Hell Night (1981)

DVD Cover (Anchor Bay)
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Overall Rating 56%
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Ranked #4,076
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Before being able to join Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity and its sister sorority, four pledges must spend the night in Garth Manor, twelve years to the day after the previous resident murdered his entire family. Some, however, say that one member of the Garth family survived, and still resides somewhere in the now-deserted mansion. --IMDb
Review by Chad
Added: July 04, 2011
Hell Night is one of those early-eighties horror flicks that I've heard a lot of good things about, but I've never actually gotten around to watching. I decided to remedy that last night, and with visions of unveiling a new horror favorite, I popped the disc in and kicked back for a couple hours of fun. I expected a classic slasher flick, I expected some inventive kills, maybe even some great gore, and above all else, I expected to have a good time. I mean, this is a film that is often compared to Halloween and Friday the 13th, so it has to be good, right? Well, kind of.

The storyline is unbelievably simple, but it does provide a good setup for what could be a great horror movie. The local fraternity / sorority is hosting their annual "Hell Night", a night that begins with a huge party and ends with pledges going through their initiations. All they have to do is spend the night in Garth Manor, a local mansion where a man once killed his wife and his deformed children before killing himself. Four people - Marti (Linda Blair), Jeff (Peter Barton), Denise (Suki Goodwin), and Seth (Vincent Van Patten) - are sent into the house, the gates are locked behind them, and they are stuck for the night with no phones, no weapons, and nothing more than a flask of Jack Daniels to keep them company.

The night begins much like one would expect: the pledges get down to drinking and screwing, while the pledge masters return to scare the hell out of them with audio and holographic tricks. The pledges see through the tricks and the masters try to take it a little further, but the joke will be on all of them when some of the surviving Garth clan comes out of hiding to kill the people who are desecrating their house.

Yes, that is a simple storyline, and it could have made for a great movie. The movie begins at a brisk pace with a wild fraternity party and the telling of the Garth Manor legend, and from there, we get a look at the house. The house itself and the surrounding grounds look sufficiently spooky, while the actors that we are saddled with are decent - not great, not particularly memorable, but nobody will make you yell at the screen either. The story continues to move along, the true nature of this house is revealed, some people are killed, and then... then, the movie just kind of stalls out.

At that point, you would think that the movie is almost over, right? Throw in a few more kills, add some near-death experiences for the heroes, have a climatic showdown between survivor(s) and villain(s), and you have yourself the last ten or fifteen minutes of a movie. Well, that's not quite how it works out: you see, almost all of those who will die have already met their maker, but that is only about the halfway point of the movie. From there, the movie simply drags along until the finale - the heroes will hear a bump / moan / scream, they will slowly (and I do mean slowly) walk down a hallway / garden path / corridor to investigate, only to find a dead body / misplaced item / clue / villain. Something as simple as walking down a hallway can take up to two minutes to play out, and while that may not sound like much, it really hurts the film when you consider that it happens time and time again.

Now, this is not to say that I hated the film. Far from it: the first half is great, and I honestly can't point out any flaws in it (well, a little more gore would have been nice, but that's just me). The last half of the movie is indeed slow, but it does have some bright spots sprinkled throughout it. There is one scene where the killer is hidden under a carpet in the background, and as we listen to two of the survivors talk, we see him slowly rise up and stalk them. You don't notice it at first, but you will eventually see it out of the corner of your eye and realize how great that scene was set up. The ending is also damned good, and hell, I even loved the Seth character. Seth is the guy who goes against every horror movie cliche and does everything right, which was rather refreshing in a movie like this.

Overall, Hell Night is going to get an average rating out of me. The set up is great, while the latter half is rather weak and incredibly slow with the exception of a few bright spots. Also, as an R-rated slasher from the eighties, I felt that this movie was very tame. There are a few kills, but half of them take place off-screen and the other half are so brief that one blink will cause you to miss them. There is very little gore and there is absolutely no nudity (surprising given Linda Blair's appearance - that woman used to get naked in everything), and while this alone will not hurt a movie, it certainly could have bumped my final score up a bit. 6/10.
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