Director: Gregory Plotkin
Script: Seth M Sherwood, Blair Butler & Akela Cooper
Cast: Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor, Tony Todd, Roby Attal, Christian James, Matt Mercuris
Running time: 85 minutes
The film opens with a young woman being murdered while at some kind of horror theme park, thus setting the movie’s murderous stall up pretty quickly. We then flash forward a number of years to another young woman, Natalie (Amy Forsyth), returning to her home town to meet up with friends who she hasn’t seen for a while. Gavin (Roby Attal), an old crush, has got tickets to a travelling Halloween horror show, which is visiting their neck of the woods that evening. Keen to fit in and spend some quality time with her best friend, Brooke (Reign Edwards), and also get to know Gavin a bit more, Natalie, somewhat reluctantly, agrees to join them.
At the park the group of friends get up to the usual sort of banter and play pranks on each other, all the while not realising that this particular night is the night that the killer, seen in the prologue, has chosen to resume his killing spree, after obviously not being caught some years previously for the earlier murder.
It won’t take a genius to realise that the group of friends the main story thread is following will quickly become the new target for the Halloween masked killer whose main distinguishing attribute, somewhat boringly, is a rather scruffy pair of steel-capped work boots. His mask is pretty cool though, even though we do see a few others at the park wearing the same mask, which made me think at one point that there might be some kind of multiple killer conspiracy going on…
The killer obviously chooses to bide his time and use the travelling horror-themed carnival as his hunting ground, where being a dodgy looking, masked maniac isn’t a handicap, but instead enables him to fit right in with the other thrill-seeking revellers.
Hell Fest harks back to the glory days of the ‘slasher’ film back in the 1980s when this kind of film was two-a-penny and filling up the shelves of the local video rental shops – god, I miss those days! I, for one, rather enjoyed its retro vibe and it was nice to see Tony Todd on the screen again, even though he’s rather under-used here, as the carnival barker, so it’s mostly a voice-over part, although he does get to appear on stage for a few minutes midway through.
The film is nicely shot, with the photography nicely bringing to life the theme park’s lavishly constructed labyrinth of grim and spooky attractions. In fact, kudos to the set designers who’ve done a fine job on this movie. Additionally, the soundtrack by Bear McCreary, adds another layer of depth to enhance the all-round horror-fuelled experience.
As for the acting, I didn’t note any weak links in the small ensemble cast, although I did struggle to hear everything that was being said as there were a lot of quick-fire quips, retorts and general banter that, while it worked well on a realism level, was quite tricky to follow at times. Or maybe it’s just my aging ears?! Even the killer, (played by Stephen Conroy, I think), was pretty competent as a physical performer; he only gets to talk through kind of singing to himself: ‘pop goes the weasel’.
The film has some strong kills, which are enhanced by some very naturalistic reactions from the victims who come across as real people, which always helps to ‘sell’ the murders. There are some nasty knifings and a nicely executed (pun intended) head smash with an oversized carnival hammer.
Hell Fest isn’t particularly original, and won’t be setting the horror scene alight with a new horror icon, but it’s a very competently made slasher film with a nice twist in the tale’s end, courtesy of the original story’s authors, namely: William Penick, Chris Sey and Stephen Susco. Worth a watch if you like your horror simple and straight as a bloodied razor.
Hell Fest is being distributed by Vertigo Releasing on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital download. The only extra included on the disc I reviewed was the 1 minute long trailer, which cited the cool tag line: ‘The scares are fake, but the evil is real.’