While I’ll admit the idea of turning clergymen and women into lying, cheating, cursing, fornicating, debaucherous sinners generates quite the image, Hellbenders 3D unfortunately couldn’t follow through with the goods. Starring a cast comprised of the best “Hey, I’ve seen him before!” type actors, writer/director J.T. Petty somehow missed the target with his religious shocker, delving into a secret team of “hellbound” men of God without much interest.
It’s a one trick pony that presents some pretty hilarious moments if handled as a short, but without establishing any real type of threat, and simply hinting at intense amounts of gore-latent satanic happenings, we spend far too much time watching our team of demon killers simply sitting around and lazily slugging whiskey. If that’s what you consider entertainment, you have a free invitation to my Tuesday night activities.
You know those secret government agencies who carry out the dirtiest, most secretive tasks? Well, God has his own team of unlisted saviors – The Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints. Living in a state of constant sin, these ordained bastards are chosen to drag the nastiest demons back to hell, keeping up with their sinning just in case they ever have to go there themselves. Led by the wise, old Angus (Clancy Brown), Larry (Clifton Collins Jr.), Stephen (Andre Royo), Elizabeth (Robyn Rikoon), Macon (Macon Blair), and Erik (Dan Fogler) silently risk their lives keeping the streets clean of Satan’s best and brightest – until one of the nastiest demons possesses Elizabeth and threatens to open a portal to hell. It’s up to the remaining Saints to find her and save humanity – if they’re not shut down by the powers that be first.
From the get go, we’re introduced to these agents of God right as an “exorcism” has already been performed, and we see two bloodied priests (Brown and Collins Jr.) battered and beaten. Brown, holding some kind of cryptic parchment, turns to the camera, and instead of spouting some biblical threat, simply declares, “We. Are. Fucked.” Cue the montage of priests behaving badly, sitting around a table smoking out of bongs, chugging down liquor, disrespecting the eucharist, and doing typically un-priestly things. This, in itself, is rather comical, and sets a proper tone for the antics to follow – but never expands upon them. Through introduction, the idea displays something shocking and entertaining, but through repeated practice, the idea is beaten to a pulp. Brown’s character Angus seemingly exists only to rattle off every foul word in the English language, and as a source of comedy, this type of repetition becomes as stale as those Body of Christ wafers. Rinse and repeat for all the Saints, and you have a film that quickly deflates any fun worth having.
Hellbenders 3D is shot as a hybrid between typical “Fly On The Wall” filmmaking and interview/documentary flimmaking, showing different priests and religious authorities commenting on the actions of the Hellbound Saints as we watch Larry and his crew fight demons in real time. From this, we get an idea of what’s happening, but Petty also uses this opportunity to describe nastier details without showing any effects heavy footage of the actual incidents being recalled. Obviously hampered by budgetary restrictions, we’re cheated of the full-frontal gorefest that could have been, only being granted momentary glimpses of “found footage” evidence and a sadly hammed-up finale (fighting styles equivalent to a 1960s episode of Batman).
Clifton Collins Jr. and company do their best to create a darkly comedic vibe, but with talents like Dan Fogler being seriously underutilized, there’s just too much slack for the biggest on-screen presences to pick up. I love Clancy Brown in all his genre-related character work, but you can only listen to a priest talk about sodomizing his peers so many times before it becomes old hat. Dan Fogler needs a bigger role than just sitting around looking badass, occasionally asking females inappropriate questions – but there just wasn’t enough solid material to go around for these damned saviors.
Hellbenders 3D is a hellishly dulll horror comedy that doesn’t deliver in many departments, but the biggest problem is that creator J.T. Petty just didn’t have the proper tools to do his story justice. What’s most disappointing isn’t how Petty misses out on a sinisterly action-packed story, but it’s how he teases us at the end. Elizabeth’s attempt to link Hell and Earth apparently were only the beginning, and the Saints “couldn’t prepare for what was about to happen.” Too bad this inevitable sequel setup will never amount to anything, and all we’ll be left with is this misguided, repetitive, soulless introduction – cutting to black right before the real action happens.
It's a shame this story about sinning saints doesn't provide the necessary shock and awe entertainment, because Petty is sitting on some serious cult cinema potential - it's just unfortunate that it's never achieved.