2018 | rated R | starring Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus | directed by Gregory Plotkin | 1 hr 29 mins | Halloween Horrorfest # 3 |
While it lacks the synth music and the John Carpenter font that movies have been using lately to clue the audience in that this is an 80s horror homage, Hell Fest is very much an un-ironic, sincere attempt at recreating the experience of a B-grade 80s slasher movie. Had Blumehouse made this movie they probably would have gotten the rights to Tobe Hooper’s 1981 The Funhouse, slapped that name on this script and we’d be talking about yet another horror remake right now. As it is, Hell Fest is just very, very much like The Funhouse though a bit more detailed in it’s set design and more generic in it’s kills and killer.
Hell Fest is working off of a premise that The Houses that October Built, and it’s awful sequel, botch every Halloween: the frightening idea that it would be very easy for a real killer to hide in plain sight inside an extreme haunted house – and leave your body hanging in there for days before anyone noticed. Hell Fest’s story runs by-the-numbers. Teenagers go into park, they get murdered one-by-one by a killer who seems obsessed with our shy-girl hero Natalie (Amy Forsyth). Credited only as “The Other”, our silent, masked killer stands around and stabs people. There is no originality with the characters or imagination with the kills and for an R-rating, it’s all pretty tame stuff. The killer is Mr. Generic and he’s terrible. The movie doesn’t both much with the characters or giving them arcs or anything beyond (first) being convinced everything is fake and (then) running and screaming. Directed by editor Gary Plotnik the movie moves along pretty well and looks decent but doesn’t have an ounce of tension.
A couple of things work here though, making the movie just competent enough to probably be viewed alongside The Funhouse, Prom Night or Terror Train. For one thing, Hell Fest looks like a lot of fun. It looks like a place you’d actually want to go to on Halloween. It’s got games, drinks, atmosphere and top notch special effects and creature costumes. Guys run around as skeleton on stilts, little people with sacks on their head take you to the next ride and Bundleflies vomit on you. Rock monster statues and a demon night carnival barker played by Tony Todd (who know exclusively does cameos in horror movies) create an immersive trip to Hell. For a genre that so often forces us to watch people run for their lives through empty warehouses, this is notable.
The positive in this movie’s favor is the always engaging Bex Taylor-Klaus who looks like she’s having a blast as Mohawk-ed, Halloween-loving Taylor and the most fun, charismatic person in the movie. Hell Fest follows 6 friends, Natalie has apparently returned from a long absence (they call her “Grade School”) and the two couples are trying to hook her up with Gavin (Roby Attal). They all look and sound like real college kids. There is a natural, realistic, quality to their dialog, particularly the awkward banter between the set-up couple, and the cast has good chemistry. Selling their friendship also goes a long way, in a genre that usually puts characters together and forces them to bicker for the entire movie.
So no, nothing original, nothing that’s going to raise the pulse in either the tension or the violence department, but the sheer personality of the cast and the base-level in filmmaking competence makes Hell Fest an authentic retro 80s slasher watch. It’s rare to see a movie like this come out in 2019 that isn’t filled to the brim with nostalgia or laced with irony and self-referential jabs. It’s goals are modest. It likes being a slasher movie and nothing more.