By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
VALENCIA, Calif.—On a balmy Southern California night, we’re invited to Six Flags Magic Mountain to join the filmmakers and cast of the upcoming horror flick “Hell Fest” to talk about the film, set in a theme park that provides the perfect cover for a psychopathic serial killer.
Six Flags, the world’s largest regional theme park company and CBS Films have an exclusive national partnership to provide Six Flags guests with a unique experience in support the CBS Films and Lionsgate’s latest horror movie release, arriving in theaters Friday, Sept. 28.
In the film, college student Natalie (Amy Forsyth, “Rise”) is visiting her best friend Brooke (Reign Edwards, “Snowfall”) and her roommate Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus, “Voltron”) back in her hometown just in time for Halloween. The girls and their dates—Natalie is paired up for a first date with shy but cute Gavin (Roby Attal, “The Long Road Home”)—head out for Hell Fest, a sprawling labyrinth of rides, games, and mazes that travels the country and happens to be in town. The event offers a fun and scary carnival of nightmares.
For one visitor, though, Hell Fest is not the attraction—it is a hunting ground, an opportunity to slay in plain view of the giddy crowds, 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 begins to climb, the psycho killer turns his masked face to Natalie, Brooke, Taylor and their boyfriends who must fight back in order to survive the night. The film also stars Christian James (“Legal Action”), newcomer Matt Mercurio and horror movie icon Tony Todd (“Candyman,” the “Final Destination” franchise).
“Hell Fest” is produced Gale Anne Hurd (“The Walking Dead,” “The Terminator”) and Tucker Tooley (“Limitless”), and directed by Gregory Plotkin (“Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension”). It is based on a story by William Penick, Christopher Sey and Stephen Susco, with a screenplay by Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler and Akela Cooper.
The spookily designed haunted attractions based on the movie are replicated this Halloween season at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, N.J. and Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Ill., where haunted mazes are turned into real life replicas of the movie’s most unnerving, goriest and most epic scenes.
After entering the mouth into the Hell Fest maze, visitors may venture through a number of rooms, each themed to depict scenes straight from the movie including: The Mausoleum, an increasingly narrow corridor that forces guests to feel the touch of death, The Mask Room a haunting room filled with floating white faces that could spring to life when visitors least expect it, The Doll Room, filled with dolls straight out of the worst nightmares and The Torture Chamber, where the bodies of the disassembled, dissected and disemboweled wish to share their horrific ending. Room by room, guests must find their way out, or risk being trapped by “The Other,” the movie’s deranged antagonist.
The Fright Fest attraction runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 31. Operating schedules vary by park. For more information, visit sixflags.com.
In the near-deserted park, which has been closed to the public for the evening, the filmmakers and stars of the film discuss their characters, the film and what really scares them.
Amy Forsyth, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Christian James and Roby Attal talk dating and horror
Q: Is going to a maze at a Halloween theme park a good idea for a first date? What are the pros and cons?
Taylor-Klaus: Yes. Such a good idea for a first date. Pros—they might jump into your arms so there’s the close contact.
Forsyth: Yeah but that also could be a con if the date’s not going well.
James: That’s when you just run ahead and tell one of the workers, “I don’t like this person,” and they lock her up and you run. (He laughs.)
Forsyth: And then you lose them in the maze—that’s tragic.
Q: When you were starting your career, did you work at a theme park or have to dress up as a character?
(They all point to James.)
James: I didn’t start acting until I was 20. When I was in high school I worked at a theme park near my hometown (Atlanta) and before that I worked at “Netherworld” (a haunted house attraction in Stone Mountain, Ga.) one year, so I was a “scare” for a few years.
Q: Do you have any weird experiences doing that? Did you ever get accidentally hit?
James: No one ever hit me. Most of the time, everyone was pretty cool about it. A few people swung at me but I could always dodge it.
Q: Amy, you do a lot of screaming and running in this. Did you rehearse your screams at home?
Forsyth: I have a horrible fear of having to scream on camera. Everybody loves that high-pitched, blood-curdling scream. I don’t have that. When I get scared, it’s more like a low, guttural reaction, which is normally not what people are looking for. So, screaming makes me stressed and nervous, so I didn’t really practice it. I should have practiced running because then I could have handled it better.
Taylor-Klaus: Running sucks.
Q: Bex, your character actually gets picked up and carried away at one point in the film.
Taylor-Klaus: Yeah, I get tossed around like a sack of potatoes.
Q: Your character, Taylor, also faces the guillotine.
Taylor-Klaus: She loves it right up until she doesn’t. But the guillotine was my favorite part. From the very second I read the script, I was looking forward to it. I was like, “I’m so ready for this. I’m so excited.”
Q: You play lifelong friends on what is supposed to be a fun night out at a Halloween festival. Did you have chemistry from the outset?
Attal: I felt really lucky about it, honestly because I had not met anybody else in the cast our first day of reading the script together. It was just kind of a lucky thing. I think there are productions you’ll come across and you think, “This is going to be strange.” And this was not one of those.
Taylor-Klaus: I met Amy and Reign at the chemistry read and we spent six hours together. The second Greg told me that they had been cast as Natalie and Brooke, I was like, “That’s exactly what I was hoping he would say.” It was just the right people all made it there.
Q: Are you big Halloween fans?
Taylor-Klaus: Big time.
