‘Hell Fest’ Director and Cast on Delivering a Ghoulish Good Time
“Hell Fest” wants to go back to the classic era of the drive-in theater. Its plot is stripped down to the barest essentials of the thriller cookbook, with a villain who doesn’t need to ever say anything. He is a threatening, walking presence ready to gut you alive. The story is a modern-day version of countless teenage scarefests from the 1970s and 1980s. The innocent Natalie (Amy Forsyth) is visiting her more daring friend Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus) and her roommate Brooke (Reign Edwards) conveniently enough for the Halloween season. Taylor and Brooke drag Natalie long to a local theme park event called Hell Fest, which is designed to deliver everything the title promises. Joining them are Taylor and Brooke’s boyfriends, Asher (Matt Mercurio) and Quinn (Christian James). Also tagging along is Gavin (Roby Attal), who happens to be Natalie’s big crush. As the group wander into Hell Fest, experiencing the creepy rides, ominous costumed figures and every opportunity for a make out session, a serial killer makes his way into the park, donning a mask and manipulating the environment to start targeting victims. It takes Natalie to realize what’s going on, and the danger the gang of friends are in. Also oblivious to the terror is the park’s grand host, The Barker (Tony Todd).
Director Gregory Plotkin envisions “Hell Fest” with colors out of Dario Argento and a creeping sense of danger reminiscent of the pacing in John Carpenter’s original “Halloween.” There’s a fun vivaciousness to the performances and while the plot is as formulaic as they come, at times bordering on the absurd (someone gets clobbered to death in a storage room yet security never seems to notice), it’s not low on energy. You have to approach this film purely on the level of camp, no more, no less.
Plotkin, Tony Todd, Forsyth, Taylor-Klaus, James and Attal sat down with Entertainment Voice to share the chills and thrills of making “Hell Fest.”
“This is a love letter to the films I grew up liking. ‘Halloween,’ ‘Friday the 13th,’ ‘Nightmare on Elm Street,’” said Plotkin. “These directors are phenomenal and sometimes don’t get the dues that they deserve, like Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper. ‘Suspiria’ was also a big influence in terms of the look. I also grew up reading Stephen King, I love Stephen King. I love horror, I respect it.” For Plotkin the current film landscape is looking very positive for the genre. “There’s a horror renaissance going on. It’s no longer the neglected stepchild in the back of the room. It’s front and center. I couldn’t be happier.”
Plotkin first came in contact with the script for “Hell Fest” through producer Gale Ann Hurd, who has produced major action movies like “Aliens,” “The Terminator” and “Armageddon.” “She had been developing this story for a number of years. When I found out the directing job was open, well I knew one of the writers, and poked him and poked him and said ‘get me in.’ So I we had a meeting with Hurd and we kind of bonded through our love of monsters and horror festivals. I spent the next year rewriting the script and developing it, sort of putting my own spin on it.”
“It all starts with characters you love,” explained Plotkin when discussing making “Hell Fest” scary. “If you care about them you feel scared for them. I’m super lucky to have the six key actors who I care about and are amazing.” Being an editor on big films like “Get Out” has also given Plotkin a technical understanding for creating a certain mood. “Then it comes to creating tension. My editorial background gave me the confidence to create that tension.”
But what scares a horror director? “What really scares me is when something is completely mundane. The mundane, the normal, scares me.”
Tony Todd is no stranger to horror. His name has been featured in titles which have become absolute cult classics. His defining role remains 1992’s “Candyman,” but he has also appeared in “The Crow,” the 1990 remake of “Night of the Living Dead” and on TV in “The X-Files.” For Todd there’s an experienced ease to doing something like “Hell Fest.” “I had said I wasn’t going to do another horror film. Then all of a sudden this script came along,” said Todd. “Gale was also involved, and she’s just one of the great, groundbreaking producers, she’s been behind so many great titles. So I said, ‘I got to read it.’ I loved the character, the sequence of events. And then seeing the production design did not let me down. It’s visually alive, every moment, every frame. The soundscape is also very original. I hope fans embrace it.”
“I’ve always loved creating. It’s all in the details…the costume design…you just need to put your trust in your subconscious,” said Todd when describing into character. Todd is also pretty clear about frightens him personally. “I wake up in the morning and I don’t know what news service to watch. Sometimes I wonder ‘my god, are we going to evaporate? Is the whole thing going to collapse?’ Ignorance is what I’m afraid of the most. I hope people get out and vote.”
For four of the film’s young leads, making “Hell Fest” was just a pure blast. “Our characters are similar ages to us. Physically none of us are superheroes,” said Forsyth when discussing the physicality of the movie. “Our characters wouldn’t necessarily be good at running, so in terms of physically preparing for the role it was like get as much sleep as you can and be ready to be out in the cold making a fun, crazy movie. The biggest preparation was going over to Greg’s apartment and going over the script. We had time to talk and read through it.”
For Taylor-Kaus preparation meant meeting with her onscreen boyfriend Matt Mercurio and setting some interesting boundaries. “I met with Matt Mercurio and said ‘let’s talk about physically what we’re doing. He said, ‘you’re gay, I’m engaged, it’s fair game,’” she said with a smile. “It was perfect. We were so comfortable with each other. We knew who are characters were, we had to make them real people. It was beautiful to work so closely and trust each other.”
“You just have to get yourself into the mindset,” said James. “I think it differs for everyone. But they put it together so well it wasn’t something we had to work so hard to feel immersed in.”
“They did a great job with the environment on set, we were in a real water park,” added Forsyth. “So it felt like a real theme park.”
“I’m on a date,” said Attal on playing a character with love on his mind but walking straight into a serial killer’s blade. “I’m just having fun. I approached it as, ‘ok I’m out having fun with a group of my friends,’ while staying unaware of the circumstances that lie ahead. Because then when those other situations arise you feel like, ‘oh, this is not supposed to be happening.’”
“Hell Fest” opens Sept. 28 in theaters nationwide.