Hell Night (1981)

OCTOBER 2, 2011


Beyond The Door was the only film in the lineup that I had never seen, but Hell Night qualifies for HMAD since I had only seen it once, back in high school. And I’m not even sure I watched the whole thing – granted my memory sucks, but I would think that I’d remember the amazing scene where one of the male heroes escapes from a police station carrying a shotgun that he stole from the evidence room, a scene that managed to out-ridiculous even the events of Inseminoid later in the evening (well, morning by then).

I think I’d also remember the obvious Halloween lifts, likely courtesy of producer Irwin Yablans. In addition to a very similar score at times, there’s a bit where heroine Linda Blair (and her boyfriend, Peter Barton, aka the guy from Final Chapter that looks like Jared Leto) very slowly walk up to the house of doom, with lots of cutting back and forth between their glacial pace and the house, looking larger and more ominous with each shot – a sequence stolen directly from Laurie walking over to the Wallace house at the top of Halloween’s third act. Also, even though it doesn’t take place on Halloween, it feels like it does, with everyone wearing costumes and playing pranks (the actual date isn’t made clear I don’t think, but it can’t be Halloween if the students are making their pledges to fraternities/sororities – that sort of stuff is finished by the end of September, no?).

And like Halloween, the characters were likable. To be fair, the age of “they're going to die anyway might as well make them jerks” hadn’t really hit yet, but even compared to other 1981 slashers, I liked these folks. The aforementioned guy at the police station is probably the biggest jerk of the bunch, and even he’s fairly affable (that he actually goes back to save his friends is pretty awesome). Plus they’re all frat/sorority folks – I’ve never been in one so I don’t know for sure, but most horror films traditionally present these people are shallow assholes. Here they’re the same sort of fun-loving, slightly moronic types you’d see in any old slasher, and I liked that the bulk of the film wasn’t given over to them playing pranks or hazing poor would-be initiates.

In fact, the killing starts rather early. Once we hear the back-story and get everyone into the house, it’s not long before the first kill, with another following every 10 minutes or so. The body count is a bit lower than most ’81 slashers, but they make up for it with a lot of great chase scenes, some fun kills (scythe!) and again, characters who you might actually want to see survive. Being that this was before it became customary to let a male survive as well, I was actually hoping Barton would break tradition and pull through. Hilariously, his death actually occurred right before a reel change, and is often the case with these older prints (it was pretty beat/faded), such areas are often lost for one reason or another, so his death was largely missing (we see the killer lunge at him and then it cuts to Blair scrambling away, having already reacted to his fall).

It does run a bit long though, with certain scenes dragged out a bit too much for my tastes (particularly when the guy comes back with the shotgun). At 101 minutes, you’d think they’d have enough time to explain why there are two killers when the mythology that they establish only leaves room for one, but instead the time is given to extending shots and scenes beyond the necessary length. This could easily be 90 minutes and it wouldn’t affect the story or the suspense at all. In fact, I was actually fairly impressed with the scares here, particularly the great misdirect at the end when the killer pops up in the car scene – tighter editing could have gotten those great scares closer together.

Also, the most titillating thing about the movie is the credits, which neglects to mention the actors that played the killers (and thus, since there are two but only one mentioned by name in the story – Andrew – the other one doesn’t even get a character name). The IMDb hasn’t added them, and apparently they don’t even name them on the commentary, only noting that one of them died after the movie was completed. My guess is that they were played by random stunt men and this bit of business was made up in order to intrigue schmucks like me, who would spend the rest of the day researching it on the internet if I had the time to do so (instead I just asked Twitter). It’s also possible that one or both were SAG actors who didn’t want to get in trouble and asked not to be credited, which is common (though usually they just use fake names). Either way, they are cool looking killers and deserve a toy or at least a good T-shirt, but their lack of a solid identity is probably keeping them at bay. What good is having an action figure of a killer when there’s no way you can pay the actor 20 dollars to sign it at a convention?

At any rate, my half-remembered opinion of the film was largely incorrect; it might run a bit long, but it’s a fun and likable addition to the glut of 1981 slashers (I read somewhere that a new one opened in theaters nearly every week – I don’t doubt it), with enough of a personality and impressive enough production value to not have to coast on nostalgia in order to maintain a fanbase.

What say you?


  1. I gather that the story the frat guy told wasn't exactly right, and the second killer was the brother of the first. Legends are usually based in fact, but distorted. So it's believable that the local legend was just a bit off the mark.

  2. Phil, i think you're right as I recall the same back in an old(!!!) Fangoria issue I had.

  3. This is high camp, I mean Blair in her outfit is just awesome, white lace and white boots! And the scene when they´re trying to escape and tries to climb over the irongates...It´s hilarious! Love this movie!

  4. I recently watched this one and actually found it rather hilarious at times. I enjoyed it, but more as a sort of party movie. Some things just go unexplained, like why everyone is wearing costumes (Linda Blair was a southern belle, I think?). The hazing ritual came across as a tradition of the fraternity/sorority with the way the head fraternity guy rattled the "legend" off as they were approaching the house, like he had told the story many times before, and yet later he's oblivious to the reality that the story is actually true. Wouldn't this have been discovered previously? Also, the new initiates seem to be unprepared for hazing hijinks at times, i.e. "stop it! this isn't funny!". Like, what were they expecting?

    Also hilarious is the painfuly drawn out "climbing over the fence" scene which requires herculean effort and results in the blonde dude being injured (and which in retrospect seems only to point out that the spikes at the top are sharp - forshadow alert), but when he returns to the house he instantly finds a hole in the fence and easily runs through it. Love it. I found Linda Blair to be a contender for Least Appealing Final Girl of All Time, but some people seem to think she's "cute", so your mileage may vary.

    Viewers of 80s slashers aren't necessarily looking for logic and realistic performances, however, so this one is worth a watch if you're looking for some fun.

  5. This stands as one of my favorite horror films of all time. Finally pulled the trigger on a DVD purchase and am rewatching it after not seeing it for a year. I used to watch it all the time as a kid, and it never grew cheesy or bad for me.

    Like the review states, it has characters you care for, great suspense/scary moments, some twisted kills, intense chase moments, and I love how the typical jock stereotype was turned around in this, as he returns to save his friends instead of dying as he escapes or being an ass the entire time before he is killed.

    Also, I believe that the two killers in the film (one of them died shortly after filming) were German stuntmen. Their names were never stated and nobody has ever found out any more about them, which is eerie to me.

    I love this film, and with the constant remakes of 80's films, I'd line up to see this if it was remade, but I'm sure they'd ruin it somehow. There were plans to remake it quite a few years ago, but that never ended up coming to fruition.

  6. I think the costumes are indicative of the "Hell Night" hazing tradition, and not Halloween related. They get dressed up and spend the night in the old house as their initiation.


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