Natalie (Amy Forsyth) is home from college to see old friends. Her best friend Brooke (Reign Edwards) lives with a punk chick named Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus) who has never been friendly with Natalie. The three young women are meeting up with three guys: Quinn (Christian James), Brooke’s boyfriend, Asher (Matt Mercurio), Taylor’s boyfriend and Gavin (Roby Attal), a friend of the girls that would like to date Natalie. They are headed to Hell Fest, a haunted amusement park filled with rides, games and several haunted houses. Characters are dressed in costume and roaming the park, scaring the patrons. A killer is also roaming the park in costume. He has killed before at another haunted house a couple of years earlier. He spots Natalie and her crew wandering around and begins following them. Natalie notices she is being followed and tells her friends, but they tell her she is being paranoid and he’s just a park worker. Soon, the killer begins knocking off her friends one by one with his sights set on Natalie.
“Hell Fest” has an interesting setting for a movie about a slasher: Meandering a haunted theme park and knocking victims off with nobody noticing. It should have been a fun, gory romp with a wicked sense of humor. Instead, it is a slow, plodding slog with a couple of memorable kills but a great deal of dead time (pun intended) between anything mildly interesting happening. It is filled with unlikable characters and all the wrong people die.
The killer, referred to as The Other, is never seen without his mask and isn’t identified in the credits. It doesn’t really matter as The Other is a bland antagonist. He’s a pale imitation of Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers. He’s all stalk and no actual menace. The mask is pretty good. It’s designed by Alterian, the same company that made the masks in “Scream” and “Happy Death Day.” It’s the best thing about the killer as he is otherwise the same kind of unstoppable force we’ve seen a hundred times and in better movies.
The non-killer characters are generic types: The good girl, the party girl, the bad influence and the boys they have sex with. Each actor could have been swapped around to a different role and it wouldn’t have made any difference. No one in the film is very likable. Even Natalie is kind of a stick in the mud, constantly being hounded into doing fun things with the group while she and Gavin have a clumsy and boring beginning of a relationship. If there were some interesting people on the screen it might be more watchable, but the blandness of everyone on screen turns a dull story into a real snooze.
I would have liked for the filmmakers to mix things up a bit. They make a good start with the first main character to die. The death is creative (if spoiled by a bit of business prior to the murder) and is properly gory. Had that creativity been carried over to the rest of the deaths I might have been more forgiving of the disinterest I had in the story. What might have made things more interesting is if the filmmakers had taken a chance and knocked off their main character Natalie. Of the three female leads she is by far the least interesting. Both Brooke and Taylor possess far more personality, even if it is muzzled to allow Natalie to be the focus. Like Alfred Hitchcock in “Psycho” killing off his big star Janet Leigh half way through the picture, knocking off Natalie early on would have awakened the audience from its slumber and focused their attention back on the film instead of their phones wondering what other movie they could see that would be better. None of these actors are household names so killing the character we are led to believe is the one that will survive (spoiler alert: She does) wouldn’t be a big risk. Instead, the filmmakers stay on the tried and true path much to the movie’s detriment.
“Hell Fest” is rated R for language, horror violence and some sexual references. There are several stabbings, an attempted decapitation, a head crushed by a giant mallet, a hypodermic needle through an eye and other stuff. The main characters crudely discuss the possibility of Natalie and Gavin engaging in sex later in the evening. Foul language is fairly common.
Horror movie icon Tony Todd is sold in the advertising as a big part of the cast. He isn’t. His role is billed as The Barker and he’s on screen for perhaps 60 seconds. His voice is also heard throughout the film as the PA announcer. Todd deserves better than to be an unwitting part of deceptive advertising for a third-rate slasher film. Make him The Other, write him some silly puns as he kills boring 20-somethings and present the audience something more interesting than what this film offers.
“Hell Fest” gets one star out of five.
Two highly anticipated movies (for very different reasons) open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:
A Star is Born—
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