Scream Factory has thankfully released another obscure slasher film title from the 1980’s for die-hard collectors. From the release of Halloween (1978) to the mid-1980s, slasher films ruled horror. The teen ‘stalk-and-slash’ subgenre spawned multi-million dollar franchises, like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Even casual horror fans are probably familiar with some of the more B-level slashers, including Prom Night and My Bloody Valentine. Many of these 80’s VHS regulars got the remake treatment in the 2000’s. Yet Hell Night, starring Linda Blair of The Exorcist fame, missed out on the 2000’s remake cycle. To date, it’s a largely unknown slasher property.
As part of a fraternity hazing ritual, or “Hell Night”, four college students must spend the night in Garth Manor. Abandoned for years, the Gothic mansion was the site of brutal murders. Former owner Raymond Garth killed his wife and deformed children, before hanging himself. The fraternity seniors warn the pledges that the youngest member of the Garth family survived. According to legend, he still lurks through the halls and secret tunnels underneath. Of course, these same fraternity members have rigged the mansion to scare their pledges. But unbeknownst to them, real horrors lurk in Garth Manor.
Little To Distinguish Hell Night From Countless Slasher Films
Hell Night has languished in obscurity while other slasher films enjoyed a revival in the 2000’s. Sadly, there’s probably a good reason. Like the countless slasher retreads released following the success of Friday the 13th, Hell Night has most of the subgenre’s defining characteristics. As a result, it feels generic and indistinguishable from many of the movies released around the same time.
Very little about Hell Night will stand out for audiences. The characters are of the stock variety. Linda Blair’s Marti is the virginal ‘final girl’ joined by May (Jenny Neumann), the promiscuous blonde. The fraternity pledges also include Seth (Vincent Van Patten), the jock, and Jeff (Peter Barton), the nice guy. A “secret or terrible past” defines the source of the film’s horror. Early victims are promiscuous or otherwise awful in some generic way. Garth Manor, the film’s “terrible place”, offers a unique setting for a slasher film. Not surprisingly then, the Gothic setting is Hell Night’s one and only saving grace.
Too Few Scares, Too Much Time
Hell Night is ultimately plagued by two problems. Slasher films are defined by their jump scares, death scenes, and masked killer’s aesthetics. But there is no Tom Savini or other special effects wizard working behind the scenes in Hell Night. As such, the death scenes are completely unremarkable even in a cheesy, fun way.
Most audiences will also find Hell Night devoid of scares or suspense. Every requisite jump scares is telegraphed and punctuated with a jarring 80’s synth score. Scream Factory has done another outstanding job cleaning up an old horror film for Blu-ray. Nevertheless, you’ll still have a hard time making out anything that in the outdoor nighttime scenes. There is one standout scene that’s bound to elicit some suspense. It’s a “Look behind you” scream that should characterize these sorts of films. Director Tom DeSimone botches a final twist that have saved the movie with poor staging. The film’s killer won’t make much of an impression either.
Hell Night Is Too Long
Hell Night’s biggest weakness is its run-time. At an hour and 46 minutes, Hell Night is just unwieldy in its length considering it’s just a ‘ run-of-the-mill” slasher film. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up in the 1980’s and was practically raised on films like Friday the 13th and Prom Night. But slasher movies have a basic narrative structure. Hell Night brings nothing new to the format justifying its length. What results are long periods of nothing happening that drain any potential for tension.
When something noteworthy does happen. it’s followed by seemingly endless periods where nothing important occurs. Our first glimpse of the killer as he chases Linda Blair through tunnels beneath Garth Manor grinds to an almost immediate halt. Hell Night needed some serious slashing in the editing room, not just onscreen. I caught myself checking how much time was left in the movie on more than one occasion. Even its final climatic chase feels generic and protracted.
Not Much to Recommend Outside of Horror Collectors
Hell Night doesn’t offer much to recommend to most horror fans. If you’re looking for an obscure or hidden gem in the slasher subgenre, check out titles like Just Before Dawn or Intruder (see an upcoming list on obscure slasher titles.). Otherwise Hell Night is purely for the collectorlooking to round out their 1980’s horror shelf.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C-