Cody takes a look at the 1981 slasher Hell Night for the Final Girl Film Club.
Twelve years ago, gold mine heir Raymond Garth snapped and went on a killing spree in his family mansion, brutally murdering his "hopeless simpleton" wife and three of the deformed, handicapped children she had bore him. The youngest child, the mute and "gorked out" Andrew, was forced to witness it all. Raymond wrote a note describing everything he did, then hanged himself. Only three bodies were discovered, and the surviving Andrew disappeared without a trace. The local legend is that Andrew is still living somewhere within the sprawling Garth Manor.
So what better way for the Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity and their sister sorority to haze their new pledges than by making them spend a night at the scene of the crime?
The pledges who are staying in the manor on this particular "hell night" quickly split off into two couples - the good kids Marti and Jeff, and party girl Denise and surfer dude Seth, who quickly go off to have sex, pop some quaaludes and drink Jack Daniels. Denise tried to bring some more party favors, but her coke and weed were confiscated.
While the pledges wait out their time in the dark, creepy manor, others from the fraternity/sorority are sneaking around and setting up pranks, including a very impressive holographic projection of a ghost. Soon, all this activity stirs up the manor's permanent resident. The stories are true, Andrew is still living at Garth Manor, and he's not happy to find trespassers on his property. In slasher fashion, the gork begins picking off the college kids one-by-one.
Hell Night has the standard super-simplistic slasher set-up, a group of kids in one location with a killer, and it works.
Our final girl is Marti, the nice girl who's growing tired of sorority shenanigans and spends most of her night in Garth Manor having conversations with the levelheaded Jeff. When they lie down to get some sleep, Marti makes sure Jeff sleeps in a separate bed... But she does end up making out with him. She's not too repressed.
The characters are all entertaining and/or likeable, and the cast does well in their roles. As Marti is scream queen since thirteen Linda Blair, who proves she can handle slashers as well as she can possession. Jeff is played by Peter Barton, who went on to have some bad luck in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Suki Goodwin has her one and only feature film appearance here as Denise, and I'm disappointed that she didn't have more of a film career after this. She does a fine job and she's very nice to watch, especially since she spends most of her screen time in her underwear. Plus she doesn't flinch when a rat crawls on her face, the true test of an actress. Vincent Van Patten (son of Dick Van Patten) is a standout as Seth. He's a fun character when he's just being goofy and focusing on partying and getting laid, but when the situation goes south he really steps up and does his best to take the role of hero. Some slasher-related trivia for Van Patten's personal life: his first wife was Betsy Russell (Cheerleader Camp), with whom he starred in Camp Fear, and his second wife is Eileen Davidson of The House on Sorority Row (1983). Kevin Brophy does a good job as the backstory-delivering frat boy, and Jimmy Sturtevant and Jenny Neumann are his slash-fodder cohorts. Neumann starred in an Australian slasher called Stage Fright, which is not the Michele Soavi movie with the owl-headed killer.
The bodycount is relatively low in Hell Night and they weren't going for gore with this one, but the kills are good enough and done well. My favorite is a head twist that was pulled off with some simple editing trickery.
Director Tom DeSimone and cinematographer Mac Ahlberg (who has a filmography full of notable horror films) bring a nice style to the film which sets it apart from a lot of the other slashers of the time. With the gothic mansion, candlelight and the costume party attire of the characters, the look of the film is often more reminiscent of a Corman Poe adaptation than your typical "dead teenager movie".
My only complaint about the film is, I feel that some of the suspense sequences are milked a bit too much. The film ends up with a 101 minute running time, which is slightly long for a slasher. But the sequences aren't so long that they lose my interest, so it's not a deal breaker. Overall, this is a very good movie and one of the best to come out of the early '80s slasher boom.