As with all review-caps, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! You’ve been warned.
Hell Fest is not stirring drama or even an intellectual, psychological horror story. It is exactly what its trailers and poster make it look like – a slasher that pays homage to the classics of the genre from the 80’s. And if you go into the theater with that in mind, you’ll have a pretty good time.
As far as plot, it’s about as derivative and basic as it gets – but what is different is the gimmick. Our nameless murderer – credited only as “The Other” (Stephen Conroy) – uses Halloween haunted-house attractions as not only his victim pool, but also as a personal weapons store. He also uses it as a clever way to hide the bodies in plain sight, so that no one knows it’s not part of the act.
It is unnerving to think that any one of the many people hired to scare us at the haunted houses/mazes/theme parks that we all go to every Halloween could be a murderer. So in that way, the flick is actually pretty effective on a psychological level. We sympathize with our heroine Natalie (Amy Forsyth), an every-girl who could be any one of us, as she and her best friend Brooke (Reign Edwards), party-girl roommate Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus), and their boyfriends Asher (Matt Mercurio), Quinn (Christian James) and potential boyfriend for Natalie, Gavin (Roby Attal), blithely go about their night of fun and hooking up – not realizing that for most of them, it’s their last.
There are several well-crafted sequences that shock, if not outright scare – when The Other kills a girl right in front of Natalie, and she watches the whole thing not knowing it’s real, it’s outright nauseating. In the very first murder that we see (which takes place a couple of years beforehand), The Other hangs the poor girl he’s killed from the ceiling among a room full of hanging corpses, where she won’t be noticed. That’s just f***ed up.
Perhaps most disturbing of all is when we finally see The Other return to his home – and it’s a perfectly normal, suburban house. He stows his mask and trophies in a garage that looks like it’s right out of a Lowe’s commercial. He then goes into the living room of the house where a sweet little girl (Elle Graham) sleeps off her candy-induced coma. She wakes up, sees him and runs to hug him, calling him Daddy. That’s just creepy.
Could the story have been better? Absolutely. Why the same writers (a lot of them, too, there are three credited plus two more for story) who came up with such clever ideas and effective scenes couldn’t have written a better overall script is beyond me. Could they have made better use out of horror/sci-fi legend Tony Todd? Abso-friggin’-lutely. Why you would only have the guy in one sequence just makes no sense at all.
And the director, Gregory Plotkin, has tons of experience in horror – as an editor, he’s cut almost all of the Paranormal Activity franchise – not to mention Get Out and Happy Death Day, both of which were excellent. On top of all that, Gale Anne Hurd is one of the producers. So it is frustrating that with so much talent involved, that Hell Fest never manages to break out of the confines of the straight-ahead slasher.
That said, I understand what they were going for, and I think it captures that 80’s feel, simplicity and scary fun of Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. And in contrast to the more recent, cerebral horror flicks like Hereditary and mother! – which I would say took ‘cerebral’ to the point of being maddeningly incomprehensible – there’s something to be said for a horror flick doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. I know I wasn’t disappointed when I left the theater – I got grossed out, freaked out and had fun. So despite its unrealized potential, I’d still call Hell Fest a success.
Hell Fest is now in theaters nationwide.
Directed by: Gregory Plotkin
Written by: Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler, Akela Cooper
Release Date: Sept. 28, 2018
Run Time: 89 minutes
Distributor: CBS Films