking about sex again, you know where perhaps has now freed us form some concerns, but you know there are other things that we chose to not look at when we’re having sex with strangers. I probably incorporate a lot of that and I might be more willing to point to some our darker impulses than I was when I wrote Hell Bent. And I wanted to stall the angels.
Beth: Do you think that there are enough films or film makers at this point to kind of have a sub-genre of gay horror films?
Etheredge: I go back and forth on what is gay horror. I remember being asked a lot when Hel Bent came out, what did I think about gay horror. And when I was writing it I wasn’t certain that there was gay horror because everything that was horrifying and terrible to gays was also to straight people. You know being chased, being hacked up, watching your lover get killed, that’s all terrible stuff. But now I think that that its for me is more queer horror.
It takes it out of sexual necessarily, about being homosexual, or lesbian or what not and just turns into being somehow radically different from what you expect of yourself, or what your peers, or what other people expect of you. That’s what I think of when I think of gay horror now. Are there enough people to do it? I don’t know. You tell me.
Beth: There’s definitely more than there has been so that’s promising.
Etheredge: Good. Yeah, I mean I’m glad that film makers have access to you know making these things. Yeah I don’t know, I mean I would love to see what that looks like because I wrestle with those questions. You know what is the gay horror or queer horror? What is that mean to people now?
Beth: Well and I’ve seen a few films made by gay film makers where it feels like on a certain level there’s an anger that they have that they against a lot of the prejudice that they’ve dealt with. And they use the horror genre to like depict a character who initially seems like maybe a stereotypical weak gay character. You know a stereotype I like a white male, straight guy. And that character turns on those people, and proves to be the dangerous one. You know you think like these red neck guys who are picking on him.
Etheredge: Right.
Beth: Are the ones that are dangerous ad then there’s a turn.
Etheredge: Right.
Beth: And it’s suddenly like, “Oh no the guy you’re picking on is actually a demon, and he’s going to devour you.”
Etheredge: Yeah.
Beth: And so next time you…
Etheredge: Except…
Beth: You think, you think about you know stereotyping is like that think twice kind of.
Etheredge: Right.
Beth: So it seems like horror is taking an interesting, is offering some interesting opportunities to kind of turn stereotypes around and you know say like we’re… Saying, like instead of the gay character being the victim or being the one that’s put through a lot, that that character turns around to be the one that that is the strong one.
Etheredge: Right well that’s… What we fantasize about when we were in high school right, and we’re feeling pushed into the corner like, “Well if only I were the super hero or you know the one to watch out for.” I totally understand that impulse. That’s what, what you’re, what the short star, kissing…
Beth: There’s one…
Etheredge: Express.
Beth: Yeah there’s one shot… And I also, I’m on a selection committee for a horror film festival here in San Diego Horrible imaginings, so…
Etheredge: Look at you.
Beth: I do love the genre. I’ve always felt it’s a bit maligned. You know and…
Etheredge: Yeah. It is, it’s a fringe genre.
Beth: And it’s funny because working on a horror film festival I have people tell me all the time like, “Oh, I’m not really into horror.” And I say I think you’d really be surprised by how broad that genre is.
Etheredge: Yeah.
Beth: And like you can’t, saying you don’t like horror is you know saying you just don’t like movie because there’s a really…
Etheredge: Yeah, look I mean it is you know essentially, it’s all these, it’s metaphor you know. It’s that, that’s the, you know poetic that’s what I loved about it.
Beth: You mentioned films like it follows in the Barba Duke, are those kind of the recent examples of the genre that you look to as kind of hopeful for what the future of the genre is for..?
Etheredge: Yeah, yeah, I do. You know there’s part of me that is just relived that we’re movie away from you know the torture porn, which I couldn’t just stomach art for a long time. And I felt like it was you know so much so cynical. Whereas you know the Barba Duke and it follows quite about the Duke more. You know they were playing with ideas and the situations were simply horrifying. Plus the acting was really good in both of those I thought.
We’re moving into areas that salts really, types of fears that were relatable and personal. I don’t get very fearful on these kind of cataclysmic movies. It’s just too big to comprehend the world, you know falling into the sun or what not. Get out two I love, love get out. That was another one where, I mean it’s terrifying. I don’t necessarily need to be dare terrified, but I was so uncomfortable. Having been at those parties thinking of God we’re awful. And just how clever it was.
Beth: Yes. Well thank you very much and thank you for making Hell Bent and kind of changing that for our landscape just a little bit.
Etheredge: Well you are very welcome, great talking with you.
Beth: That was Hell Bent director Paul Etheredge. Hell Bent screens October 18th with Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Freddy’s revenge at Landmark Hillcrest’s cinema. If you enjoyed this episode please leave a review on iTunes to help boost the profile junket so others can find it. You can also tell a friend to listen because a personal recommendation is the best way to get people to listen. You can also look back through the archives for podcast about a pair of dark gay thrillers Drown and down river both form Australia. Thanks for listening to another episode of listeners supported KPBS cinema junky podcast. Till our next film fix, I’m Beth Accomando, your resident cinema junkie.