Succubus: Hell Bent (2006) Succubus: Hell Bent (2006) -*

     I keep thinking that one of these days, someone, somewhere, is going to figure out how to make a direct-to-video T&A horror film that isn’t abysmally awful. Notice that I didn’t say “good,” by the way. I fully realize that nobody who has a good movie in them is going to bother making sexed-up horror flicks for the straight-to-DVD market. All I’m asking is that the people who are in that business try just a little bit harder to suck just a little bit less. It keeps not happening, though. Succubus: Hell Bent, for example, is bad in ways I’ve not seen since I decided that preserving my sanity demanded an indefinite respite from the Witchcraft series.

     Adam (Robert L. Mann) is a rich-prick college boy, son of an Air Force test pilot turned captain of the aerospace industry. Dad (David Keith, from Firestarter and Sabretooth) has all the usual Big Plans and High Expectations for Adam, all of which were naturally arrived at without reference to anything the boy himself might have wanted from his life. Rather than following in his father’s footsteps, Adam wants to go to Hollywood to be a filmmaker in the Michael Bay-Jerry Bruckheimer mould, after which he figures he’ll abandon directing to found his own studio and get even richer by releasing other people’s infantile action movies. Mind you, Adam is most likely too lazy, self-involved, and spoiled to accomplish any of that, but that’s a whole other father-son argument there. Anyway, one of Adam’s hobbies— probably the only one of which his dad actually approves— concerns working out his intergenerational frustrations by taking on his old man in simulated dogfights using little two-seater jets with roughly the performance characteristics of a MiG-17. Adam comes out ahead in the first such contest we see, and according to the wager they made at the onset of the duel, that victory entitles him to borrow his father’s private plane for a getaway over Spring Break. After it becomes clear that Dad isn’t going to welch on the bet, Adam calls up his buddy, Jason (Jayson Blair), and invites him along for a trip to Cancun, where they will pursue another of Adam’s hobbies— hooking up with as many girls as their time and the girls’ gullibility will permit.

     Yeah, it looks like Adam and Jason are going to need a Jumbo-Tron to keep score for that game. If there’s a skank in Cancun who fails to succumb one lad’s dubious charms or the other’s, we certainly never see her. But then Adam sets his sights on the older brunette (older as in pushing 30, in contrast to Adam’s ostensible 21) whom he spots beside the hotel pool one afternoon, and the vacation takes a much more serious turn. Her name is Lilith (Natalie Denise Sperl, of The Graveyard and Cellblock Sisters: Banished Behind Bars), and she knows an obnoxious, womanizing asshole when she sees one. Nevertheless, Adam inevitably manages to break down her resistance with a combination of dogged persistence and sheer crudity, but he’s going to wind up wishing he hadn’t. The sex is intense to the point of roughness, and Lilith’s demeanor throughout the night they spend together is intense to the point of obsession. Adam may be happy to show Jason the video he surreptitiously took of their coupling, but in the final assessment, he’s even happier to have the Gulf of Mexico and about a quarter of the North American landmass between him and Lilith now that it’s over.

     It isn’t really over, though— no, not at all. First, Lilith indirectly causes Adam’s girlfriend, Heather (Shawna Marie Nelson) to dump him, for she left nail and tooth marks all over the boy’s torso. Adam forgot all about them over the next 48 hours or so, but Heather assesses their meaning instantly when she pulls off his shirt for a welcome-home fuck. That’s a minor consideration, though, compared to the fact that Lilith is a lot closer to hand than Adam realizes. He may never have given her his address or his cell phone number or even so much as his full name, but Lilith is still able to track him to his home and crash the party he throws at the not-quite-a-mansion his dad rents for him in the vicinity of his film school. Adam is just embarking on a threesome with a pair of comely blonde sisters (Amber Flamminio and Rebekah Brandes, the latter from Slaughter Party and Curse of Pirate Death) when Lilith makes first her entrance, then a bee-line to the relevant bedroom, and finally a most authoritative intrusion upon the scene of the carnal festivities. Adam’s latest paramours have the good sense to retreat downstairs and hook up with Jason instead, leaving Lilith to refresh her claim to the other boy with yet further minor lacerations. They’re still at it when the party breaks up, and the noises they make become so alarming that Jason comes to see if everything is alright. Adam’s story when he eventually opens the door is odd to say the least. He says that Lilith got up a moment ago to use the bathroom, and just plain disappeared. “You mean like, ‘Abracadabra!’ Sabrina the Teenage Witch disappeared?” Jason asks, incredulous, but there’s sure as hell no sign of her in the house now, and neither boy can think of any way she might have made her exit without either one of them seeing her.

