With the upcoming release of Halloween (2018) on October 19th, March’s Strangers: Prey At Night, and last year’s Terrifier, it seems there is a small resurgence of slasher films. Hell Fest (seemingly coming out of nowhere and hitting theaters September 28th) fits this mold of modern slashers perfectly, while at the same time calling back to films from the 70s and 80s.
Fans of the genre should catch this one on the big screen while they can. Hell Fest could easily be the next series of yearly Halloween films as Saw or Paranormal Activity used to be, and before those, Halloween – before they were released in August, which started with Halloween: H20 in 1998.
Hell Fest is simple in its premise, much like the era of slasher films it’s emulating: A group of snarky college kids go to a Halloween theme park, “Hell Fest”, only to be stalked and murdered by a masked man known as “The Other”.
Though Hell Fest does not tread new ground in the slasher sub-genre, nor challenge the rules of the genre either, like Scream, that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything fun to be found here.
For one, the location and the set-up for the film is fantastic. Being inside a Halloween theme attraction can be scary on its own, with things popping out, people dressed up trying to scare the customers, not to mention the whole unsettling feeling one gets just stepping into those places – rooms that get smaller, narrow hallways, strobe lights, things touching your face in the dark – only add to the atmosphere and claustrophobic feeling of the whole place. Now imagine if someone was trying to murder you while you were inside one of these places and you had fight get away from them thought scary props, twisting hallways, and dark rooms.
A scary thought, right?
The second thing that stands out in Hell Fest is “The Other”. Not only is his mask scary, (much in the way Michael Myers’ mask is scary because it’s emotionless) but his character is realistic. “The Other” could be anyone: your brother, friend, even your neighbor. That thought alone is scary, and makes anyone who’s visited (or thinking about visiting) a Halloween park wonder about the ‘actors’ that are scaring them.
Who is the person behind the make-up or the mask? What are their intentions? To scare or to maim?
Again, this idea is nothing new. The Houses October Built dealt with this subject as well. But the difference between Hell Fest and The Houses October Built is that Hell Fest is more grounded in reality, making it feel as if it could happen.
As stated before the setting of Hell Fest is fantastic, and the production designer went to great lengths to put the characters in a a seemingly real life Halloween Park – the neon lighting, the mechanical monsters popping out of the walls and dropping from the ceiling, ‘actors’ in costumes jumping out at our protagonists as they venture their way through Hellfest – that works for the perfect backdrop for the story.
Getting back to the retro feeling of the film, Hellfest relies on old-school F/X rather than CGI. There are some rather satisfying kills in the film, though it is not overly gory. Still, gore hounds should be pleased when the blood does flies.
Director Gregory Plotkin, allows the story to unfold around the group of kids slowly (much like films of the 70s and 80s would, as the body count grows) but keeps the pace by moving the kids through Hell Fests’ scary rooms and rides. His camera set-ups in these sequences are brilliant, allowing the audience to experience the scares of Hellfest as they unfold to the characters, almost as if the viewer is walking with them. He crafts several unnerving and suspenseful sequences and a few misdirects that cause our characters to get split up (in a logical manner) and eventually get picked off one by one.
Though most of the characters are the run-of-the-mill horror cliché characters that have been in countless slasher films before, there is something about this cast that elevates them above some of the others – especially the quirky romanced between Natalie (Amy Forsyth) and Gavin (Roby Attal) that is both endearing and innocent and makes the viewers instantly root for them. Still, these characters are college kids and they are doing such antics while out looking to have fun at a Halloween park, and are played that way with no deep motivations or characterization – which makes the film a hell of a lot of throwback fun that it isn’t bogged down with needless character development.
The shining light maybe “The Other” He’s equally creepy as he is dangerous in an unassuming way, with his expressionless mask and his ability to blend in with the crowd around him; you can never tell where he might pop up or who he may be – the person next to you, one of the security guards, the executioner?
There is one disappointment of the film and that’s the minimal use of Tony Todd (Candyman) who may have a total of five minutes screen time. Though his voice is peppered throughout the film, adding to the creepiness, he is vastly underused in the film. If Hell Fest is a success, and sequels are greenlit, one wonders if Todd’s character will have a bigger role in future instalments of the franchise, because the feeling is that there is more to his character than what was shown in the film.
Hell Fest is a fun, throwback slasher flick that gets to the spirit of going to a Halloween attraction but adding another element of danger. If you love slasher films of the past, this is a film for you, so go check it out at the theaters this weekend and hopefully this can become a yearly event like Saw, Paranormal Activity, and Halloween used to be.
9 out of 10 stars.