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Hell Night is a 1981 American slasher film directed by Tom DeSimone, written by Randy Feldman, and starring Linda Blair. The film depicts a night of fraternity hazing set in an old manor, during which a deformed killer terrorizes and murders many of the college students. The plot blends elements of slasher films and haunted house-themed films. Director Chuck Russell served as an executive producer, while his long-time collaborator Frank Darabont served as a production assistant.
Original theatrical poster
|Directed by||Tom DeSimone|
|Produced by||Irwin Yablans|
Bruce Cohn Curtis
|Written by||Randy Feldman|
Vincent Van Patten
|Music by||Dan Wyman|
|Edited by||Anthony DiMarco|
|Distributed by||Compass International Pictures|
|Box office||$2.3 million (USA)|
While reception was generally mixed, the film has developed a large cult following since its release. The film was nominated for a Razzie for Worst Actress for Blair. Hell Night was also the final film released by Compass International Pictures.
During a college costume party, Peter prepares to initiate four new pledges into Alpha Sigma Rho. The four consist of Jeff, a boy from an opulent upbringing, Marti, an intelligent girl from a poor background, Denise, a promiscuous, heavy drinking party-girl, and Seth, a stoner and surfer from California. The group are forced to spend the night in Garth Manor, an abandoned mansion once owned by a man named Ramon Garth, who murdered his wife and three deformed children; following the murders, Garth hung himself. While Garth had a fourth child, Andrew, his body was never found and legend states that Andrew still lurks within the mansion.
Peter and the rest of the students drive the four pledges up the mansion, leaving them alone at the gates. Seth and Denise leave Marti and Jeff alone to go have sex. The two discuss their contrasting backgrounds, before the windows in the parlor suddenly burst open and an apparition frightens Marti. In reality, Peter, along with two other students: May and Scott, have set up scares all over the mansion to frighten the pledges. While walking around the side of the house, May is pulled down a hole, where she is murdered by an unseen assailant, who violently decapitates her. Following this, Scott is also murdered by the same figure on the roof. Peter attempts to prank Denise, but she is oblivious to his efforts. He goes to search for Scott, only to discover his body strung up on the roof. He flees into a nearby hedge maze, where the killer intercepts him and murders him with a scythe.
In the house, the four pledges quickly discover the tricks and pranks set up around the mansion for them. Seth and Denise return to the bedroom to have sex and consume drugs; Seth leaves Denise alone to use the restroom, only to return and discover May's severed head under the sheets. Panicked, Seth jumps the mansion gates to alert the police. Marti and Jeff also discover Scott's body, before Marti locks herself in one of the bedrooms, while Jeff goes to investigate a light in the hedge maze. He enters the maze, where he finds Peter's remains. He flees back to the house to inform Marti of the murder, and the pair theorize that Andrew Garth could be behind the murders.
While their backs are turned, a large figure begins to emerge from the floor behind them. Armed with a pitchfork, Jeff wounds the assailant, who seemingly disappears. They remove the rug, only to discover a trap door through which the assailant has fled. The couple descends into the tunnels below, in which they discover Denise's corpse, along with the preserved remains of Garth's family members.
Suddenly, a large and disfigured man appears and pursues them. Jeff attempts to subdue the man, who knocks him down a flight of steps, badly injuring him. Another killer appears, surprising the couple. The Garth brothers corner Marti and Jeff, but they are able to escape through a concealed door, fleeing back to the bedroom.
Seth finally arrives at the local police station, begging for help. The police do not take his claims seriously, believing him to be drunk, and ask him to leave. Seth pretends to leave the police station, only to take a shotgun and some bullets, before escaping through a window. He hijacks a vehicle from a civilian, informing him that he is going to Garth Manor. Seth arrives back at the mansion, where he is ambushed by one of the Garth brothers; the two struggle, before Seth shoots and kills the man. Alerted by the noise, Jeff and Marti meet him in the entryway of the mansion, where the other killer appears and attacks Seth, dragging him into an unlit corner of the room. Marti and Jeff are frightened by gunfire and Marti attempts to recover the shotgun. Andrew Garth emerges from the darkness and pursues Marti and Jeff through the house and back to the bedroom, where they barricade the door. Jeff urges Marti to escape out a window. Before he can follow suit, the surviving brother appears and hurls him to the ground below, killing him.
A frightened Marti enters the hedge maze, where she finds Peter's corpse. She pries the keys from his fingers, before escaping. She is able to get through the gates using the keys, before attempting to escape in Seth's stolen vehicle. She successfully hot-wires the vehicle, but suddenly the surviving Garth brother appears and jumps on the roof of the vehicle. He smashes the windshield and a struggle ensues, resulting in one of the spiked gates being knocked over. She accelerates, impaling and killing the deformed murderer. Marti loses consciousness.
Waking in the morning as the sun rises over the mansion, Marti emerges from the car with Andrew still impaled, and leaves.
Chuck Russell, who would later direct A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), served as executive producer on the film. During the production, producer Bruce Cohn Curtis urged the filmmakers to implement an extended chase sequence for Linda Blair's character after seeing Jamie Lee Curtis's chase sequence in Terror Train (1980); this was the basis of the chase sequence that takes place on the mansion rooftop.