     Jason goes home shortly thereafter, but his place is quickly taken by Heather, who has repented her untoward display of self-respect from that morning. Speaking of self-respect, even a fucking David DeCoteau movie would show us the couple’s make-up sex at this point, but not Succubus: Hell Bent. Instead, it gives all its attention to Lilith, spying on Adam and Heather from outside the window, before cutting away to the next scene. Heather, sated with afterglow cuddling, gets up with an announcement that she’s going swimming; Adam is too worn out to join her, but she admonishes him to be “up and awake” by the time she returns. Writer/director Kim Bass again shows himself to be unclear on the concept by having Heather slip into a bathing suit before diving into the backyard pool— I swear, what the hell is wrong with the people making exploitation movies these days? The standards-violating bikini isn’t enough to save Heather from the fate prescribed for nighttime skinny-dippers in cheap horror movies, however, for Lilith smashes her on the head with a beer bottle while she tries to climb out onto the patio, and holds her under the water until she drowns.

     No, that’s not going to look good for Adam at all. The police have to be called, of course, and once she’s had a look at the crime scene, Detective Pei (Kelly Hu, from Friday the 13th, Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and Star Command) concludes immediately that Adam killed his girlfriend when she refused to put out for him. Dad’s combination of incalculable wealth and weighty political connections gets the hounds put back on their leashes for the time being, but even Adam can see that he’s in real trouble this time. He’s also been thinking about Lilith’s seemingly impossible knack for getting around unseen (the most striking example coming one afternoon, when Lilith shows up at the airport from which Adam and his dad rent their sparring jets, and dogfights Adam into a wing-stall that crashes his plane), and he’s starting to get the feeling that she’s no ordinary stalker. Then a close examination of the video he took down in Cancun turns up a clue far removed from anything Adam expected to find. There’s a moment when the screen fades to white for maybe a fifth of a second, and when Adam goes through the anomaly frame by frame, he finds an image of Lilith standing over the bed, rather than lying in it. That isn’t the weird part, though; the weird part is that this standing Lilith has crusty, coppery skin and bat wings. I guess Hell got tired of having its fury besmirched, and decided to hire a few scorned women of its own…

     Now that plainly isn’t something that a cool, cool partying dude is qualified to handle on his own, so Adam calls immediately for backup. First, he turns to Jason— which is understandable given both the boys’ close friendship and Jason’s assurances that they would still be best buds even if Adam really had drowned Heather after beating her senseless with a beer bottle— but two heads are definitely not any better than one when both of the heads in question require prefixes like “knuckle” and “chuckle.” Jason’s brilliant plan is to go out to a nightclub in order to take Adam’s mind off his troubles; this would be a lousy idea even if Lilith didn’t appear as per usual at the very same club, seduce the thoroughly sloshed Jason while Adam was busy with yet another girl, and murder Mr. Wingman in the women’s bathroom. Dad, meanwhile, picks this moment to experiment with Tough Love, ignoring Adam’s phone calls and turning him away when he shows up at the old homestead in the middle of the night, unmistakably flipping out. In the end, Adam is driven to the last resort of the truly desperate and completely clueless— a phone number from a pop-up ad on the internet. The ad was placed by a man who calls himself “Sentinel” (Gary Busey, from Predator 2 and Silver Bullet), and he bills himself as a professional demon-slayer. Imagine a cross between Abraham Van Helsing and Dog the Bounty Hunter, and you’ll get the general idea. Succubus: Hell Bent is about to show us all how stupid it really is.

     Although the two films’ subject matter exhibits only the slightest of mutual similarities, the movie that Succubus: Hell Bent reminds me of most is Cutting Class. Like that tawdry late-80’s slasher rehash, Succubus is simultaneously contemptibly tame and repellently sleazy, and as the movie wears on, it tries increasingly to cover for its shortcomings with ineptly executed and tonally inappropriate comedy. It makes for a striking example of what I have come to think of as the Maxim Principle. By taking such great pains to keep crotches, nipples, and butt-cracks out of the shot while simultaneously offering up its actresses as little more than objects to be leered at, Succubus winds up looking a great deal sleazier than any comparable movie that has the courage to come right out and admit, “Yeah, this is smut, alright.” Whether we’re talking about photo spreads in the “laddie” magazines, with their strategically placed hands and carefully calibrated camera angles, or Jessica Alba playing a stripper in Sin City while crowing about the “no nudity” clause in her standard contract, what it amounts to is lechery compounded by hypocrisy. It should be obvious by now that I have no problem whatsoever with lechery, but hypocrisy is another matter. What makes it actually offensive in this case is that hiding somewhere beneath Succubus: Hell Bent’s tacky surface is something very much like a Message Movie about the occupational hazards of being a woman-exploiting fuckhead. We don’t seem to be meant to like Adam very much, Heather and Detective Pei are about the closest things to a sympathetic character that ever appear, and the almost 70’s-style ending has a distinct note of comeuppance about it. At first glance, it looks like the same sort of duplicity that this stratum of cinema has traded in since the first version of Traffic in Souls, but combine it with the Maxim Principle, and what you get is more like triplicity. Not only does this film wag its finger about exploitation while exploiting vigorously itself, but it precisely modulates its exploitation so as to remain always technically outside the letter of what that term is generally taken to mean in modern parlance. It wants to have its cake, eat it, and disavow any knowledge of cake in the event that someone should ask about that empty space in the middle of the table setting.



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