It’s not uncommon to see movies about almost the exact same thing come out at almost the exact same time. Whether we’re talking Armageddon/Deep Impact, Dante’s Peak/Volcano, or White House Down/Olympus Has Fallen, this sort of thing happens all the time. And the latest such incident is the Blood Fest/Hell Fest duality, two movies about horror-themed events at amusement parks where things go horribly, violently wrong.
There are sure to be differences between the two, but the biggest gap is that, while Hell Fest appears to be a more straight-ahead slasher, Blood Fest skews towards the comedic side. Writer/director Owen Egerton (Follow, not to be confused with It Follows, which came out around the same time) plays with horror tropes and clichés. It’s cheap and cheesy and meta, which is both a detriment and an asset at various points.
Despite the wishes of his genre-hating father (Tate Donovan), horror-obsessive video store employee Dax (Robbie Kay, Once Upon a Time) heads to Blood Fest, a massive gathering of likeminded enthusiasts. With his best friends in tow—the super nerd, Krill (Jacob Batalon, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Sam (Seychelle Gabriel, Falling Skies), the obvious girl of his dreams, even though he can’t see it—they dive into a celebration of gore, monsters, and other genre faves. Things quickly go bad, people die for real, and they have to use their specific knowledge of movie rules in order to stay alive.
While the set up isn’t particularly original, Blood Fest makes up for that with an earnest zest and excitement. It occasionally toes the line with that troubling elitism we see so often in fandom these days, the you’re-not-a-real-fan-unless… attitude, but for the most part, it’s a goofy, enthusiastic lark.
At least initially. The first hour or so is up-tempo and energetic and has a grand old time spraying blood and winking at horror fans. It’s sloppy and bumpy and silly, but it’s also manic and gleeful, a joyous, modestly engaging celebration of splatter and gore. But it falters on the home stretch. The script over explains the ridiculous—and not ridiculous in a good way—mechanics of this event-gone-wrong. Attempts to add emotional weight not only don’t fit and aren’t earned, they impact the tone and pacing in dramatic fashion, damaging the two key things the film has going for it.
Blood Fest works best when it’s Dax, Sam, and Krill running for their lives. The trio has a solid slacker chemistry and the blood-soaked action is enough to carry these scenes, even if they watch like made-for-cable Halloween fare. But it bogs down when it leaves them and we learn the grand plan of Anthony Walsh (Egerton), the maniacal horror icon behind the whole celebration. It’s convoluted and clumsy and drags the proceedings to a disappointing halt.
Horror fans may find enjoyment in Blood Fest for a time. Flawed and campy, it’s also occasionally a zealous love letter to the genre. It wears its heart on its sleeve, but in the end, it derails and winds up nothing more than a trifling momentary distraction that doesn’t leave much of an impression. [Grade: C]