The title “Hellbenders” refers to a Brooklyn-based group of interfaith ministers whose peculiar practice involves racking up sins. These are debauched exorcists on a suicide mission: misbehave enough to invite possession, then commit suicide, dragging the demon with them to the underworld.
There are some good lines. (“I’m a woman, and you’re a Catholic; everything I do is a sin to you.”) But this feature film, written and directed by J. T. Petty, opens unpromisingly. We’re introduced to the group in their squalid home base, where they broadcast each intended sin (“lust,” “wrath” or “sloth”) as they go about daily activities (looking at pornography, punching one another or wallowing in filth). Like failed sketch comedy, the gag becomes prescriptive and runs a little too long.
But the high-concept mission starts to jell, and it seems like a charming throwback to 1980s films, like “Ghostbusters” and “Police Academy,”that featured motley, sloppy brigades of justice.
The cast is put to good use to play the familiar types of this genre. Clancy Brown is terrific as the salty, foul-mouthed leader. His crew includes the schlump uttering non sequiturs, the note-taking nerd and the hot woman in a gang of boys. The crucial antagonist (their Stay Puft Marshmallow Man) is a Norse demon named Black Surtr, who is 30 years behind schedule of invading New York, so the ’80s influence is explicit in every way.
But rather than one of those big-budget films cited above, this movie has the humor and insouciant pileup of bizarre and disgustingly beautiful images of a cult classic on late-night cable. Even the nongore images are disturbing and unforgettable, like one involving a bunny, baby oil and a misplaced receipt.