Hellbenders is the latest film from writer/director J.T. Petty, who also helmed The Burrowers and Mimic 3: Sentinel. It revolves around The Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints, a congregation of ministers from different faiths who live in a constant state of debauchery and sin. Why you ask? Well, there are some demons so terrible that no mortal man of God can successfully them drive back to hell, and that’s where these Hellbound Saints (or Hellbenders) come in. They are a group of highly trained exorcists whose constant state of debauchery has them more than ready to go to Hell at a moment’s notice, allowing them to take the terrible demons along with them so that they can face the damnation they deserve.
The movie stars two of the best character actors working in Hollywood today, Clancy Brown and Clifton Collins Jr. Brown plays Angus, the cantankerous leader of the Brooklyn parish of Hellbound Saints and Collins portrays Larry, who is still undisciplined in his work and whose ways of staying in debauchery include cheating on his wife. When the infernal Norse demon Black Surtr arises in New York and becomes intent on opening the gates of Hell, these two men have to do whatever they can to save the planet from eternal damnation.
Recently, I had the chance to sit down for an exclusive chat with Petty, Brown and Collins at the Hellbenders press junket, which was held at Molly Malone’s Bar in Los Angeles. Proving to be one of the most entertaining and funniest interviews I’ve ever been involved in, the trio spoke about where the idea for the film came from, what drew the actors to the script, what films influenced Hellbenders and much more!
Check it out below and enjoy!
The concept of this is movie is great. It just seems to make sense that you would have debauched and sinful priests at the ready to fight the worst kind of demons. To have a regular priest do it makes only so much sense because they barely stand a chance, but these guys are clearly more than ready to take these nasty demons down.
J.T. Petty: It’s like saying dirty cops are more effective.
Clancy Brown: We’re dirty cops!
Clifton Collins Jr.: That’s a good analogy, dirty cops, because we’re honestly dirty. All the other priests are like, “No we don’t like boys!” (laughs) What club under the Vatican? (laughs)
J.T. Petty: I don’t know why we call it a rectory! (laughs)
Clancy Brown: Those are all the jokes that weren’t in the show! (laughs)
J.T., where did you get the idea for this film?
J.T. Petty: Everything we just talked about, right? And also just the clichés of the exorcism movies. There’s always the priest who’s always gotta take in the demon, and to get possessed you have to be in a state of moral decrepitude. To get to that state of moral decrepitude you have to fuck whores and gamble, so let’s just institutionalize it.
Obviously The Exorcist was a big influence on this film. Were there any other movies that influenced Hellbenders?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Sophie’s Choice.
J.T. Petty: Sophie’s Choice, yeah!
Clancy Brown: That informs every movie. I actually saw Sophie’s Choice in Pacific Rim (laughs).
Clancy and Clifton, what drew you to this film?
Clancy Brown: J.T.’s script. That’s what I read. He said to me, “I need you in three days, I have no money and I’m going to send you a script,” and I’m like, “Yeah fuck you too (laughs). We had a deal after Burrowers, you were gonna be huge and I was going to charge you one million dollars and you were gonna pay me happily.” But then he sends me this fuckin’ brilliant script with this great character and Clifton’s involved and Andre (Royo), and I’m like, “Aw shit! God damn you!” He knows exactly who I am and makes me give and give and give.
J.T. Petty: What’s terrible is I’m thinking the same thing about the movie. I’m like, “Aw Jesus Christ. I have to do this thing, don’t I?”
Clifton Collins Jr.: For me, no one really challenges the church or questions it in the way J.T. did. I just love some of the lines and I was just laughing out loud. You’ve got to have some big balls to do shit like this. I constantly buck the system to a fault, and to have a team to do that with was really fucking cool. I sat down with J.T. and I had some questions about the script and some things. Of course, I’m sure I had some extra ideas like, “How about this or how about that?”
J.T. Petty: Well I feel like you’ve got a lot more experience in debauchery than I do (laughs).
Clifton Collins Jr.: That might be true (laughs). I mean there are cool priests out there. They’re not all pedophiles. I went to an all Catholic high school and I was with the Jesuits, and the majority of them were really down and really cool, smart cats and I dug those. I was always hearing these terrible stories about these guys that are supposed to be helping your family, when you’re down and out, doing just the opposite, you know? It’s such a travesty, but to actually call them out and actually be part of the cool crew and not be like, “Hey we’re holier than though.” No we’re not because we can’t really be holier than though, but that plays in our favor because we’re just good people.
J.T. Petty: Actually, I was talking to this minister at this church near where I live in Brooklyn when I was doing research for this movie. I was telling him that it was about priests who sin, and I was a little worried. He actually showed us a whole bunch of awesome stuff about how they arrange the instruments and stuff before they perform an exorcism. It was great information and I was telling him the premise and I was worried because this could be insulting if you are actually a man of God. He pulled out some Rudyard Kipling quote that went something like it would be vainglorious to assume that we were anything but tortured rebels, right? Like we have as much to do from the fall of Satan as we do from God’s creation. So even if you’re a priest, you are an imperfect man, and if you could actually embrace that then you can actually know the demon you’re fighting.
Clancy Brown: WHOA!