Fright Fest (or American Fright Fest from the screener title) is a relatively fun, if not groundbreaking entry into the slasher genre.
Spencer Crowe (Dylan Walsh) is a struggling horror director, so when an opportunity to direct a live-action horror experience is handed to him in an attempt to draw visitors to Sommerton, he sees it as an option to regain his long-lost fame.
The concept of a live horror experience becoming a real threat is a well-worn one within slashers. For example, 2018 will see the release of Hell Fest – a film in which a horror-centric theme park allows a killer into its walls showing that the format still has life. The theme of teenagers looking for scares and getting far more than they bargain for is again, typical within the genre. In slightly different terms, Fright Fest places more of a focus on the scare actors being the victims, rather than the visitors.
It must be said that the film is elevated considerably by Dylan Walsh as the sleazy, drug-addled Spencer Crowe. Walsh is clearly having a great deal of fun in his portrayal and it is hard to not enjoy that. His interactions with long-suffering producer Finkle (Pancho Moler) also add an enjoyable element as Moler handles the material with an appropriate level of deadpanning.
Despite following the usual track of these kinds of films, it does introduce an extra element in the form of the killer being followed into the house by a fellow prisoner who seeks to protect the others from him. This allows for extra tension between Mason (Luke Baines) and the cast of scare actors as the evening descends into further chaos. Unfortunately, because of the size of the cast and the fact that some slip too far into well-worn tropes, it is difficult to single out any of the main scare actor cast, but all are very capable.
The film is a little tonally unbalanced, with the earlier parts feeling like a knowing nod to the usual tropes before descending into a pretty by-the-numbers affair. A number of signs declaring Sommerton to be safe and the overall wholesome image around it raise a laugh and set the scene for a film that knows what it is and is proud of it. However, the later tone is a little more cruel, yet the characters are still so identical to others in similar films that it is difficult to get on board or feel any real sympathy or jeopardy. If the film retained more of the knowing comedy throughout its runtime, or maintained a feeling of menace throughout, it might fit better.
This being a slasher, there must be some attention paid to the kills, which are delivered in pretty high numbers. In fact, there are a few scenes in which the body count is added to considerably in quite surprising ways. There are also plenty of shoutouts (both audibly and visually) to other horror films and directors. An early kill echoes the one-take from the start of Halloween and Crowe references a number of horror directors in his desperation to be relevant again.
Fans of early 2000s slashers will likely find Fright Fest to be agreeable. It certainly has a little of the self-referential tone of that era, even if it isn’t sure how to carry that throughout the runtime, as already referred to. Still, a solid cast with one or two highlightable performances and a relatively high body count will please those who are not looking for anything particularly unique.
Fright Fest plays at Frightfest 2018 on August 25th and will receive a home-entertainment release in early 2019 courtesy of Frightfest Presents.