Film Review: Blood Fest

Though never particularly scary, 'Blood Fest' is entertaining and gives genre fans the opportunity to feel clever as they spot the references to a wide range of horror films.
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Young Dax’s life changes forever on Halloween night: One minute he and his mom are happily watching vintage Bela Lugosi shocker White Zombie on TV, the next she’s being murdered by a lunatic. 

Years later, Dax (Robbie Kay) is a hardcore horror fan, planning to go to Halloween extravaganza Blood Fest with best friends Sam (Seychelle Gabriel) and Krill (Jacob Batalon). But his father, psychiatrist Dr. Conway (Tate Donovan)—who’s become a prominent critic of horror movies, festivals and fandom—confiscates Dax’s pass. Needless to say, Dax manages to get it back and sneaks out for a night of frightful fun.

Conceived by the Willy Wonka-ish “legendary horror producer” Anthony Walsh (Owen Egerton, the movie’s writer and director), Blood Fest is a combination carnival/open-air convention held on an isolated 700-acre ranch that Walsh has converted into a theme park staffed with killer clowns and “legends of horror” like scream-queen Ashley (Barbara Dunkelman)—on whom chubby virgin Krill has a wicked crush—and Roger Hinckley (Chris Doubek), who originated the role of “The Arborist,” a serial killer whose chosen weapons are landscaping tools. It’s such a thin line between clever and stupid, and the Arborist comes down on the right one. Fun! Until it isn’t, and fans start getting hacked and slashed. In order to escape, Dax, Krill and Sam dig deep into their knowledge of “the rules”—the horror-movie conventions fans should all know by heart, though apparently many Blood Fest attendees weren’t paying close attention.

Blood Fest falls short of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods (2012), which was clearly a major inspiration, but, to be fair, that’s a pretty high bar. And Blood Fest compensates by upping the mayhem ante: Between the in-jokes blood flows, heads roll and much, much more. The range of references is impressive, from the obvious—SawNight of the Living Dead, Halloween—to the more obscure likes of Motel Hell, and the main characters are likeable. That should be a given, in that viewers are meant to root for them when bad things start happening, but far too many genre movies are undermined by the fact that the protagonists are so thinly drawn it’s hard to care what happens to them—and fortunately, one of the conventions Egerton chooses to skip is the inclusion of a jerk who gets killed first.

If the motivations behind the Blood Fest massacre don’t really hold up to post-film reflection, they play well enough as the movie is unfolding, and while extremely gory, it’s fun gore, a concept about which Dr. Conway would no doubt have something withering to say. But there is a difference between cartoonish mayhem and seriously disturbing violence and brutality, and Blood Fest is closer in spirit to Return of the Living Dead than, say, A Serbian Film. It’s clearly meant to be a light romp –a party movie to be enjoyed in group settings—and it is.