Hellbenders (2012)

Few things please me more than browsing a used-dvd horror section; I’ve stolen away with quite a few gems in my day, attracted by an actor’s name, art on the box, or an intriguing plot. Seeing as how I don’t keep up with the times and have no idea what’s good or bad in horror these days, I’m shooting in the dark when it comes to picking the good from the bad. So, when I saw Clancy Brown’s name in a film called Hellbenders about priests who sin like crazy so they can drag demons into hell, I thought I’d give it a shot.

Some priests kiss the crucifix. These kiss razorblades!

Some priests kiss the crucifix. These kiss razorblades!

It’s really too bad you can only sort of tell a film’s tone by its packaging. I knew we were in trouble once we watched the trailer; an in-your-face punch-fest with too-cool one-liners. Uh oh. Turns out Hellbenders is like a post-Boondock Saints version of Ghostbusters with a hard-on for The Big Lebowski. A strange trio of influences, but they’re all there in spades.

So as I briefly mentioned before, the movie is about a group of priests called The Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints. Their job is to blaspheme and sin their way through life so they’re always “damnation ready” in preparation for that big exorcism where they may have to kill themselves in order to drag the demon at hand into hell. Stephen keeps the books, tracking each sin committed by the group. The sins have to be bad enough and frequent enough so that they’d be damned to eternal hellfire any time they might die. Though they may take many bonghits and fornicate day and night, some are better at sinning than others.

Angus (Clancy Brown) is their leader, perpetually dressed like Jeffrey Lebowski, he swears his way through the

I think they got the wrong Lebowski.

I think they got the wrong Lebowski.

movie, counseling the lesser sinners in the art of damnation. Then there’s Larry (Clifton Collins Jr.) a rather milquetoast guy who seems to think drinking constantly and cheating on his wife with fellow Hellbound Saint Elizabeth will be enough to get him into Hell. There’s a few others, but they aren’t given enough substance to write about here, except I will mention one of them is a Polish dude who’s always wearing sunglasses that reminds me an awful lot of Walter Sobchak.

When they’re not toking away at the bong, taking shots off each-other’s bellies or fornicating, they’re off fighting demons. Occasionally the bishop line rings and they’re off to the races – but only if they’re damnation ready. It’s too bad the b-team got sent on what seemed to be a routine exorcism but ended up being a real doozy of a demon! Elizabeth and Macon (quiet, least badass priest who unfortunately spends the rest of the film in a body cast) try to cast the demon out, but find out they’re dealing with far more than your garden-variety evil. In fact, it’s Surtr they’re fighting: killer of gods, bringer of Ragnarok! Oh, shit! Surtr has no trouble possessing Elizabeth and soon the demon is loose in New York City, wreaking a lot of Ghostbusters-like havoc.

Clint is not down with all the blaspheming and sinning.

Clint is not down with all the blaspheming and sinning.

Angus is pissed off that Elizabeth wasn’t ready to take a demon down into hell, but all Larry can do is whine and moan that this chick he slept with a year ago is gone. He wants to save her! What a terrible time for the pope to die and the bishops to send out their auditing crew! In walks Clint, a mix between Walter Peck from Ghostbusters and Brandt from Lebowski who is just appalled by the blasphemy and insists on shutting down the group, even though they’re the only ones who can save the world from the fire of Ragnarok! How will they get out of this one?

Ooof, this movie is a confused mess! I think it’s trying a little too hard to pander to a crowd thirsty for cult hits and ultraviolence; there are many scenes where someone is being beaten senseless, and then when they’re a bloody pulp, they’re beaten again. It’s almost as if JT Petty, the writer/director of the thing, thought he heard someone somewhere once say “I wish Ghostbusters had more senseless violence and cursing but none of the charm!” The problem is, I don’t think anyone ever said that. That’s where the “post-Boondock Saints” comment comes from; while I can’t say I

Elizabeth's looking a little rough these days.

Elizabeth’s looking a little rough these days.

remember much from that movie (in fact, I’m pretty sure I turned it off because it’s a stupid piece of shit) I do remember a lot of stupid violence played for laughs and a curse word every ten seconds. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a square, but there’s a time and a place for violence and pottymouths, and the answer isn’t always everywhere, all the time. It just comes out forced, weak and insincere.

I guess I understand why someone would want to make a movie like Ghostbusters; it is after all one of the most entertaining movies ever made. But all of the things that make it good are lacking in Hellbenders. Add to it the weird fetish with The Big Lebowski; one look at Angus and Jeff Bridges’ Lebowski is immediately evident: the long hair in the face, the shitty robe, the weird pants. There’s even a scene where Angus pisses in a carton of half-and-half. There are other Lebowski-like moments, but no need to catalog them here. Suffice it to say if you watch it, take a shot after every Lebowski reference and you won’t be able to drive home.

This look pretty much sums up Collins Jr.'s performance. Wha? Meh.

This look pretty much sums up Collins Jr.’s performance. Wha? Meh.

But perhaps the weakest link of the film is Clifton Collins Jr., an actor I’ve never seen or heard of before, but turns out stars in The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. You don’t say! His performance is completely anemic; there’s no gusto behind his curse words, which makes their frequency seem all the more forced. Q thinks his role would have been played better by Lou Diamond Phillips, but personally I think it was meant for Robert Beltran!

Sadly, this selection is going to be sold back to the store where it came from. Clancy Brown, you’ve failed me, but I won’t lose faith in you. Just make better decisions next time!


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