Attal: I love spooky season.
Forsyth: I love mazes and escape rooms—anything like that. That’s right up my alley.
Tony Todd on playing The Barker
Q: The Barker is the eccentric-looking emcee of this event, who arrives with much fanfare like a king for the Hell Fest main event. Did you create a backstory for him?
Todd: Absolutely. His name is Stephen Dunderville. He owns Hell Fest. Every year, he goes to a different destination and he tries to bring people the scares that the people need and want in their lives—one night of the year in an otherwise dry existence. He’s got a musical background, hence his costume. He’s a love child.
Q: Is he anything like you?
Todd: Yeah, because you have to have a little bit of you in every character you play. Am I that eccentric? Probably not.
Q: How was it putting that elaborate costume together?
Todd: Lovely! I loved working with costume designer Eulyn Kufkie. She’s from South Africa. She was so eccentric and had so many choices for me to filter through I felt like for the first time in my life like that little girl who goes through her mother’s closet putting on the ruffles and stuff. That’s how many choices she gave me. So, that was fantastic.
Q: What was the makeup process like?
Todd: It took about three hours.
Q: Does it take time for you to get into character?
Todd: No, because I’m a transformative guy. When I put on the layers of costume—suiting up as it were and the makeup adds three hours to the process—it’s layers. It’s like my time on “Star Trek” when I was a Klingon, each little thing gives you something. Every wrinkle tells a story. All of us have wrinkles. That’s our story.
Q: You work with this young actress, Bex Taylor-Klaus, a bit. Tell me about her.
Todd: She’s wonderful. She’s a spitfire but she’s also genuine. I remember first seeing her in the “The Killing” on AMC. I thought she was a young talent and when she showed up on set (for “Hell Fest”), she’s in my scene and I’m in her scene and we welcomed each other. It was a cross-generational thing.
Q: How long were you in Georgia shooting this?
Todd: Five days.
Q: Did you shoot the crowd scenes over a period of nights?
Todd: (He laughs.) I can’t tell you the secrets of that. What does it matter how many nights?
Q: Is the Barker in on the secret of The Other?
Todd: Do I look like I’m in on it? I’m genuinely here for the people who came to see my attraction.
Director Gary Plotkin talks on setting the stage for “Hell Fest”
Q: Tell me about the origin of this and how did you get involved?
Plotkin: This is something (producer) Gale Ann Hurd has been developing through her company, Valhalla, for a number of years. Gale and I share a love of these haunts, these Halloween festivals. I found out it was available (to direct). I know Seth Sherwood, who’s one of the original writers on the film. I kind of just kept poking him and asking him what’s going on. And, to get to work with Gale, is just a dream come true. I pinch myself every day. She’s amazing. And I feel like this is a film that is so much in our lexicon right now. We all go to these haunts; it’s such a huge industry. I felt it was something I hadn’t seen and I wanted to make it.
Q: Pacing is important in thrillers like this. How did you decide when to have your kills?
Plotkin: It was important to spend enough time to have the audience like our characters. If you like the characters, you’ll be scared for the characters and you’ll want them to live. Hell Fest, the park, is the idea of the film so I wanted to get the audience into it as quickly as possible. I have an editorial background so pacing wasn’t an issue. As far as the kills go, there isn’t really a formula. When did I feel comfortable enough with the character? When did I feel confidence that I had the audience’s trust that the character was safe and lovable? So, we played with it. But the film ends up really speaking to you when to do it, and it really builds on relationships.
Q: What were you looking for in the casting of these actors, especially Amy Forsyth who plays the protagonist Natalie?
Plotkin: I was looking for believability. I felt like I was looking for people who could relate for our audience members. I met with each of them individually. I did a lot of chemistry reads. Once I had Rainn, Amy and Bex together, it just felt like they had been friends forever. It was the same with the three guys. I had casting directors here in LA as well as Atlanta, and I told them to find me the best of the best of these young, unknown actors. They actually have great bodies of work but they felt real, and that was super-important to me.
Q: You also have horror icon Tony Todd in this.
Plotkin: Tony’s the best.
Q: Was it difficult to get him?
Plotkin: Tony was that wish-list, pie-in-the-sky. We started the film with that character not cast. Every day, I’d ask, “Could we get Tony?” Two days before he showed up, they said, “We got Tony.” I went nuts. I told the whole crew, “We got Tony Todd!” They were like, “Calm down and shoot the movie.” He turned to be better than I expected. He not only is a great actor but he’s an even better human being. He’s just super-smart and generous. The great thing was when he came on set, he had almost the same backstory for the character as I had. So, we bonded over that and he took it to another level. He carried this throne that he was carried out on. He said, “I’m the barker. I own this place. I should come out on a throne.” I agreed. So, we built a throne for him right away. And we brought him out. It was so fitting for the character. So, it was a dream come true.
Q: How surreal was it going through the maze tonight, which is based on the mazes the characters go through in the movie?
Plotkin: It was so surreal, because I’ve never been on the other side. I’ve always been controlling it, setting it up, creating it, so now to go through it is great. Six Flags has been an amazing partner. We shot (the movie) at Six Flags in Marietta, Georgia. They’ve now embraced us and they now have mazes throughout the country. Just going through it, not knowing where the performers are going to be or know where the scares are going to happen, I was just able to enjoy it like an audience member.