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Hell Fest (Blu-ray Review)

While franchise horror made a big sandwich in September and October with slices of The Nun and Halloween dominating the box office, a little original slasher popped up in between them. While playing for a good stretch, Hell Fest never really took off the way many genre fans wanted it to. While it looks to be a profitable venture, it just cleared over 11 million in box office take (Budget was only 5.5 million). Maybe people were just okay with waiting for Halloween and not interested in wetting their slasher appetites with a an appetizer in the meantime, but as a slasher fan, I’m hoping for more of these to pop up. Here’s to them being supported. This will likely be seen more on home video and streaming. Speaking of which, its getting a Blu-ray release on January 8th!

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Film 

A group of friends are bound for a horror-themed Halloween event at a local amusement park — a sprawling labyrinth of rides, games, and mazes that travels the country and happens to be in town. But for one visitor, the ghoulish carnival of nightmares is not the attraction — it is a hunting ground. On the night the friends attend, a masked serial killer turns the amusement park into his own playground, terrorizing attendees while the rest of the patrons believe that it is all part of the show. As the body count and frenzied excitement of the crowd continues to rise, who will fight to survive the night?

Hell Fest is a film that is having a lot of fun and its infectious going right out to the viewer. A slasher reminiscent of Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse, Hell Fest goes many steps further by actually using its setting to both confuse our characters and to play around with them. This movie loves the idea of a Knott’s Scary Farm or Halloween Horror Nigths At Universal studios. But it doesn’t just set that as background for a slasher movie. It fully utilizes everyone’s experience at those and wants you to see how groovy this park is and what exactly it has to offer. Some might say its tedious or contains some extra fluff, but I personally enjoyed seeing the costumes, creatures, decal and setups going on in the haunted mazes our characters wander on through.

While Hell Fest is a bunch of devious fun, the film also isn’t afraid to get dark or mean either. Its not a completely mean spirited movie, but its not one that’s trying to be kind or cute about things. There is a REALLY dark moment where a character unknowingly has someone murdered thinking its part of an attraction. The deaths are also really good both in effects usage and impact. The characters hunted by this killer in the film are all sorts of regular kids, both annoying and nice. They feel real enough on their stereotypes. The film also feels so loose that at one point I thought they’d flip the script on me with the final girl, considering our lead is likeable but has a questionable attitude that could make her feel like fodder, too. Overall though, Bex Taylor-Klaus steals the show in her scenes, as per usual with movies and tv she takes part in. Sure, she’s the “annoying friend” character, but its fun to see her do her thing and live it up at the park.

If you’re a fan of the 1980s slasher boom, then you should have no problem at all falling for Hell Fest. It even carries some of the polish and a hair of better teen acting as found in the 90s run as well. While the film features polish, it isn’t afraid to get grisly and gory when it needs to. This slasher is just a nice fun movie to kick back with on your own or with a group of friends. Hell Fest isn’t reinventing the wheel at all, its just having a fun time cleaning a used one up and playing with it as if it were new again.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: I was pretty bummed I received the standard Blu-ray for Hell Fest, but within moments of popping it in, I was pretty impressed with the presentation. This thing is wicked sharp and crisp and just littered with detail and very striking colors. It carries a very polished and vivid look. The glow of the lighting and such on the screen was pretty much pushing the limits as much as you could ask for without HDR. I feel like the 4K UHD would likely improve things in the case of the natural blacks and smoothing out much of the motion, but this standard Blu-ray is pretty close to being top of the line.

Depth:  Spacing does pretty well here as the characters and object move pretty freely in any environment, interior or exteriors. I imagine in the 4K UHD image, the movements of character and camera only do so with more confidence. Motion features no real distortions issues and feels quite natural.

Black Levels: Blacks are really deep and consuming in a rich, romanticized way for all of the horror. I’m sure these are better saturated in the 4K UHD release, potentially revealing more detail, but this one gets pretty commendably dark and adds to the proceedings. There is a hair of crushing in just a few quick instances that I did spot briefly.

Color Reproduction: Colors are lovely and quite vivid in the image for Hell Fest. They are pretty loud (intentionally) and burst right off the screen. The Hell Fest theme park just basks and radiates in it, flaunting every kind of neon light or filter you can find. Blood does gush pretty well and Bex Taylor-Klaus purple in her hair has a nice life-like quality to it.

Flesh Tones: Facial features in regular lighting appear natural and consistent throughout the film. The movie features a lot of heavily filtered scenes which reflect on the skin tones as per the color taking over demands. Facial features are crisp and super clear showing pores, stubble, dried blood, freckles and more with window-like clarity.

Noise/Artifacts: N/A

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English DTS:X (English 7.1 DTS-HD MA compatible), English 2.o Optimized for Late Night Viewing, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: Hell Fest comes blasting out with a pretty rad DTS:X track that lives up to any expectations you’ll have with the format. The mix is crisp, clear, featuring a good balance of score, vocals and effects. They really live it up here to make yo feel like you are wandering the park. Whoever engineered this mix had a lot of fun and really made sure no speaker went unturned and really had a fantastic feel for every corner of every environment. This is a fun listen that really adds to the film’s presentation.

Height: From above there are many noises, voices, bumps and action throughout the film. They really have some devious enjoyment up top and relish in the funhouse setting and mayhem of the place having a speaker system and fiendish things happening all over.

Low Frequency Extension: Music beats from the park, impaling, scoring stings for jump scares and much of the action gets nice deep and punchy at just the right moments.

Surround Sound Presentation: As if you couldn’t figure from my height section, this mix loves to bounce around all channels in the mix. There are jumps, bumps and weird ambient noises always present and always there to shake you up. Sound travel, volume placement and the rolling motions are noting but a bunch of fun and amusement as your senses bounce around the room while watching the film.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp. Volume and distortions feels pretty genuine and accurate in any given location. They have a lot of fun with Tony Todd’s theme park MC through the mix.

Extras 

Hell Fest comes with the standard Blu-ray edition an a digital copy of the film.

Thrills and Kills: Making Hell Fest (HD, 16:28) – A little behind-the-scenes EPK of making the film that contains some interesting bits of the cast and crew having some fun during the shoot.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:09)

Summary 

I had a lot of fun with Hell Fest. I’d be surprised if any of my fellow slasher fans would really be let down with it. The film is a solid exercise in the good old “meat & potatoes” (As James Oster likes to put it) of the horror subgenre. This standard Blu-ray was a presentation that really didn’t leave me much disappointed I wasn’t watching it in 4K Ultra-HD. Aside from a couple very minor quibbles, this is pretty much top of the line for the format in audio and video. There’s a decent little extra, but that’s about the only place this is lacking. I’m sure this one will see a price decrease in the near future, but I think the film and the presentation of it might just warrant Day 1 pricing.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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