Two studios releasing movies with very similar subject matter is nothing new — Volcano and Dante’s Peak were dueling eruptions in ’97, then in 1998, both Deep Impact and Armageddon had the Earth being threatened by asteroids — but in 2018, we got Blood Fest, a film about a horror theme park designed to kill its patrons, and we also got Hell Fest, a movie about a horror theme park that a serial killer used as his hunting ground, but in this case both of them were pretty damn awful. Now, a killer using a carnival as a front for his murders was nothing new to the horror genre, Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse in 1981 being an early example of this, yet that film managed to generate actual frights, something director Gregory Plotkin failed to provide with his movie Hell Fest.
We are first introduced to the horror theme park Hell Fest during a quick prologue (because what’s a good slasher film without an obligatory prologue?), where a young woman is stalked and confronted by a masked figure known simply as “The Other” (Stephen Conroy). The girl is stabbed and hung up alongside the other prop victims in one of the park’s many mazes, where she is mistaken for one of the props and left hanging for some time. We then jump ahead a couple of years so that we can meet our proper cast of victims; first off there is Natalie (Amy Forsyth), a studious girl arriving at the apartment of her best friend Brooke (Reign Edwards), who has organized a visit to Hell Fest, and along for the ride is Brooke’s current roommate Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus), who fills the role of the “bad girl” in this particular slasher film. Then we have her boyfriend Asher (Matt Mercurio) and Brooke’s boyfriend Quinn (Christian James), who are around simply to provide more bodies to add to the film’s kill count, as they have next to no actual character traits other than being attractive and male, and finally there is Gavin (Roby Attal), who is attracted to Natalie and is the one responsible for setting up this night’s entertainment.
Hell Fest is not a mystery — Gavin is not the killer, nor do we ever find out who “The Other” actually is — Hell Fest is simply a collection of jump scares set amongst some amazing set pieces. Seriously, the art direction in this film is pretty badass, and production designer Michael Perry and art director Mark Dillon deserve all the kudos here. What the film doesn’t have is any characters for us to give a damn about, and that is a key ingredient for a film of this genre if it hopes to succeed, and though Natalie is set up as the “Final Girl” — being the focused target of the killer — we are given little to no information about her. It’s clear that the true star of this movie is the aforementioned sets, and we do get a lot of interesting locations for the film’s killer to stalk his victims through, but as we don’t give two shits for this particular collection of cardboard targets, any chance of the director building proper suspense is severely undermined.
Let’s talk a little more about the mechanics of this park. We are told that this is a traveling theme park, like some kind of horror carnival, but the sheer size and scope of the grounds, and the attractions within, clearly flies in the face of that claim. Our cast of characters wander in and out of multiple horror mazes, some simply staggering in their sheer size, and there is no way that at the end of the weekend a group of Teamsters are loading it all up onto a bunch of trucks at the end of the day. And exactly how much money would this park cost to operate? The mazes and park grounds are populated with hundreds of costumed “actors” and even at minimum wage the salary budget alone would have to be astronomical. Then you have all the animatronic monsters, mechanical devices, and rides that would need constant upkeep and maintenance, so you’re looking at the operational expense of a Disney Theme Park.
• Is the killer humming “Pop Goes the Weasel” supposed to be creepy?
• The killer seems to target people who claim not to be scared, which is an interesting idea but the film can’t be bothered to develop it.
• Security personnel refuse to believe that there is a killer loose in the park, even though two years ago there was a killer loose in their park.
• There is a cool bit with a prop guillotine not actually being sharp, thus thwarting the killer’s attempt at beheading one of the girls, but then that scene concludes with the girl dying anyway, making it all pointless.
• The killer has almost supernatural abilities when it comes to tracking Natalie throughout this massive park. I kept waiting for the reveal that he’d somehow put a GPS tracker on her.
• An area of the park is called the “Dead Lands” where guests must sign liability waivers because the “monsters” are allowed to touch and grab you, but there is no waiver in the world that could ever save this park from being sued into the ground.
Owen Egerton’s Blood Fest was an over-the-top horror movie, with a ridiculous premise that only gets bonus points for just how balls to the wall moronic it was, while Gregory Plotkin’s Hell Fest doesn’t really have anything going for it other than the cool location. When Hell Fest staggers to its unstartling conclusion, which of course hints at further installments, we as a viewer are left with the simple desire to have our ninety minutes back.
Hell Fest (2018)
Movie Rank - 4/10
Hell Fest may be rated “R” but it’s a pretty tepid affair as horror films go, and the only positive aspect of the film is the setting, but even then that just has you pondering the whole impossibility of a park like this existing.