Hell Night

July 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm (7 Heads, Hell Night) (, , , , )

Hell Night – 1981 – United States

During a fraternity initiation, four teens stay in a “haunted” manor. Pranksters rig the place with wailing speakers, ghostly projections, and monstrous manikins that don’t impress anyone. Real terror comes from super-strong deformed madmen who lurk the grounds, mangling trespassers. Certainly, the premise is uninspired, but Hell Night melds slasher and creature feature tropes enjoyably. Competent writing, acting, and effects help compensate for its lack of originality.

Hell Night’s greatest strength is its likable characters. The teens are appropriately shocked by the gruesome happenings, but never incapacitated. Disregarding occasional moments of absurd logic, they display unexpected level-headedness and daring. When the arrogant surfer escapes the manor, he goes to the police station. After the cops disregard him, he steals a car and shotgun and returns to help his friends. Even the short-lived slutty party girl shows restraint. But the best is Linda Blair (of The Exorcist) as the cute damsel in distress who hotwires a car like a pro.

Hell Night is full of nice touches. The manor is excellently decrepit, with a labyrinthine garden, underground tunnels, and a razor-spiked fence. The creatures are a cross between mutant rednecks and wolf men. Better still, they don’t appear until the very end. I also dug the teens’ wild outfits. Leaving a costume party, they are dressed as a pilgrim, a princess, a flapper, and Robin Hood.

Hell Night is considered a cult classic for reason hard to define. It’s cheap and derivative, yet greater than the sum of its parts. It rewards genre fans with mystery, suspense, and shocks, without resorting to tedious gore and nudity. Essentially, Hell Night is ever-so-slightly above average in pretty much every way.

Rating: 7/10 Shrunken Heads. One head added for the slutty girl’s English accent.

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