Halloween is fast approaching … so 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 get blasted with annual Saw films again. Thankfully, Jigsaw did not start a trend. Instead, Hell Fest is in the spirit of I Know What You Did Last Summer in that it rips off 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 employees running around the park with a mandate to scare the shit out of them. However, among the paid crew is an anonymous person—wearing a mask and hoodie like many others in the park—who isn’t going for make believe. He actually wants to kill people with ice picks, mallets, guillotines, syringes and standard-issue knives.
Much of the action takes place in the dark, with flashing strobe lights and shades of red, all 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 settings flat and cheap-looking, just like your average amusement-park haunted house. This stuff may be a little scary in real life, but it’s not while sitting in a movie theater.
Hell Fest has almost zero mystery, because early on, we see the killer—with his 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 à la Jason or Michael Myers, minus the true sense of dread when it came to Myers in the first Halloween. If you go to this movie thinking you might have some fun trying to guess who the killer is, no luck: There’s absolutely no mystery.
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 and many of the other players are just cannon fodder for the killer, with none of them standing out beyond stereotypes.
The “kills” earn an R-rating, but barely. One guy gets his head crushed; another gets a syringe in an eye, while most get disemboweled. One of the scary prospects of the premise is the killer could put the dead folks out on display in the park. This happens once, briefly, near the beginning, but we only hear on newscasts about the killer doing this to other victims. There are no actual moments of park-goers seeing real dead bodies and thinking they are just part of the attractions. That might’ve been scary—so, naturally, it does not happen.
Hell Fest doesn’t seem like it was made to actually be scary. It just wants to get from beginning to end while killing off the cast in routine ways, never really going for anything imaginative or genuinely frightening. This is conveyer-belt horror cinema at its worst, as evidenced by the lame cliffhanger ending that suggests there will be a sequel.
If you are looking for true haunted-house terror this Halloween, you are better off just going to the makeshift horror house in your neighbor’s garage. Let’s hope the revamped Halloween, coming later in October, packs more of a scary wallop.
Hell Fest is playing at theaters across the valley.