Blood Fest (2018)

OCTOBER 12, 2018


I recently bemoaned the less than record-breaking box office of Hell Fest on Twitter, and someone replied that Blood Fest coming out at the same time didn't do it any favors. To be fair, he had a point - both films are about some kids who find themselves being killed for real in a Halloween haunted park attraction - but they are very different in both plot and tone. Ultimately it'd be like suggesting that Incredibles 2 should have tanked because Avengers Infinity War also came out so people didn't have any more interest in superhero ensembles (and, nothing against Blood Fest, but it wasn't a wide release and the Blu-ray was released after Hell Fest's debut, so it's not like there was much of an audience that theoretically had its fill). So if you avoided Hell Fest because you saw this already, boo on you! BUT - if you DID see Hell Fest and were considering skipping this, I think it's worth a look.

The biggest difference, of course, is that the kids are aware of the danger they're in right away in Blood Fest, as the host of the park (writer/director Owen Egerton) tells them as much during the opening ceremonies (one of the film's "grain of salt" necessities is that this particular park requires everyone to arrive by a certain time and also pay attention to a guy on a stage instead of going off and doing whatever). In Hell Fest, the characters are stalked by one silent killer who is able to do his thing without drawing attention to himself, but here they lock the doors and try to kill every single person inside (Egerton has hired killer clowns, chainsaw murderers, etc. for the occasion). So it's more survival horror than traditional slasher, even before some dimly explained supernatural elements (zombies, vampires) are added to the mix.

The other key "they're not really alike" element is that this one is kind of played for laughs, though it's not a spoof or anything like that. Scream would be a reasonable point of reference for the tone; the stakes are very real, but the script finds humor throughout thanks to the characters and, yes, many references to horror classics. But they're not above making up movies, either; in order to get around what would be astronomical licensing fees, the characters talk about Halloween and Friday the 13th and what not, but none of the movie posters or attractions (based on movies, I believe?) are drawn from anything you or I have seen. The main one we see is a series called Arbor Day, which has a Jason-like killer and a complicated backstory that directly mocks Halloween's (we're told parts 5 and 6 had some hooey about an alien mark, a clear swipe at "Thorn"), and the film's Robert Englund-esque thespian collecting paychecks to play the killer is one of the people trapped inside with our heroes, which allows for a few more gags but also a minor "Don't meet your heroes" subplot as the guy turns out to be a dick (and of course, warms up to them throughout his time in the film).

One thing it DOES have in common with the other film is how good it looks for what couldn't have been a lot of money (in fact, a lot less than Hell Fest, from what I understand). The kids spend a lot of time in rather anonymous hallways and such as opposed to the haunts, but there is still an impressive sense of scale to what we see, with untold numbers of extras and a gigantic body count. There's enough practical blood to forgive the digital spray, and on that note they actually use CGI correctly for the most part - sizing things up, recoloring shots, etc. There's a bonus feature that shows the before and after shots for many of the film's digital tricks, and I was legit surprised to see how much it was used invisibly, as opposed to "let's make a CGI monster go after them" or whatever. It occasionally looks fake, sure, but the intent is spot on which makes it easier to forgive.

I was also impressed that Egerton wasn't afraid to kill off his characters (so it actually tops Scream in that regard). Since there was a breezy charm to the proceedings I assumed most of our named characters would get out alive, but no - the body count is sufficient and I was often surprised to see someone die when they did. The backstory and "surprise" villain (working with Egerton's character) was a bit dumb, i.e. the kind of thing you'd expect in a movie with no body count whatsoever aimed at younger people (think the live action Scooby Doo films), but they committed to delivering real stakes as if this was a deadly serious film as a whole. So there is some occasional tonal whiplash, and I doubt anyone would ever find it scary or even particularly suspenseful as a result, but it's never a crippling thing - it's just kind of slight as a whole, like a movie you want to casually hang out with as opposed to really invest yourself into.

Along with the aforementioned VFX showcase, the disc comes with a pretty fun commentary by Egerton and some of the actors, where they discuss the usual stuff along with some irreverence and trivia (apparently the Halloween 6 gags were supposed to be more plentiful!) - if you liked the movie's brand of humor, you will like the track. There's also a deleted subplot that I think is supposed to be an in-joke for fans of Rooster Teeth (their online comedy outfit, of which I have next to zero experience with) and some other deleted scenes that unfortunately don't have a "Play All" function nor do they include any explanation for their removal, which always bugs me. On that note, the disc also has like six trailers that you have to manually skip one by one, without access to the menu - another strike against the disc! Why do companies do this? Trailers are advertisements, and the only time we should be forced into watching them is if we are watching the product for free and they need to find another way to get their investment back. If I bought the disc, I shouldn't be subjected to such things, especially not over and over again. If we care about their other movies, we can choose to watch the spots - don't make us kill our remote batteries that much faster by not letting us bypass the lot of them by pressing "menu". Back to the deleted scenes, it includes what would have been the second funniest line in the movie, so give the video store one a look if nothing else. There's also a look at the design of the film, but it's also sans any kind of insight from the filmmakers so it's not particularly useful beyond reasserting that they worked hard on the film.

A sequel is more or less set up at the end, and I'd be fine with spending another 90 minutes with the people who survived. Not all of the humor was my cup of tea (the trailer gave away the one line that really had me burst out laughing), but I was endeared both by the content and the ambition, and I am familiar enough with Egerton (via Twitter and the like) to know he's a real fan of this stuff and not just using it as the butt of his jokes. It's a fine choice for the current season, and the disc has enough bonus content to justify the purchase cost should you choose to go that route. Good work, folks.

What say you?


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