The most effective thing in a horror film isn’t the jump scare, it’s everything leading up to it…
When it comes to scary good fun, Hell Fest Producer Gale Anne Hurd has an impressive resume: her credits include horror and sci-fi bonafides such as Aliens, The Terminator, The Abyss and TV’s The Walking Dead, classics that have inspired generations of audiences to hide under their beds.
“Given my experience, you’d think I’d be impossible to scare. The truth is, I scare pretty easily when I’m out of my element,” Hurd confesses. “I’ve been going to horror mazes and Halloween events at theme parks for years, and when somebody is running at me with a chainsaw, my brain doesn’t tell me it’s fake. My brain tells me to get the hell out of there.”
Hell Fest is the latest thrill ride from Hurd, directed by Gregory Plotkin from a screenplay by Seth M. Sherwood and Blair Butler and Akela Cooper, from a story by William Penick & Christopher Sey and Stephen Susco. .
On Halloween night, three young women and their respective boyfriends head to Hell Fest — a ghoulish traveling carnival that features a labyrinth of rides, games and mazes
Every year thousands follow Hell Fest to experience fear at the ghoulish carnival of nightmares.
But for one visitor, Hell Fest is not the attraction – it is a hunting ground.
An opportunity to slay in plain view of a gawking audience, too caught up in the terrifyingly fun atmosphere to recognize the horrific reality playing out before their eyes.
As the body count and frenzied excitement of the crowds continue to rise, he turns his masked gaze to Natalie, Brooke, Taylor and their boyfriends who will fight to survive the night.
Given the rise in popularity of haunted houses and horror mazes, Hurd fell in love with the film’s premise.
“So many people I know love coming to these parks,” says Hurd. “This is a phenomenon that has taken over worldwide. We live in a time when we have fewer and fewer interpersonal connections, and these mazes tend to be interactive, up close and personal…entire parks full of people in masks devoted to scaring you. What if one of those people wasn’t acting? What if that man with the chainsaw was really out to get you? It’s really exciting to set a horror film in that environment because it’s ripe for this kind of story, and it’s grounded enough that it feels like it could really happen.”
Producer Tucker Tooley (Masterminds,The Space Between Us) was also drawn to the film’s reliability.
“We’ve all been to haunted houses and festivals like this,” says Tooley. “There’s something appealing about going somewhere that appears scary on its surface, and on another level still allows you to feel safe, but then pulls the rug out from under you. It’s an immediately familiar concept and I knew it was a great setting for a movie like this.”
Director Gregory Plotkin (Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension) returns to the director’s chair after editing two genre bending hit horror films in 2017: Happy Death Day and Get Out (which Plotkin’s expert editing helped propel to an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.)
“Greg is a multi-hypenate,” praises Hurd. “As an editor, he knows what he wants and knows how to communicate that to the cast without having to shoot a scene 30 different ways. He edited Get Out, which I absolutely loved. Not only was it a great horror film, but it was one of the truly great films of last year. Before that, he directed the most recent Paranormal Activity, and edited almost every film in that series prior to that. He knows how to scare you.”
“The most effective thing in a horror film isn’t the jump scare,” notes Tooley. “It’s everything leading up to it: the quiet, the tension, and not knowing what you’re about to see. It was a pleasure working with Greg, because as an editor, he knows how to craft these moments like no one else. He’s a tremendous filmmaker who knows this genre inside and out.”
Plotkin partially credits his preternatural gift for horror to his birthday. “I was born the day before Halloween, so it’s been a huge holiday for me my entire life,” says Plotkin. “I’ve been a horror fan since I was a kid. The original Halloween is one of my all time favorite films. On my 11th birthday, I took all my friends to see Halloween 2. I also love theme parks, especially now that I have kids, so Hell Fest is the perfect melding of things I love.”
“The appeal of these haunted parks and horror films is much the same,” Plotkin explains. “They’re both shared experiences that create an emotional response, a jolt. They’re unpredictable, and a way to get you out of your comfort zone, but ultimately knowing you’re safe. And the fun thing about this movie is they’re obviously not safe.”
“I don’t think you can do a horror film without paying homage to something,” Plotkin shares. “I grew up loving slasher films, so it’s been fun for me to put a new spin on a classic concept and bring them back into the mainstream.”
Hell Fest’s masked killer (known only as “The Other”) proudly follows in the iconic footsteps of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Ghostface.
“There’s a nod to the slasher genre films here,” Tooley acknowledges. “There’s a nostalgic, throw-back quality to having a masked, unknown assailant, but the twists and turns in the story make it unique.”
“The anonymity of the internet was a huge inspiration for the character,” Plotkin explains. “People can get behind a keyboard and be absolutely awful to one another. The Other is the personification of that negativity, getting away with doing all these awful things one day out of the year and going back to his life.”
Shrouded in mystery, The Other’s greatest asset is blending into the crowd. “He isn’t a hulking brute,” says Plotkin. “He doesn’t make much of an impression physically, which makes him more dangerous. You don’t see him coming.”
“He has the non-descript wardrobe of any other 30 to 40 year old man: a hoodie, jeans and work boots,” Plotkin continues. “I want people to see what he’s wearing and say ‘I’ve worn that hoodie. I’ve worn those jeans. I have those boots!’”
The man behind the mask is stuntman Steve Conroy (The Walking Dead, Captain America: Civil War).
“Steve has the perfect physicality for The Other,” Plotkin explains. “He’s not overly big, but his movements are controlled and deliberate in a way that feels really sinister.”
“The idea is that when I’m onscreen, I’m a menacing presence, but not overbearing,” says Conroy. “Even when I wasn’t in character, whenever I wore the mask on set you could see it was making people uncomfortable.”
