Monday 11 March 2019

Hell Fest (USA 2018: Dir Gregory Plotkin)

Natalie (Amy A Christmas Horror Story Forsyth) returns home from college to hook up with her bestie Brooke (Reign Edwards), who is now house sharing with tomboyish, sarcastic Taylor (Bex The Last Witchhunter Taylor-Klaus). As it's Halloween, Brooke has managed to get some hard to find tickets to 'Hell Fest,' a travelling horror theme park of rides, games and mazes. Natalie is reluctant to go - she thinks it will be lame - but is persuaded because old flame Gavin (Roby Attal) is also joining them along with the other girls' boyfriends.

But 'Hell Fest,' under all its theatrical ghost train scares, harbours a darker secret - a masked killer who stalks the corridors of the installation looking for innocent victims. And you don't have to be a genius to work out who's in the frame for a bit of casual slayage.

Director Plotkin's previous feature was Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, one of the weakest in the PA franchise. So hopes were not high for Hell Fest. But I was pleasantly surprised. True, the characterisation is paper thin, but the cast are all likeable, and Natalie, Brooke and Taylor make for an enjoyable trio; their boyfriends are far more generic, and it was good to see the guys shunted into the background. A cameo for genre stalwart Tony Todd is almost a must for this type of thing, and stuntman Stephen Conroy stalks menacingly as the killer, credited as 'The Other.'

But where the film really scores is in the creation of 'Hell Fest'. On what I'm guessing wasn't a very big budget, production designer Michael Perry (who's clearly been around a while - he worked on some episodes of the TV series Auf Wiedersehen Pet back in the 1980s!) has built a very inventive and believable horror park well utilised by the cast as they attempt to evade the killer. Beautifully lit and photographed (most of the movie takes place at night) it's a great set in which the killer gets to lurk, and the cast of fright themed extras are also great fun; I loved the guy dressed up as Seth Brundle mid transformation into The Fly who sicks gloop onto Natalie at one point.

A robust, pounding soundtrack by Bear McCreary gives the movie a very 1980s slasher feel (McCreary is a bit of a go to composer at the moment, having recently produced scores for Happy Death Day, The Boy, 10 Cloverfield Lane and the soon to be released Godzilla: King of the Monsters) and Hell Fest's slick look, well choreographed action sequences and inventive kills elevate this movie way above most slasher fare. Sure, it's just Halloween without Michael's sister stalking shtick (he wears a mask which disguises his identity, and his missing body at the end of the film suggests the possibility of a sequel) but the combination of manufactured scares and a real life killer worked for me. Hell Fest is definitely worth a look.

Hell Fest is released On Digital HD 8th March and DVD 1st April 2019.

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