Horror fans can now get in line to experience a terrifying celebration of the genre. A horror-themed Halloween event at a local amusement park is luring audiences into a sprawling labyrinth of nightmares that’s become a hunting ground for a masked serial killer. His terrifying playground, which is becoming overrun by a rising body count, is sure to bring a frenzied excitement out of the horror fans, as the genre movie, ‘Hell Fest,’ is preparing to be unveiled on home release this week.
Filmmaker Gregory Plotkin, who made his feature film directorial debut on the 2015 supernatural sequel, ‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension,’ made his sophomore helming effort with ‘Hell Fest.’ He’s also known for editing such horror hits as the Oscar-winning ‘Get Out,’ as well as ‘Happy Death Day‘ and several entries in the ‘Paranormal Activity’ series, including ‘Paranormal Activity 2.’ That editing experience encouraged him to also co-edit ‘Hell Fest’ with David Egan.
‘Hell Fest’ is now available on Digital, including iTunes. Lionsgate is also set to distribute the horror film on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (including Blu-ray and Digital), Blu-ray Combo Pack (plus DVD and Digital), DVD and On Demand this Tuesday, January 8. The 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD includes bonus content, including the featurette, ‘Thrills and Kills: Making Hell Fest,’ and the movie’s theatrical trailer.
Written by Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler and Akela Cooper, ‘Hell Fest’ begins with a young woman being stalked by a masked killer at the title amusement park. After the stalker murders the woman, he hangs her among the plastic prop bodies in one of the park’s haunted houses, and she’s ultimately discovered three days later.
Several years later, college student Natalie (Amy Forsyth) reunites with her former roommate and best friend, Brooke (Reign Edwards), after they spent some time apart. Natalie is initially dismayed to discover that Brooke is now living with another one of her friends, Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus), who she has a slightly tumultuous relationship with. But the two overcome their differences for the day when Brooke announces that she’s secured VIP passes to the title Halloween theme-park attraction, which has garnered notoriety over the past few years, following the publicized murder of the woman from the prologue.
Once the women arrive at Hell Fest, they meet their respective boyfriends, including Brooke’s significant other, Quinn (Christian James), and Taylor’s beau, Asher (Matt Mercurio). Natalie meets up with Gavin (Roby Attal), with whom she shares a mutual attraction, and they treat the night as their first date.
Meanwhile, the masked killer who murdered the woman several years earlier continues his homicidal spree. Known simply as The Other (Stephen Conroy), the killer begins to stalk Natalie, after she gives him an attitude for bumping into her and not being scary. Once she realizes later in the night that he’s following her, she tells her friends, but they don’t immediately believe that thing genuinely sinister is going on. While Natalie then also notifies a member of Hell Fest’s security team, he doesn’t find anything amiss, and also dismisses her suspicions as nervous overreaction to the park’s thrills. Natalie then must take matters into her own hands, and prove to her friends and the authorities that The Other is not only following her, but has also reprised his homicidal tendencies in the labyrinth of physical and emotional scares.
Plotkin generously took the time recently to talk about directing ‘Hell Fest’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed that he became involved in helming the drama because his love of, and experience in, the horror genre convinced the producers to hire him. The helmer also shared his enthusiasm over the instant chemistry that arose between the actors, who all immediately connected with not only each other, but also their respective characters and story.
The conversation with Plotkin began with him explaining how he became involved in directing ‘Hell Fest.’ “My involvement happened because I know the people at (one of the movie’s production companies,) Valhalla (Motion Pictures), including (one of the drama’s producers,) Gale Anne Hurd, as I had been developing something else with them. I then also met with CBS (which distributed the film theatrically in the U.S. last fall).
“When I found out the movie was available, I bugged everybody I knew, to see if I had a chance at it, and had a great meeting. I pitched a lot of new ideas and takes on what they had already been developing. Luckily, they liked them, so we got to make the movie together,” the filmmaker shared.
“I love haunts, and am essentially a Halloween baby-I was born on October 30. So it’s always been a time of year that’s important to me, and is a lot of fun,” Plotkin further explained. “I’m also a huge slasher fan, and grew up watching such films as ‘Halloween,’ ‘Friday the 13th’ and ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street.’
“I also thought that using a haunt was an underutilized idea. I was also drawn to the fact that someone could use anonymity in a haunt to kill. So this movie is essentially who I am, as it encompasses my love of horror,” the helmer further noted.
‘Hell Fest’ features a nostalgic ode to the emotions and look of slasher movies from the 1980s, like Plotkin mentioned, while also maintaining a modern and unique vibe. He then delved into what the process of finding the balance of including the classic tropes of the slasher subgenre with an original story was like. “That process was great. I wanted to make sure that we took it seriously. I think a lot of films will wink at you, and have some fun with it, which is fine, and works for a lot of people. But I just wanted to take it seriously, and make a fun throwback to the 80s, but in a contemporary setting and feel,” he further said.
“One of the important things to me was that there wasn’t a final girl in this film who was punished for her sexuality. Final girls like that from the ’80s were a bit helpless, and needed a guy to save them. But those didn’t interest me. That’s just who I am,” the director admitted.
