Sometimes, low-budget horror movies are so bad they’re good. Sometimes, they’re just plain hell. I knew Hell Fest was likely to be the latter, but even still, nothing could have prepared me for just how catastrophic a failure this insipid dumpster fire of a genre cheapie really is. I mean, it’s a slasher movie set in a massive haunted-house theme park — how on Earth do you screw that up? Apparently, by casting a bunch of talentless unknowns and putting them at the beck and call of a D-list director working from a script penned by a trio of nobodies, that’s how.
It’s not just that the story is hackneyed, rehashing plot points that have been used countless times in decades’ worth of films far superior to this. It’s not just that the performances are wooden, the dialogue ludicrous and the pacing atrocious. It’s not even just that the entire enterprise is utterly lacking the faintest suggestion of creativity — there’s a “twist” of sorts, but you’ll see it coming from a mile away because you’ve seen it done better in John Carpenter’s Halloween or even Bob Clark’s Black Christmas. No, the real problem is that Hell Fest commits all of these cinematic sins while seeming to take itself seriously. The fact that a film depicting a death by prop syringe to the eye does so without the slightest hint of irony should tell you everything you need to know.
You want to know more, you say? Well, the plot is focused on six horny 20-somethings getting picked off by an anonymous masked killer. Never seen that before, am I right? Director Gregory Plotkin’s most notable film to date is the fifth entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise, so I guess that’s a pedigree of sorts. But he can’t even manage to milk the jump scares effectively here, and his kills are some of the least interesting I’ve ever seen in a slasher film — which, now that I think about it, is pretty much what I should have expected from that aforementioned pedigree. His three writers collectively sport less than a half dozen credits on their resumes if you include this one, which I wouldn’t if I were in their shoes. It all adds up to a film that wouldn’t be out of place as a direct-to-streaming programmer or a two-episode arc on a crummy TV series, but is most definitely misplaced as a theatrical release.
I will say that Hell Fest — the park — looks like somewhere I might enjoy visiting. On the other hand, I hope I never have to revisit something like Hell Fest — the movie — ever again. When the best thing I can say about a movie is that it’s short, it’s never a good sign. When that’s literally the only good thing I can say about a movie, you know you’ve got one hell of a mess on your hands. Rated R for horror violence and language, including some sexual references.
Now Playing at AMC River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Biltmore Regal Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.