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With: Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Tony Todd, Christian James, Matt Mercurio, Roby Attal
Written by: Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler, Akela Cooper, based on a story by William Penick, Christopher Sey
Directed by: Gregory Plotkin
MPAA Rating: R for horror violence, and language including some sexual references
Running Time: 89
Date: 09/28/2018

Hell Fest (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Carnival Creeps

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This horror movie, reveling in the kind of scares that were popular in the 1980s, is far from great, but the characters have an appealing realness, and it's overall well-decorated, spirited, and fun.

In Hell Fest, bookish college student Natalie (Amy Forsyth) takes a break from her studies to spend an October weekend with her best friend Brooke (Reign Edwards). The plan is to go to the scary amusement park known as Hell Fest, along with Brooke's boyfriend Quinn (Christian James), her roommate Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus), Taylor's boyfriend Asher (Matt Mercurio), and a nice boy, Gavin (Roby Attal), who likes Natalie.

Though not exactly Natalie's cup of tea, the park is lots of fun, at first. But then they have a run-in with a masked figure that stages a very realistic murder, and starts to follow them all over the park. One by one, the friends begin to disappear, and park security won't believe that anything untoward is going on. It's up to Natalie and Brooke to face the creep in the scariest part of the park: the Deadlands.

The twenty-somethings in Hell Fest, especially the three young women, look like real people rather than fashion models, and they actually seem like they could be real friends, and not just "types" thrown together. Their excited, blurted dialogue sounds like it could have been improvised; it never sounds overly-scripted. The theme park, which is much like many modern-day horror-themed mazes and funhouses, is filled with the kind of stuff that one might find at a Halloween Spirit Store, but artfully arranged and lit.

Director Gregory Plotkin (Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension) uses the constricted space of the hallways rooms for maximum tension. Taking a cue from creepy-carnival movies like Tobe Hooper's The Funhouse (1981), effects appear to lean toward the practical, with actual stage blood and gore, rather than rubbery-looking digital effects.

The movie's killer (who hums "Pop Goes the Weasel") is a weak spot; he has nothing to offer than any other masked murder in movie history hasn't already tried, although the movie cooks up a unique ending. A highlight, however, is Tony Todd — best known as the title monster in Candyman (1992) — playing a carnival barker with a penchant for the dramatic.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release includes a bonus DVD and digital copy. It features a 7.1 DTS-HD audio track, a 2.0 Dolby Digital track, a Spanish track, and an English descriptive audio track. Subtitles include English, English SDH, and Spanish. The only extras are a short featurette and a trailer, but the colorful video transfer and audio presentation are fine; hopefully more people (besides me) will find Hell Fest to be an enjoyable guilty pleasure.

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