Hell Fest (2018)
The horror event movie of 2018’s Halloween season is, obviously, the latest reboot in the “Halloween” franchise. And, yeah, sure, I’m looking forward to that. However, another slasher movie trailer caught my eye earlier in the summer. I can recall first hearing about “Hell Fest” quite a few years back, with “The Descent’s” Neil Marshall attached to direct. The project sounded cool but, as often happens in Hollywood, disappeared after the initial announcement. “Hell Fest” wasn’t dead though and was eventually directed by Gregory Plotkin, previously of “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension.” Heading out of Monster-Mania today, JD and I decided to hit the movie theater across the street and give this one a shot based solely on the strength of that trailer.
Hell Fest is the hottest Halloween attraction for horror fanatics. Around the autumn season, the horror-themed amusement park – filled with spooky mazes, jump-scare filled haunted houses, and colorfully costumed performers – travels the country. A few weeks back, a young woman was murdered at a similar park. This does not dissuade a group of six friends. In order to get her used to her new town, Brooke invites her best friend Natalie out for a night of screams. Childhood nemesis Taylor, her boyfriend Asher, Brooke’s boyfriend Quinn, and a cute guy Natalie likes tag along. However, the night of safe scares is soon disrupted by a mysterious masked man. He begins to stalk Natalie and her friends. Soon, he’s killing them, their terrified death throes unnoticed in the scream-filled park.
Bex Taylor-Klaus goes a long way. She steals the show.) The film is refreshingly free of melodrama, contrived bullshit, and gets right to the point. “Hell Fest” is the kind of back-to-basics horror movie I didn’t know was still released in theaters in 2018.
This approach is especially apparent in the killer. Referred to in the credits as the Other, he’s a very uncomplicated guy. There is no myth-filled back story, no deeper connection with his victims, no attempt at probing psychotical insight. We learn almost nothing about the guy and he’s identified mostly by his steel-toed boots. Even the absolutely brilliant final scene, a fantastic subversion of what we’ve come to expect, leaves us with very little information. He’s just a guy in a creepy mask, who hums “Pop Goes the Weasel,” and likes to terrorize teenagers in amusement parks. This lack of information does not make him any less scary. The Other brutally executes his victims – using mallets, knives, syringes – in squishy, creative, and intense murder scenes. He’s as swiftly efficient and fiercely direct as the movie around him.
“Hell Fest” looses a bit of momentum in its last third, after a guillotine-themed set piece fizzles out in a disappointing way. There’s also a little bit of shaky-cam, here and there. However, that awesome final scene and a genuinely likable cast makes up for a lot. I had a blast with “Hell Fest,” a meat-and-potatoes slasher that does almost everything exactly the way it needs to. If you clipped out the cell phones, the modern slang, and some fancier touches, this easily could’ve been made in 1982. If it had, I bet it would be as cultishly beloved as other stand-alone slash classics like “The Burning” or the similar “The Funhouse.” Though likely to be overshadowed by the new “Halloween,” I beg slasher fans not to sleep on this one. “Hell Fest” is a pure throwback blast. [8/10]
Race with the Devil (1975)
One of the things I love about seventies exploitation cinema is its pure willingness to do anything to make money. If two different types of movies were popular with the same audiences, reason dictated that a combination of those genres would be doubly popular. This is how we got blaxploitation westerns or kung-fu spy movies. Around 1975, devil movies like “The Exorcist” or “The Omen” were big money makers. Meanwhile, car chase flicks like “Two Lane Blacktop” and “Vanishing Point” were also profitable. Around that time, some smart producers decided to mash up these two types of stories. The result was “Race with the Devil,” the world's first car chase/devil worshiper movie. Naturally, this unique combination has attracted a cult following.
Roger, the successful owner of a motorcycle shop, is invited by his best friend, Frank, on a road trip. Frank has just purchased a fancy new RV. Along with their wives, Alice and Kelly, they decide to head on a road trip from Texas to Colorado. They forego a traditional camp grounds to park in a clearing for the night. Under the full moon, Frank and Roger spot something unusual. A group of masked people gather around a fire and strip a woman nude, performing some sort of Satanic ritual. The woman is then stabbed to death. Frank and Roger are spotted, fleeing the scene while being attacked by the cultists. The quartet continues to drive on but are still pursued by the Satanists, whose connections go deeper than expected.
