Upon seeing the trailer for Hell Fest, I immediately thought of The House That October Built. The latter is a film is one I instantly fell in love with upon watching the feature on Netflix a few years ago. Both films surround a traveling haunted house, but are executed entirely different. Hell Fest centers around a group of friends including Natalie (Amy Forsyth), Brooke (Reign Edwards), Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus), Gavin (Roby Attal), Asher (Matt Mercurio), and Quinn (Christian James) wanting to reconnect at one of the scariest horror events of the year Hell Fest. The event includes numerous haunted houses and mazes as well as characters walking around the grounds attempting to scare one at every corner.
However, we are not immediately introduced to the characters we come to know within the film. Instead, we are introduced to our masked killer. A killer that does not appreciate it when others are not scared, making me take note never to say that at a haunted attraction in the near future. The film opens with a shock factor of a killing that takes place within a separate haunted house in Orange Grove. While at first we assume a park employee is taking his scare one step too far, viewers quickly realize that this is not your typical attraction worker and immediately feel remorse for all those who take a wrong turn in a haunted house.
I felt lukewarm by the plot by the end of the film. In many ways, Hell Fest focuses too hard on becoming a franchise instead of becoming a great horror film. I could not help but think if it were scarier to have a grouping of haunted houses workers trying to kill me or one serial killer who remains unidentified throughout the entire feature. The latter is what makes the ending of the film one of my favorite endings I’ve witnessed in some time. It reiterates the idea of merely walking through a park and not knowing that a serial killer blending in with the workers is absolutely terrifying.
Though the film left me feeling lukewarm toward it when I wanted to leave the theater thoroughly impressed. With that said, parts of the film deserve celebration. The special effects were outstanding. One of the deaths even focused on two of my fears and made me slump down further in my seat and turn my head because I could not watch it. I will warn that it involves a needle and a person’s eye. I’m still cringing from that moment. Three of the deaths within the film are brutal to watch. The use of gore was well done even though it induces a nose crinkle or two.
A highlight for me was the inclusion of Tony Todd. Slightly longer than a cameo, I enjoyed seeing him reeve up the audience at the park to get them ready to go to the scariest haunted house in the place, appropriately entitled Hell. Patrons can arrive in Hell through the Deadlands of course. Alongside Todd, a highlight of the film is the effects. The effects team did a spectacular job in creating the feeling of walking through a haunted house and the feeling determined not to show fear, but jumping backwards upon someone coming at us from around the corner.
Another great part of the feature is seeing the personalities of the films characters. As they walked through the park, I saw myself and my friends walking through Netherworld. Some of us are amazed by the detail and the graphics, while others of us eventually get left behind because we are too scared to move while seeing someone blending into a wall at the end of a hallway. By doing so the characters are certainly relatable, making their deaths all the more tragic when they inevitably occur.
Hell Fest also makes me hope Bex Taylor-Klaus gains scream queen status in the horror world sooner than later. Her talents are outstanding and her portrayals always make the character likable even when she might not be the most likable in the group. All of the performances were spectacular considering the lack of urgency within the script. The actors provide more urgency than the situations that arise on the Hell Fest grounds. One would think that an urgency of stuck in a maze attempting to figure their way out would enforce a clock on the entire film. With the notion of casually walking through the pop up haunts, that urgency is never sealed in stone.
Ultimately, Hell Fest is a film that provides no true answers to questions viewers have. However, the film does provides viewers an enjoyable walk through of haunts and their inner workings. We are also reminded that October is a time to go out and have fun with our friends. After viewing what has the potential to become a franchise that mentions each set of the killings so far as an urban legend there is only one question left to ask oneself.
Hell Fest opens in theaters this weekend.