“My wife’s a very strong woman, and I love strong female characters. So it was very important to me when I signed on to direct the movie to say, ‘The genre’s done one thing, but these girls aren’t going to be punished for their sexuality. They’re just going to be strong, normal women, and they’re going to be able to fend for themselves,” Plotkin affirmed. “So we tried to subvert expectations with that a little bit…So it was fun to give it a modern spin, and create characters who I wanted to see. I had a cast that was on board with that, so it was a lot of fun to make.”
Further speaking of the strong female characters and group of performers, ‘Hell Fest’ the filmmaker then explained how the female actresses were cast. “Our casting director, Deanna Brigidi, was great. She presented us with all of these great actresses and actors. We did a lot of mixing and matching, and did chemistry reads, to see if the chemistry would be right. I love each of the actresses we hired. When the three of them got together in the same room, it just felt right.”
“Bex plays Taylor, who I always imagined to be a tall, blonde woman, as that’s how the character came across the page. But when Bex came in and read, I said, ‘There’s no one else who’s right for this role. Bex is the role.’ She just blew me away in the room,” Plotkin admitted. “I then directed every actress who read for the role after Bex auditioned to do it the way she did. I then asked Deanna, ‘Why am I having them do this? She’s the one.’
“The actors all arrived at the right time. The girls were all laughing with each other like they were best friends from day one. The guys were the same way,” the helmer divulged. “They were all relaxed and supportive. So the casting process was great.”
Once the actors were cast, “We didn’t have a huge amount of prep time. But it was important for me to get everyone together. As soon as everyone got to Atlanta, where we shot the film, I had everyone come over to my apartment, and we spent the day together, which was great,” Plotkin shared. “We initially spent so much time together, especially the cast, which was great.
“We didn’t have too much time for rehearsal, but we read through the script a couple of times. I got some great feedback from everybody about what they would and wouldn’t feel comfortable saying. It’s great when you hear an actor read the dialogue. It can sound like one thing when you’re reading it to yourself. But when you hear it coming out of their mouth, you can realize that it’s totally wrong, or it’s perfect, and you want to expand on it,” the filmmaker explained.
Plotkin then delved into what the process of working with the actors to create their physicalities for their roles was like. “Amy had these heels on and did all of this running. She actually rolled her ankle one night while she was running,” he admitted. “But being the trooper that she is, she finished the day. She was then back on the set the next week.”
The director added that “there was a bit of physicality that the cast had to endure, and they were all game to do it. If they weren’t shooting a scene because there was a stunt double filling in for them, the actors were still on the set, rooting them on. They would talk to their doubles, and make sure they telling them how they like to move. So no one would go off and set in their trailers; they were all supportive of each other, which was great.”
Like Plotkin previously mentioned, ‘Hell Fest’ was shot on location in Atlanta. He then chronicled what the process of creating the look and layout of the labyrinth of rides, games and mazes was like in and around the city. “I knew I wanted to film in an amusement park. We also had to build some sound stages, but I was very firm in wanting to shoot the movie in a park. Luckily, Six Flags worked out for us,” he shared.
“We had two locations-Six Flags White Water, which is the water park in Marietta, Georgia. It was awesome to film there. It’s a great piece of property, and they allowed us to go in and change it. We shot there for two weeks,” the filmmaker disclosed. “We also filmed for three weeks at Tyler Perry‘s stages. While we were there, we built the interior of the mazes and rides. So we really utilized the locations we had. I wanted to make it feel like a park the audience would want to go to, and that seemed to be successful on screen.
“Michael Perry, our production Designer, is a genius. We spent a lot of time together, going over images and ideas. You always want department heads who add to the equation, and he did,” Plotkin also noted. “We were able to create this world together, which was great.”
Since the story is set at the horror-themed Halloween event, many of the characters are dressed in costumes. The helmer then spoke about what the process of creating the masks and outfits for the characters was like. “I wanted the characters to be modern and hip, but not to the point that the costumes would later become dated,” he declared.
“So Amy, Reign and I had some great conversations about clothes. I wanted them to also be comfortable, and they said they were comfortable in their outfits. For the Taylor character, I wanted her to have different color hair, just so she would be a little bit different. Bex was super up for it,” Plotkin revealed.
“For the killer’s mask, I lived with the idea of what it would look like for a long time. It was based on turn-of-the-20th century papier-mâché masks that I saw kids wearing in black-and-white photos. I got to work with Tony Gardner, who created the ‘Scream’ and ‘Happy Death Day’ masks. I showed him my images, and he came back with his own version, which was awesome,” the director noted as he praised the costume designer. “So I had initial thoughts about what the killer’s mask, as well as the masks that the other attendees of the haunt wore, would look like, and everyone took it to the next level.”
The filmmaker then discussed how his previous editing experience in the horror genre influenced the way he approached cutting ‘Hell Fest’ together. “I’m an editor by trade, and started my career as an editor. So luckily, I knew what I wanted for this project, and how I wanted it cut. I took a couple of weeks off after we finished shooting, and then dove right in. I brought the producers and studio in early, to get their perspectives,” he shared.
“I love creating scares, and I think editorially, they create so much tension. I love to hold onto shots for as long as possible, just to make the audience really as uncomfortable as possible. So it was a really seamless transition, and it was fun to cut my own material. It was a really great experience,” Plotkin declared.