Hell Night (1981)
By: James Gillett on February 23, 2010  | 
DVD
Anchor Bay (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1:85:1 (16:9 Enhanced). English DD 1.0. 102 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Tom DeSimone
Starring: Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten, Peter Barton, Kevin Brophy
Screenplay: Randy Feldman
Country: USA
External Links
IMDB Purchase YouTube
I love slasher films. Particularly the slasher films of the 80's. I think there're a bunch of fun, so this certainly isn't going to be one of those reviews discussing the films lack of artistic merit (it's guilty of course). And neither will it moan on about a formulaic plot, or characters who make stupid or illogical decisions (it ticks those boxes too, and I wouldn't have it any other way).

Rather, I'm interested in whether this movie does or doesn't work within the context of an enjoyable slasher. After all, slasher films have a fervent following. The fans are loyal, they know what they want and they know what to expect.

Which brings us to this particular entry, Hell Night. Here, Marti (Linda Blair) and three other sorority pledges find themselves having to stay overnight in a old vacant mansion as a rite of passage. As the story goes, 12 years ago the occupant of the mansion murdered his wife and 3 disfigured children before committing suicide. When the police searched the property the body of one of the sons was never recovered, and it's supposed he survived and still lives within the walls of the estate. With the four pledges now inside, a couple of Frat boys decide to sneak in to serve out a few harmless scares, only something or someone is in there with them, and pretty soon the body count starts to rise...

Yep, that's really all there is to it, and that's fine. It's a slasher, so arguably the story is practically irrelevant as long as it delivers on scares, atmosphere, fun, gore and T&A, or hopefully, a combination of all four.

Well, let's cut to the chase: Hell Night sadly contains nothing in the way of inventive, gory or impactful kills. To make matters worse for the trash horror fan, T&A is completely absent. Yep, of all slasher films from the decade, this has got to be one of the tamest. How this movie ever received an R rating here in Australia, even back in the early 80's, is truly baffling.

So maybe it's strength would lie in its style, tension or atmosphere? But no, it wasn't to be. The direction is reasonably competent, if a little too by the numbers, but the pace drags. At 102 minutes, with very little happening, it's about 20 mins too long, and the rather dull mansion setting only makes it all the more plodding. One or two moments come close to memorabile, like a scene involving a killer silently rising up though a rug behind the victims (yeah, a rug, it's cooler than it sounds...), but these moments are few and far between. What's left? Well, not a lot. You won't find much in the way of 80's cheese here (save for a early party scene), so it can't really be enjoyed on that level. Don't expect a particularly creepy or memorable villain either, cause your certainly not gonna get it.

Unfortunately, the only real point of interest here is the casting of Linda Blair, known to most as Regan; the little girl possessed in William Friedkin's The Exorcist. Now all grown up (she was 22 at the time of filming) Linda is cast here in a typical slasher role which basically only requires her to look frightened or cute, or both at once, depending on the scene. Obviously just hired for her name, and still a few years away from her more entertaining turns in the likes of Chained Heat and Savage Streets, her performance here is purely perfunctory. Not that that's all that much of a surprise, or even really a point of criticism, but still, it would have been nice to see her utilised a little more interestingly.

The rest of the cast are just as good or bad as you would expect for a film of this type. Vincent Van Patten appears as another of the pledges, and is ok. Some reports suggest that he was in opposition of any gratuitous violence or nudity when he joined the film, all in defence of his 'good name'. Whether that's true or not, who knows, but it would be a damn shame if that's why the film ended up so neutered. In a recent interview, Director Tom DeSimone, who notoriously got his start in 'Adult' fare and later directed the likes of Reform School Girls, stated that he and Linda Blair were against making a gory or exploitive horror film, without any mention of Van Patten, which could very well be the case, but it's not really consistent with the type of flicks those two would otherwise be involved with.

Well, whatever the case, Hell Night ended up the way it is. It's not completely awful, but it is rather dull. With a cast and director like this, it should have been a lot of fun. Instead it's just a somewhat forgettable slasher, made in a time when so many other stronger similar films were competing for attention.
Video
Presented in anamorphic 1:85:1 widescreen, Hell Night looks pretty good here. Strong black levels, colour reproduction and some unobtrusive natural grain characterise the transfer. No complaints.
Audio
Just a mono soundtrack. It's clear and balanced, if a little flat as could be expected. Really, it does the job just fine.
Extra Features
We get an Audio Commentary with Linda Blair, director Tom DeSimone and producers Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis. It's not particularly interesting, but at least it's something. Also available are some standard Cast & Crew Biographies, a couple TV Spots and a Theatrical Trailer, which is also presented in anamorphic widescreen.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
When I placed the disc in my DVD player, I was grinning like an idiot. When I removed it 100 odd minutes later, I was frowning a frown of sadness. That's not the way it should be. Slashers need to be fun, or scary, or impactful, or some combination thereof. Hell Night is just plain dull. With little to no tension, T&A or gore, it's hard to recommend this even to slasher devotes. A real shame, and bit of a waste of a young Linda Blair.

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