Hell Night (1981) - This review is done in coordination with the wonderful and talented Stacie Ponder and her wonderful blog feature The Final Girl Film Club. This film with Linda Blair a decade after the highlight of her career in The Exorcist (1973)[If you don't count Savage Streets (1984 ) hee hee ] in a pretty see through horror film that lacks depth and surprises. Not that it can't be looked at with a certain amount of nostalgia, it is right in my sweet spot of years where horror films shaped me and my generation.
This somewhat forgettable film may have came and went pretty fast of course being drunk through most of the eighties I can only guess at that. This viewing left me unimpressed with a way too predictable plot, and somewhat stale acting.
The film starts with a giant out of control frat party, kids making out, beer drinking and the such. We are quickly introduced to the theme of the night. Its Hell Night the night when all the pledges to sororities and fraternities must face some mistreatment or challenge to be accepted into the clubs. On this night the head Frat guy Peter (Kevin Brophy), his accomplice Scott (Jimmy Sturtevant) and side kick girl May West (Jenny Neumann) have cooked up some real scares for the four pledges to Alpha Sigma Rho. Using the local haunted house as a place to terrify the four, they wire it up for sound and set up other frightening gags. Then when the time is right all the partiers are gathered and our pledges are locked in the grounds of the house. Still if you are attentive and listen to the haunted house story about the mongoloid children and the murder suicide then you will know exactly what is going on when all the shit hits the fan for the college students. Sleeping in the house with its sound effects and scares will be the least of their worries.
Two couples end up in the mix with our three pranksters, those pledges are Seth (Vincent Van Patten) who quickly hooks up with party girl Denise Dunsmore (Suki Goodwin) leaving good girl Marti Gaines (Linda Blair) to hang out with rich boy Jeff Reed (Peter Barton). The character development is scarce but we do get the rich boy / poor girl banter where we learn Marti is a capable mechanic and this little gem.
Jeff: What makes it so evil to be rich, and so noble to be poor?
Marti: Its just the rich capitalist feeds on the life of the downtrodden poor.
We also have a bit of dialog between Seth and Denise where they are frolicking in the bed and he does his surfing routine on her. So deep, wow just takes your breath away, his love of the waves that is. So before the killing starts this is the film, some mild character development then the pranks to be played on the pledges. This is a smart group though and they figure out the house rigging pretty easily. They quickly detach any rigs they find in the house never suspecting anything besides frat shenanigans is going on.
Peter and Scott give a bit of exposition to let us know that this house is special in that there are tons of hidden passage ways and tunnels in it and they can move around easily to perform their tricks. Still Peter and Scott have more than loud noises planned and send May off to create a diversion while they start the next prank. As she walks near the outer wall she is nervous and then suddenly arms reach out from a hole(vent?) in the ground and she is pulled below. Screaming and fighting she is pushed against a wall and her head is chopped off.
The killer is pretty obvious and once the killing starts it goes somewhat quickly through our pranksters. When a killer runs out of pranksters what is he to do? How about start in on the pledges. When Seth heads to the bathroom we know who is first poor Denise does not stand a chance. When he returns it is not Denise under the covers next to him but instead the head of May. Something I like about this film is how quickly the remaining three head for the gate. No shitting around here, Seth finds the head in the bed yells and boom the three head to the gates. With the gun given to them for emergency by Peter they shoot off the lock open the gate and escape with their lives. No wait... those are blanks in the gun, damn. So Seth has to climb over the sharp point tall gate to go get help. Will he impale himself? It is one of the few good moments of tension in the film. It is not disappointing to see him safely on the other side. He goes off to fruitlessly attempt to get some help. It is hell night after all and no matter what he says to the police about killers in the old mansion they are not going to believe him. In fact they threaten to arrest him for bothering them. He eventually has to steal a rifle from the police station (their security seems a bit lax) and car jack a car from some dude before driving back to rescue his new friends. Its a real shame though because of course it will cost him his life.
Jeff and Marti hold up in a room awaiting his return but when the killer raises from under a rug Jeff's fight or flight response kicks in and he shoves a pitchfork through the prick. The cloaked figure falls through the window into the garden and it is up to the couple to make sure it is dead. After a second encounter and sure the killer is dead they can relax. This is a horror film though and again if you were paying close attention at the house history story you know where the scythe comes from that impales Jeff.
Our final girl Marti while running from the new killer comes across all the bodies of most of the people who have been killed up to this point in the film. Its a lucky thing because she is able to pry the gate key from the cold dead hand of Peter and makes her way to the gate. She sees the stolen car waiting for her outside and clumsily gets through the gate. It is awesome to see her lock the gate behind her. After all she is being chased by a crazed killer. So often the killer is given one more shot at the final girl it is refreshing to see her get away clean. When the car won't start you know since she is a mechanic there is no problem; Awesome so no real hitches. The problem is in turning around she crashes into the gate knocking it down damn it! The final sequence commences with this opportunity for the killer to get to her. When she finally wins and collapses on the steering wheel in exhaustion we know her nightmare is finally over. She wakes to see the sun rise to officially end her Hell Night.
Rating (4.0) 5.0 and up are recommended in the Zombiegrrlz system Rent it for Nostalgia sake!