When making a meta-commentary on a genre, is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed? When Wes Craven gave us Scream, with its rule-spouting characters, the self-awareness of genre clichés was somewhat fresh, but now, post-Cabin in the Woods, the subversion of the genre has almost become a cliché in and of itself, and herein lies the danger. In the case of Blood Fest, writer/director Owen Egerton seems to be overcompensating by throwing in more and more nods and winks to classic genre tropes, what he’s basically saying is that, “If you can’t be original at least be big!” The result of course is something less than desirable.
The film opens with the standard prologue, where we see a mother and son watching a classic horror film on Halloween night – cliché number one for this film – and she imparts to him the wise words, “You are stronger than anything you are afraid of.” This is a nice sentiment, but it doesn’t do her much good as she is then brutally murdered by a masked psychopath. So the sentiment should have been more accurately stated as, “You are stronger than anything you are afraid of, unless what you are afraid of is armed with a big fucking knife.” The film then jumps to the present day where we are introduced to our hero Dax (Robbie Kay), who was the young boy who witnessed his mother’s murder, and as anyone whose life has been severely traumatized by violence, he has become obsessed with horror movies – cliché number two – and despite his dad forbidding him to attend Blood Fest, a horror convention taking up 700 acres that houses tributes to all the great horror genres, we know Dax is going to attend, come Hell or high water. Dax also works at a video rental store, which is, if not quite a cliché, almost anachronistic at this point.
Dax’s father (Tate Donovan) is a psychiatrist, who has turned his wife’s murder into a rallying cry for his crusade to rid the world of such despicable entertainment: “Blood Fest is a gathering of freaks and degenerates celebrating mindless violence and gore,” and even his sister Jayme (Rebecca Lynne Wagner) tells him Blood Fest is going to suck. But where would we be if our heroes ever listened to such sage advice? So Dax manages to sneak into Blood Fest, along with his best friends Sam (Seychelle Gabriel) and Krill (Jacob Batalon), and they meet up with Ashely (Barbara Dunkelman) who is “starring” in an upcoming horror flick, and along with her is douchebag director Lenjamin Caine (Nicholas Rutherford); their night of true horror is about to begin.
The evening gets off to a rough start when Dax meets the star of one of his favourite horror franchise The Arborist, Roger Hinckley (Chris Doubek), who is a jerk to Dax so that we can check off the “Never meet your heroes, it will always be a letdown” cliché box, but things take a turn for the worst when Anthony Walsh (Owen Egerton), the festival’s maniacal organizer and horror film producer, claims he “wants to make movies scary again,” and unleashes blood and carnage as real chainsaw-wielding maniacs and knife-brandishing psychos tear into the crowd with relish.
Turns out that Walsh has a secret agenda, one that somehow revolves around brutally murdering all the attendees of Blood Fest, and filming it for some arcane purpose. The premise is simply ludicrous, how exactly is this supposed to work? However he cuts this “movie” together, it will end with him either in jail or a nuthouse, but logic and reality kind of take a backseat as the proceedings follow our intrepid group of heroes as they try to fight their way to freedom. Due to Dax being an expert on “The rules to survive a horror movie,” he becomes the de facto leader, and so we are treated to hazardous trips through the various park areas; a zombie infested forest, a cabin in the woods with something nasty in the basement, a group of sexy vampires, a tortureland that is only missing its maniacal puppet, killer clowns — who are not from space — and the location of Dax’s favourite film The Arborist. Some of this is a lot of fun, and the actors do their best with the material given, but much of it stretches our suspension of disbelief a tad too far, especially when we learn more and more on how the park functions, because there isn’t anything actually supernatural going on, it’s all manufactured by Walsh and his mysterious silent partner. Give any of this a moment’s thought, and the whole picture starts to unravel.
Note: We get several scenes of Walsh and a bunch of his subordinates operating out of some sort of control room, as they control the monsters in the park, and the similarities between this and the office workers in Cabin in the Woods is well beyond homage and is basically outright theft.
And exactly how did Walsh create this army of monsters?
• He took local mental patients and had them watch the same horror film on repeat.
• Walsh has video gamers unknowingly controlling real corpses to kill the guests, which may not be supernatural but is batshit mad science that is beyond far-fetched.
• The vampires are hot Eastern European women who have been promised visas, have had their teeth filed, and are infected with Porphyria.
• The killer clowns he found on craigslist.
As Dax and his friends flee from one encounter to the next, with members being picked off along the way, fans of horror films will most likely enjoy ticking off the references to films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Evil Dead, The Ring and the Saw franchise, just to name a few, but genre aficionados might find that the film’s complete lack of originality a bit wearing at times. Now there is a lot of fun to be had with this film, the gore and monster designs are quite good, and the Zachary Levi cameo was simply brilliant, but by the time the end credits rolled, I’d pretty much lost interest in who does or does not survive this killer park, and by the halfway mark, if you hadn’t guessed the identity of the knife-wielding psycho or who Walsh’s “Silent Partner” is, then you probably aren’t this film’s target audience in the first place. It’s clear that Owen Egerton truly loves this genre, but Blood Fest is basically ninety minutes of him going “Remember this bit from Evil Dead?” or “Wasn’t Killer Clowns From Outer Space a lot of fun?” all while spending no time on actual motivations or logic. Thanks, by the time the big climax arrives, we just don’t care.
As a meta-horror-comedy, Blood Fest offers some decent gore, a few laughs, and a bunch of nods to the classics of the genre, but not much else. The acting is pretty over-the-top, though I’m sure that is intentional, but this often results in the undercutting of any true elements of horror, so what we are left with is a rather shallow entry into the genre. This film is Owen Egerton’s love letter to horror films, and I’m sure many horror fans will most likely get a real kick out of this little flick as it’s really not that bad, I just wish Egerton had put a little more of himself into the project and less of everybody else’s stuff.
Blood Fest (2018)
There are some genuine good moments in Blood Fest – Jacob Batalon’s performance as Krill providing many of them – but the film simply can’t overcome the very shallow nature of its premise.
Tip to future filmmakers: Referencing something that was great does not equate to your product being great.