Youtube Film Club: Hell Night (1981)


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 decent, sensible group of heroes?

A decent, sensible group of heroes?

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



Scary Movie (1991)


I felt right from the beginning I was going to enjoy this one – the production company has the brilliant name “Generic Movies, Ltd” and the title popped onto the screen with a barcode underneath it, a joke (so my wife tells me) on the proliferation of generic products and barcodes at the time – famously, a year after this movie, President George HW Bush had no idea what a barcode was, another nail in his electoral coffin.

“Scary Movie” really loaded the deck in its favour with the first few minutes too. There’s future Oscar nominee John Hawkes, in what must be his first starring role; plus the soundtrack features Butthole Surfers, whose early stuff is some of my favourite music. Hawkes is Warren, an extremely nervous and paranoid young man, who’s about to go into a haunted house with his “friends” (who just seem like people who insult him slightly less than everyone else). Haunted houses seem a fairly uniquely American thing- someone will convert their home (or a barn, in the case of this movie) into a series of rooms with various spooky goings-on, grotesque tableaux, and the like; then charge people entry. It’s a whole industry, and seems quite good fun to be honest, but it’s never made it to this side of the pond.

On the same night, a prison transport truck carrying mental patient / killer John Louis Barker overturns and Barker is nowhere to be found. After overhearing the local sheriff, Warren becomes convinced that Barker has taken up residence inside the haunted house and is trying to kill Halloween merry-makers, and his mental state deteriorates as he becomes “trapped” inside the house. Will he survive? Why are his friends such idiots? Why does the hot woman think he’s cute?

There’s a lot to like about this, which makes the fact the director was 19 years old when he made this even more remarkable (plus, even though I can’t find out, I guess he’s a relative of the great Roky Erickson, Texas psychedelic musician, which makes me like him even more). The sense of Warren’s increasing disorientation inside is well-captured, he does well with his actors and considering the no doubt miniscule budget, everything looks fine. The leader of a gang of leather-jacketed thugs gives us the movie’s best line, “If I wanted to hear from an asshole, I’d fart”. There is, of course, a but.


The film isn’t so much slow as devoid of incident for long stretches. The queueing to get into the Haunted House takes up more than half an hour when it could reasonably have been dealt with in about five minutes; plus, the repetition of Hawkes’ bugged-out eyes and the teasing stops having any extra significance after a while. Same goes for the running round the house – he runs through the same room multiple times and I began to get a bit bored of it all, like I wanted to shout at him to just run through a wall or something, anything, other than look extremely unhappy all the time.

It’s got a very curious denouement, one which I think would feel more appropriate in an episode of the Twilight Zone. In fact, this would work a huge amount better as an episode of that show – there’s a lot of fat to be trimmed, but it would make a really solid 45 minutes. All this is really disappointing, thanks to how much I enjoyed the opening of the movie – it felt like we were in safe hands, there was a light comic touch and it looked like a winner. Then it just slowly ground to a halt.


I got this film thanks to the internet – as far as I know, it’s never been released on DVD, and even a VHS release looks a bit sketchy. This is a shame, as despite my criticism of it, it’s a fascinating curio, filmed in the small Texas town where it was set, soundtrack full of amazing bands, and a very odd plot. Director Daniel Erickson went on to make a lot of music videos after this movie, but came back after a near 20 year absence with the movie “Eve’s Necklace” in 2010, a micro-budgeter (including the voice talents of John Hawkes, who presumably did it as a favour) with an all-mannequin cast. I almost literally cannot wait to find and watch this movie, it sounds amazing.

Rating: thumbs in the middle