Friday, April 15, 2022

Happy Hell Night (1992) [filmed in 1990]

... aka: Frat Fright
... aka: Hell Night

Directed by:
Brian Owens

The first wave of early 80s slashers wore out their welcome almost as soon as they arrived, with only the occasional blip of life coming out of this increasingly formulaic and unimaginative subgenre. By the time we got to the tail end of the decade, even the top franchises were having trouble maintaining audience interest. That became increasingly clear in 1989, when installments of the until-then highly successful Elm Street, Halloween and Friday the 13th series' saw their lowest-grossing entries yet. Like most others of this type from this same time period, Happy Hell Night (which was filmed back in 1990) failed to gain much interest when it was unceremoniously dumped onto the home video market by Quest Entertainment two years after it was made.

At Winfield College in New York (actually Humber College in Toronto), all of the GLO's are gearing up for Hell Week. At this particular college, rival frats Kappa Sig and Phi Delta Sigma participate in something called "Frat House Follies." Whoever is able to pull off the most outrageous and dangerous initiation stunt prank wins the competition. Determined to come out on top, public access TV host and Phi Delta member Ned Bara (Ted Clark, who looks a good decade too old to still be in college) comes up with "the most outrageous, most daring, most righteous, most radical hazing assignment in collegiate history."

On Halloween night back in 1963, a sheriff and a priest discovered the remains of seven mutilated and dismembered college students plus a murdered townie girl in an abandoned cemetery mausoleum. In addition to that, the corpse of one Zachary Malius (Charles Cragin) was missing from his tomb and Satanic symbols were painted all over the walls in blood. Though no one was charged in the slayings, a catatonic man was found near the crime scene and placed in the state mental institution where he's reputedly been housed ever since. Ned cooks up the idea of having some of the freshmen pledges sneak into the asylum and snap a picture of this mystery man.

Frat president Eric Collins (Nick Gregory) has a familial connection to the 1963 murders as his father Henry (Darren McGavin) was around at the time and may have witnessed some of what occurred. Eric has some other issues, namely that his girlfriend Liz (Laura Carney) has been sleeping with his bad boy biker younger brother Sonny (Frank John Hughes) behind his back. When he catches the two of them having sex at a motel, Eric forces Sonny to accompany another freshman - Ralph (Jeffrey Miller) - to the asylum. The two break in, remove a cross from a door and accidentally unleash the occupant. As it typically the case, local legend isn't entirely accurate. The man in the cell is the resurrected, demonic Malius and he's been locked away there by Father Thomas Cane (Janez Vrhovec), who's kept watch over him for decades now.

I'll give the filmmakers this much credit: Malius, as played by Cragin, is actually a great slasher killer. He's strange-looking, bald, pale, thin, eyebrow-less, outfitted with black contacts and has a very Max Shreck / Nosferatu vibe to him, so the casting is technically good. Unfortunately, the script downplays the visually effective look of the killer by giving him short moronic quips ("No sex") as he slashes his way through the cast, starting with ripping Ralph's arm off and cutting a night nurse's throat with a scalpel. Most of the later kills are done with a small ice axe / hammer, which seems kind of random, but sometimes you're better off not even asking.

This is neither terrible nor particularly good for this type of film. It's poorly edited at times, the dialogue and most of the acting is bad, the plot structure is a bit of a mess and the demonic killer isn't sufficiently developed nor are his supernatural abilities exploited enough, but there are still a few things of merit here. Production values are solid, the lighting, photography and score are all pretty good, there's plenty of blood and female nudity and a few well-done and, at times, even atmospheric sequences, including the visit to the killer's asylum cell and a random moment where a crucified Jesus statue comes to life to kill a priest.

As for the characters, they consist mostly of annoying, immature, cocky frat bros who stay drunk the entire movie and have little on their minds aside from partying and getting laid. Every single one of them is unlikable, even our protagonists. Aside from the female lead, every other actress involved is given next to no dialogue and are around solely to up the body count, get naked or both. The real actors on the payroll, like McGavin (given top billing despite receiving very little screen time) and prolific Serbian actor Vrhovec, are given very little to do and play sorely underwritten parts. Also making this a bit peculiar is that it's a Canadian / Yugoslavian co-production. While many of the actors came from the New York area, others (including most of the actresses providing nude scenes) have been imported in from Yugoslavia.

For what it's worth, a couple of future stars turn up in small parts. An uncredited Jorja Fox, who'd later become a well-known TV actress (CSI; ER), plays one of the victims, while future Oscar winner Sam Rockwell is given an even smaller part (I think he has just one line of dialogue) as the younger version of McGavin's character in flashbacks. Though they don't really contribute much to the film itself, both have been used to promote later DVD and Blu-ray releases from companies like Anchor Bay and Code Red.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...