Director Jack Starrett previously made two motorcycle movies, “Run, Angel, Run!” and “The Losers.” (As well as blaxploitation flicks, “Slaughter” and “Cleopatra Jones.”) Despite this pedigree, Starrett holds off the motor vehicle theatrics. Save for an early gag of Satanists dangling off the back of the RV, he focuses more on building slow simmering tension. In the last third, however, “Race with the Devil” explodes into car chase shenanigans. Trucks and cars smash into the RV, trying to run it off the road. An exploding pick-up truck careens off a bridge. An impressive stunt shows a vehicle driving on two wheels for an extended period of time. The effective climax of the film has a shotgunned car impressively spinning, roof over wheel, three times before hitting the ground. These stunts are all the more impressive, since they come from the era before CGI. Car stunts can't help but be more exciting when you know real people are driving real vehicles.
The Hired Hand.” Oates and Fonda have an easy-going chemistry, the two being believable as best friends. Oates' tough guy exterior is well suited to Frank, who gets more angry and aggressive as their nightmare goes on. Fonda, surprisingly, projects an everyman feel as Roger, a guy clearly in over his head who only gets a bead on the situation after it's too late. Loretta Swit and Lara Parker are a little underwritten as the guys' wives, though likable enough.
If you're looking for traditional Satanic devilry, there's less here than expected. The one ritual we see is pretty fun, a nude girl lifted into the air and stabbed by a dude in a spooky mask. (Her breasts are partially obscured by the flames, insuring the PG rating.) Aside from that, you'll have to wait until the downbeat ending for more shots of robed cultists and burning fires. The movie is more focused on dead dogs and surprise snake attacks. Despite that, “Race with the Devil” is an effectively tense horror film with some cool car stunts. Fans include Kevin Smith, who drew from this one for his own “Red State,” and Drew McWeeney, who wrote a remake that came close to getting made in 2005. [7/10]
Episode ten of the American “Darkstalkers” cartoon serves two purposes. Donovan is hunting Demitri. The “wizard” catches up with the vampire just as he attacks a family. Donovan runs the bloodsucker off before he kills Amanda, the little girl. The girl is cursed into a state of catatonia by the shock. Through some magical bullshit, Donovan and Amanda are bonded together. He calls upon Felicia and Harry to help. On the trail of the vampire once more, Donovan is soon facing off against Bishamon, the cursed samurai serving Pyron against his will.
Despite the title, “Samurai's Honor” is as much about introducing Amanda as explaining Bishamon's backstory. Amanda is this show's half-assed take on Anita, Donovan's video game sidekick. In the games, Anita is brunette, a powerful psychic and Donovan's greatest link to his humanity. She also carries around a headless doll, Wednesday Addams-style. Amanda is blonde, mute, carries a knock-off Godzilla plush, and has no powers at all. Despite the many differences, the little girl still softens Donovan's asshole personality. The cartoon doesn't handle this in an interesting or intelligent manner but it's something.
As for the episode itself, it's full of the animation error, underwhelming action, and bizarre superpowers I've come to expect by now. An especially embarrassing moment gives the audience a peak at Bishamon's tightie whiteies. I will give the show some points for actually depicting Demitri as a bloodsucker. Then again, the episode looses major points by opening with a solid five minutes of stock footage, reused from the first episode! Harry is also especially obnoxious here, constantly belittling and teasing Amanda. Felicia also eats cat food in this one. Gee whiz. Anyway, it sucks. [4/10]
“Forever Knight” seems weirdly fond of radio D.J.s. After LeCroix's gig as a disc jockey in the pilot, we now have an episode about a more sympathetic radio talk show host. Dr. Christina Noble, a former psychologist who now hosts a steamy call-in show, gets a disturbing phone call. On air, a man seemingly kills a woman. The cops, including Nick and Schanke, quickly uncover the victim. It happens again the same night. Nick and Christina form a friendly relationship, the doctor explaining her greatest failure: How a former patient was released under her watch and then proceeded to kill his mother. Christina and Nick quickly begin to worry that this same boy is responsible for the string of murders.
As a mystery, “Dead Air” is pretty disappointing. Only one suspect is introduced and he, naturally, turns out to be the killer. The motives behind the killings, a bunch of mommy issues, are fairly derivative and uninteresting. Schanke is not the only one to reference Norman Bates. The conclusion is disappointing, with Nick showing up and the bad guy offing himself by accident. Despite these flaws, “Dead Air” is a decent episode. Diane Cary is likable as Dr. Noble and has a good rapport with Geraint Wyn Davies. Nick and Schanke also have some funny bits together, as the vampire's partner listen to the sleazy radio show as a guilty pleasure. Aside from the routine plot and a useless montage of Nick sitting on his apartment floor, it's a decent enough episode. [7/10]