Happy Hell Night (1992)

JULY 23, 2010


As today was the busiest day at Comic Con (for me anyway), it was tough to find time for Happy Hell Night. So I sort of watched it in pieces throughout the day (and had to go back and re-watch most of it later as I'd usually be getting emails and texts the entire time it was on). But it's sort of fitting, because the movie itself seemed to be produced like that. According to the IMDb, it was shot over a nearly year long period in both Canada and Yugoslavia (!), and many of the characters never interact with the bulk of the others (top-billed Darren McGavin, for example, has about 5 minutes of screentime, all of which are either alone or with the two guys who play his sons).

Thus, it's hard to tell if the structure was fragmented due to poor writing or a less than ideal production. The killer seems to be everywhere at once, making even Jason's silly "path" in Final Chapter (where he kills two guys in adjacent rooms, but pauses to kill a girl on the 2nd floor - from outside! - in between) look more logical. Inside, outside... he always seems to know exactly where people will be, even though we never see him watching or stalking anyone like Michael Myers, a character the filmmakers were obviously familiar with, given how many times they crib shots from Halloween (including a direct steal of him going out a window and then disappearing).

But time seems to be shifting around for other characters too. The most offensive example had to be when one of our heroes accidentally releases the killer. Rather than do anything about it THERE and THEN, he decides to drive back to warn his friends, getting pulled over in the process. In the meantime, we see that the killer has managed to already make it to the frat house before him. A full 15 minutes later in the film, we see the cop finally give our hero the ticket. So either the cop took an hour or so to write the ticket, or the killer managed to outpace a motorcycle in real time (even 15 minutes seems a bit long for a ticket, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt there). Also, the DJ at the party seems to be asleep, as the same song (the film's shitty theme) is playing for at least 10 minutes.

I remain unsure how McGavin managed to make it from Yugoslavia to Canada in what seems like 4 hours tops, however. And not just get there, get from his hotel in Yugoslavia to the airport, take the flight, land, get from the airport to his son's exact dorm room. Go McGavin!

Now, of course, this IS a slasher movie and thus plot holes are sort of par for the course, but like I've said several times - if the movie was good enough I wouldn't have noticed on my first (distracted) viewing. I already mentioned the lack of stalking, but even more damaging is, once again, a complete lack of sympathetic characters. Our "hero" is a guy who is trying to steal his brother's girlfriend (asshole). The other characters are all typical frat douches, so they fuck around and fight. Even a nurse at the hospital where the killer is being held is presented as a lowlife, dragging a patient around by one arm and falling asleep with food in her hand.

The one thing holding my attention is Charles Cragin as Malius (the killer). In addition to resembling my good friend Joe, he manages to retain his creepiness even though he has to deliver "wisecracks" with every kill. They're not Freddy-level quotes, instead he just says "No _____", based on whatever the character is doing when he kills them. "No TV", "No sex", "No parking", etc. Some of them are even kind of amusing, and even the groaners never got to the point of annoyance. He also manages to pull off a completely fucking stupid moment where he gets his hand caught in a trap. Rather than just pull it out, or at least cut it at the wound (where he would already have a head start), he somehow and for some reason cuts off his entire arm (between the shoulder and elbow), heavy shirt and all, with a goddamn scalpel. But Cragin somehow makes it work. It's a shame that he has either died or retired... after a busy few years in the early 90s (including two films with Woody Allen), he just disappeared, and his IMDb has no info whatsoever.

I also kept hoping for more 'cameos', though it seems to be just the three. McGavin I have mentioned - not the kind of guy you found slumming TOO often. Sam Rockwell also pops up in a wordless role (he is actually playing McGavin's character in flashbacks to Malius' "creation"). And later in the film, we are treated to the lovely Jorja Fox (CSI) as a sorority girl who makes her frat guy hookup get a condom. She then... I have no idea. I watched the scene twice to see what I missed, but I still can't tell what her plan was. She seems to be stealing from the frat guy or something. At any rate, she runs out to the car, and then Malius drives his hammer-claw thing through the roof, and through her head in turn. The physics make no sense, but it's a cool kill. Fox is unbilled for the role, but it's definitely her - the gap in her teeth is a dead giveaway. Also, the main guy is Frank John Hughes, who played Tim Woods on 24. So even though this movie is as obscure as they come, it actually has a pretty decent success rate in terms of actors in early roles still having careers.

Sadly (or not), I cannot say the same for the film's writers - Michael Fitzpatrick, Brian Owens (who also directed), or Ron Petersen, none of whom have had a produced credit since (Owens wrote the original draft of Brainscan, which was rewritten by the far more successful Andrew Kevin Walker). Whether they gave up, couldn't get hired, or all died in a terrible plane crash from Yugoslavia to Canada, I have no idea. The DVD only has a trailer, so there's no help there. Seriously, what the fuck is with this movie? Big stars in early roles, a somewhat memorable killer, and its a rare early 90s slasher to boot - why is it so under the radar?

At least I have another question to ask Rockwell if I ever meet him. Clownhouse, Joshua, Happy Hell Night... guy's got a surprisingly colorful horror section on his resume.

What say you?

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  1. For some reason, I really like this one. Every time I watch it, it always seems more graphic than I remember.

  2. The director of photography on this film was my cinematography professor in college. I bought the DVD at Best Buy when I randomly picked it up and saw his name on the billing block on the back. When I showed it to him he laughed and said, "I shot everything that looks good, anything that looks like shit wasn't me." Apparently the production ran out of money and shut down for a long time, and a lot of the crew was replaced (most likely with people with cheaper rates). He remains the sole credited DP since he shot more than 50% of it. It's kind of funny because he spent a lot of his career doing uncredited reshoots for movies like RoboCop and Jaws 2.

    Another interesting note is that Ted Clark, the annoying guy who had the 45-second college TV show in the movie, went on to play One-Eye in the first Wrong Turn.


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