31st Aug2018

Frightfest 2018: ‘Fright Fest’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Dylan Walsh, Madison McKinley, Romeo Miller, Mercy Malick, Ashley Blankenship, Luke Baines, Pancho Moler, Robert Scott Wilson, Heather Ann Davis, Jonathan Camp, Kresh Novakovic | Written by Robert Gillings | Directed by Anton Novakovic

fright-fest-poster

It was only a matter of time before someone named a horror movie after FrightFest. Unfortunately, this dismal effort (also known as American Fright Fest) from director Anton Novakovic isn’t worthy of the festival that bears its name. In fact, it’s so bad that it makes the similarly themed, similarly titled and similarly not very good Blood Fest (also released this year) look like a masterpiece by comparison.

Set in smalltown Somerton, Pennsylvania (“The safest small town in America”), Fright Fest centres on washed up, drug-crazed horror director Spencer Crowe (Dylan Walsh), who’s hired to create a live action Halloween event by vote-hungry Mayor Fowler (Kresh Novakovic, that surname presumably no coincidence). Crowe’s Fright Fest takes place in an abandoned asylum, but unbeknownst to the organisers, a van transporting a psychopathic prisoner (Jonathan Camp) crashes outside the event and he soon makes his way inside and begins slaughtering his way through the crowds, most of whom believe it’s all part of the show.

There’s so much that’s wrong with Fright Fest that it’s difficult to know where to begin. For one thing, Robert Gillings’ script fails to establish basic things like the details of the event itself (Crowe announces it will be full of “plants”, but we never see any other spooky characters, even as a fake-out), or even a set of clearly defined characters to root for – Madison McKinley is the nominal female lead and her character isn’t even named in the film.

On top of that, the direction is shockingly inept, to the point where even the blocking is atrocious, particularly in a scene involving a local cop. Aside from failing to establish an overall sense of the asylum itself (meaning that extras just keep running up and down characters, occasionally getting hacked into bits by Camp’s masked psycho), Novakovic has no sense of visual style and no concept of suspense or tension. Even the film’s key set-piece, with the Mayor agreeing to a staged execution in the electric chair, just happens, rather than delivering its intended pay-off.

On top of everything else, the film is just plain unpleasant, epitomised by a shockingly misogynistic early death scene which is then applauded by the unaware crowd. It would be charitable to assume that the filmmakers intended a certain amount of satire here, but unfortunately they lack the wit to pull that off and the scene falls painfully flat. A similar idea surrounds Walsh’s Crowe, who realises what’s going on and decides to film all the real-life deaths, believing he has “the greatest horror film ever made” on his hands (not with those CCTV angles, he doesn’t), but again, it’s so ineptly delivered and on-the-nose that it just feels clumsy.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, the characters are so thinly sketched that you barely even notice when they get killed off, let alone emotionally invest in them. It doesn’t help that there are multiple bad performances, especially in the supporting cast, leading to the strong suspicion that Novakovic just gave small roles to all his mates.

If the film has anything going for it, it’s only a handful of effectively grisly gore effects, but those mean nothing when the story supporting them is so poorly structured and executed. One to avoid.

* 1/5

Fright Fest screened at Arrow Video Frightfest on Saturday August 26th.

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