The teens at the heart of Blood Fest inhabit a space in which popular slasher franchises from our world exist but self-aware horror comedies like Scream and The Cabin in the Woods evidently do not. Written and directed by Owen Egerton, who also stars as the Willy Wonka-esque ringmaster of the violent celebration, the movie gleefully indulges in horror tropes. Its nucleus of semi-virginal horror-obsessed high-schoolers is well aware that they will only escape the mayhem by following the rigid formulas of teen horror while wielding its clichés like weapons. But despite name-checking genre-straddling horror as recent as Get Out, the film’s characters nevertheless proceed as though following “the rules” of horror to escape contrived scenarios hasn’t already been done to death.

In keeping with its winking aesthetic, Blood Fest gives its protagonist, Dax (Robbie Kay), an over-the-top backstory. The film opens with a young Dax (Tristan Riggs) witnessing the brutal murder of his scary-movie-loving mom (Samantha Ireland) by a masked killer, a mental patient of his shrink dad. Years later, Dax copes with his real-life horror story by losing himself in fictional ones, where death is less chaotic because it must follow the formula. He works as a clerk at the local video store and adorns his bedroom with all manner of horror paraphernalia. He’s fixated on attending the local gore-apolooza and he won’t be stopped even when his Blood Fest wristband is discovered by his stern dad (Tate Conway), who blames scary movies for his wife’s murder and has launched an elaborate activist campaign to eradicate them.

Of course, Dax finds a way into the festival anyway. Along with pals Sam (Seychelle Gabriel) and Krill (Jacob Batalon), he’s ready to take part in a gathering that promises to immerse attendees into a dozen horror movie scenarios throughout its dark, wooded festival grounds. But things quickly turn sideways when the grisly mass murders ultimately turn out to be real. The bloodletting is all orchestrated from a tower that overlooks the festival grounds, strings meticulously pulled through the use of a small army of both conspirators and unwitting participants. Zombies? Corpses reanimated through electric vests. Vampires? The result of a communicable infection. Along the way, we get killer clowns and sadistic Saw-like games. We’ve seen it all before a hundred times, and that’s the point.

But Blood Fest never establishes a clear tone, its incredibly cheesy aesthetic, chintzy CGI violence and fantastically unrealistic scenarios frequently blurring the line between parody and earnestness. As a result, the film comes off as perplexing more than anything else. Egerton’s own portrayal of a scenery-chewing, mustache-twirling villain presents perhaps the biggest tonal inconsistency within this film, the core cast of would-be victims otherwise largely watchable and occasionally compelling despite a weak script. For a film that purportedly hinges upon knowing “the rules” of horror tropes, more time is spent name-checking famous scary movies than implementing their lessons into the meta-narrative. There’s nothing scary, subversive, clever or comical in merely acknowledging the existence of better horror films and mirroring their clichés, all while ignoring the spate of modern horror-comedies that have lovingly skewered the genre so much more effectively.

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