C 1981 Compass International Pictures
Reviewed by retrorussell (Russell Shiley)
Marti: Linda Blair! Bookish, porcelain doll-faced girl (naturally sporting a costume that reveals her ample bosom) who is among four Alpha Sigma Rho pledges being initiated via a stay at the "haunted" Garth Manor for one night. The Manor is supposedly where a mass murder happened 12 years prior involving a family slaughter of mostly deformed brood: the father (again supposedly) killed all members save his son Andrew, then he killed himself. If you think murders will continue at present time, you are privy to the obvious.
Jeff: Matthew Starr himself, from the short lived tv series The Powers Of Matthew Starr! (Yeah, I don't remember it too well either.) Another pledge. Falls for Marti, and eventually to concrete, with a little help from Andrew.
Denise: Cute but dim British frat pledge supplying drugs and booze and looking for sex, a bad luck omen in these films. Killed, method unknown.
Seth: Dopey surfer dude with the most bizarre acting chops this side of Crispin Glover. Fights with Andrew's brother (I guess?) over a shotgun, and wins! Tries it again against Andrew. The second time around isn't as successful.
Peter: Prez of Alpha Sigma Rho. Rigs up assorted phony creepy things to scare the pledges. Gets scythed by a genuine article.
May: Helps Peter with his pranks. Andrew helps her remove her head.
Scott: Also helps Peter with pranks. Helped with turning his neck 180 degrees.
Andrew: Deformed Garth son found missing after the family slaughter. Gored by gate spikes.
Morris: Andrew's brother (I guess) who was supposed to be killed by his father (I guess) in the family slaughter. His presence is never really explained. Shot by Seth.
Hell Night was a strong staple of early 80s cable (I first caught this on Showtime as a very easily-frightened kid; I suppose a fairly low-gore flick like this [and NO nudity or sex, pooey!] was a good film to ease me into the genre); it's an indefensibly loopy, illogical and at times cryptic low-budget slasher, but great atmosphere, locations, costumes, and pacing more than make up for its shortcomings. But if it's a lot of blood and boobies you're looking for, you will be disappointed. Being that there's a drunken 80s fraternity initiation in this film, perhaps it's fair to expect plenty of sex and nudity.. sorry, it doesn't happen. Further nitpicks can include visible goofs, some horrific dialogue (I'm looking at YOU, Seth!) and the aforementioned spotty logic. But I liked it quite a bit for reasons already given, and I'll gladly watch it again.
For the uninitiated (pun intended), "Hell Night" is a legendary university rite when college students, intending to become initiated into a fraternity normally titled by two or three Greek letters, are subjected to some sort of test to prove their fealty. In this film, after a wild party involving various costumed pledges (a pirate, Victorian outfits, and Peter Pan, among others), frat president Peter leads them to Garth Manor, named for a family which supposedly was mostly wiped out by the father, Raymond Garth, 12 years earlier. The family was not of attractive stock, possibly indicating inbreeding. Garth son Andrew is indicated to be "Gorked out" (Peter's description) and witnessed the family slaughter, culminating in Raymond's suicide. Andrew was never found by the authorities, leading to a plot device you could smell with a broken nose. Peter also points (another intended pun!) to a gate that will be locked to ensure the pledges stay there a full night, which is topped by sharp spikes. The frat members then enter the house (which has candles still burning from 1969? And is kept in a Victorian style in such a modern area? Peter does mention that the family didn't want to deal with anyone in the outside world and used no electricity or modern conveniences but still.. pretty dumb), then leave the pledges to their devices.
Or do they? The frat members Peter, Scott and May actually stick around the grounds with a bunch of noisemaking devices, cranks, wires, lights, strobes, etc. to spook the pledges. I guess this fraternity only allows 4 pledges at a time, as we meet bookish Marti, love interest Jeff, doofus surfer Seth and his moreso doofus Brit girlfriend Denise. They settle in and see and hear the various pranks rigged by our fun-loving frat farts. If you think the frats will bite it before the pledges, you get a Gork cookie!
Eventually the pledges notice switches, plugs, cords, projectors and what-nots that are turning on/off the spooky things. May is the first to notice a genuine threat on the grounds as a deformed, angry being reaches up from a cellar hatch and pulls her in, beheading her with a cleaver. In short order Scott, while rigging a dummy to a crank and rope, gets his neck broken, then Peter is attacked after discovering Scott's body (predictably rigged on the rope). He is denied the opportunity to open the gate with the keys and retreats to a garden hedge maze (bad, bad news!). After a brief chase in which it seems Peter has shaken his pursuer another jumps in front as he rounds a corner and plunges a scythe through his chest. So we have TWO killers? Kinda contradicts the story told earlier, and it's never explained. Fodder for the film's haters, but I still enjoy this film, illogical lumps (illogilumps?) and all.
