Monday, December 21, 2009

Mindless Movie Monday: Hell Night

In honor of my first Mindless Monday, I wanted to choose a movie that was near and dear to my heart.
And that movie is Hell Night - a pointless, almost goofy example of filmmaking from the golden age of slasher flicks. And yes, I own it.

Produced by Irwin Yablans (who gave us Halloween {1978} for God's sake!) in 1981, Hell Night tells the tale of a quartet of college Greek week pledges who have to stay in the dreaded Garth Manor (enter the "da-dum!" scary music here) overnight in order to fullfill their initiation requirements to join the fraternity/sorority of their choice.

Two of our group of frat/sorority wannabes, Seth (Vincent Van Patten) and Denise (Suki Goodwin) are eager to get the ball rolling and have brought provisions such as Jack Daniels and Quaaludes. The other duo, Jeff (Peter Barton) and Marty (Linda Blair) are more hesitant, though Jeff certainly has his eye on chest level of course. Because let's face it, Linda Blair's heaving hooters are the real star of this show. Dressed like some sort of Victorian damsel in distress in a gown that shoves her massive mammaries front and center to shake, rattle and roll, Blair is obviously supposed to be the marquee name here, but to be honest, I liked her better when she was spewing pea soup and accosting herself with a crucifix, truth be told.

I'm assuming the pre-party to this event was either a Halloween or costume party, because there is no other reason on earth for these kids to have worn the clothes they had on. Seth is dressed like Robin Hood or some such thing, but strangely enough, he completes the getup with boxers featuring hearts all over them, which we do, indeed get to see later. (Somehow I'm thinking Robin would not have chosen to wear said undergarments...)

Denise is supposed to be a 20's flapper I think, but she just flat-out looks like a hooker. Apropos.

Anyway, the jist of the story is that the nasty reputation of Garth Manor is well deserved after Daddy Garth strangled his wife then murdered the rest of his family and then hanged himself. However, the police never found the body of the youngest Garth child, Andrew. Who was, of course, deformed and deranged. Yeah, that's never been done before.

So while our four pledges settle into the mansion (which no one has supposedly gone into in the twelve years since the tragedy - but there are like, a hundred candles all over the place lit up like a carnival), the president of the fraternity and a couple of his cronies set their little plan in motion, as they are planning to scare the shit out of the pledges with their silly tricks and mechanical pranks.

Recorded disembodied screams, ghostly specters, and things that go bump in the night start to frighten and unnerve the foursome, but not enough for Seth and Denise to avoid having sex. Which brings me to another thought. If this house had not been inhabited for over twelve years, I know for a hard fact that no matter how drunk, high, or horny I was, I would not be crawling between the moldy sheets on one of those beds. No way, no how. And I love how all the comforts of home (i.e. blankets, pillows, etc) are all readily available. So I guess they had a maid service come in and clean all the blood out of the house after the murders and primp the bedrooms up for guests.

Naturally, the scary tale about the Garth family isn't just an urban legend, and there really is someone prowling around the old home. And when the trio who set out to frighten the pledges start getting offed one by one, the others realize something is amiss. Go figure.

There are a few scares to be had here, if you're looking for some. I was always freaked out by the scene where two of our group are sitting in a bedroom, holding a pitchfork, waiting for nasty shit to go down, eyes placed firmly on the bedroom door...when behind them one of the carpets on the floor starts to rise up. Someone is coming up through a hidden trap door on the floor. And they can't see it.


No one here is winning any Oscars. And whatever became of the three other leads is beyond me. Barton was a real looker back in the day, and Van Patten had the whole surfer-dude thing going for him, but I'll be damned if I can think of anything else I've seen them in since.

And to be honest, I think Linda Blair should have been taken out and shot after her performance in this gem. She quivers and squirms! She rolls her eyes in terror! She whines and clutches the big strong man in fear! She gasps and screams! She shakes her chest for all its worth!

Shoot me now, her acting is hokey and completely over the top. Pretty much everyone else involved (including the ghost of Raymond Garth) is doing a more presentable job than our Exorcist reject. As a matter of fact, I think I saw somewhere that she was nominated for a Golden Raspberry (The Razzies!) for her performance. How she didn't win is beyond me.

But all in all, Hell Night isn't a true throw-away slice and dice. I grew up in this era - the dawn of the slasher film - and it holds a special place in my heart as one of those movies that actually scared me a bit when I saw it for the first time. The Garth mansion is utterly spooky at night, with all its gables, turrets and peaks. And who isn't invigorated at the thought of spending the night in a freaky old house where something completely awful happened? And when I was thirteen, it was scary!

So while there's nothing new here at all, it's worth a look simply to give yourself a laugh at Blair, or to dredge up all those lovely teenage memories of things that wouldn't scare you now if your life depended on it. (Though I'd still say Hell Night could run rings around the remake of The Haunting!)

*Oh, and I just had to throw in this pic of the actual house they used for the film - it is the Kimberly Crest House and Gardens in Redlands, California. Absolutely gorgeous, and on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. (But you can see how it could be transformed into a menacing mansion with just a bit of darkness.)

HorrorBlips: vote it up!


D Swizzle said...

I haven't seen this one, but now I really want to.

James Gracey said...

Cool review - and thanks for posting that photo of 'Garth Manor' - awesome house. This is one of my favourite 80s slasher films.

Anonymous said...

I saw this back in like 1996. I was 8. scared 7 shades of shit outta me. My mom threw away the tape coz I couldn't sleep, yet I still watched it over and over again. How can I get this movie again? DVD? Loved this Horror/Thriller :)

Christine Hadden said...