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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hell Night (1981) review


Linda Blair (Marti), Vincent Van Patten (Seth), Peter Barton (Jeff), Kevin Brophy (Peter), Jenny Neumann (May), Suki Goodwin (Denise), Jimmy Sturtevant (Scott)

Directed by Tom DeSimone

In order to become members of Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity, four pledges must spend the night in creepy Garth Manor. But this abominable abode has a terrible history. 15 years before Raymond Garth massacred his entire family save for one of his sons who witnessed the entire gruesome act. Of the four murders and one suicide, only three corpses were discovered. Andrew, the remaining son, was never found and is believed to be living somewhere within the walls of the ominous house.

In between slashers in the woods and various holiday hacking horrors, Compass International Pictures released this moderately successful combination of both the slasher movie and the haunted house horror. Tom DeSimone, who directed the enjoyable 'Women In Prison' send up, REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS (1986), took the reigns of this nifty little spook show. I remember first catching it on HBO in the early 80's and it scared the hell out of me. There's lots of great goosebump inducing moments ably supported by an ace score from Dan Wyman, who also composed the alien soundtrack for the fan favorite, WITHOUT WARNING (1980).

The house itself is a terrifying construct and brilliantly lit on both the outside and inside. And that's not counting all the hidden tunnels beneath the monstrous mansion by which the killers (yes, I said killers) maneuver about in order to stalk their prey. Just the lighting in general and the way the film is lit is striking. Even the oldeworld costumes the four main characters wear accentuates the Gothic atmosphere put off by the house itself. There's so much about this movie I like. It's one of my favorite horror films and one I frequently revisit.

While it has so much going for it with its eerie ambiance, great score and some choice scares, it lacks what so many people watch these movies for and that's gore. While it's not without splashy effects (there's a decapitation, impalements and a head twisted completely around among others), it doesn't get overly extreme, but it doesn't need to. The picture also benefits from an awesome climax.

Linda Blair plays Marti, one of the pledges and also a resourceful heroine. Blair does a lot of screaming (and bouncing) in this movie. I've always been a fan of her movies and she's always reminded me of Jamie Lee Curtis when it comes to her scream queen status. She appeared in a great many genre and exploitation movies after her big break in THE EXORCIST (1973).

There was ROLLER BOOGIE (1979), RUCKUS (1981), a movie very similar to the following years FIRST BLOOD and whose trailer marketed it as a comedy in the SMOKEY & THE BANDIT vein. She starred in the sleaze favorite, CHAINED HEAT (1983), the mega violent SAVAGE STREETS (1984) and also the tasteless comedy cult film, NIGHT PATROL (1984). Blair also was a producer and co star in the little seen and bizarre horror/revenge movie, GROTESQUE (1988).

One of the best scenes has Jeff and Marti holed up in a room waiting in the hopes that Seth will return with the police. The camera is a bit off center giving us a view of the room behind them. Slowly, something begins to rise beneath the carpet on the floor behind them. It's one of the killers and upon stabbing the creature with a pitchfork, it is revealed that there's a basement that leads into the caves beneath the huge mansion. This is one of those classic HALLOWEEN (1978) style moments where people in the foreground are oblivious to something going on in the background.

For years I assumed that one of the killers was the father of the Garth family and the other is, of course, Andrew. But on the commentary track the filmmakers state that it was another brother. It's stated before the pledges enter the mansion that only three corpses were found about the grounds, but there were four murders. In the caves below the house, two rotted corpses are there in addition to a fresh one. Only Andrew is mentioned as hiding within the house of horror. It's never quite clear just who the other killer is. Marti makes a comment at one point that maybe there were other Garth's no one knew about.

HELL NIGHT (1981) is one of my most fondly remembered horror movies of the 1980's and one that has a large following. It also has its detractors, too. It's not an overly gory movie outside of a gruesome 'severed head in a bed' gag and a bloody scythe murder. It's got some choice jump moments, a good storyline and a damn creepy location. Any Blair fans should definitely check it out. Those looking for a FRIDAY THE 13TH style slaughterthon might be disappointed, though.

This review is representative of the Anchor Bay DVD.


Rev. Phantom said...

I will admit, I have never seen this one. I have certainly been aware of it, but just never had the desire. Not even Linda Blair's heaving bosom could entice me to check it out, but I'm thinking about finally giving it a shot.

venoms5 said...

If you're not that into slashers, Rev, you may enjoy it. It's a melding of that and the haunted house style. More the latter than the former, though. Some great atmosphere, too.

Carl (ILHM) said...

HELL NIGHT scores a solid C with me, it definitely lays on the atmosphere like you mentioned but perhaps I am just distracted by the fact that it was being sold as a slasher when the pace and murders would seem otherwise. A perfectly fair assessment though V!

venoms5 said...

I love this one. I've enjoyed it since first having the piss scared out of me by it back in '82 when I caught it on HBO.

mughound said...

The production value is higher than other movies of this type and era and it's notably well-acted by the cast which is very rare of horrors from the 80s. That's why I remember it.

venoms5 said...

I agree with you 100% mughound. This one will likely get watched again this Halloween!

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