The ISCFC’s tour through the early years of slasher movies continues with a perhaps slightly forgotten Linda Blair effort from 1981. Some less kind commentators have suggested the only reason for its existence was to raise more money for “Halloween 2”, this being produced by the same people, but we’ll give anything a fair crack of the whip here.
We start at a rather fun-looking party, where they bothered to hire enough extras to make it look busy. It’s “Hell Night”, which I believe is the final night of fraternity / sorority initiation ceremonies, so called because the police are bombarded with fake reports and the town goes to hell. Or something like that, please don’t expect too much from me, I’m English and approaching middle age. There are four pledges – Marti (Linda Blair), Seth (Vincent Van Patten), Peter (Kevin Brophy) and Denise (Suki Goodwin); all they need to do is spend the night in the spooky old Grant Mansion.
On the way, in a rather well-shot scene with a large group walking up a country road with flaming torches, we’re given the history of the Garth family, which ends after the usual twists and turns with the father killing the rest of the family as their sons were all deformed. One son allegedly survived, and is rumoured to live in the place still. So, there’s plenty of pranking going on at first, as the fraternity and sorority folks outside try and freak out the pledges. But then, refreshingly quickly, someone starts bumping off the people outside, unbeknownst to the people inside, and we’ve got ourselves a movie.
A quick word about the characters, as they make the movie. Denise, who’s English, has brought Quaaludes and Jack Daniels (and would have brought cocaine if she’d not been frisked on the way in), and is a lot of fun. This and an appearance in a TV show the following year represent her entire movie career, and it’s a damn shame as she was both beautiful and a totally decent actress, although perhaps too naturalistic in an era that didn’t like that. Peter and Marti are every dull final couple you’ve ever seen in a horror movie, but inhabit the characters well, actually making you care about them (Peter’s reaction when finding out Marti is a skilled mechanic isn’t to laugh or sneer, but to ask her to fix his car, which I liked). And then there’s Seth, the wonderful Seth.
Seth and Denise have some fun together, but when he leaves to use the bathroom, he comes back to find her gone and a different severed head in his bed. Now, right here is where the legend of Seth kicks in. Rather than sit around and freak out, or go looking for the rest of this woman, he gets the hell out of there and warns everyone else. Then, with the movie barely half over, he gets the hell out of the locked mansion (climbing over the fence) and goes to get help. When the police refuse, presumably sick of pranks, he takes a shotgun from the station, hijacks a car and goes back to the house to help out his friends. Good work Seth! But his awesomeness is not over – he fights off and kills the deformed murderer, and walking back into the house, shouts “score one for the good guys!” before… getting killed by a previously unknown second deformed brother! Seth takes no shit, is totally respectful towards Denise when she says she wants to talk rather than have sex (while still being a partly typical bro-type guy, and feels like a more fully formed, human character airlifted in from a different movie. We love Seth, and he’s in the top tier of awesome horror characters.
A word about the police. Can you imagine the families of the dead kids not suing the pants off the cops for refusing to investigate someone coming in screaming about murder? I would have that guy’s job in an instant, and this represents the second movie we’ve seen this week where the police refuse to come and help murder victims (along with “Final Exam”). What’s the worst that happens if you investigate and nothing’s there? Arrest the kids for wasting police time, maybe? How many kids actually run into a police station reporting murder, for a laugh? It can’t be that many.
Things are shot well, and the pace is very different to recent slashers we’ve watched. The cast realise there’s a monster after them really early on, compared to such snoozers (relatively speaking) as “Graduation Day”, where the discovery is barely in time for the end credits. It’s interesting to know who the killer is for most of the runtime, which makes it a little more like a monster movie and a little less like a slasher. This is fine by me. And congrats to them for making a little go a long way, with the sets, tunnels, and so on, which all look great. The gore, too, which is minimal but really effective, plus a couple of jump scares which are actually scary and not just annoying.
It could have been ten minutes shorter, maybe, and it’s not the most original idea in the world, but with a decent sense of humour, some great characters, and fine sets, they made a solidly above-average movie, which is no given in the murky waters we’re currently paddling in. It seems weirdly less sexist than the swathe of slashers that emerged later in the decade too, with no T&A and the women giving as good as they got.
Rating: thumbs up