October 17th, 2014: Hell Night (1981)

Hell Night

Cast and Crew:   Peter Barton

What It’s About: Two sorority and two fraternity pledges must spend the night in an abandoned mansion that was the site of a series of murders committed by members of the Garth family.  When the quartet finds themselves trapped in the mansion can they find a way out…before it’s too late?

Why Watch it Today?:  Vincent Van Patten, who plays party boy Seth, turns 57 today.  Hell Night is one of the many films released in the early 1980s that sought to cash in on the success of first Halloween and was shot six months after Friday the 13th was released.  This was a time when filmmakers hadn’t yet nailed the slasher film down to a single formula and were still trying out combining the style with different elements from earlier horror genres. Here the filmmakers (adult filmmaker Tom DeSimone of Chatterbox infamy, Halloween producer Irwin Yablans, future Tango and Cash writer Randy Feldman, and Blob remake director Chuck Russell) inject some classic Old Dark House and Gothic Horror tropes (including the frat guys-and initial victims-who are initially pranking the pledges with fake ghosts) into the slasher genre, allowing things to come to a boil before the kills and the chase really start in earnest.  They also manage to make the characters (including Linda Blair in the lead role) largely sympathetic. Birthday boy Van Patten,  for example, would be a mindless horndog and grist for the killer’s mill in a lesser slasher film.  Here he actually gives his best attempt to go get help and, when that fails, returns with a stolen shotgun to try and save his fellow pledges.  The relatively intelligent and proactive moves by the pledges (once they know they are in danger), a nice end twist and final confrontation, and the atmosphere help make this one memorably different, even if the sometimes too slow pacing and lack of an iconic killer mean that it’s not exactly an A-grade slasher film.

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