Natalie (Amy Forsyth) is on a break from college and has taken the opportunity to meet up with her old friend Brooke (Reign Edwards), though when she arrives at her home she is less than pleased to see Brooke has taken in Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus) as a housemate, since they never really got on when they were at school. But she is willing to put up with her, and as a bit of fun her old pal suggests they visit Hell Fest, a theme park with a horror flavour that has been so successful recently. Natalie is persuaded though she is no fan of horror, but Taylor has heard someone was actually murdered at an event two years ago. Surely an urban myth...
Hell Fest and Blood Fest had the misfortune to be released within a short space of one another, which could have led to confusion especially when they both concerned horror theme park entertainments, patterned after the ghost house-style attractions that had found favour in the United States starting some years before. The idea here was not that the whole park was designed to kill its visitors en masse as has been the case in that other movie, but that one of the staff was taking his role way too seriously and had turned into a killer, thus making this scary for real rather than scary for fake, and naturally, after her early introduction, Natalie was our final girl.
It didn't spoil too much to say so, for this was a fairly conventional slasher at heart, but it had a distinctive look to it courtesy of the production designers' keenness to mix bright colours with dark shadows, all of which contributed to a pretty atmospheric mood. In fact, there was more adherence to the tone and atmosphere than there was to the violence, which could give gorehounds a letdown when they wanted to see some extravagant effects and they were not forthcoming. Indeed, the "is it real or not?" question was something director Gregory Plotkin was more intent on promoting than the suspense arising from the threat of imminent death for the characters.
Said characters were a likeable bunch, the cast given the chance to exercise their sense of humour frequently, which they were more than up for throughout (or until they met their maker). If the cliché personas of the eighties slasher potential victims were not plumped for, then that was refreshing, even if the more bloodthirsty viewer would find nobody here they were particularly gunning for the murderer to get their blade into. There were variations, one victim having his head smashed in with a mallet used for a strength-testing sideshow (you know, with the bell to try and ring if you're powerful enough), but mostly this villain lived up to the slash bit of the slasher movie conventions, and the personality side was left up to the other actors.
On that matter, nearly stealing the show if snark was your bag was Taylor-Klaus, initially seeming as if she was going to be the annoying goofball designed to have us wishing for their demise, but quickly making something truly likeable out of that. In a neat development, we were never entirely sure if the shocks we were witnessing were orchestrated by the theme park (led by master of ceremonies Tony Todd in what amounted to an glorified cameo) or whether the masked menace was behind them, since there was more than one masked staff member paid to wind up the customers there. For a long while it seemed as if the film was reluctant to kill anyone off at all, or at least keep the actors around for as long as possible, but your patience would be rewarded should you be tiring of them by the last act. This was nothing too original, but then again didn't try to be, comforting the audience in an odd way that there would be nothing here they would find out of the ordinary for the genre. If you didn't mind that, you would enjoy yourself: fine for addicts of such material. Music by Bear McCreary.
[Lionsgate's DVD has a trailer as an extra and that's your lot.]