With October just around the corner, Hell Fest gets the Halloween movie season officially kicked off. Haunted scares have dramatically risen in popularity over the last several years. In southern Ontario, we’ve seen several summer theme parks extend their season with elaborate haunted mazes and costumed performers. Hell Fest builds this idea right into the movie, which also benefits from being set on Halloween night. So should you buy a ticket to see Hell Fest in the cineplex? Or are you better to just visit your local haunted theme park?
Natalie (Amy Forsyth) takes a break from her college studies to come home and visit best friend, Brooke (Reign Edwards). But her hopes for a quiet girls’ weekend are dashed when Brooke’s boyfriend and and friends get them all-access VIP passes to Hell Fest. A Halloween haunt with mazes and costumed performers, Hell Fest promises the ultimate Halloween experience. However, the evening takes a deadly turn when a serial killer anonymously slips in among the costumed staff and begins stalking Natalie and her friends.
Hell Fest Will Get You in the Mood for Halloween
From its opening scene, Hell Fest proves its more than capable of exploiting its premise and location. To his credit, director Gregory Plotkin captures that feeling of walking through a genuine haunted attraction. There’s a manic energy to the proceedings that carries the story. For audiences watching Hell Fest in theatres, you’ll be treated to several fun jump scares as shadowy figures jump out over and over. Production designer Michael Perry put in some serious overtime as he seemingly never runs out of ideas for the fictional theme park.
This is a pure popcorn flick that aims to give its audience as many good jolts as possible.
To be fair, Hell Fest won’t be mistaken for more disturbing fare like Hereditary. This is a pure popcorn flick that aims to give its audience as many good jolts as possible. For horror fans just looking for a fun horror film, you’re not likely to be disappointed. There are a few well staged and executed horror moments. A broken down maze ride squeezes out maximum tension along with a clever fake-out. A bathroom stall scene will have you watching the corner of the theatre screen carefully. Not surprisingly, Plotkin has worked as an editor on several strong horror films. Its shows in Hell Fest’s carefully staged jump scares.
Hell Fest Leaves Something on the Table With Its Death Scenes
Ultimately, slasher films live and die based on their death scenes and the memorability of their killers. In this regard, Hell Fest merely gets a passing grade. Though some critics have complained that Hell Fest doesn’t take advantage of its R-rating, this is not entirely true. Plotkin gives slasher fans a couple of grisly deaths that should have movie patrons squirming. People with a needle phobia are apt to cover their faces in one scene. A kill using the strongman’s hammer from the high striker’s game is particularly wicked.
Comparatively, a few of the other death scenes are underwhelming. Plotkin misses an opportunity to make a statement in a key revealing scene halfway into the movie. Two other deaths in the third act feel rushed. The R-rating gets a bit of a workout, but there’s nothing in Hell Fest that will make audiences forget Friday the 13th or the Hatchet series.
As for the film’s killer, Hell Fest’s masked madman falls somewhere between creepy and bland. The mask strikes the right horror aesthetic, while the killer demonstrates some mannerisms that provide a sense of menace. But something is missing. The screenplay-by-committee introduces the idea that the killer is set off by women who claim to not be afraid of him. That idea could have made for an interesting premise in today’s political climate. Sadly, Hell Fest never delves into the idea choosing to focus on scares. Plotkin does include one final unnerving moment that redeems its killer and fuels potential for sequels.
Characters Are Sacrificed for Scares
Perhaps the weakest aspect of Hell Fest is its absence of character development. Plotkin wastes almost no time getting his characters into the Hell Fest theme park. This is both the movie’s strength and weakness. No character receives any development or fleshing out. Nonetheless, Hell Fest’s screenplay, credited to six different writers, is the movie’s biggest weakness. As such, Plotkin speeding up the action isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And let’s face it, no one is watching a slasher film for deep character arcs.
Tony Todd shows up for all of about five minutes, but what a five minutes. His brief performance is a reminder of just how good Todd can be in the genre.
In spite of the weak script, Hell Fest still gets better performances than you’d likely expect. Amy Forsyth and her love interest, played by Roby Attal, are actually quite endearing in their respective roles. Tony Todd shows up for all of about five minutes, but what a five minutes. His brief performance is a fun reminder of just how good Todd can be in the genre. But Bex Taylor-Kraus owns Hell Fest with her performance. She’s makes every scene in which she’s on screen better.
Another Example of a TomatoMeter Score Underserving Horror Films
Like The Nun, Hell Fest has taken a critical pummelling on Rotten Tomatoes. Now I’ve reviewed quite a few horror films for this site in 2018. So it’s with a high level of confidence, I can say that Hell Fest is much better than what its TomatoMeter suggests. Obviously, Hell Fest is not gong to draw comparisons to more high-brow horror like Hereditary or Get Out. Essentially, this is a slickly produced B-film in the tradition of older slasher films and fun drive-in fare like House of Wax. On this front, Hell Fest more than delivers on what it promises.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: B