Format: Internet video on The Nook.
I’ve said this before, but sometimes it bears repeating: watching movies off a list can be a real mixed bag with what you get. One needs to wade through a good amount of crap to get to something good in a lot of cases. Each time I watch something off the Fangoria list of 101 Best Horror Films You’ve Never Seen, I’m never sure what I’ll have on the other side of it. Will it be a hidden gem or will it be just another film I have to wade through? Sadly, Hell Night is much closer to the second variety than the first. It’s true that this was a horror movie I hadn’t seen before, but if this is one of the 101 best, I need to pick a better genre to be a fan of.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: at a college, a group of kids are pledging various Greek organizations. One of those organizations makes a part of its Hell Night a requirement to spend a night in a spooky, haunted mansion near the campus. Of course the house has a terrible history of grotesque monsters and horrible murder. And, of course, there are rumors of some of the former occupants having never been found after the killings. Think that this year those occupants are going to show up? Think that the terrible rumors might turn out to be at least in part true? Congratulations—you’ve seen low budget horror before.
So for whatever reason, there are only four people who have to spend the night in the terrible mansion this year, and for whatever reason, the initiation is coed, two guys and two gals. They’re dumped into the house at the start of the film, of course, and naturally there are a few other people who are going to get into the house to make their initiation scary. This is all expected. But of course in this case, there are actual occupants of the house, and the people trying to run the initiation are just going to be additional corpses.
Our four initiates are surfer Seth (Vincent Van Patten) and party girl Denise (Suki Goodwin, who is inexplicably British) and Jeff (Peter Barton) and Marti (Linda Blair). They form couples, of course, and since Seth and Denise run upstairs to get better acquainted, it’s pretty clear that they won’t be seeing the other side of the credits. Marti, who seems unwilling to have legitimate sexy times with Jeff is clearly our final girl here. The three who break into the house to scare our initiates are Peter (Kevin Brophy), Scott (Jimmy Sturtevant) and May (Jenny Neumann), who are also going to be cannon fodder.
And, killings start happening right away. There’s also a hedge maze behind the house, which is going to come into play a number of times. It’s not a shock to suggest that the rumors about the house are entirely true, because, well, this is a horror movie from 1981 and the people who wrote, directed, and produced horror movies hadn’t yet figured out that maybe they could do something different. We’re going to go by the numbers here, so there’s not much that will happen that is unexpected. In fact, the only really interesting thing here is Seth, who turns out to be a lot more resourceful than his character type would indicate.
So, knowing that Hell Night is going to be nothing more than a standard-issue slasher with nothing really interesting or new in it, it needs to be judged on those basic merits. How does it stack up against other films in the genre? The answer is that it doesn’t stack up very well. The characters are horror movie stupid, of course, and the acting is pretty much about as bad as we expect from this sort of film. It’s a shame to say that about Linda Blair, but it’s true. She’s particularly unappealing. I think she’s supposed to be something like a sex kitten here what with the cleavage and the cameo choker, but she looks like someone who hasn’t quite outgrown her baby fat yet, and that’s kind of a turn off.
I’d love to say that if you like the slasher genre that you’ll find something worth seeing in Hell Night, but I’m not convinced that it’s true. This is a movie that could have easily told this story in 80 minutes and spends more than 100 telling it. It does nothing new, shows not much interesting, and doesn’t even have a good story to keep anyone hooked. In short, there’s a reason you probably haven’t seen this one.
Why to watch Hell Night: Linda Blair kind of all grown up, sort of.
Why not to watch: It’s really stupid, even for a slasher. It’s also far too long