Color, 1981, 101 mins.

Directed by Tom DeSimone

Starring Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten, Peter Barton, Kevin Brophy, Jenny Neumann / Music by Dan Wyman / Written by Randy Feldman / Produced by Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohen Curtis / Cinematography by Mac Ahlberg

Format: DVD - Anchor Bay (MSRP $29.95)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital Mono

Usually dismissed as yet another Halloween clone, in retrospect Hell Night plays more like a charming gothic throwback to those old teens in a castle/haunted house movies like The Headless Ghost, albeit laced with a little '80s gore and mild sexiness to spice things up. Furthermore, freed from the need to deliver a massive body count, the creative parties involved (both director DeSimone and cinematographer Ahlberg, who also lensed most of Stuart Gordon's films) delivered a visually beautiful film, crammed with elegant and sometimes startling touches that often defy logic (the constant armies of lit candles, for instance, and some of the plot developments in the final act). While not a classic by any means, Hell Night easily outranks the pedestrian slasher efforts of the period and has fortunately managed to withstand the test of time.

Any semblance of plot is quickly handled in the first fifteen minutes, which finds four college pledges forced to spend Hell Night in Garth mansion, where the owner killed his wife and three of his four children twelve years earlier. The disfigured youngest son, so the legend goes, continues to roam the house, which lacks such features as electricity and a telephone. Our virginal heroine, Marti (Linda Blair, doing a nice job), pairs up with the nice guy, Jeff (Peter Barton of Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and TV's The Powers of Matthew Starr). Meanwhile, naughy boy Seth (Rock 'n' Roll High School's Vincent Van Patten) chases after British druggie slut Denise (Suki Goodwin), so the latter two spend most of the film in their skivvies. Meanwhile, some frat and sorority pranksters sneak around outside the house to play tricks on the four victims but wind up being dispatched themselves by a hulking killer. Will our resourceful quartet of pledges make it out alive before dawn?

In Hell Night, setting and atmosphere are everything. The tale of Garth at the beginning is delivered as a host of costumed teens wander through the nocturnal gardens of the estate, a nice sequence that gives an indication of the stylish events to come. Blair makes a better than average heroine; in one particularly nice touch, she reveals that she's an amateur mechanic, setting up an especially nice and refreshing moment during the climax. The finale itself is especially rousing and well delivered without the requisite endless series of fake endings ("He's dead! Wait, he's not! Oh yeah, he is!").

Anchor Bay's DVD far surpasses what anyone could have expected for this film. The previous VHS version from Media completely opened the upper and lower matte, exposing the boom mic and numerous other goofs that made viewing this an unintentional comedy. Fortunately, the hard matte improves the compositions tremendously, and the image quality is superb, especially considering how bad most early '80s low budget films look. Likewise, the mono soundtrack has been nicely presented; it won't blow anyone away, but it gets the job done. A far too revealing theatrical trailer and TV spots have also been included, but the real treat is running commentary by Blair, producers Yablans and Curtis, and director DeSimone, who made the radical switch from hardcore gay porn to Hell Night to women in prison films and TV shows. Quite a career, and he provides some good insights into the perils and pleasures of undertaking a maverick horror film for an indie producer. Blair also makes some insightful and positive comments about the project, indicating she probably has about as much affection for this as Jamie Lee does for Halloween. While this film did surprisingly well at the box office, the promised Hell Night II never materialized, which may be a good thing as it has allowed this underrated little film to continue standing on its own significant merits.

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions