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John’s Horror Corner: Hell Fest (2018), lame killer and kills yet perfectly entertaining.

May 20, 2020

MY CALL: Lame killer, weak kills, momentary gore… but it’s so much jumpy fun. I guess this was okay. I enjoyed it, but I’ll never revisit it. Despite all the things I wanted that it completely lacked and all the things I felt it should have had, I found myself consistently entertained by the situations, delivery and character dynamics. Not a bad popcorn flick. MORE MOVIES LIKE Hell Fest: Looking for more recreational horror, try Funhouse (1981), Ghoulies 2 (1988), Hell House LLC (2015), Escape Room (2019) and Fantasy Island (2020).

A group of college friends get VIP tickets to a traveling “horror night” amusement park much like if Universal Studios’ Halloween Horror Nights was more amped-up and less family-friendly.

Hoping for a night of jovial flirtations and jumpscares, Brooke (Reign Edwards; The Bold and the Beautiful), Natalie (Amy Forsyth; We Summon the Darkness, A Christmas Horror Story), Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus; The Last Witch Hunter, 13 Reasons Why), Gavin (Roby Attal), Quinn (Christian James; Dollface) and Asher (Matt Mercurio; Sleepy Hollow) enter with high expectations. But when Natalie witnesses a scared girl in the funhouse get murdered by a masked killer, the evening’s entertainment turned out to be more than she’d bargained.

The horror takes a while to build its inertia, but that’s typical of the first 30-40 minutes of most horror movies. And, as a pleasant surprise, the first act was quite enjoyable just for watching the main characters whose relationship shenanigans (typically insufferable in horror movies) was actually entertaining. This movie clearly takes its time and hopes we embrace its impishly playful nature on this jumpy journey as our characters navigate one interactive haunted house after another. And fans of the Final Destination franchise (2000-2011) should recognize the voice of the announcer/barker as Tony Todd (Final Destination, Hatchet, Wishmaster).

The death scenes are okay. Nothing special, just okay. Really, some were even boring. A syringe to the eye might have been the least hard-to-watch eye stab I’ve seen. A head gets brutally hammered, yet its existence on screen is fleeting in a blink. It doesn’t linger on screen long enough to be awed or winced upon. As for our villain—credited as The Other (Stephen Conroy)—his presence was definitely menacing, but his disposition and actions were otherwise flat. A boring bad guy with no personality and no good kills in a slasher movie… that’s not good. So clearly, slashers and gore aren’t this movie’s strength. Shenanigans are. And while that may sound like a cheap defense to a goreless flick, the shenanigans are exciting. This is rated-R, but I’d treat this as a solid PG-13 horror; great for beginners (i.e., adult beginners) to the genre who can stand brief brutality.

I didn’t recognize any of these actors, so I had hesitated to see this for a long time. Thankfully, my expectations were happily proven wrong by the acting, photography and general production value of this movie. Director Gregory Plotkin (Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension) did alright. But whereas “fun horror” and likable characters are his clear strengths, the “meaner” gore was basically absent and the story was as basic as they come.

I guess this was okay. I enjoyed it, but I’ll never revisit it. Despite all the things I wanted that it completely lacked and all the things I felt it should have had, I found myself consistently entertained by the situations, delivery and character dynamics. Not a bad popcorn flick.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 24, 2020 8:07 am

    Torn on whether to try this one or not. Might be worth it. Looks old but it’s 2018? Were they going for the retro style slashers of the 80s?

    • John Leavengood permalink
      May 24, 2020 3:24 pm

      A bit retro in style, but I didn’t find any favor in it. Okay movie. Many people online contest that this is great. I’m just not one of them. I’d just call it “good” and a more “fun and fesity” slasher.

      • May 25, 2020 10:03 am

        Dang, I’m still torn. Maybe one night when nothing else interest me I’ll give it a run. Thanks for the info!

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