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EIFF 2018: Blood Fest (2018) written and directed by Owen Egerton

N.B. This film is not on wide release in the UK at present. It is showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on Friday 22nd and Sunday 24th June 2018.

A horror fan’s dream turns into a nightmare

Robbie Kay plays Dax, an adolescent boy whose mother was murdered by a masked killer who broke into her kitchen when he was very young. Despite her unpleasant fate, however, he has grown up to be a die-hard horror buff due to his fond memories of sitting on the couch with her watching only black-and-white Universal classics. He’s really excited that there’s a huge horror festival known as Blood Fest running in town tonight - and is primed to go there with his best friends Sam (Seychelle Gabriel) and Krill (Jacob Batalon).

Unfortunately, his psychiatrist father Dr. Conway (Tate Donovan) doesn’t share his enthusiasm as he blames his wife’s death on her killer being fixated on horror movie monsters. Indeed, he’s scheduled to appear that night on a talk show denigrating the genre and wants Dax to come with him instead of going to the festival, even going as far as to cut up his wristband so that he can’t enter. The desperate teen manages to persuade an actress friend named Ashley (Barbara Dunkelman) to seduce her horror director boyfriend Lenjamin (Nicholas Rutherford) to pull some strings to get him in.

The five attend the opening ceremony. The festival host (played by writer/director Owen Egerton) himself kicks things off by decrying modern horror films as being too safe. He then tells the rapturous crowd that he will make the genre great again. With that, he invites a pair of young women on stage to get murdered by a masked serial killer who bears an uncanny resemblance to the one which took Dax’s mother. While they initially think this is all a joke, the masked murderer cuts the girls’ throats in a manner which looks all too realistic. To follow, a group of men wearing pig masks set upon the crowd with chainsaws, proceeding to cut a number of people to ribbons. This insane host wants to create his own horror film… with the festival attendees as the victims.

Amid the chaos, Dax, Sam, Krill, Ashley and Lenjamin find refuge in a storeroom. Ashley reveals that she has a key card for the back gate. Thus, the group decides to make a break for it. However, this means passing through a number of perilous zones, each one inhabited by its own variety of horror monstrosities including zombies, vampires, clowns and a garden tool-wielding murderer. In order to survive, they need to use their own knowledge of genre rules and tropes against their assailants.

Watch a trailer:

Nothing new but still entertaining

Let’s face it, meta-horror has already been done plenty of times before in such films as Waxwork (1988), Scream (1996) and The Cabin in the Woods (2012). Therefore, the prospect of yet another one where various genre cliches are self-consciously ticked off with more regularity than the like-clockwork gruesome supporting character deaths is hardly likely to inspire even the greenest of horror fans.

Now wait a minute… before you roll your eyes, yawn and turn away, Blood Fest still manages to extract quite a bit of fun out of an idea which has already clocked up plenty of mileage. It simply zips by, not really offering any radical surprises but doing what it says on the tin very well. There’s an evident affection for all things horror evident throughout, from the charming opening, featuring young Dax sitting on the sofa enjoying popcorn with his mother while they watch Bela Lugosi, through the enthusiastic splatters of gore which drench the screen every couple of minutes, to the wonderful idea of pitting zombies against killer clowns during one choice scene (why hasn’t anyone thought of that before?). There’s even a surprisingly funny homage to the Saw series thrown in here for good measure.

Blood Fest (2018) written and directed by Owen Egerton

If the film has an underlying theme, it’s that it takes a dig at the simplistic psychological explanations which inform both the motivations of horror movie monsters and, ironically, the arguments peddled by real-life self-imposed moral guardians who make it their life’s mission to have such films banned. In slasher movies, the various serial murderers are usually driven by vengefulness after a heinous or traumatic incident was perpetrated against them in the past. Real-life moral guardians, meanwhile, attribute human tendencies towards violence being a result of it having been witnessed in films (or video games, television or whatever). In both cases, the infinitely deeper complexities which really lurk behind such extreme actions are ignored in favour of crude, easily-digestible narratives.

The young main cast is saddled with pretty standard wisecracking teen roles but do well enough within their limitations. The best known here is Jacob Batalon (who played Peter Parker’s best buddy in Spider-Man Homecoming) as an obese, nerdish electronics expert. Owen Egerton hams it up entertainingly as the playfully exuberant main villain of the piece. There is also a fair amount of wit and snap in the dialogue, with some irresistible lines such as “She told me she didn’t want to watch Se7en because she hasn’t seen One to Six yet.”

Blood Fest won’t go down in history as any kind of seminal horror masterpiece but, nonetheless, it’s undeniably entertaining.

Runtime: 90 mins

Dir: Owen Egerton

Script: Owen Egerton

Starring: Robbie Kay, Seychelle Gabriel, Jacob Batalon, Barbara Dunkelman, Tate Donovan, Zachary Levi, Nicholas Rutherford, Owen Egerton

Rating: ☆☆☆1/2

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