Monday, June 9, 2014

Hell Night (1981, USA)

Directed by: Tom DeSimone
Produced by: Irwin Yablans, Bruce Cohn Curtis
Written by: Randy Feldman
Starring: Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten, Peter Barton
Music by: Dan Wyman
Cinematography: Mac Ahlberg
Editing by: Anthony DiMarco
Distributed by: Compass International Pictures, Media Home Entertainment, Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release dates: August 28, 1981
Running time: 101 min
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: Unknown
Box office: Unknown
Plot: Before being able to join Alpha Sigma Rho fraternity and its sister sorority, four pledges must spend the night in Garth Manor, twelve years to the day after the previous resident murdered his entire family. Some, however, say that one member of the Garth family survived, and still resides somewhere in the now-deserted mansion.
Info: Hell Night is a 1981 American independent horror film directed by Tom DeSimone, written by Randy Feldman, and starring Linda Blair. The film depicts a night of fraternity hazing ("hell night") set in an old manor, during which a deformed maniac terrorizes and murders many of the college students. The film blends elements of slasher films and Creature Features, and has developed a large cult following.

Of all the slashers to be unleashed in the early eighties, few had as a distinctive look and feel as Hell Night, Tom DeSimone’s gothic thriller that replaced the splatter aspect with old fashioned atmospherics. Starring Linda Blair, the notorious child actress who had masturbated with a crucifix in The Exorcist, and hosting a selection of future successes, the movie was less of an exploitation and more of a throwback to the days of Hammer and Roger Corman. Utilizing the haunted house formula, a rarity for the slasher genre, Hell Night used striking cinematography and lavish production designs in place of Tom Savini-style gore effects, a decision which some horror fans applauded whilst others felt short changed. Released in the summer of 1981, amidst the height of the slasher boom, Hell Night was greeted by an enthusiastic audience and has since remained a cult favorite.

Even though Hell Night is noted for its lack of bloodshed, there had been one special effect shot that would have satisfied the gore fans, though sadly the MPAA insisted that it be severely censored. This involved the decapitation of May. Instead of the head falling to the floor, DeSimone had decided that he wanted to try something a little different and so had the axe-wielding monster hold her still twitching head for a few seconds afterwards, revealing her moving eyes and open mouth. This was achieved by a hole being cut into the wall with which the actress, Jenny Neumann, would place her head through. A prosthetic body was then placed below her, with the artificial neck created from mortician’s wax, which the axe could simply slice through.

Despite all of the difficulties that had dogged the production, the filming of Hell Night was a surprisingly enjoyable experience for all involved. Many of the actors would enjoy various genre appearances throughout the rest of the decade, with Neumann starring in the hit science fiction show V and Blair enjoying success in Chained Heat and Savage Streets. The movie was released theatrically on August 28 1981 and became another victory for Yablans, who would soon follow it with a return to the Halloween series. Over the years, Curtis has expressed interest in either a sequel or a remake to Hell Night, despite the fact that the Garths were not created as ‘re-usable monster.’ He even considered bringing back Blair, who would now play a school teacher, but as his features still operate outside of the union and DeSimone is a member of the Director’s Guild he would not be returning. But at this time, a return to Garth Manor has not been approved.

 Hell Night promotional press photo of Suki Goodwin.

Film Facts: Filming took 40 days.

Several residents of Redlands, California, were hired as extras. Kimberly Crest, the mansion in Redlands where much of the film was shot, was also the locale for Fleetwood Mac's 1987 music video, "Big Love". Despite the depiction in the film, Kimberly Crest has no underground tunnels.

The majority of the movie was shot in three locations. The outside of Garth Manor was shot at a mansion in Redlands, California. The inside of Garth Manor was filmed in a residential home in Pasadena, California. The frat party was filmed in an apartment lobby in Los Angeles, California. The mansion used as Garth Manor is now a museum in Redlands--the owners made the change from private residence to a museum shortly after filming was completed.

The hedge maze was brought in, as there was no actual garden maze on the mansion property.

The two actors who portrayed the Garth killers are not listed anywhere in the credits, and their real names remain a mystery. However, on the DVD commentary, it is noted that they are both German nationals whom spoke little or no English, and that one of them (the middle aged bearded man) died shortly after the release of the film.

Hell Night promotional press photo of Vince Van Patten and Suki Goodwin.

Hell Night is considered a slasher film.

The filmmakers had a hard time with the owl that was supposed to fly directly at the camera. They couldn't get the bird to do it, so they eventually settled on a shot of the owl flying to the upper right of the camera.

Though there were several shots of actors running from the front of the house to the front gates, the distance between the two is actually one mile.

The many underground tunnels shown were actually two separate corridors in which the director had the actors running repeatedly through them from different angles.

This was the last film released by Compass International Pictures (Halloween (1978), The Day Time Ended (1979), etc.).

Future director Frank Darabont (The Blob, The Mist, The Shawshank Redemption, etc.) had one of his earliest film credits on this movie, as a Production Assistant.

Actress Linda Blair on the set of Hell Night.
The film was nominated for a Razzie Awards for Worst Actress for Linda Blair.

Frank Darabont is a writer and developer for the hit TV series AMC The Walking Dead. He developed 52 episodes and written 3 episodes.

Future film director Chuck Russell, who would helm A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors & the remake of The Blob in 1988 and 2002's The Scorpion King, served here as an executive producer.

The scene where Jeff (Peter Barton) is thrown down a flight of stairs and hurts his leg didn't require much acting on Barton's part; he actually did hurt himself, and his limping was due to the fact that he was really in pain from his injury.

Of course, you can't really refer to this (Hell Night) as being a good film. But, I really enjoyed it. It's an 80's slasher, produced in-between two Halloween films. The only reason of this film's existence is to raise more money, so you can't be too demanding for plots, logic or credibility. In it's own specific category, this is a more than decent film. Hell Night is very underrated film. I can name you over a thousand similar films that are worse but only a few that are better.

Hell Night original 1981 newspaper ad.
It's amazing what a competent director (Tom DeSimone – specialized in 'Women Behind Bars'-flicks) and a devoted cast (Linda Blair!!) can achieve. There are quite a few suspenseful sequences in Hell Night and the gore is not exploited for once. The settings are decent but sometimes underexposed, which is a bit of a shame. Overall, this a lot more tolerable than the average flick in which teens are slaughtered by the dozen.

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