Studio: Rooster Teeth
Director: Owen Egerton
Writer: Owen Egerton
Producer: Seth Caplan, Will Hyde, Ezra Venetos
Stars: Robbie Kay, Jacob Batalon, Seychelle Gabriel, Barbara Dunkelman, Chris Doubek, Nick Rutherford, Rebecca Wagner, Tate Donovan, Zachary Levi
When a horror festival turns into a real scene of slaughter, a group of friends must use their film knowledge to survive.
You might think that witnessing your mother’s murder while watching “White Zombie” on Halloween night, during what is a pretty grim opening even for a dark comedy, would dissuade young Dax Conway from growing into a horror-obsessed film lover. Not so. Even though he still suffers from vivid visions of his psychiatrist father gunning down that maniacal home invader, Dax lovingly adorns his bedroom walls with masks, monsters, and memorabilia from his favorite fright franchises.
Dad copes by using his profession to promote censoring the genre entertainment he thinks inspired his wife’s death. That’s why he cuts up his son’s wristband to prevent Dax from attending Blood Fest, a massive convention in a remote location dedicated to celebrating fictional slaughter with likeminded fans, freaks, and celebrity guests.
Dax’s dim actress friend Ashley gets Dax in anyway. Unfortunately, initial awe at the festival’s spectacle starts fading into disappointment when people like hipster director Lenjamin Caine and idolized actor Roger Hinckley turn out to be less impressive than they were cracked up to be.
Blood Fest bounces back after master of ceremonies Anthony Walsh announces his plan to put true splatter back on the screen by casting unwitting guests in an authentic horror movie. Walsh unleashes an army of masked murderers who quickly begin carving up attendees. The subsequent gore shower is not only gruesome, it’s 100% real. Flanked by his best pals Sam and Krill, Dax must summon every bit of trivia he knows about horror tropes if he and his friends are to survive the night.
The key to unlocking entertainment in Owen Egerton’s “Blood Fest,” which is not to be confused with the similarly titled and somewhat similarly themed “Hell Fest,” involves having the same mindset as the movie. While the concept seems straightforward, viewers have to be okay with the film taking an approach to its content that is, intentionally, impossibly absurd.
I’m not so uptight about my own fandom that I can’t appreciate a satirical send-up of horror clichés and culture, even if it isn’t particularly inventive or highbrow. But I am enough of a stickler that I’m immediately removed from immersion when a festival like the one depicted here looks nothing like such events do in reality. It’s a laughable sight to see face-painted film fans hooting and hollering over horror like football stadium tailgaters on enormous grounds with attendance rivaling Coachella.
Except “Blood Fest” employs over-the-top fantasy as its preferred form of currency for very specific reasons. Outrageousness purposefully energizes the film’s flow by powering suspense, drama, and especially comedy. This kind of ridiculousness disarms matriarchal homicide and mass murder from being depressing downers, instead adjusting attitudes so audiences can find the midnight movie mania in bloody deaths decapitations. “Blood Fest” pays tribute to horror through a reminder that the genre can be at its most enjoyably cathartic when it isn’t taken with complete seriousness.
“Blood Fest” naturally leans heavily on fright flick-related gags that some have irrationally decried as smugly pretentious. To an extent, the pulse of a knowing wink definitely beats in Owen Egerton’s writing and directing. When Dax refers to undead creatures as “Boyles” and “Snyders,” Egerton seemingly wants fans to feel smart for realizing, “hey, he’s talking about fast-moving zombies!” Other in-the-know moments include shot-for-shot recreations of “Psycho’s” shower scene and Rhodes’ “Day of the Dead” death, perhaps giving others the self-satisfaction of turning to an oblivious neighbor to explain the reference.
Such instances, which are indeed plentiful, rarely come off as obnoxious however. Most jokes come and go so quickly, it doesn’t feel like “Blood Fest” elbows overhard to say, “Get it? Get it?” Firing at easy targets isn’t equivalent to offensively insulting intelligence. Egerton merely wants “Blood Fest” to have snarky fun with its sense of humor.
Vibrant production design, snappy editing, and a collectively charismatic cast smooth out many remaining rough edges. Robbie Kay makes Dax as dorkily endearing as he needs to be. Seychelle Gabriel from “Sleight” (review here) and Jacob Batalon of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” also infuse their sidekicks with personalized charm that supersedes predictable stereotypes.
“Blood Fest” doesn’t aim to be a be-all-end-all horror film parody. It’s simply splattery and silly, but in a blackly good-humored way that has the colorful enthusiasm of an R-rated “Goosebumps” movie for adults.
Like any comedy, individual mileage will vary according to how hard and how often its humor hits. Does a bit about someone who “thought ‘Black Christmas’ was a Tyler Perry holiday movie” make you snicker? If so, “Blood Fest” has plenty more where that came from. If you just bent down to pick up the eyes that rolled out of your head, well, now you know to direct your attention somewhere else instead.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 70