Directed by: Gregory Plotkin
Premise: A group of friends attend a horror-themed amusement park. They are stalked by a masked killer who hides his murders among the artificial scares.
What Works: Hell Fest is a very different horror picture from the kinds of films that currently dominate the genre. Unlike The Witch or The Conjuring series, which tell supernatural stories in a drab color scheme, Hell Fest is a slasher picture with a colorful visual style. It is well shot with unusual camera angles and creative use of color and darkness. While it looks contemporary, Hell Fest is in many respects a throwback to 1980s horror pictures like The Funhouse and Tourist Trap. It has a similar scenario and sensibility as a group of young people are stalked and killed by a masked murderer. Hell Fest also strikes a balance of fun and brutality. Unlike some of the extreme body horror pictures of the previous decade like Saw and Hostel, this offers a more pleasant kind of scare and Hell Fest strikes a balance of fun and brutality. Placing the characters in the theme park offers some unique visual opportunities and the movie has a great look that carries it quite far. The production design of Hell Fest is its most impressive quality and the setting combined with the slick cinematography gives this movie a fun and energetic vibe that smooths over some of its weaknesses. Hell Fest is also uplifted by the three female leads played by Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus, and Amy Forsyth. All three have a likable screen presence and Taylor-Klaus has tremendous energy and humor.
What Doesn’t: Hell Fest has a great setting and the park looks like it would be a fun place to visit but most of the filmmakers’ imagination is invested in the production design. As a slasher picture, Hell Fest isn’t especially distinguished. Part of the joy of slashers, especially from the era that Hell Fest calls back to, is their Grand-Guignol showmanship; in their heyday these movies were loved (and hated) for their creative kills and outrageous gore. Hell Fest doesn’t have much to offer on that front. The kills are mostly perfunctory stabbings and at least one death is lifted right out of a Lucio Fulci picture. Most of the scares in Hell Fest are of the same sort, in which an employee at the amusement park jumps out of a closet and grabs one of the principal actors. This can be fun in a real life haunted house but less so watching it happen in a movie and the gag gets repetitive after a while. There’s also no depth to any of the characters. That’s consistent with the slasher films that Hell Fest descends from but the male characters are not even types and so their deaths have little impact.
Bottom Line: Hell Fest is an enjoyable horror picture. It’s lightweight and derivative but it’s stylishly shot and has a sense of fun. This is the kind of populist horror picture that ought to appeal to viewers who wouldn’t ordinarily attend a scary movie.
Episode: #719 (October 7, 2018)