J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Hell Fest: People are Queueing-Up to Get In and Dying to Get Out


Horror movies are supposed to be cathartic, but you wouldn’t want to be in one, unless you already were. Take Natalie and her boring friends. They are characters in a horror movie, so they might as well go to a special horror theme park, because it will make it much easier for a serial killer to stalk them there. They should know better, but they will break just about every rule of horror movie survival in Gregory Plotkin’s Hell Fest (trailer here), which releases today on DVD.

For some reason, Natalie has been out of the picture for a while, but now she is back. To celebrate, her bestie Brooke has organized a trip to Hell Fest with her new roommate, Taylor (who Natalie never could stand) and their respective guy pals. In Natalie’s case, she and Gavin are not quite together yet, but he is hoping the VIP access he arranged at Hell Fest will duly impress. Unfortunately, an unnamed serial killer who preys on patrons of haunted houses and creepy theme parks also came to play. Typically, he can rack up a decent body count, because potential witnesses usually assume it is all part of the show. This time around, Natalie notices his first kill of the night looks a little too real, so he starts stalking her group.

Hell Fest makes us wish we had given Owen Egerton’s Blood Fest a more enthusiast review, because it does so much more with precisely the same premise. In Blood, the rules of horror movies are important. Whenever somebody breaks them, they know they are asking for trouble. In contrast, the stock characters of Hell Fest split up and wander off on their own all the time, without giving it a second thought. Egerton also creates a richer backstory, including scores of fictional horror franchises that are incorporated into the Blood Fest park attractions. Horror fest keeps everything generic and therefore indistinguishable from dozens of previous horror flicks (like The Funhouse Massacre, which is probably even better than Blood Fest).

The characterization is minimal, but the cast is not bad. Amy Forsythe’s Natalie is relatively intuitive and assertive, especially by genre standards. Bex Taylor-Klaus scratches out a few laughs as the snarky frienemy. Fans will also be psyched to see the name of genre legend Tony Todd in the credits, but he is mostly heard as the official voice of Hell Fest—and only briefly seen as “the Barker” in one of park’s gruesome stage shows.

Speaking of genre legends, super-producer Gale Anne Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens, The Walking Dead) lent the film her prestige and organizational talents, but it is hard to understand why, judging from thee final product. To put it plainly, this general concept has been done better in at least two vastly superior films that arguably have more respect for the fans and conventions of the horror genre. So, what’s the point of Hell Fest? Not recommended, it is now available on DVD and BluRay.

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