Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Hell Night Movie Review

One of my strongest early horror film memories came from this movie. The image of a kid with glasses getting his head twisted all the way around always stuck with me. Watching it for this series I found that the ending was familiar to me from a more recent memory so it's probable I once caught the ending on late night cable as a teen or pre-teen.

Click here for a list of all other films reviewed and considered for this October 2012 series of horror reviews.

Scantily clad teens in a Gothic house surrounded by candles? This must be a 1980s horror flick
Of all the horror movies from the 80s that get a bad rap Hell Night is one of the least deserving of such a reputation. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, it is an admission that it’s a passable scary movie. It’s made in the style of a 1950s Creature Feature (right down to the opening titles) crossed with the slasher genre popular at the time of its 1981 release. A lot of what it attempts is works pretty well. The premise and setup are reminiscent of countless horror flicks: a group of teens enter some dark secluded place and get picked off one-by-one. In this case the location is an old gothic mansion on expansive grounds. It comes with a horror story of its own – a strong and suspenseful premise laid out in a chilling and effective scene, well-delivered by the actor Kevin Brophy.

Four undergrads have to spend the whole night in the mansion as part of a fraternity pledge stunt. The upperclassmen tell a tale of a family several years earlier unable to conceive “normal” children. Eventually one of the children murdered the whole family, but not all the bodies were accounted for. The story is laced with unfortunately offensive terms for deaf mutes and children with Down’s Syndrome. It’s a mystery why screenwriter Randy Feldman included such inappropriate terms, even for the standards of that time period.

Linda Blair, still well known for her role as the possessed little girl in The Exorcist, is the star that leads a cast of young and good-looking actors that includes Vincent Van Patten (son of Dick), Peter Barton (also dispatched in a Friday the 13th film), and Brophy as Peter, the leader of the upperclassmen. Peter and another couple of students have rigged the mansion with spooky effects and tricks to try to scare their prey from the grounds. What no one knows is that a madman is loose.

Yes, it turns out the scary stories are true and one (only one?) of the deformed family members has been running around in a labyrinth of underground tunnels for many years. If this fraternity has engaged in this prank in the past, why hasn’t the killer attacked before now? Doesn’t matter, I guess. What does matter is he’s killing now.

Tom DeSimone’s direction sets up some fantastic scares and genuinely creepy shots. It’s not all gravy, mind you, as the majority of the film is just a step above schlock low budget horror. But he manages some memorable moments including brief shots of the creature’s obscured body that reveal him as something part man and part hairy monster. There’s also one particularly good moment that has Blair and Barton locked in a room staring at the door while the area rug behind them slowly rises from the floor in the shape of a man concealed beneath it.

For all intents and purposes, this felt a lot like my first time seeing this movie even though in my memory I already had brief snippets of images such as one victim getting his head twisted all the way around. And as I watched there were a few moments that looked familiar to me. I can’t say I was ever really scared, but then I don’t scare all that easily at movies anymore. Hell Night’s best venue would probably still be the teen sleepover party. This is one that’s worth checking out with your friends. It’s much better than most of what’s available from what most teens would call the ancient period for horror films.

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