Hell Night

Somewhere between Born Innocent and the regrettable Savage Streets (“Too bad you’re not double-jointed; you’d be able to bend over and kiss your ass goodbye!”), Linda Blair slipped in this little genre gem about a group of Greek pledges terrorized by a crazed mongoloid.

The hazing is deceptively simple: spend one night in Garth Manor, an overgrown castle at the edge of town, where the patriarch slaughtered his family–and then committed suicide–years ago. There’s a catch, the pledge master informs us: one of the sons, Andrew, a mangled “gork,” is said to have survived the massacre, and still resides somewhere in the house. Off the pledges go, locked in till dawn. Now, if you don’t believe Andrew is still alive and ready to tear a bunch of teens limb from limb, you a) would be wrong, and b) should be ashamed for even trying to watch a movie called Hell Night. Andrew is, indeed, still alive, skulking about a maze of underground tunnels. If he doesn’t exactly tear body parts asunder, he manages considerable damage with an assortment of sharp and rusted weaponry.

Blair is relentlessly cheerful here, at least until the carnage starts, but she still isn’t a very good actress–which is suitable for this type of movie. Peter Barton does a respectable job as the good guy who tries to save the day; that he discovers late in the film that humans can’t fly without wings is all the more unfortunate. The real surprise, however, is Vincent Van Patten, who, aside from playing half the movie without his shirt on (which isn’t a bad thing), infuses his womanizing character with humor and sharp wit; it’s an archetype he’s saddled with, but he tweaks it enough to be engaging.

And then there’s Andrew, the gork. It should be noted that I have soft spot in my heart for movie mongoloids, from Humongous to Friday the 13th. Andrew’s a pretty good one, too, with his precipitous brow and hulking frame. Director Tom DeSimone even pulls a neat trick at the end of the film, by showing his killer in full daylight, and the make-up effect is pretty convincing.

Even still, Hell Night isn’t exactly quality cinema, as so few films of the era were. DeSimone does his best with what he has by keeping things moving along well enough, despite a lack of any real suspense. And the kills, which are few in number, should be satisfying enough for anyone who loves 80’s slasher as much as I do.

1981; starring Linda Blair, Peter Barton; directed by Tom DeSimone; 101 min; R; in English.