Filming Hell Night took 40 days in the fall and winter of 1980, between November 1980 and January 1981.[a] The original shooting budget was a reported $1 million, but the shoot's duration through the holidays extended the budget an additional $400,000. The film's shooting schedule reportedly consisted of six-day weeks and was described as grueling. Star Linda Blair recalled the daily shoots lasting from 5 am to 11 pm, as well as spending Thanksgiving with the cast and crew on a double-decker bus rented by the producers. According to DeSimone, Peter Barton actually hurt himself on set and most of his limping was due to being in real physical pain.
The majority of the movie was shot in three locations: The exterior of Garth Manor was shot at the Kimberly Crest Mansion in Redlands, California. The hedge maze was brought in as there was no actual garden maze on the mansion property. 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 many underground tunnels filmed in the movie were actually no more than two corridors in which the director had the actors running repeatedly through from different angles.
Director De Simone stated he wanted a "classic Gothic look" for the film: "I don't like these horror films where people are walking around haunted houses wearing jeans and T-shirts. So we threw our heads together and I said I wanted Linda in a Gothic kind of wardrobe. And we came up with the idea to make the hell night party a costume party. And that way we were able to have everyone in those kinds of costumes that suited their personality."
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 film's DVD commentary, it was noted that they are both German nationals who 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 was given a limited release in the United States on August 7, 1981 by Compass International Pictures. Three weeks later, on August 28, 1981, its release was expanded to a wide theatrical release. The film grossed a total of USD$2,300,000 in the United States during its theatrical run. Data from the weekend of September 4, 1981 lists the film as number eleven at the box office, with a gross of $832,000 that week.
The film was released on VHS by Media Home Entertainment in 1982. It was later released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment on August 31, 1999. This release featured an audio commentary with Linda Blair, producers Bruce Cohn Curtis and Irwin Yablans, and director Tom DeSimone; it also included television spots and the original theatrical trailer as bonus material.
On January 2, 2018, Scream Factory released the film for the first time on Blu-ray in a Collector's Edition set, which features four hours of new interviews, as well as the bonus materials contained on the 1999 Anchor Bay DVD.
Hell Night received mixed-to-negative reviews at the time of its release, though it has attained a cult following in the years since its release. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 56% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 9 reviews, with an average rating of 4.8/10.
Time Out wrote "Amazing [...] what a competent director, cameraman and cast can do to help out a soggy plot", calling the film "tolerably watchable by comparison with the average Halloween rip-off. Ellen Farley of the Los Angeles Times likened the film to "Halloween with pop romance overtures."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film a one-star review, writing: "You know a movie is in trouble when what is happening on the screen inspires daydreams. I had lasted through the first reel, and nothing had happened. Now I was somewhere in the middle of the third reel, and still nothing had happened. By "nothing," by the way, I mean nothing original, unexpected, well-crafted, interestingly acted, or even excitingly violent." A review published by TV Guide noted the film contained "a few effective moments," adding: "Although the actual gore content is low, the titillation content is high, an avenue DeSimone would continue to explore in his future exploitation movies."
In his book The Gorehound’s Guide to Splatter Films of the 1980s (2003), film scholar Scott Stine wrote of the film: "Hell Night is one of those early '80s stalk 'n' slash quickies that—although almost universally despised at the time, despite the fact they made money—is actually quite endearing in retrospect.
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- Harper 2004, p. 110.
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- Sellers, Christian (April 26, 2009). "The Making of Hell Night". Retro Slashers. Archived from the original on March 9, 2014. Retrieved 12 April 2014.
- Rockoff 2002, p. 119.
- Blair, Curtis, DeSimone & Yablans 1999 (00:50:30)
- Rockoff 2002, pp. 119–20.
- Blair, Curtis, DeSimone & Yablans 1999 (00:13:10)
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- Stine 2003, p. 141.
- "Hell Night". HorrorDVDs.com. September 14, 2003. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007.
- Sprague, Mike (September 5, 2017). "Hell Night Collector's Edition Blu-ray coming in December via Scream Factory". Arrow in the Head. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
- Stine 2003, pp. 141–2.
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- Milne, Tom, ed. (1991). The Time Out Film Guide (Second ed.). Penguin Books. p. 288.
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- "Hell Night". TV Guide. Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings. Retrieved December 29, 2016.
- Blair, Linda; Curtis, Bruce Cohn; DeSimone, Tom; Yablans, Irwin (1999). Hell Night Audio commentary (DVD). Anchor Bay Entertainment.
- Harper, Jim (2004). Legacy of Blood: A Comprehensive Guide to Slasher Movies. Critical Vision. ISBN 978-1-900-48639-2.
- Muir, John Kenneth (2012). Horror Films of the 1980s. 1. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-47298-7. OCLC 840902442.
- Rockoff, Adam (2002). Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-786-46932-1.
- Stine, Scott Aaron (2003). The Gorehound’s Guide to Splatter Films of the 1980s. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-476-61132-7.