“Guys, Phantom of the Opera was 30 years ago. Let it go.”
“Guys, Phantom of the Opera was 30 years ago. Let it go.”

Halloween is fast approaching—cue the crap horror films.

At least Hell Fest isn’t another Saw film. With the arrival of last year’s Jigsaw, I thought we were going to start getting blasted with annual Saw films again. Alas, Jigsaw did not start a trend. I check this off as a good thing in my book. OK, I don’t actually have a book where I check off movie-related things. That would be pathetic and sad.

Hell Fest is in the spirit of I Know What You Did Last Summer in that it rips off a lot of countless horror films that came before it, and it also sucks hard.

Natalie (Amy Forsyth) joins some friends for an evening of terror as they attend an amusement park full of haunted houses, death mazes and masked cast members running around the park with a mandate to scare the shit out of them. Walking among the paid crew, wearing a mask and hoodie similar to many other characters in the park, is an anonymous man who isn’t going for make-believe. He actually likes to really kill people with ice picks, mallets, guillotines, syringes and knives.

Much of the action takes place in the dark, with flashing strobe lights and shades of red and backed by stock horror sound effects. There’s a pretty good reason why none of this is scary. Director Gregory Plotkin films in a way that renders the locales flat, cheap looking and stagey, just like your average amusement park haunted house. Maybe this stuff is a little scary in real life, but is sitting in a movie theater watching folks enter into these themed rooms scary? No, not really.

Hell Fest has almost zero mystery in that we see the killer before the melee pass through an entrance gate—back to the camera—put on a mask and pick up a weapon. Everybody in the group of friends going through the park with Natalie is present and accounted for, so the killer is just a creep agrave; la Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, minus the true sense of dread when it came to Myers in the first Halloween. So, if you go to this movie thinking you might have some fun trying to guess the killer, there’s absolutely no mystery.

As for the cast, Forsyth actually has the makings of an interesting performer, so it’s sort of sad watching her slog through this. Of course, the friend group has the chipper punk rock girl, Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus). She’s “the funny one” who isn’t really funny, just annoying. She, along with many of the other players, are just cannon fodder for the killer, with none of them standing out as more than just stereotypes.

The “kills” themselves earn an R-rating, but barely. One guy gets his head crushed, another gets a syringe in the eye, while most get disemboweled. One of the scary prospects of the premise would have been the killer putting the dead folks out on display in the park. This happens once, briefly, near the beginning, but we only hear about the killer doing this to other victims on newscasts after the murders. There are no actual moments of park goers taking in real dead bodies thinking they are just part of the attractions. That might’ve been scary so, naturally, it’s something that doesn’t happen in this not-so-scary film.

Hell Fest doesn’t really care about actually being scary. It just wants to get from beginning to the end while killing off the cast in routine ways, never really straining for anything imaginative or genuinely frightening.

This is conveyer-belt horror cinema at its worst, as evidenced by its lame cliffhanger ending that suggests there will be a sequel. If you’re looking for true haunted house terror this Halloween, you are probably better off just going to the makeshift horror house in your neighbor’s garage the night everybody goes trick or treating. Let’s hope the revamped Halloween coming later in October packs more of a scary wallop than this one.

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