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Hell’s Half Acre (2023) Review

“We’re explorers, not fake ghost hunters” Marcus (Quinn Nehr, Sheltered, Mary’s Buttons) tells Jessie (Brynn Beveridge, Bloodline, Time Will Never Tell) at the beginning of Hell’s Half Acre. And he means it, he’s not interested in looking for ghosts in an allegedly haunted prison. Even if some ghost hunting might make his floundering urban exploration YouTube channel the money needed to help save his mother’s house, where he still lives, from foreclosure.

He is willing to do one of his usual videos in the prison, however. So he, Jesse, Dan (James Matthew Fuller, Candie’s Harem, Not Another Zombie Movie…. About the Living Dead), Jose (Omar Vega Jr., Chicago P.D.), and the new addition to the team Cassie (Amanda Buhs, The Day After Halloween, Wig’d Out) make plans to explore Rockland Heights Prison. But he’s going to have to deal with the supernatural, whether he likes it or not.

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Writer/director John Patrick Tomasek (Distorted, Verräter) starts Hell’s Half Acre out with the haunted prison setting we’ve seen in everything from Slaughterhouse Rock and Prison to The Haunting of Alcatraz and Paranormal Prison. He gives the place a backstory that involves a deadly riot led by not one but two serial killers, the cannibalistic Martin Clay (Anthony Pape, Those Who Move Mountains) and Eddie “The Red Ripper” Richards (Gary Soumar, Horrortales.666 Part 3, Stuck) who liked to paint on walls with his victim’s blood.

With a backstory like that, it’s no surprise that the place is haunted. But in case that isn’t enough, he makes Marcus so outspoken about his disbelief in ghosts, God, and Satan that you know something will turn up to disprove him. So it’s no surprise when someone sits in the electric chair and starts seeing themself as one of the executed killers.

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Hell’s Half Acre looks like it was shot at least partially in an unused prison, and I say unused rather than abandoned because it looks more like a museum and a building sitting vacant and ignored for thirty years. While it adds to the film’s production values, it also kills a lot of the atmosphere because it’s so unconvincingly clean and well-lit. 

The same is true of the funeral home we see them in near the beginning. It even has expensive and well-preserved coffins that would have been looted long ago, either by another funeral home or goths looking to redecorate. I understand that budget dictates what you can use for locations, but making them look believable, or as believable as possible, goes a long way toward making a film like this work.

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Tomasek tosses several twists at the viewer such as a trio of obnoxious ghost hunters, “The Ghost Getters” led by Mike (Tony Lee Gratz, God’s Not Here, Sadistic) who are also shooting in the prison. Some work, but others like a connection between one of the crew and one of the serial killers, are pretty much expected in a film like this.

My vision for Hell’s Half Acre while directing it is that I wanted the audience not to know what was coming next with some key plot twists, keeping them engaged and entertained.

John Patrick Tomasek

The ones that do work however, manage to keep Hell’s Half Acre a bit more entertaining than a lot of similar films. It’s never particularly scary but it did keep me watching, and for a low-budget film it does manage to provide a respectable amount of gore in the last act. Overall it’s nothing special but it will painlessly pass some time.

Terror Films will release Hell’s Half Acre on Digital and VOD Platforms on April 28th. And if you want more than a half acre of hell, FilmTagger can suggest some further viewing.

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