31 Days Of Horror #24: Hell Night (1981)

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An unremarkable slasher movie, Hell Night is not without moments of fun. It’s just not up there with any of the classics.

The title refers to the night during which college pledges are given their big test before being accepted. They have to spend a night in a deserted, allegedly haunted, house. The previous resident, according to local lore, was driven mad by the fact that all of his children were born either handicapped or deformed. This drove him to insanity, resulting in him killing his family before committing suicide. But not all of the bodies were ever found. Which is a fact that the new pledges – Marti (Linda Blair), Jeff (Peter Barton), Seth (Vincent Van Patten), and Denise (Suki Goodwin) – are reminded of on their way to the house, in an attempt to make them nervous for the night ahead. The plan is to spook the pledges, but the plan doesn’t take into account that there may actually be something to the rumours surrounding the place.

Probably of most interest to horror fans because of Blair being in a starring role, this is a film that somehow manages to put together a lot of the right elements without ever adding any special ingredient to make the whole thing stand out. Cast-wise, for example, aside from Blair, nobody really stands out. That’s not to say that Barton, Van Patten, and Goodwin aren’t perfectly fine in their roles. They are. Kevin Brophy is equally fine as the young man who has arranged this night, and who plans to run around with a pair of accomplices (played by Jimmy Sturtevant and Jenny Neumann) to scare the crap out of the new pledges. But you’ll have forgotten what they look like by the time the end credits roll. Yes, even the lovely Goodwin, who spends most of the movie wearing very little clothing.

The script by Randy Feldman is average, at best, with the highlight being the expository dialogue delivered by Brophy while leading a crowd to the old, dark house. Not enough is done to really differentiate the main characters, or to make viewers care for any of them, and the second half throws all logic out of the window for scenes that are set outwith the grounds of the house.

Director Tom DeSimone does well at times, particularly with the little tricks that try to make the death scenes better than the budget probably allowed for, but he could have helped himself immensely by tightening up the pacing, throwing in a bit more gratuitous sex and violence (yes, sometimes the lowest common denominator material helps this kind of fare), and really turning up the madness that could have been unleashed in the grand finale.

Instead, we end up with an average slasher movie, hampered by a runtime that allows numerous scenes to feel a bit rambling and unnecessary. There are still one or two great moments, however, and this is still one worth checking out if you’re a fan of the subgenre.

DIRECTOR: TOM DESIMONE
WRITER: RANDY FELDMAN
STARS: LINDA BLAIR, PETER BARTON, VINCENT VAN PATTEN, KEVIN BROPHY, SUKI GOODWIN, JENNY NEUMANN
RUNTIME: 101 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★☆☆

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