Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hell Night

I love slasher movies.  They're rarely done well, but they supply an important dose of gratuitous nudity and gory violence to any moviegoer's diet.  Even the bad ones usually supply some spectacle --- or, at the very least, they're amusingly bad.  I will tell you right now that Hell Night is not one of the good ones.

The premise is surprisingly solid for a horror movie.  A group of college kids are spending the night in a supposedly haunted house as part of their fraternity/sorority hazing.  The established members will spend the evening frightening the pledges, hopefully to the point where they try to escape the estate (which is, of course, surrounded by a locked and unclimbable fence).  With that premise, there should be...oh, I'd say about fifteen grisly deaths and two sex scenes, right?  Prepare to be shocked.
Or bored.  Whatever.

In the middle of a huge frat house Halloween party, the fraternity president, Peter (Kevin Brophy), and his nerdy second-in-command decide to pull the plug on the party.  Why?  Because Peter wants to have his new recruits, Jeff (Peter Barton) and Seth (Vincent Van Patten), spend the night in the infamous Garth Manor.  On the walk from the frat house to the Manor, Peter explains that it is where old Mr. Garth had butchered his wife and four children twelve years ago, before hanging himself.  When the police arrived, they were disgusted by how deformed the children were, but they never found the body of Andrew, the youngest Garth.
Gah!  He's hideous...!
Legend has it that Andrew Garth still lives in the Manor to this very day.  Now, it is up to Jeff and Seth --- and their sorority sisters, Marti (Linda Blair) and Denise --- to spend the night in a creepy house.  So...wait...Peter stopped a party (unlikely), had the entire party walk to the abandoned manor across town (beyond doubtful), explained the history of the creepy place (without interruption by the drunken peanut gallery?  Impossible!), and then leaves only four people in the place?  And everybody else goes back to the party?  My suspension of disbelief has been ruined already.  Of course, not everybody returns to the party.  Peter, his nerdy right hand, and the head sorority chick sneak back onto the Manor property to mess with the pledges.  That prank starts to go sideways when it becomes clear that the legend of Andrew Garth is true.

When you look at the math, Hell Night is a sure-fire miss.  The premise all but robs the film of a chance at a high body count; there are a total of seven coeds at risk in this movie.  There are only three women with speaking roles in this movie, and only one has a sex scene.  There is no gratuitous nudity, though; she remained clothed even in post-coital exhaustion.  The acting isn't great, either; if having Linda Blair headlining the film wasn't a big enough clue for you, Peter Barton's biggest film was Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.  As for the killer, Andrew Garth looks like a six year-old designed his character.
Aaah!  It's the Phantom of the Opera!

Despite all that, I enjoyed the first half of Hell Night.  The characters were surprisingly likable for slasher flick characters.  I thought Peter Barton and Linda Blair were decent as reluctant pledges, apparently disinterested in the boozy sex of their peers.  The other girl (who apparently stopped acting after this) was that all-too-rare find in horror movies: an obviously promiscuous gal that wasn't bitchy.  Vincent Van Patten did a decent job as the guy who likes boozy sex and is all about spending quality time with Friendly Slut.  Sure, the acting was hammy and the script was laughably bad in parts (Van Patten's use of "radical" and the surfing/sex metaphor), but it's still fun to watch.
"...and don't give me back my clothes until I've been thoroughly sexed"

When the horror starts, though, things get cliched very quickly.  The killer picks off people, one by one --- surprise, surprise.  Even when the characters know that people are dead and others are missing, they still wander around, loudly calling the names of their friends.  The killer has at least two very convincing death scenes before he actually dies, and there is no explanation of how he survived his seemingly fatal injuries.  Indeed, there is no noticeable slack in the killer's attack as the film goes on.  You will notice, though, a strong desire for Linda Blair to give up and die; she becomes a blubbering idiot from the moment Andrew Garth shows up.
To your left, Garth.  Grab and choke.  Please.

Director Tom DeSimone didn't try anything too fancy with Hell Night.  It's a cheap slasher rip-off, and he did a decent job making this into a comprehensible story.  I don't have anything to add about the direction, really, but DeSimone's filmography caught my eye.  When you look at his IMDb page, there are a bunch of 70s gay porn directing credits under a pseudonym.  When you go to his website, there is no mention of them at all, just a dubious claim that he made both "cult" movies and "classics."  Does his career of B-movies and television directing make Tom DeSimone the most successful crossover from adult films to the mainstream?  Probably not, but I found it interesting for a few minutes and wanted to share.

All in all, Hell Night isn't exactly an unappreciated gem in the slasher flick sub-genre, but it's kind of fun, despite being fairly crappy.  Here is a list of some of my favorite observations:
  • Linda Blair's character got "the best room in the [sorority] house," free clothes and a car for joining her sorority and giving her class notes to the head sorority girl.  Because that's how sororities work.
  • The fraternity brothers drink from steins, which is awesome.  But those probably need to be hand-washed, which means that some freshman spends a lot of time scrubbing steins.
  • Friendly Slut pulls out a bottle of Jack Daniels and some Quaaludes and says "Let's party!"  This is completely unrelated, but she can't seem to remember the name of the guy she is having sex with.
  • When Friendly Slut, who has done nothing but throw herself at every guy near her in her every scene up to this point, gets Seth alone, she asks him if sex is all he thinks about.  That would be funny when asking any guy, especially a college-age one, but it's hilarious that the most oversexed character in the film asks that of someone else.
  • There's a hedge maze in the Garth back yard.  Who has been maintaining that for the past twelve years in this allegedly abandoned property?  Andrew Garth?  Wouldn't somebody notice the immaculately groomed yard work next to the dilapidated Manor?
  • One of the kids manages to escape and runs to the police.  The police refuse to investigate, so the coed walks into a room full of unattended weapons, steals a shotgun, and sneaks out of the police station undetected.  He then carjacks someone at gunpoint, tells the driver to call the police and tell them that he's going to Garth Manor.  When the film ends, hours have passed and the police never investigated the Manor, the carjacking, or the many shotgun blasts coming from the Manor.

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