It came out of practically nowhere, but Hell Fest was an extremely pleasant surprise with some genuine scares. My anxiety was at the highest degree, thanks to a new horror brand that should reach instant cult status in no time. The first trailer for the film drew me in, however with further research, my expectations plummeted with every new discovery, causing a verbal groan to fall from my tongue. So it’s wonderful to have left the theater with a smile on my face, looking over my shoulder and looking forward to more in this potential series.
This particular category was one of my primary worries going into the film, and that’s because the director took on the final entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise with an amateur style that just didn’t fit the series as a whole and drove the final nail into the already dead franchise. That amateur filmmaking didn’t work for the CGI focused P.A., but for this low budget genuinely simple concept horror film, his style works beautifully. Capturing the wonderfully cheesy, yet somehow scary, real world horror amusement parks, the film drives home that any person could actually be a killer within any of those attractions. The atmosphere and killer design brought incredible anxiety to me during every scene after the killer is introduced. Its casual direction incompasses the classic horror films that are infinitely sourced when talking horror, and with Victor Crowley being a newcomer for the genre, it wouldn’t strike me as unrealistic if the unknown killer becomes a new horror icon.
Now onto my secondary concern of Hell Fest, the fact that there are three screenwriters; two of whom are more known for their small writing credits on shows like AHS & AOTS than being involved with any film, and the other having one major release that didn’t quite make it to theater screens (Leatherface). Once again the audience gets a lucky break, seeing a well written, simplistic, horror film following a masked killer, who chooses his prey by scouting out the least frightened individuals, along with their surrounding party that have come to the park. Executing them one by one in numerous ways, leaving the supposed “final girl” (AKA The Least Frightened) for last. The film stands with its use of typical horror movie tropes while reinventing itself at the same time. I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen all the way through. While the kills are much more brutal and deserving of the R rating in the first two acts, by the end of the second act, the film had become slightly lazy. However, it picked up the pieces in the end for a final anxiety filled haunted house maze that embraces the most iconic horror movie trope of all time, the “never leave the killer and expect him to still be there” trope. And that impactful final shot really packed an extra punch that I would have never thought I needed until it happened.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The slow stalk of the masked killer in Hell Fest resembles the greatest of the great: imagine a new Jason-esque character but instead of within a camp, he is hunting down patrons of a horror amusement park. The actor behind the killer in the mask is uncredited on IMDB, but his embodiment of the villain resembles that of Nick Castle or Rob Mello in creating a slow, stalker figure that makes you tremble at the very sight of them beyond the mask design. Besides the villain, the teenagers being hunted during Hell Fest aren’t the best actors, but they do an adequate job. They fulfill the roles appropriately, but after repetitive corny screams and frightened, high pitched yells about the circumstances they are in, the quality of each individual is revealed plainly on screen. Still, even with subpar acting, the villain and the way he interacts with the teenagers makes the film strong. Even more so when there are plenty of sympathetic characters, making the murders of each of them even more more painful to watch, especially for those characters you more or less connect with- not because of their character development, but because they’re supposed to be the “every man.”
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
While the film doesn’t explore the different attractions in depth, the few that are displayed capture the goofy yet somehow horrifying sense of getting lost and triggering the haunts. The killer’s knife sound effect as it gets picked up from a table or is used to slit someone’s throat has the iconic and wildly overused knife against metal sound occur. It’s a missed opportunity for the film to create a new sound, as it clammers much more on the lazier side of things in the production, but it’s not a necessity. While the other weapons utilized by the killer are successful brief moments of proper sound design, the knife is certainly the most used of them all and is one of the failing factors of the design. It’s all surrounded by a techno score that blends into the environment with ease, and only becomes impressive once the action is isolated. Hell Fest contains nothing too overwhelming happening in the film with the sound design, but it’s certainly not underwhelming either.
Hell Fest showcases the sets and props of a real horror park, and as a person who is extremely afraid of these kinds of parks, the design really came through for me. It doesn’t feel like a hollywood production, but instead feeling like it was filmed in a real park and not a studio. The gore effects are very subtle for the most part, letting the kills and scenarios themselves speak for the violence instead of the gore itself. While the bloody makeup on screen does resemble what a real world violent act would look like, the effects don’t take full advantage of the rating they have; taking that subtlety a little too far and wasting that precious R rating for an intense PG-13 horror. Without viewing behind the scenes footage, I have to go with my initial thoughts being that the sets were as real as real can get when it came to the park, and because the park is recognizable as being one of the many that exist around the world, it leaves an even bigger impression. Lastly, let's speak of the mask that is unsurprisingly the star of the film, as it encompasses the horror of a killer behind a mask. We don’t know much about the man behind it, but the mask, just like some of the best in the genre, is just as simple as the concept itself. Hell Fest’s simplicity in nearly every aspect of the film makes it instantly get placed into the firing range within most critical perspectives. However, as a fan of the genre, I was certainly delighted by just how condensed the film is overall.
Hell Fest is an anxiety driven film that focuses on the simplistic aspects of horror and takes a much more realistic tone than most other modern films in the genre. It’s in no way a perfect movie, as it severely faults with it’s acting quality and it’s sometimes under utilized character development, yet it still manages to capture what made some of the classic horror features work. As a person that is afraid to attend such parks, the fact that Hell Fest recreates perfectly what the experience would be like, aside from the masked killer of course, successfully makes me a little more paranoid to ever attend one.