Like the haunted mazes depicted in the film, Hell Fest is best experienced in a group. “Like Natalie in the film, I’m usually the first to be skeptical about a scary park or movie, but I always find myself enjoying it,” Hurd confesses. “I’m there with my daughter and her friends and we’re all loving the experience, regardless of age. There’s this great sense of community. It’s something you can share with your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your friends or your family and all have a great time.”
“I love this genre, and think about all the great horror films that made such a huge impression on me in my childhood and adult life,” says Plotkin. “I really just want people to be scared and to have as much fun watching Hell Fest as we did making it.”
“Don’t go by yourself,” Tooley warns. “There’s safety in numbers.”
“You’ll have a great time in the dark with your friends,” Hurd promises. “Hell Fest is an absolutely frightening, rowdy and fun ride.”
The Creative Team
GREGORY PLOTKIN, A.C.E. (Director, Co-Editor) Gregory Plotkin is a Los Angeles native who grew up enamored with the film industry, specifically editing and directing. He graduated from UCLA with a Bachelors degree in English and started his editorial career assisting on such films as Pleasantville, The Insider and Pay It Forward. He made the transition to editor by associate editing the features Friday Night Lights, Dreamer and Fracture. Plotkin made his studio debut as lead editor on the 2009 feature Untraceable. He then went on to edit the feature films Paranormal Activity 2, 3, 4 and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones for Paramount Studios and Blumhouse Productions.
In 2014, he made his directorial debut on the short Virtual Reality film Black Mass. Plotkin directed his first feature film, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, for Paramount Pictures in 2015.
In 2017, he jumped back into the editing chair on the feature film Get Out for Universal Studios / Blumhouse Productions. The film was both a commercial and critical success earning four Academy Award® nominations including Best Picture. He immediately went on to edit the feature films Happy Death Day for Universal / Blumhouse Productions as well as the New Line feature Game Night.
William Penick (Story By) received a BFA from Carnegie Mellon Acting Conservatory, attended BADA (British American Drama Academy) and worked as a professional actor in New York for six years, including work at the Williamstown Theater Festival, before moving to Los Angeles and to pursue writing in film and television. Partnering with fellow writer Chris Sey, the two sold Drury Lane, a comedy horror to MGM, which was later developed into Motel Hell, as well as Secrets Inthe Walls for the Lifetime Television Network and It’s Christmas, Carol! for Hallmark Television. William recently wrote the romantic comedy, A Harvest Wedding which aired on the Hallmark Channel and currently has several projects in development.
Christopher Sey (Story by) has written and developed for various studios and production companies in both film and TV. Two recently written screenplays, a supernatural thriller, and a biopic about the controversial UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, are in development. He’s also currently writing a biopic about Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.
In 1993, Stephen Susco (Story by) wrote and directed a short film that became the regional winner of a College Television Award (“student Emmy”). In his second year as a student of USC’s Graduate Film Production program, he produced a short film that went on to win a Student Academy Award (“student Oscar”), and was hired by New Line Cinema to write his first professional screenplay, an adaptation of Anthony Bourdain’s first novel Bone In The Throat.
Susco’s first produced feature film, The Grudge, was produced by legendary director Sam Raimi. Costing under $10M, it grossed almost $200 million worldwide in its theatrical release and remains one of the most financially successful horror films of all time. Along with its sequels, the grudge has generated an estimated half-billion dollars of revenue.
Four of his films – The Grudge,The Grudge 2,The Possession and Texas Chainsaw 3d – placed #1 at the U.S. box office, and two others (Red, and High School) premiered at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Beyond The Reach, a thriller he developed and produced with Michael Douglas, premiered at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival.
His directorial debut, Unfriended:Dark Web, was produced by horror maven Jason Blum (Get Out, The Purge, Insidious, Split, Paranormal Activity), premiered at the 2018 SXSW Film Festival and was a selection in the New York Times’ “standout films” list.
Other upcoming releases include a TV adaptation of a Stephen King novella; Bitter, an original screenplay currently casting for a fall shoot in Ireland; and a script developed with a decorated former CIA officer (based on a true story) with the producer of Spotlight and John Wick.
Seth M. Sherwood (Screenplay by) is a Los Angeles based screenwriter, director, designer, and producer. His feature screenwriting credits include Leatherface for Millennium/ Lionsgate and on-set rewrites on London Has Fallen. He was an executive producer on two Millennium films: Day Ofthe Dead and Fallen Angel. Sherwood has also directed an award winning short film entitled Fruitcake, as well as a FedEx commercial.
Blair Butler (Screenplay by) got her start in live television, where she spent eight years as a writer, producer, and on-air correspondent for G4’s Attack Of the Show. While there, she created an animated comedy series called Slasher School in collaboration with Titmouse, Inc. She also wrote a mockumentary comedy pilot for E-One that is a mash-up of a HGTV home renovation show and The Exorcist and follows the trials and supernatural tribulations of a married couple flipping cursed and haunted houses.
Disciples was her first drama script in the horror genre. A procedural detective show with supernatural elements, Disciples won her the job adapting the short film Polaroid for Dimension. The film was directed by Lars Klevberg and is awaiting release.
She is currently finishing a horror feature for James Wan’s Atomic Monster at New Line and working on a feature project for Bad Robot and Paramount.
Akela Cooper (Screenplay by) is currently working with Steve DeKnight on the Netflix series order, Jupiter’s Legacy based on a comic book series by Mark Millar. Previously, she was previously showrunning Netflix’s straight to series order Chambers.
On the film side, her movie M3gan was just green lit through Universal/Blumhouse with James Wan/Atomic Monster producing and Gerard Johnstone directing, shooting this fall. Cooper previously worked on the Netflix/Marvel drama series Luke Cage, the Ryan Murphy FX series, American Horror Story as well as The 100,The Witches Of East End, Grimm, and V.