The point of heading to a haunted house, willingly entering a space where people's entire job is to try and scare you, is to get that thrill of terror. The pleasure of it lies in ultimately knowing you're safe, that no matter how terrified you become, no harm will come to you. But what if a murderer decided there was no better spot to slaughter victims than in the one place no one would think it's real? That's the horrifying premise at the heart of the latest from the director of the last Paranormal Activity film, but how scary is Hell Fest really? Rooted in reality and urban legend, it's a hideous twist on Halloween that will have you think twice before heading into a haunted house.
"People like to gets scared. People like to feel an emotion... knowing you should be safe, and that's the fun thing about the movie — it's not safe," director Gregory Plotkin said in an interview with Flickering Myth. The filmmaker directed only one feature before this, Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension, but he's an expert in the one thing that matters most to a solid scare: timing. Plotkin was editor on every Paranormal Activity movie, as well as Happy Death Day and Get Out, the latter of which is, despite what the Oscars think, a taut thriller.
Talking to Flickering Myth, Plotkin expounded on his love for Halloween, large-scale haunted houses, cult phenomenon, and getting to combine all of it in Hell Fest. The park the movie's three college friends and their respective beaus wander through resembles a cross between Six Flags' Fright Fest and Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights, where after hours the family-friendly parks turn their entire space into a haunted hell, with mazes, "scare zones", wandering actors in costume, and of course, multiple haunted houses to wander through, each with its own ghoulish theme. Both are wildly popular and give scare-seekers exactly what they want — a one-stop scare shop they can walk away from at the end of the night. Sometimes though, the scares are realer than people imagine.
Hell Fest's premise that a murderer and his victims would go unnoticed at a circus of terror isn't without real-world basis. It's not just urban legend; there are multiple incidents of people accidentally dying around Halloween, their bodies going unnoticed for days, even weeks because people assumed they were decorations or part of the show. There's even an entirely separate category for people working haunted houses or hayrides accidentally hanging themselves with hundreds going by their bodies, not realizing the grisly truth. Hell Fest takes it one step further, making the park ghoulish hunting grounds for someone actively seeking to kill. Unfortunately for all our nightmares, that one has real-life precedent as well.
H.H. Holmes, informally known as America's First Serial Killer, took advantage of the hoopla surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair to build a "murder castle" (really missed an opportunity to go with "murder mansion") and kill unwary visitors to the city.
With Halloween season just getting into full swing, Hell Fest plants a tiny seed of doubt that completely upends the glee of getting spooked — that it's a lot more frightening when your life might really be on the line.