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Hell Fest (Movie Review)

Hell Fest (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: A group of teenagers are systematically stalked by a masked maniac at Hell Fest, an amusement park for horror fanatics.

REVIEW: Such an avid fan of slasher flicks I am that, perhaps counter-intuitively, I’ve incredibly low standards to achieve maximum amusement while watching one. That is, I don’t necessarily expect greatness from a slasher film, because outside of the Mount Rushmore of say PEEPING TOM, PSYCHO, HALLOWEEN and THE FRIDAY THE 13th, great slasher flicks simply don’t exist. Good ones certainly do (THE BURNING, MY BLOODY VALENTINE, SCREAM, etc.), but great ones? Not so much. And so, all I personally require a slasher film to do to entertain is boast a cool setting, near a double-digit-death-toll, and showcase some wildly inventive fatalities in doing so. That’s it. Simple. In fact, I might argue that a good portion of the fun to be had in watching a slasher film is not rooting for the survival of a bunch of annoying teenagers, or even a supremely likeable Final Girl, but to see exactly how they’ll meet and challenge their murderous makers. Well, consider this a roundabout way of saying Gregory Plotkin’s new slasher joint, HELL FEST, while a baldly generic derivation of the titles listed above, covers even the barest of criteria to give casual, middling and even fervent slasher heads alike a decent Halloween-time haunt!

The flick opens immediately inside a spooky Halloween attraction, where a gaggle of giggling teens wanders aimlessly through a gauntlet of terror. Think Halloween Horror Nights, Knot’s Scary Farm, or any of your local, large-scale Halloween haunts. A man in a hood appears among the scattered hordes and suddenly rips a girl to death by stabbing in her in the stomach. Flash ahead a few months, and we meet demure Natalie (Amy Forsyth), her sexy best friend Brooke (Reign Edwards), Rein’s hipster college roommate Taylor (Bex Taylor-Claus) and meathead boyfriend Quinn (Christian James), as well as Natalie’s sweet budding romance, Gavin (Roby Attal). All of which are headed to Hell Fest, a horror-themed amusement park different but not unlike the one from the opening sequence. Nat’s a bit reluctant to attend, but her friends convince her a night of unadulterated fun abounds. Of course, horror fans know different, and that it’s only a matter of time before a bout of baleful butchery bombards!

The best part of HELL FEST, unequivocally, is its brilliantly reflectively setting. The idea to set a horror movie in a horror-centric locale like a Halloween haunt or a horror theme park is such an inspired one, and so simple yet so effective. Think about it. The instant production value of the elaborate sets and disorienting mazes – the wafting fog, colorful neon strobe flickers, eerie Halloween-time music and terrifying sound FX – is perfectly tailored to host a horror story. Throw in the content of the assorted attractions themselves – each with their own nasty narrative and menacingly macabre atmosphere – be it a putrid zombie-walk, a decrepit laboratory, a sinister dollhouse, etc. – and you can see how there’s an added lair to the terror beyond the simple stalk-and-slash plotline the movie adheres to. Because there are no complicated subplots or confusing tangents, because the movie revels in the devilish details of its main HELL FEST attractions first and foremost, we stay inside the park the whole time in a very focused and straight-forward manner. This allows Plotkin to get away with the one-note plotline by simply giving the audience a torturous tour through the park’s various evil attractions, while never losing sight of the masked-maniac’s lethal itinerary along the way.

So far the setting suffices, but what of the kills? Not to give away the goods, but I will say the film greatly improves in this department as it unspools. Getting stronger as the movie progresses is no doubt better than the reverse, so in that regard, the deleterious dealings of the masked-madman are sure to please even the most desensitized of slasher fanatics. I do wish there were a higher body-count, but for a kind of throwback, hard-R horror yarn it clearly aspires to be, the somewhat innovative stints of violence strike with brute force when they do actually come. And not for nothing, but the Final Girl in Natalie is played credibly and compellingly by Forsyth, who balances strength and vulnerability en route to matching wits with her ferocious foe. Taylor-Klaus is just as loose and naturally convincing as she was in the Scream TV series, making even the most stilted of teen dialogue sound believable. The breakout star though has to be Reign Edwards, a prettier girl you won’t find, who’s both funny and charismatic in a way that, unlike the lot of contemporary slasher joints, you don’t actually wish to see savagely slaughtered.

The worst part of HELL FEST, to my mind, is just how unabashedly derivative and utterly unexplained the killer ultimately is in the film. Aside from one late, perhaps even tacked-on ending, very little about the killer is ever known. We know not who he is, why he’s killing people, what his motives are, or anything remotely pertinent to the man’s identity. Not even his name. Look, I get not needing a motive, and do somewhat subscribe to the theory that the no explanation whatsoever is in some way even scarier than any grand exposition that neatly bottles everything up in the end. But like those great slasher films mentioned above, we did get to know about Mark Lewis, Norman Bates, Michael Meyers and Jason Voorhees. It’s why they’re great. Moreover, the look and design of the killer’s appearance in HELL FEST is a blatant cribbing of newer generational Michael Meyers, the dark clothing, decrepit mask, thick boots, lumbering gait and all. It’s cheap, lazy, and totally dismissive of the kinds of movies that not only came before, but that it also aspires to be. This disconnection hampers the film, but not so much it ought to deter you from punching a ticket when HELL FEST opens its gates Friday, September 28th. Granted, I’m an easy mark for slasher flicks, but if nothing else, it’ll be like going to HHN for a quarter of the price.

Source: AITH

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