Hell Night

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos




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Hell Night  (1981, dir: Tom de Simone; cast: Linda Blair, Peter Barton, Vincent Van Patten, Suki Goodwin, Kevin Brophy, Jenny Neumann, Jimmy Sturtevant)





Yet another slasher film, but a good one.

Well, they're all good. But this is even better than most, mainly because Linda Blair and Peter Barton lend depth and sympathy to their characters despite some hokey dialogue.

It's initiation time on fraternity/sorority row. Four pledges must prove themselves worthy by spending the night at Garth Mansion, a huge abandoned estate. Years ago, Daddy Garth killed his wife and three mutant kids. The fourth mutant kid was never found. Legend has it he still stalks the mansion ...

Here's something odd. There are only four pledges: two guys (Barton and Van Patten) and two gals (Blair and Goodwin). Since when do fraternities and sororities hold joint initiations? And they are bid farewell on their initiation by a HUGE party. This implies a great many brothers and sisters. Yet at the rate of two pledges per year, the fraternity and sorority would each be down to eight members each within four years.

I guess director de Simone simply wanted lots of people at the party, but only two couples at Garth Mansion. I guess it's spookier (and cheaper) with just four pledges, never mind making sense.

Okay, I don't mind.

What's important is that the four kids are locked behind the tall iron gates of Garth Mansion, three upperclassman sneak in to scare them ... and the body count mounts!

The script and lead performances are a bit better than standard slasher fare. Barton portrays a sensitive rich boy. Blair is the poor girl with a heart of gold. She's also virginal, at first keeping Barton to his own bed, later cuddling and sleeping with him ... but just sleeping. Both keep their clothes on. Meanwhile, Van Patten and Goodwin fornicate like rabbits in the next room.

Guess which couple is killed first? And guess who survives the night?

Blair and Barton perform well, but Van Patten and Goodwin also add some dimension to their clichéd supporting roles: the horny cutup and the sleazy party girl. Brophy, Neumann, and Sturtevant play the jerky upperclassman who sneak in to scare the pledges. They also provide much needed slasher-fodder. I liked Jenny Neumann in Stage Fright (aka Nightmares, Australian 1980), but she's under-utilized here.




Hell Night strikes tried-and-true horror psycho notes like a well-tuned instrument. One girl is pulled screaming down into a hole (although my favorite hole-dragging is in The Unseen, 1980). The psycho seems indestructible. They shoot him, but he keeps on going ...

But there are also some surprises, which is no small feat in this tradition-bound subgenre.

Cinematography and lighting are used to good effect. Shapes emerge from the dark, slowly, indistinct. Creeping up behind our unsuspecting heroes. Makeup is also simple but noteworthy. When we finally see him, the mutant resembles Nosferatu's Max Schreck.

The final scenes are visceral, even brutally poetic. 1981 was a good year for horror psychos, and Hell Night is prime vintage.

Review copyright by Thomas M. Sipos


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