Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Hell Night (1981)

Directed by:
Tom De Simone

One of about a hundred standard teen slasher flicks to hit the market during the early 80s, this one's full of the usual clichés you expect with one of these films, but it's still watchable and fairly well made for the genre. Many years ago at a secluded estate called Garth Manor, a man and his wife had a succession of deformed/retarded children. One day the dad went crazy and butchered most of them, but rumors circulating around town say that not all of the family are dead and some of them still lurk the grounds. No one has even lived in the home for 12 years. During "Hell Week," fraternity/sorority hazing rituals state that any new inductees must spend six hours inside the mansion. After a costume party, four pledges are taken to Garth Manor, dropped off and a lock is placed on the very high iron gate (with razor sharp blades on the top) so no one can sneak off the property. In other words, once they're in for the night, they're in for the night. Scream Queen Linda Blair is Marti the cherubic, down-to-Earth chick who knows all about cars and how to flaunt her cleavage in a low-cut gown, Peter Barton (FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER) is Jeff the nice rich kid who doesn't like being labeled a snob just because his family has money, Vincent Van Patten (son of Dick) is Seth the not-so-bright surfer dude and Suki Goodwin is Denise the British party girl who seems like she's about ready to head off to rehab. Once inside the mansion, two of the guys pair up with two of the girls. Seth and Denise high tail it upstairs to one of the bedrooms while Marti and Jeff decide to get to know one another by the fire.

While they're getting settled in, the head of the frat (Kevin Brophy, who starred in the lame campus-set alien mummy movie TIME WALKER), the head of the sorority (Jenny Neumann, from the Aussie slasher flick STAGE FRIGHT/NIGHTMARES) and a nerdy electronics wiz (Jimmy Sturtevant) sneak onto the grounds and decide to scare the pledges. They've apparently already been there earlier that day and have wired the place up with all kinds of fright gags. Speakers scream, skeletons pop out of closets, doors lock by themselves and a ghost/zombie hologram appears. But these aren't the only scares these kids will have. The rumors about the surviving family member or members turns out to be true as a hulking, deformed retard or retards sneaks around through secret passageways and start killing them all off one by one in a variety of ways.

This movie has its good points and bad points. The accent is more on old fashioned scares and suspense than on gore and sex. The movie does not always pull off what it's attempting, but it gets credit for at least trying. There's very little blood and no nudity here so exploitation fans might zone out. When the pledges are dropped off, the frat king informs them that all the utilities have been shut off yet they somehow manage to wire all kinds of electronics in the home and at one point someone manages to get a toilet to flush. There's also a ridiculous scene at a police station where someone basically just walks into a room, grabs a rifle and ammo off the desk and jumps out a window without managing to be seen. The acting is acceptable and they try to make at least a couple of them likable. Since nearly the entire movie takes place at night, it's a pretty dark film and much of the time things are partially seen or difficult to see. Again, this works at times but other times is kind of frustrating. It was a good idea to keep the killer in semi-darkness most of the time, in my opinion.

One of the best things this movie has going for it are the sets. The mansion exteriors are creepy enough, the decor inside is appropriate (not sure where all those candles came from, though), there are some cool secret passageways and staircases and scenes take place outside by a greenhouse, by a pond, on the roof and in some very well-designed catacombs beneath the house where the killer hides out. The director also scores points for making good use of his locations. Regardless, I found myself kind of disinterested in the mid-section of the movie because it was all-too-familiar territory to me. It's not until most of the people are dead that the film really hit its stride and becomes more exciting, suspenseful and action-oriented. Slasher fans who don't live for blood, guts and breasts will probably enjoy this one.


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