Hell Fest is Absolutely Stabtacular
If there is one thing next to Trick-or-Treating that everyone can enjoy during the fall season, it is a visit to a local haunted house, hayride or converted theme park attraction. Clifton Hill, in Niagara Falls, has House of Frankenstein, Nightmares, and Castle Dracula for those who wish to brave ghouls, ghosts and horrific figures but somehow going any other time of the year doesn’t have the same effect. From the time of childhood, one wonders what if these turned real and what if somebody could really die. Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse was one of the first horror films to hit on this premise followed by others throughout the years, including a recent 2015 independent film called The Funhouse Massacre which was also extremely well done. Whether it was budget or a preference to keep on key concepts only, past efforts struggled to actually make the audience feel like they were really there – inside that haunted theme park complete with fog machines, neon lights, actors in costumes wandering the land and animatronic puppets that made you shiver. This brings us to Hell Fest by CBS Films; released Friday, September 28th.
From the moment the movie starts, the audience knows they are in for a ride. Whether seeing in a theater or a drive-in, that goosebumps-inducing musical score (courtesy of The Walking Dead composer Bear McCreary) hits your eardrums and transforms the viewer’s world into one of uninhibited horror movie joy. Inside one of the haunted tents, a girl is viciously slaughtered by a mysterious assailant and left hanging among the other corpse props for other attendees to admire in terror and totally unaware it was a real human body. What an excellent start for a 2018 horror movie that hit theatres nationwide.
Hell Fest is the horror movie we need
The story follows three friends, Natalie (Amy Forsyth, “Beautiful Boy”, “Channel Zero”), Brooke (Reign Edwards, “MacGyver”, “The Bold and the Beautiful” ) and Taylor (in a charismatically over-the-top performance by Bex Taylor-Klaus of MTV’s Scream: The TV Series) as they plan to attend Hell Fest, a once-a-year Halloween season travelling theme park attraction. While Natalie is not the horror aficionado, and Brooke is certainly hyped for the experience, Taylor is overjoyed and reflects exactly how one should be hyped to go to a haunted park. No decent horror movie would be complete without your male counterparts to the ladies and we are treated to Brooke’s boyfriend Quinn (Christian James, “Dollface”), who is thankfully not as clichéd as this type of character could be and in fact proves sometimes bold, and sometimes smart in the times to come. Along with Quinn is Asher (Matt Mercurio, “Black Lightning”, “Sleepy Hollow (TV)”) and Gavin (Roby Attal, “The Long Road Home”), the latter being setup as the traditional looking male lead with an innocent geeky appeal and who also happens to be the hotshot to this group by getting them VIP admission to the event. Interestingly, the audience also follows the killer as they make their way through the security gates and into Hell Fest. At no point does the film intend to insult your intelligence by this, and the killer even has to pass weaponless through the metal detectors and has their mask tucked in a pocket – costumes aren’t allowed by visitors but this mask isn’t exactly a stranger to park staff.
Let’s get to the horror shall we?
Nothing is more glorious that decent special effects and the budget spared nothing but the best as the movie set designers demonstrate. The aforementioned animatronics, fog, lighting, even the building and mural setups – this one has the works and really uses the set pieces to their full visual and visceral impact. To feel like you are in with these characters is a feat that more than delivers and instantly makes this film a passion to the horror viewer.
Tension builds as the killer’s M.O. is quickly confirmed, not only by the opening scene of the movie, but another victim that serves as a prelude to Natalie’s eventual encounter. While it has certainly been done before, such as in Halloween: Resurrection, there is something always unnerving about seeing one character watching another killed and thinking it is all part of the act and for entertainment value.
The killer soon offs one of the group members in brutal fashion. Yes, we are treated indeed to horror as it should be for this type of movie. Kudos to Director Gregory Plotkin for not shying away from using the red stuff gloriously but not gratuitously! From there, the characters immerse themselves deeper and deeper into the park on a journey to the scariest portions that truly test their fear factor. There is a clever setup where, after the killer has been pursuing our leads for some time, one is left fending for herself while the haunted ride seemingly breaks down. It is a nail-biting moment that truly captures suspense and the lighting plays perfectly to creating the intensity of the scene. One other quick note about the park journey, there is an MC host on the voice speakers that will be all too familiar to the esteemed horror fan, and when this man makes his on-screen appearance, it is during one of the climactic moments of the movie. Let’s just say these words: a stage, an executioner, a guillotine and one of our main characters. The man calling the action in complete carnival act attire is Tony Todd (“Candyman”, “Hatchet”). Strike another checkmark on the positive list.
Keep reading after the trailer
Rounding down, more are dispatched in a shockingly realistic manner, with little time to process the deaths, before the final chase is on between killer and victims. Natalie might show some flaws but she is acutely aware of her surroundings and how to evade the killer during one of the sequences involving a laser sensor. The tension continues to build until you are left to wonder who will survive and can the park security, which by now have obviously been tipped off to the murderous mayhem with victims lying dead on the pathways, come through to save the day or hinder the survival factor for Natalie and her remaining friends. Speaking of the end, it’s a superb finish and a reminder as to the glorification of mans’ pleasure to experience thrills, such as this type of horror attraction, and how far will one go to achieve it.
To put it simply, Hell Fest is the horror movie we actually did need and have always wanted; done properly with the respectful amounts of care and consideration that were needed for this type of project. The film never tries to be anything more than it is, even as a social construct for larger psychological themes, Hell Fest has been made to freak you the F out and give you a good time. Grab a beer, grab your girlfriend, boyfriend, family, whomever, and hit that theatre because Hell Fest is a festive fun time for all the right reasons.