Review by LL Soares
Since I’m a fan of 80s slasher films, I’m always curious to check out any new films in the genre, even if they’re almost always disappointing. Bad slasher films have been the norm over the past 18 years, and it hasn’t done much to help the genre at all. The latest example is HELL FEST (2018), directed by Gregory Plotkin, who also gave us PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION (2015).
One of this movie’s pluses is the location. It takes place over one night at a Halloween-themed festival, made up of scary mazes where people in costume jump out at you. The killer is a guy in a zombie mask and a hoodie, whose face we never see, who kills a girl and strings her up from the ceiling in the opening scene. Jump two years ahead to our current story, where a bunch of kids show up at the titular HELL FEST for some scares. The kids feature a few more sympathetic members, especially Amy Forsyth (also currently in the movie BEAUTIFUL BOY, and on such shows as RISE, 2018, and CHANNEL ZERO, 2017) as Natalie, who is pretty much the lead here. Sweet, shy, and very likable, Natalie is having a rough time with classes in college when she comes back home for a little R&R, namely hanging out with her BFF Brooke (Reign Edwards, of the TV shows MACGYVER, 2017-2018, and SNOWFALL, 2017-2018).
Natalie is a little bummed to see that Brooke now lives with roommate Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus, who was terrific as “Bullet” on the third season of the AMC series THE KILLING IN 2013, but isn’t given much to work with here), a punky girl who they both went to school with, and who Natalie is sure doesn’t like her (Taylor frequently calls Natalie the nickname “Grade School”). But any discomfort is sidetracked by the fact that Gavin, a boy Natalie likes, has gotten them all tickets to the annual HELL FEST of the title. While Natalie clearly isn’t a big fan of being scared, the idea of spending some time with Gavin (Roby Attal), who actually asked about her while she was gone, clearly makes the visit home a little better. Like Natalie, Gavin is awkward but sweet, and they clearly seem to be hitting it off once everyone gathers at the festival to be scared. Also along for the ride are Taylor’s boyfriend, Asher (Matt Mercurio), and Brooke’s boyfriend, Quinn (Christian James), who are also friends of Gavin, and regularly tease him for being so nerdy. Asher and Quinn, however, are easily the least interesting of our college-aged protagonists.
Our killer from that first scene/flashback, who then wore a devil mask, comes to the same festival Natalie and her friends are at, this time with a rather generic zombie mask, and the hood of his hoodie pulled up. He fixates on Natalie pretty early on after killing another girl in front of her (the kids think it’s part of the show, but Natalie thinks something is wrong, since it seems to “real”), and starts following her around the park.
The park and horror mazes themselves are interesting enough, providing lots of spooky tableaus where we wonder if the threats are real or not. Lots of jump scares where costumed creeps pop out of hidden doors, and of course, our homicidal bad guy mixed in for good measure. Who will die and when? Well, our killer takes his sweet time being a creepy stalker before he actually commences with the slaughter. In the meantime, at least we get a cameo by Tony “Candyman” Todd as a master of ceremonies during an on-stage guillotine bit, but his appearance is “cut” much too short.
Natalie is creeped out to keep seeing the zombie-mask guy always nearby and watching her, but everyone else laughs it off. They only take her worries less seriously when they reach a part of the maze/park where numerous people are dressed exactly like the killer (thus making it hard to figure out which one is really dangerous). When he finally gets tired of watching and starts killing, however, the murders come pretty close together.
Aside from park where it’s set (which actually gets to be fun at times) and some of the acting (specifically Forsyth and Edwards, who are likable and sympathetic throughout), there’s not much new here to reinvigorate the genre. Slasher movies gotta slash, and this one is no exception. As I mentioned, I found the killer’s mask particularly bland in this one, and there’s not much to distinguish him from lots of similar killers in lots of other movies. Although a semi-clever ending clearly sets things up for a sequel that may or may not ever happen (I don’t think this did very well at the box office).
HELL FEST is directed well enough by Plotkin, with a scrift by Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler, and Akela Cooper, based on a story by William Penick and Christopher Sey (that’s a lot of people involved for a script that’s so forgettable). But in the end, it’s a pretty mediocre movie, and an unremarkable slasher entry.
I give it two knives.
© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares
LL Soares gives HELL FEST – two knives.