Halloween — the one time of year when even the stuffiest among us can let out our inner monster. But some people are more prone to demonic behavior than others. Take the hoodie-sporting, fright-mask-wearing, “Pop Goes the Weasel”-whistling cutthroat (Stephen Conroy, his real face never shown) at the center of the lackluster Hell Fest. He has a habit of stalking and stabbing teens each All Hallows Eve. One unlucky gal gets offed before the opening credits have finished rolling: She’s hung, bloodied and battered among the plastic prop bodies in an amusement park haunted house, only to be discovered three days later when her corpse starts stinking up the place.
The girl’s death quickly becomes urban legend, a gleefully gory story shared (a year or so later apparently) between college friends Natalie (Amy Forsyth) and Brooke (Reign Edwards). This is all unwitting prelude to their own night of terror — alongside friends Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus), Quinn (Christian James), Asher (Matt Mercurio) and Gavin (Roby Attal) — at a fog-and-neon suffused carnival known as Hell Fest, where Evil Hoodie Man once again pops up to notch some kills.
It would bore Satan.
It takes a while for anyone to realize something terrible is afoot. Even a barely-90-minute slasher flick needs a fair share of throat-clearing before it gets to the throat-cutting. The guys act like douche-y frat bros who treat this spooky jamboree as if it’s Miami Spring Break. The gals shoot snide glances and comments at the fellas — that is when they aren’t murmuring about which guy’s face they’ll be sitting on by evening’s end. (It took six credited screenplay and story writers to come up with these “characters” — money well spent!) Evil Hoodie Man, meanwhile, initially keeps his distance, just one more sinister specter blending in with the carnival’s elaborately costumed wage slaves. And then the bloodletting begins.
You’ve seen it all before, and better: a blade to the chest, an axe to the leg, a syringe to the eye. The most inventive kill involves a “test your strength!” mallet to the head, the victim’s noggin erupting like one of Gallagher’s watermelons. Director Gregory Plotkin, who edited Jordan Peele’s acclaimed horror satire Get Out, conjures up a clever image or two, like the reveal that the carnival has multiple Evil Hoodie Men walking around, or the climactic scene in which Natalie and Brooke hide in a room filled with mannequins dressed like Eyes Wide Shut extras. Tony Todd (Candyman) also pops up as a snarling stage announcer, giving the proceedings a brief jolt of energy.
It should surprise no one that, as Hell Fest comes to a close, Evil Hoodie Man pulls a Michael Myers disappearing act. This leads to a narrative twist so ridiculous that all non-syringe-pierced oculi will roll.
Production companies: CBS Films, Tucker Tooley Entertainment, Valhalla Motion Pictures
Cast: Amy Forsyth, Reign Edwards, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Tony Todd, Roby Attal, Christian James, Matt Mercurio, Stephen Conroy
Director: Gregory Plotkin
Screenplay: Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler, Akela Cooper
Story by: William Penick, Chris Sey, Stephen Susco
Executive producer: Ben Roberts
Producers: Gale Anne Hurd, Tucker Tooley
Music: Bear McCreary
Editors: David Egan, Gregory Plotkin
Production designer: Michael Perry