Those are two words that could be used to describe 1981’s cult slasher flick, Hell Night. This was the selection for Final Girl’s film club. Sadly, film club has been put on hold but I thought I’d write my entry and send it in when Final Girl’s ready. I hope you’re ok, Ponder!
“Hell Night” refers to the initiation night for the new pledges of the Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity and sorority. Marti (Linda Blair) is the main character and final girl.
I love Marti. She’s not the best final girl, she doesn’t make all the best choices for survival, I just like her personality. Marti is quirky and cute and is only interested in being in a sorority so she can have a room and a car. You know, Linda Blair was nominated for a Golden Razzie for this part. I’d just like to take this moment to have Freddy Lounds tell the Golden Razzies to suck it.
Plus, Marti’s a mechanic. She’s the kind of girl I’d want to hang out with.
The task they have to sruvive is spend a night in Garth Manor.
Like The Changeling, The Haunting, and The Shining, the manor is as much of a character as the people in the movie. Did you know that the exteriors of the manor are the Kimberley Crest mansion in California? I’m from the east coast so I have no clue what that means. The interiors were a residential house and they brought a hedge-maze to the Crest Mansion. Yes, this movie has a hedge-maze. There are also a series of underground tunnels. There were actually only two corridors and the director shot the actors running from multiple angles.
Anyway, the house is ultra-creepy. There were also a series of horrible murders twelve-years-ago. One day, Raymond Garth freaked out and killed his simple-minded wife, Lillian. Then he proceeded to kill his one mongoloid son (The movie’s words, not mine), his blind-deaf-and-dumb daughter, and his dim-witted son, leaving his “gorked-out” son Andrew to witness the slaughter. Apparently, this was written before the Americans with Disabilities Act.
So, here are the pledges who are being locked in.
From left to right, that’s Jeff (Rich guy), Marti, Denise (Sex appeal + liquor + quaaludes), and Seth (Surfer comic relief.)
Peter and May, the heads of the fraternity and sorority, plus Scotty, comic relief part two plus tech support, plan to start scaring their pledges.
This is when things start to get real. While Peter, May, and Scotty’s scares consist of playing a Fifty Chilling Sounds tape and hooking up animatronic dummies–where’d the electricity come from, since Peter said there was nothing modern–our killer’s scares consist of very real cleavers. Plus, he seems to be preternaturally strong. What gym do Jason Voorhees and these guys go to? Is it in hell? What are the dues like?
First the killer dispatches the pranksters, then he gets down to killing the pledges. The kills are pretty standard–nothing too creative–and there isn’t a lot of gore or nudity. Pretty shocking for something from 1981.
I think that the goriest thing we see is May’s head, which the killer sneaks into Seth’s bed.
What I think makes the movie effective is the genuine tension created by the film-makers. The music is actually creepy, if a little over-synthed. Sometimes it sounds like aliens are landing. The performances aren’t the best but the performers work well with what the script gives them. If you’re watching Hell Night, then I’m sure you’re not expecting some prestigious actor starring in a Merchant Ivory piece. The characters are generally likeable. They’re broadly drawn but definitely not the worst that I’ve seen in a slasher flick. I genuinely want them to survive. Even Denise, whose lingerie makes her look like an extra in a traveling production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The best part is the way the film-makers combine likable characters with the genuine creepiness and nooks and crannies of the house. Like in this scene.
“Oh snap,” I thought when I saw that. It happens so slowly and silently, it’s actually a very effective scare that I’ve just destroyed for you. You’re welcome.
My only real complaint is that the run time was about an hour and forty minutes. I think that the perfect run time for a slasher film is an hour and a half. Five minutes for an awesome opening sequence, twenty minutes to establish who’s who and why the killer wants everyone dead, forty minutes for the killer to get their stabby-stabby on, twenty minutes for the closing battle between the killer and any survivors, and ten minutes for any cleanup. In fact, even that seems a little long. Regardless, the movie felt a little too long and I’m sure that some parts could have been either edited out or tightened up.
This was a fun movie. I will watch pretty much anything with Linda Blair. This wasn’t the best role for her, it wasn’t something that she could really dig her teeth into. But it was nice seeing her step outside the Regan role.
There is a twist to the movie. It makes no sense whatsoever. I don’t really want to give it away but you should watch the movie so then we can both go, “Hey, wasn’t that twist weird? What was that about?” over some International Coffee. Then I can talk about the chances of humanoid life evolving six-light-years away and why that really bothered me about Avatar. I’ll probably do my Carl Sagan impression and say “billions and billions.” Good times will be had by all.
I know that Anchor Bay released the movie on DVD, but it’s also available to stream on Youtube and Netflix. So, if you want a fun remnant from the eighties, then you should definitely watch Hell Night.