Burrowers director JT Petty returns to Midnight Madness with Hellbenders, a truly entertaining horror comedy that may have been a bit too ambitious. While filled with laughs, and some incredible creature effects, ultimately it’s a bit fragmented from what feels like budgetary constraints.
The first act of Hellbenders is incredibly strong as Petty introduces the viewer to the motley crew of modern exorcists. In short, this collection of men and women are supposed to sin as much as possible in order to deliver demons back to hell. The idea is that if they get possessed, they can commit suicide and drag the demons down to Hell with them. Hence, the audience is blasted with profanity as they watch an array of disturbing acts and consistent verbal abuse. Watching a bunch of ordained priests act like jerks in absolutely hilarious, but what makes this work is that the audience knows they’re “good people” at heart. Likability is extremely important it making Hellbenders an entertaining flick. Clancy Brown reunites with Petty and delivers quite a standout performance as the drunken leader. Unfortunately, Dan Fogler – who I absolutely love – was underused, and barely even had a reason to be in the film.
Once acclimated to the group, a few of them are sent off to handle a new case, one that ends in disaster. This is the pinnacle of Hellbenders as it taps into to the vein of The Evil Dead and Ghostbusters with its sound design, humor, scares, and FX work. It’s a haunting moment that sets the bar so high that the rest of the film struggles to reach the same level.
From here on out much of the second act is muddled with exposition and a subplot where the new Pope has shut down their division. The final moments, while enjoyable, felt the choking sensation of budgetary constraints. The audience is teased that the gates of Hell are to be opened, but by the time the gang arrives, all of the chaos has already erupted; it’s a bit frustrating, as the viewer deserves to see the madness occur.
Hellbenders is highly ambitious filmmaking that works just enough to make it worth a view. There are quite a few gut busting laughs, creative scares, and even more gore for the horror junkie. Unfortunately, it just runs out of steam by the finale.