Back in 1981, while the slasher sub-genre was still a flourishing branch of the horror tree, a terrific little effort by the title, Hell Night was released to the masses. The film failed to win critics over (for the most part), but fans took a liking to the film, which says a lot condering how active the horror market was at the time, and the films being released in milar time slots. Despite battling clascs like Scanners, The Funhouse, The Howling, Friday the 13th 2, Escape from New York, An American Werewolf in London and Halloween II, Hell Night still managed to merit notice, and a strong following.
Fast forward ten years and the slasher wave was dying down, the ring tide a fading memory, the sands of slasher landscape slowly drying up. While many of the aforementioned films continued to live on in the minds of horror fans, Hell Night seemed to slip from both memory banks and plenty of video shelves as well. It was, in short, a film that had lost the luster that once held a group of followers mesmerized. Sadly, the film doesn’t deserve the “forgotten” brand it’s been fixed.
The influx of milar films in a milar time frame made for sorting through the good and bad a daunting task. But, for those addicted to the genre, a true treasure always shines, and we fanatics always seem to find a way to spot the glimmer, no matter how dim. Those who still cherish this film will certainly agree with me, while those who’ve left this one to be neglected will hopefully – after reading this article – grant a clasc just once dance.
The picture is as formulaic in many aspects, while quite risky in others. See, Hell Night wasn’t mply another slasher film, it was an early example of a fine hybrid feature with surprises in wait. Don’t expect your typical masked psychopath stalking teens here, there are other layers that fit, perhaps, better now in the horror scope then 30 years ago.
I can respect and be entertained by run-of-the-mill masked murderers; there’s something fun in the mystery of a haunting identity, and it’s always a blast to learn that specific killers are established by the choice of weaponry in which they utilize to dispose of their hapless victims. But when a filmmaker throws viewers a curveball, and paints a completely new menace, it’s far, far more satisfying. Such is just the case with Hell Night. Forget “normal” serial killers, we’ve got deformed creatures in tow, and they’re big, menacing and inventive in their means of murder. In fact, it’s almost tough to even label this film a slasher, as these brutes only slice and dice a few college kids throughout the course of the picture; their pure animalistic strength leads them to rely on their hands quite often.
I love Hell Night’s “good guys” (so to speak) because they manage to break nearly every rule in the book, but scribe Randy Feldman affords a handful of these goobers the chance at heroism. Viewers will be offered the typical drinking, drug use, premarital sex and poorly devised plans, but it doesn’t prevent these kids from making a legitimately valiant attempt at survival. These kids truly fight for their lives, disregard selflessness and attempt to save one another; that quality really endears our inevitable victims to the audience. To top their internal good nature, there are some serious characters on board with personalities that resonate. It’s a combination rarely found in the slasher realm.
There’s just something strangely sexy about those chubby cheeks and bright eyes. Best known for her role as Regan in William Friedkin’s clasc, The Exorcist, Blair proves she’s a capable female lead that’s easy to cheer for. It doesn’t take an extreme posseson for Linda to tap into natural talents, and she reminds us that in this controlled, but quite effective performance.
The Mighty Bob Kurtzman:
I won’t t back and tell you that Hell Night boasts the finest death scenes imaginable, or that the gore rivals picture like, say, Cannibal Holocaust, but there are some absolutely terrific shots to feast upon just the same. As I’ve pointed out, there’s a wide assortment of murderous methods here, and the shots of extreme violence that occur onscreen are great. The finale alone, which features a wicked cool impaling, is enough to win over your typical gore hungry freak; it’s all owed to Kurtzman, who was dazzling viewers 30 years ago as much as he is today.
The Grand Assessment:
Hell Night lives up to the clichés you’d expect of a film of this nature, but the mold is handled liberally, and though that may sound like the recipe for a train wreck of a film, it actually proves to be a strong suit. The amalgamation of ideas at work is wonderful, as the film feels like Friday the 13th made a baby with Wrong Turn, shortly after a brief encounter with The Haunting. The pacing is excellent, and the atmosphere is absolutely fantastic; at times, there’s a familiar Hammeresque feel to the picture, which only adds to the greatness of this often underappreciated gem.Note: I highly recommend pairing Hell Night with Terror Train, the duo make for a truly kickass, in-home grindhouse effect