Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hell Night (1981)

Director: Tom DeSimone
Writer: Randy Feldman
Actors: Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten, Peter Barton

Rating: 3 Black Sheep

After the huge success of John Carpenter's Halloween in 1978, the next decade spewed forth an avalanche of teen slasher flicks that followed a general formula, with varying degrees of originality. Some were clever and stood out, but there was also a lot of garbage to wade through in order to find good stuff. What's changed? Hell Night is a film that is often overlooked or relegated to the trash heap. I'm not entirely sure why this happens because I've always been a fan of this movie. It's fun, it's great on atmosphere, and it has Linda Blair!

The credits open on one of those ridiculous fraternity parties where everyone seems to be having the time of their lives while drinking copious amounts of alcohol and dancing in the street (ah, the good old days). My favorite part of this sequence is the guy sitting on a car, spastically blowing on his tuba like he's never been so stoked to be alive. Does the school band really go to parties with their instruments? Apparently so. As the credits end, we learn it is pledge night, otherwise referred to as Hell Night, and the four pledges have quite a night in store for them. The whole party drunkenly forms a motorcade down to the abandoned Garth Manor where Peter the president of the fraternity informs Marti, Jeff, Seth, and Denise that they will be spending the next six hours alone. Of course it wouldn't be any good without a scary legend to contend with. Peter shares his rehearsed tale of the Garths who gave birth to four deformed children, forcing the family to live in exile from the outside world. When the father could no longer take it, he butchered three of his children and his wife before hanging himself, all in front of his youngest son, Andrew. Andrew was supposedly never found and continues to lurk on the grounds of Garth Manor. The four pledges are locked inside the giant gates and left behind with no electricity or phones. Of course the house has been rigged with all kinds of scare devices to keep the group on their toes and they soon discover that it's going to be a long night. Things get really interesting when we realize that Andrew isn't just a story and he begins the task of killing the students one by one, starting with the jokesters outside.

I'll be the first to say that Hell Night has its flaws, the first being its pacing. There are times when the rhythm is a bit off and momentum is broken by an unnecessarily drawn out scene. The film could easily lose a good 15 minutes to really tighten it up and keep the viewer engaged; a movie like this is almost always better off when it stays under 90 minutes. It also gets a little old watching Marti (Blair) shriek and cower behind Jeff whenever anything remotely scary happens. Sure, I would be doing the same thing were I in their shoes, but you can't tell me that he wouldn't be shitting his pants too once he realizes what's going on. On the other hand, this happens in plenty of other movies and it's really just a set up for Marti to redeem herself later. But do women always need to be terrorized and scarred for life in order to grow some balls? Luckily, Linda Blair makes everything alright and maybe that's why I like this movie so much. She just comes across as so genuinely sweet, and smart too. Both she and Jamie Lee Curtis have a way about them that makes you love them and trust that they're going to figure a way out of whatever mess they're in.

Director Tom DeSimone is another interesting element in Hell Night. Prior to this movie, he had quite an extensive career directing gay adult movies and in 1977 he directed Chatterbox, a bizarre campy flick about a woman who discovers her vagina can talk and has a mind of its own, causing all sorts of hijinx to ensue. Despite this background, Hell Night is relatively tame in the sex department; we know some of the characters are indulging but there's no gratuitous nudity just for sake of titillating the audience (pun intended), and the real steamy stuff happens off-screen. What it all boils down to is if you down for some mindless fun and a post-Exorcist Linda Blair, check this one out!

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