While Seth leaves Denise in bed (again, no sex or nudity involved! Grr!) she is abducted by Andrew. He returns to bed and May's head greets him (another scare you can see a mile away.. yeah, more hater fodder). The gang decide it's time to do something about this threat (yah think??) and Seth manages to scale the gate (with a loving closeup of the spikes cutting him.. ootch!), steal a car, and get to the police station. Of course, them darn old-timers don't believe his story and he steals a shotgun and shells which are conveniently located in an unlocked ammo room! (facepalm)
Meanwhile Jeff and Marti meet up with Andrew on a couple of occasions (including a great scene involving catacombs) but manage to get away. Seth returns, blows away Gorkmeister #2 (Andrew's brother Morris-- I had to find this out on the internet), and in a classic horror scene scare is pulled under a stairwell, the shotgun goes off and is tossed out into the open, and Marti has to slowly go down the steps to get it, while wondering if Seth survived. Nope, and the chase continues. In an attempt to escape out the window Andrew catches up to Jeff and helps him a bit too much, sending him to stone steps below. Marti is the only survivor now, and comes across Peter's body in the maze. After a major struggle she manages to get the keys free from Peter's dead hands and gets to the car, which she somehow rigs from under the hood (sorry, I'm no mechanic; but it sounds pretty fishy)!
In her haste to drive to safety she backs into the gate (which is now tilted). And ya knew this was coming too (though you'd think she'd hear it): Andrew is on top of the car! He peers at a terrified Marti as he bashes at the windshield and tries to grab her. She notices the loose gate (and you knew it would figure into the final kill), punches it and gores Andrew messily (apart from the scything, the only real gore in the film) and she falls asleep at the wheel. She wakes in the morning and starts to walk away as the film ends.
Well, upon review I guess I can see why this got its fare share of criticisms (especially folks like Maltin, Ebert, Reed, Shalit, etc.) but I still liked it quite a bit. Partly due to its costumes and atmosphere, and partly because it takes me back to a happier place.. 80s cable tv! Give Hell Night a shot if you don't HAVE to have blood and guts and boobies in all your horror flicks. And don't be surprised if the word "Gork" gets worked into your vocabulary.
Things I Learned From This Movie:
-Police stations leave ammunition rooms unlocked and unguarded.
-Candles continue to burn after 12 years.
-Just because Dick Van Patten was the star of the hit series Eight Is Enough doesn't mean ALL Van Pattens are good actors.
-British women can't differentiate the name "Seth" from "Wes".
-Corpses don't want to let go of keys.
-It's easy to rig a car's ignition from under the hood.
-Old mansions have tunnels that lead everywhere underneath.
-Deformed family slaughter survivors get that "deer in headlights" look when something sharp comes towards them.
-Deformed family slaughter survivors are freakin' strong!
-Gork (gork): N: a mentally simple, deformed, evil individual of great strength.
-Gorked out (gorkt-aut): ADJ: having traits of the above.
-Police reports are faulty, or fraternity presidents are liars, or both.
Stuff To Watch For:
:01- What, a murder already?? Oh, never mind.
2:43- RANDOM GRATUITOUS BR-- Aw, damn it!
6:35- Peter explains the rules of the initiation and gives the (flawed) story of the Garth Mansion killings.
10:08- Three dead bodies..? So, the mother, father and just one of the sisters? So there should be a sister AND two brothers alive. (Not all show up in the film.) Or did the brothers hide her body..? Who the hell knows.
13:56- ..What? Cold as a housepecker-- or Hell's pecker? WTF Seth!
14:59- Ha ha ha! Bad movie dialogue lovers rejoice!
20:20- What was the point of tipping the chair over?
27:51- Oops-- the blade hit her chin, not her neck!
39:00- Why didn't she answer the door? It sounded like someone was knocking.
46:30- Yeah, brushing against the hedges and waving your flashlight everywhere is gonna keep them from finding you.
53:03- But you didn't DO anything!
55:50- The boots could've been tossed UNDER the gate, ya know.
1:11:42- Another classic slasher movie scene. Look out behind you!
1:24:14- Who bent the bars of the gate?
1:28:25- Another classic slasher movie scene!
1:36:50- VERY satisfying conclusion!
May (about Peter): He lives all year for Hell Night. This is when he REALLY puts it to the pledges.
Marti: Can I go now?
(After Denise keeps calling him 'Wes')
Seth: The name is SETH!
Seth: If we weren't screaming.. and you weren't screaming.. somebody's trying to mind-f**k us.
Seth (running downstairs after hearing fake moans/screams): Somebody's got some sense of humor!
Jeff (noticing Seth's goofy boxers): I can see that!
Denise (upon entering the mansion): Hey, let's party! Quaaludes..
Seth: Lookie here!
Denise: ..And Jack Daniels!
Denise: And music! (puts on Walkman)
Seth: Oh my God! This is one radical chick! All right! (makes goofy expression)
Seth: I surf, drink and screw! Ha ha!
Seth: There's a dead chick in my bed and the world's gone mad!
Scott (about May): What a little twat. We should have left her behind.
Peter: Why? Her behind is the best part. We should've kept her behind and left the rest of her.
Peter (about anyone intending to climb the spiked fence): You might cut your nuts off. (So.. the women might cut their ovaries?)