Intensely introspective and self-critical, Owen Egerton’s “Blood Fest” is a hilarious addition to the genre of horror-comedy, with a twist ending no one in their right mind would expect.
“Blood Fest” is Egerton’s brilliant answer to SXSW, where writers, directors, actors and fans of horror congregate to celebrate the movies they love. Or at least they think it is. All Dax (Robbie Kay) wants is to go to the horror movie festival with his friends, but his psychiatrist father (Tate Donovan) has cut his ticket to bits, as Dax’s mother was killed by a former patient who had become obsessed with the film “Leatherface.” The festival takes a turn, as the agenda of the showman (Egerton) behind the event comes to light.
The key to survival in “Blood Fest” is a detailed knowledge of the principles and rules which will guarantee the safety of attendees who know the ins and outs of the genre. Don’t split up, don’t mock the monsters, don’t have sex and you’ll be fine. Maybe. Dax’s obsession with horror proves useful in ensuring his survival, but ultimately serves as a critique of the genre itself. Over time, horror has been reduced to rules, guidelines and tropes surrounding the management of one’s own fear and the fears of screenwriters. This critique turns introspective as a younger Dax and his mother (Samantha Ireland) are discussing why people watch horror movies -- to be scared, to feel control over their fears.
Some of the best punchlines come from an actor, Hinkley (Chris Doubek), being unfamiliar with films he himself has acted in. He can’t even remember the name of his character, a brilliant blunder which nearly gets him killed. This character represents the chance for redemption almost every horror franchise allots its most troubled characters. Not only are the tropes of horror referenced as guidelines to survival in dialogue, they are personified by characters. The excellent writing by Egerton in this case is truly unique, where the characters are having real conversations about the mechanics of horror they themselves are representing.
The film also contains timely political messages concerning violence conditioning via film and first-person shooter video games. The zombies of the festival are controlled by a room full of people believing themselves to be involved with product testing, not remotely controlling zombies who are killing real people. Dax’s father is also campaigning against horror films, arguing the prevalence of blood, gore and violence are tainting the minds of children and enhancing their tendency toward violence in real life. He then turns around a few scenes later and says he isn’t afraid of anything because he wields a gun, capable of doing more harm to other people faster than anyone can harm him. His argument mirrors many arguments made in opposition to gun control. This message is about as subtle as the homages to horror classics, has a slow build up, then slaps you in the face with a revolver in the last act.
Overall, this seems to be a problem which pervades the film: the messages and references to classic horror come on far too strong, far too often. There is a new reference thrown in every five seconds and unless you’re a truly dedicated fan, some may fly right over your head. With very little breathing room between one-liners and graphic references, very little of the actual writing and set design feels unique to “Blood Fest.”
With a creative concept and over the top homage complex, “Blood Fest” really is a unique film, insofar as the idea and execution. It lives up to its name, having used over 40 gallons of fake blood. However, if you are not well-versed in the principles and images of horror, much of the film will be new to you. Here is your excuse to stage a horror marathon.