HELL NIGHT (1981)
Hell Night is a cheesy 80s slasher flick that has gained a bit of a reputation over the years and a bit of a cult following, too. It was another flick I caught on one of the grind house screens at the Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and while it was fairly entertaining, I don’t remember being all that overly impressed. I recently had a chance to revisit this slasher and there is definitely some entertainment to be had and the 80s nostalgia added some fun to a flick now revered by some as a cult classic. If you’re a fan of 80s slasher flicks, it’s definitely worth a look and is undeniably a good time.
The story takes place on “Hell Night” a night were fraternity and sorority pledges are initiated to prove their worthiness to join their organization of choice. To enter the Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity, four co-eds, Marti (Linda Blair), Jeff (Peter Barton), Seth (Vince Van Patten) and Denise (Suki Goodwin) are tasked with staying overnight locked inside Garth Manor…a creepy abandoned mansion where twelve years earlier Raymond Garth murdered his family and then killed himself, though local legends say deformed son Andrew escaped his father’s wrath and still roams the grounds. Of course Alpha Sigma Rho president Peter (Kevin Brophy) has had the place rigged and he and cronies, Scott (Jimmy Sturtevant) and May (Jenny Neumann), sneak in after our four are secured inside and plan to scare the wits out of them with scream emitting speakers and ghostly projections. But there is always some truth behind urban legends and someone on the grounds wants prankster and pledge alike dead… and in gruesome fashion. Will any of them survive Hell Night?
As directed by Tom DeSimone, Hell Night has its entertainment value, though is not perfect. It is a rather slow paced and by-the-numbers horror, at least in it’s first two thirds. For the most part victims can be spotted a mile away, as basically they are the ones who wander off, or are left alone, so there is little suspense in the ‘who’s gonna get it’ department. The film follows the 80s slasher formula with little diversion or surprises and the script by Randy Feldman does have it’s share of holes…like why didn’t the ‘killer’ off Peter and company when they were initially inside the house rigging their pranks earlier? Despite the creepy old house locations, the film has the look and feel of a 70s TV movie and, at 101 minutes, is at least 10 minutes longer then it needs to be. It takes about a half hour before we get our first kill and it is about an hour in before things start to pick up. It’s then that director DeSimone starts to give us some atmosphere and a little suspense, as our surviving co-eds are engaged in a fight for their lives in the catacombs beneath the spooky old house and through it’s maze-like hallways. It’s the last act that delivers a good deal of what fun and action the flick has, with the first two acts moving very slowly and most of the kills being fairly routine, when the somewhat two dimensional characters are being slaughtered. There is a nice electronic score by Dan Wyman to add a little 80s flavor and the make-up FX are adequate enough to make our villains creepy.
The cast are all adequate enough for an 80s horror flick. Blair and Barton being the hero and heroine are fine, though don’t get really animated till they are running and screaming for their lives. Blair especially perks up in the last few minutes as her role of final girl intensifies. I don’t consider that a spoiler as she has star billing and is the only person featured on the movie poster, so I think that part of the story is fairly obvious from the get-go as to who our final girl will be. Suki Goodwin is cute and hot as the saucy, sexy blonde, but as all horror fans know, saucy, sexy blondes rarely make it to the last act. Van Patten is your typical horny frat boy and Brophy your typical elitist, fraternity douche. Jenny Neumann and Jimmy Sturtevant fill out the cast as Brophy’s lackeys and killer fodder.
So, overall, Hell Night can be an amusing watch and it does have some nice nostalgia, especially for me, since I got to see it with friends in a theater where movies like this should be seen. While it is very slow to really get going, the last act does kick in gear and deliver some nice action and a little suspense. If today’s audiences are patient enough to get to that point, then they should be satisfied with what the last 40 minutes delivers . Maybe not an outright classic, but if you are a fan of the 80s slasher era, it deserves a look and will probably entertain you just fine when all is said and done…and sometimes that and a few brews are all one needs in a movie.
UPDATE: The flick is now available from the awesome folks at Scream Factory!