Sunday, October 7, 2007
As Halloween approaches the desire to see horror films becomes more overwhelming. When given the choice of seeing some of today's mind-numbering torture porn and the low-budget classics that I grew up with - I'll always choose the oldies but baddies. HELL NIGHT is one of the latter. Directed by Tom DeSimone, this 1981 shocker stars my friend and personal hero Linda Blair, so it feels weird to revisit it 26 years later. The film is actually part of a sub-genre that was popular in the 80s, the fraternity hazing movie. I was a big fan of these films - especially ones that involved college students in their underwear!
The plot goes like this: evil frat leader Peter and his crafty sidekicks Scott and May force four co-ed fraternity pledges - Marti (Linda Blair, in a Dolly Madison costume), Jeff (POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR's Peter Barton in way too much make-up), Seth (Celebrity offspring Vincent Van Patten, looking uncomfortably like Jodie Foster), and pill-popping Denise (oddball Suki Goodwin, sporting a Madonna-like fake English accent) - to stay overnight at creepy Garth Manor- this plot was also once used on THE FLINTSTONES, wasn't it?
You see, twelve years ago, crazy Mr. Garth murdered his wife and his four deformed children and then hung himself! However, local police only found three of the bodies, and rumors persist that the house may be haunted or that one (or two) of the Garth kids might be still living there! Things start off fun, but before too long, someone begins killing the kids....
The story starts at a costume party at the frat house in celebration of Hell Night. Soon the pledges are taken to the Garth Manor (where someone has lit thousands of candles and then padlocked the gate! Huh?) So now our four new friends will be on their own for the night...or so they think! Then then instantly pair off in order to get to know each other. We are soon treated to several scenes of Seth (or it is Wes?) in his skimpy white boxers, as he and slutty Denise begin testing out one of the bedrooms. Marti and Jeff, on the other hand, try to get to know each other on a more friendly basis - I secretly hoped that Jeff would have asked Marti if he could play with her makeup, since that seems to be something he might be interested in. I'm just guessing.
We soon learn that, in true SCOOBY-DOO/"Brady kids try to scare each other fashion", the house rigged with lots of gizmos designed to scare the hell out of our foursome. Peter's pranks are working, at one point he tries to scare everyone by donning a mask that looked strikingly like actress Linda Hunt! Frightening!!!
It quickly becomes obvious that someone else is in the house besides the four (...and oh yeah, the three pranksters)! Things get bloody when ringleader Peter's blonde henchwoman May is decapitated, followed by similarly grisly ends for Harry Potter lookalike Scott and Peter as well. Finally, with all the hazers out of the way, the killer can concentrate on our four pledges.
At one point, Seth manages to escape the house - climbing the nasty front gate with sharp blades on the ends of it's wrought iron bars. There are some slightly frightening moments that follow - enough to entertain and bemuse. Suffice to say, by the end of the story, only Marti remains, and she faces off against the killer in a very satisfying ending that might make you wince...or say "huh?".
Though it's contrived, predictable and full of plot holes, some great production design and a spirited performance by Ms. Blair make this one stand out from the pack, I'll give it 8 out of 10 "Huh?"s. Best watched as a double feature with Linda's other classic in which she teams with a Van Patten :ROLLER BOOGIE (to be reviewed at a future date).