HELL FEST (October 21st)


YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...

Here’s a movie that looked like it might have been a sleeper hit last Halloween in the States, with a strong female cast, production by Gale Anne Hurd, and a pretty good central concept… except it wasn’t. Very mixed reviews and a lacklustre box-office meant it never even opened in UK cinemas on its intended release date, and it slinked quietly onto home media after a while. It was directed by Gregory Plotkin, who also made the VERY disappointing franchise closer “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension”. The film stars Amy Forsyth (so bloody good in the 2nd Season of “Channel Zero”, “The No-end House”), and Bex Taylor-Klaus (the MTV “Scream” series). The legendary Tony Todd (“Candyman” himself) also makes an audio and visual cameo. In all honesty, it seems like a perfect Halloween movie, and seeing as we missed it on its (sort of) official release, we earmarked it for our 31 days viewing list.

It starts in Halloween 201* and three girls are giggling their way around the Orange Grove Horror Ride, a crappy Haunted House attraction when the mannequins are none-too-convincing… except for that one that wears a Devil mask, slices up a victim and leaves them hanging in the ride. Jump forward three years later, and that murder has become a familiar urban legend at Halloween. But it hasn’t stopped the seasonal hi-jinks planned by a group of six millennials (we know they’re millennials because they shout “Yeah!” a lot and end each sentence with “Bitches!!”). Natalie (Forsyth) has returned home to meet her BFF Brooke (Reign Edwards) and her roommate Taylor (Taylor-Klaus). Along with their boyfriends (or prospective boyfriends) they plan a VIP visit to the travelling Halloween attraction “Hellfest”, which is renowned for its shit-your-pants-scariness (as Negan might say). They throw themselves into the celebrations, but the murderer from the opening scene (known as “The Other”, due to one of the disguises he adopts) is also here. The trouble is when you’re in a place that glorifies terror and blood, when can you tell if it’s real or not?

In today’s society of manufactured scares and Halloween Hay-Rides, that’s actually a pretty good premise for a horror film. And despite the mostly negative reviews and low-profile, it is actually a pretty solid stalk down Slasher Street with some throwback frights. It’s certainly not a standout movie, but it’s decent enough and pulls some nice tricks with its central concept. For a start, “The Other” is actually a genuinely unnerving killer. The “Corpse-Face” mask that he pulls on isn’t a million miles away from the blankness of Michael Myers Shatner-mug, but it’s chilling enough with its own qualities. The mannerisms of the killer, also echo that of Myers and other formidable slasher villains, with the slow-&-confident stride towards a victim and a silent gaze at them. Best of all though, is that this R-rated movie doesn’t shrink away from a badass kill. There’s a cracking moment with an eye injury and a teeth-clenching slaughter with a test-your-strength hammer. As Slasher killers go, “The Other” is one of the better newbies, and this could have so easily been another PG-13 tame-a-thon.

The whole scenario with the fairground setting is mined for a few decent scares. As the group parade around rides such as “Deform School” and “The Deadlands”, the whole scary-is-fun vibe is milked pretty well and the reactions ring true. It also allows for a couple of cool narrative tricks, with the encounter in the “Night Bumps” ride being a particularly good one. The moments where tension ramps up because you’re not sure whether it’s heading towards a gory kill or false jump-scare, keeps you on your mental feet and pays off well in a couple of sequences (the guillotine scene). The visuals are pretty cool, with garish lighting and lasers silhouetting characters and providing a lot of appropriate atmosphere. Bear McCreary (“The Walking Dead”) also provides another fantastic soundtrack here, with appropriate “Halloween”-esque dunn-dunns or crescendos. It all adds to the mix of 80’s style slasher stirred with modern sensibilities.

It’s not the best in all departments though. Six (!) people share the writing credits, and the screenplay’s not the best. Clunky lines like “That guy smells like a hobo’s asshole”, litter the film along with some paper-thin exposition. Although full-marks for including the line “You’ve been Brundlefly-ed!” It’s mostly style-over-substance, there’s a lot more stalking than slashing, and some of the incessant obvious jump-scares and fake-outs tend to test the patience. But at least the lead female characters feel realistic and react less clumsily to the usual predicaments than in some genre films (shame that all the blokes are clueless numpties though). We’ll generously ignore a couple of less-than-intelligent decisions they make at the climax.

Whilst it’s not among the best Halloween-set films out there, it is somewhat underrated and well-worth seeing if you want a throwback slasher for October-time. There’s even a neat final coda that provides a bit of accurate social-commentary about serial-killers. It’s not perfect, but it’s satisfying enough for us to consider a re-watch on Halloween night itself. Some interesting sequels could have sprung for this film as well. Ah, well. We’ve always got “Halloween Kills” next year and Tobe Hopper’s “The Funhouse” every year…

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