31 Days to Scare ~ Hell Fest (2018)

The Facts:

Synopsis: A masked serial killer turns a horror themed amusement park into his own personal playground, terrorizing a group of friends while the rest of the patrons believe that it is all part of the show.

Stars: Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Christian James, Matt Mercurio, Tony Todd

Director: Gregory Plotkin

Rated: R

Running Length: 89 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I’ve always been a fan of haunted houses and a few years back I had the chance to step behind the scenes and be a part of one of them in my hometown.  As much fun as it is going through a creepy maze or demented house of horror I have to say that when you’re the one doing the scaring the enjoyment factor is raised several notches.  On the flip side, it makes it hard to go back to the other side of the scare which is why movies like the otherwise respectable Hell Fest don’t have quite the same impact on me now.

Though it possesses little in the way of actual scares, director Gregory Plotkin (Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension) has crafted a good-looking movie that hums along nicely for it’s brief running time.  Plotkin has assembled a cabal of fresh-faced actors that do fine with the material and even at times elevate it from the paint-by-numbers schlock it most certainly is.  That’s not to say the script from Seth M. Sherwood and Blair Butler is total hogwash because there’s an interesting concept here: killer blends in among the revelers at Hell Fest, eventually targeting a woman and her friends as they work through mazes and rides that take them deeper into frightening territory.

Arriving in town just in time to accompany her friends to Hell Fest, Natalie (Amy Forsyth) isn’t much for scares but is interested in seeing potential love interest Gavin (Roby Attal) who has secured VIP passes for everyone.  Best friend Brooke (Reign Edwards) and smart-acre Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus) have their own boyfriends in tow so it becomes a triple date that’s quickly interrupted by a masked killer that starts to pick people off one-by-one as the night progresses.  Instead of heeding her own gut instincts, Natalie writes off her fears she’s being stalked as just a part of the price of admission in being scared but realizes too late she’s right on the money in feeling like her neck is on the line.

A few things don’t quite pan out here.  We’re told Hell Fest is so popular the entire run of dates has sold out yet nothing ever seems too busy.  Anyone that has ever been to an even marginally popular haunted attraction knows you are almost always packed shoulder to shoulder with other guests; that Natalie and her friends seem to have plenty of room to move about (and hang out in) these spaces is far-fetched.  Also, everyone seems to brush off the impending threat of death without much fanfare.  I know it’s a “busy” night and scares are the name of the game but is no one actually working at these places were bodies are left and discovering the gooey remains?

Those quibbles aside, this is a strange R-rated feature that doesn’t go all the way with its rating.  The kills are relatively tame and a few characters are disappointingly dispatched without much of a send-off.  With the size of the cast you would think that the writers and director could have come up with more showcases of gory offings just to please those looking for something a step up from a PG-13 rating.  Only a death by mallet and a guillotine sequence manage to stir some creative juices but they aren’t enough to help separate Hell Fest from other low-impact horror flicks available.  For reference, seek out The Funhouse from 1981 instead, it isn’t great either but that one at least makes good on some smart kills.

Even so, I’m giving this one a partial recommendation on the basis that it’s more than decent in production quality with respectable performances.  Also, I for one liked seeing the different attractions the gang screams their way through.  I can only imagine what those VIP tickets cost to the fictional Hell Fest of the movie but gaining entrance to Hell Fest at your local theater is worth a $5 matinee admission.

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