Carnival of Terror: Frightfully fun "Hell Fest" scratches a slasher horror fan's itch
Hell Fest (2018)
89 min., rated R.
A slash-o-rama set inside a horror-themed amusement park, “Hell Fest” scratches a horror fan’s itch to see a straight-up, R-rated throwback to the slasher pics of yore with a killer backdrop. Sharing a bare framework with 2014’s found-footage excursion “The Houses October Built” and the carnivalesque setting with Tobe Hooper’s underseen 1981 gem “The Funhouse,” the film seems like it could practically write itself but is resourcefully directed by Gregory Plotkin (2015’s “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension”) and mixes a good-times vibe with taut, edgy tension. “Hell Fest” delivers exactly what it promises.
Reuniting with best friend Brooke (Reign Edwards) and roommate Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus), college student Natalie (Amy Forsyth) gets dragged to a traveling horror-themed haunt called Hell Fest on Halloween night. Joining them are Brooke’s boyfriend Quinn (Christian James), Taylor’s boyfriend Asher (Matt Mercurio), and Gavin (Roby Attal), Natalie’s crush who’s scored the group VIP wristbands to skip to the front of the lines. Even though horror isn’t Natalie’s cup of tea, she has fun getting spooked with Gavin and her friends. It’s all fun and games at first, until a man in a creepy flesh mask, who fits right in with the paid employees in the park, targets Natalie and begins following her around through each maze.
“Leatherface”), Blair Butler, and Akela Cooper is quite basic in terms of plot and victim-to-be character development, although the film moves at a good clip and the cast imbue their bare-bones roles with enough likable personality.
When it comes to a slasher movie, it’s a feature, not a bug, to watch a series of scenes with characters being stalked and killed. There are nasty, wince-inducing kills with a high-striker mallet and a non-prop syringe; a sequence involving a guillotine ratchets up the dread; and the climactic chase between the killer, Nat, and Brooke in the ultimate maze, known as Hell, makes clever use of each room, ending with one full of black-robed figures donning white masks. That the psychopath at hand comes with no true identity or motive is just as well because the truly unsettling final scene makes up for it, and there’s a leitmotif of the killer humming “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Atmospheric with a neon-colored aesthetic, the film oozes deliciously vibrant production design and creepy inspiration when the characters wander through each different maze. With the “Saw” and “Paranormal Activity” franchises fading away as the horror genre’s Halloween-released mainstays, “Hell Fest” offers a frightfully fun Halloween fix for fans of horror and amusement parks.