During this set visit, a lot of information was on hand that could be considered a spoiler: who dies, who survives, who the killer is, what weapons our villain uses, etc. If you’re like me, then spoilers take away all the fun from a horror flick. So, we’ve tailored this set visit to be quite spoiler-free.
From the highway on this cold winter day, a particular seasonal water park appears to be alive. Lights are ablaze. Bodies are moving to and fro. Fog is building between the pine trees and the various rides. A telescoping boom lift can be seen slowly maneuvering the twisting walkways with its precious cargo of high-powered lighting rigs. Yes, there is life in this park, but not sparked by thrills seekers. The commotion is result of an ongoing film production from CBS Films!
Gregory Plotkin, the director of Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and the man responsible for editing 2017’s seminal masterpiece Get Out helms the theme-parked slasher, Hell Fest. Set amongst the tall pine trees, Plotkin and his team have disguised a cheery waterpark into a believable Halloween-themed event, where not all the scares are manufactured by ghastly props or masked employees.
‘Hell Fest’ in the context of the film is a seasonal event similar to Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights. Scare actors stalk attendees, hoping to unnerve or frighten guests when the opportunity arises. Various themed carnival games create corridors of potential prizes, hustling barkers, and many a dollar lost. Amongst the prizes in the ring toss and shooting gallery games are a few unique dolls. These specific trophies are hand stitched and share a similar appearance to that of Ugly Dolls. While these props could be just cool background décor, we learned that one of them in particular plays a part when it comes to the killer and the ending. We won’t spoil it for you, though.
Speaking of background decoration, the level of detail on the costuming may be reason alone to watch the film multiple times. During our time with Eulyn Colette Hufkie in costuming, we got a look at some of the elaborate outfits that the “scare actors” will be wearing as part of Hell Fest’s event. From the beautiful to the grotesque, all manner of Halloween staples will be represented here. Ladies in Victorian dress, men in loincloths, and creatures straight out of an early twentieth century sideshow prowl and pounce on guests of Hell Fest. Exactly how much of the detail and artistry that will show up on screen is hard to say, but it would be a tragedy if we don’t get to see all of Hufkie’s creations.
We started the night by speaking to Plotkin and Gale Anne Hurd, whose name has been attached to some of the most iconic films and TV series of the last thirty-seven years. The director mentioned that he pursued Hell Fest because the genre had spent a number of years focusing on the paranormal, “I really felt like this sort of slasher-ish film that I grew up on … was underutilized in the market.” Another reason why Plotkin wanted to be involved with this production due to the legendary producer associated with it, “It’s one of those bucket list things to get to work with her.”
Having seen some of the sets, it was apparent that the atmosphere the crew had created must have had some sort of influence on the performances, which Plotkin confirmed, “Amy [Forsyth], who plays our lead character Natalie, she was legitimately scared when some of the performers come out at her … I don’t like to rehearse all the performers with her … because you get such a great reaction.” Anyone who has attended an event like the setting in Hell Fest is well aware of the number of screams a well-placed scare actor can get out of the unsuspecting guest.
Speaking of the film’s heroine, a staple of this part of the horror genre is the “final girl.” The typical arc in these stories is for the female lead end up stronger at the end of the struggle. Gale Anne Hurd expanded on the empowerment aspect of the slasher genre and its role in Hell Fest, “There are people among our cast who will find strength within themselves that they didn’t know they had, and that’s a theme I go back to time and time again.”
Following the chat with Gale and Gregory, we wandered back out into the night, past the sideshow area and down to the video village where a couple monitors were set up for us to view a that was being shot: The group of friends, minus one, were checking out the large animatronic displays (on loan from Netherworld) while discussing why one of their number was MIA. The banter reveals a little of the tension between the couples, which is broken when a scream rips through the midway. Following the outburst we see a young woman running with her assumed significant other following closely behind. Her face is doused in blood, but is it hers? Was her nose broken? Did the killer attempt to claim another victim? We’ll find out soon.
Hell Fest premieres in theatres on September 28th.