Co-produced by Palo Alto’s own Gale Anne Hurd, Hell Fest is haunted by an Embodiment of Motiveless Evil called “The Other.” We never see his face, but he’s a knife-wielder in a hoodie, wearing a mask resembling the face of an Etruscan statue mottled with bronze disease.
Honoring the knife-wielding maniac multiplex fodder of the 1980s, this mostly scare-free thriller lets you admire the hard work of the art directors and designers. Longtime editor turned director Gregory Plotkin has a lot of costumes, Mario Bava lighting and sets for a low budget, including a triple maze in the inner sanctum “Dead Lands” where the performers are allowed to grab visitors.
The scale is more ambitious than the scares. Composer Bear McCreary honors the venerable horror music trads, from violin crescendo to throat-singing baritones. And Hell Fest offers a bit of rich theater in the stage performance by the Barker (the very good Tony Todd of Candyman) who announces that he needs virgin blood to summon Satan. (Taylor, his victim to be, shrugs apologetically about the virgin part).
Forsyth demonstrates a credible ability to show mind-roasting fear during a “the calls are coming from inside the house!” scene in a public bathroom. While I’m all too susceptible to pop-ups (“The Other” hums a toneless “Pop Goes the Weasel” as he stalks) everything is more like a soothing bath than icicles down the spine. One zones out over the carnival ambience, and the half-heard chat between the girls: “I’m a stoic drunk,” Natalie boasts, as Taylor complains one attraction “smells like a hobo’s asshole.” Despite the R rating, nothing insanely ghastly occurs, and the one-by-one decimation of the cute, self-confident kids gives a safe, clean feeding to the same sort of impulses that produce incels and school shooters.
R; 89 Mins.