A question that most horror fans have undoubtedly asked themselves at one time or another is “Whatever happened to Linda Blair after ‘The Exorcist?’” Most are aware of the infamously terrible sequel in which she took part, along with Richard Burton, but was there ever anything other than this series? It may surprise some of you to know that she actually had a number of starring roles in films like “Airport 1975,” “Roller Boogie,” and “Savage Streets.” However, one of the films that horror buffs have come to know her the most for is a little slasher called “Hell Night” from 1981, which was released amid the craze following the massive success of “Friday the 13th” in 1980 (which itself came in the wake of John Carpenter’s masterful “Halloween” from 1978). It’s supposedly become a cult favorite over the decades, but in all honesty, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re only hearing about it for the first time now as it makes its grand debut on Blu-ray.
The film follows a rather typical slasher plot. In this instance, a group of four college pledges (Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten, Peter Barton, and Suki Goodwin) have to spend a night in a creepy house for their initiation. The catch is that a grisly series of murders supposedly happened there involving deformed children, one of which was never seen again after the incident. The four pledges expect to have a fun night of partying/hanging out while they wait out their stay in the house, but take a wild guess as to who comes calling later that night…
As mentioned, “Hell Night” was one of those films that popped up when slashers were the popular thing to do to try and make a quick buck. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the premise (a deformed killer on the loose in a large gothic mansion could be a fun and frightening time), but like with many of these entries in the subgenre, the execution just doesn’t cut it. Randolph Feldman’s script sets up this somewhat intriguing situation, but scarcely gives his characters anything to do, practically leaving them sitting around (or lying in bed) until the murders start happening, which merely leads to everyone running around in a panic.
I suppose you could say that the biggest problem with “Hell Night” is that it’s simply uneventful, with kills that aren’t even particularly interesting (lending a kind of double meaning to the “execution” being half-baked). It’s one of those films where you can easily guess who’s going to make it out alive (Hint hint, the only actor of name in the film), and also one that makes you question what rules the writer is playing by with this deformed killer (shotgun blasts to the chest don’t stop him, but something just as simple later on does?). Basically it leaves you scratching your head at certain parts, while others merely have you shaking it in disbelief.
The film does have a couple of good moments, including an epic speech explaining the whole backstory of the murders, given by the fraternity President as they approach the impressive-looking estate, and a suitably-tense climax, but it’s not nearly enough to pull it out of the mundanity that plagues the vast majority of the film. If its goal was to be like “Friday the 13th,” then Feldman needed to put a little more effort into the story, perhaps give the mystery a little more edge so that we don’t know who the killer is from the start and exactly where the film is going to end up. In the end, with the film’s rather humdrum nature, it can’t help but be bland and forgettable, leaving just another slasher on the stack of similar entries that suffered the same fate.
“Hell Night” comes to Collector’s Edition Blu-ray in a 1.85:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of mostly excellent quality. The new 4K scan was made from the best archival film print available, and while some standard definition footage had to be used to complete the film, the restoration still turned out very well. Likewise, the DTS-HD Master Audio is outstanding, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and sound effects (including several ear-piercing screams) in outstanding quality. Overall, the fans are sure to be pleased by the hard work that Scream Factory has put into restoring this 80s slasher “classic.”
Audio Commentary with Actress Linda Blair, Director Tom De Simone, and Producers Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis
The Beauty of Horror with Linda Blair (35 Minutes)
Hell Nights with Tom De Simone (27 Minutes)
Peter Barton: Facing Fear (21 Minutes)
Producing Hell with Bruce Cohn Curtis (14 Minutes)
Writing Hell (26 Minutes)
Vincent Van Patten and Suki Goodwin in Conversation (27 Minutes)
Kevin Brophy and Jenny Neumann in Conversation (23 Minutes)
Gothic Design in Hell Night (23 Minutes)
Anatomy of the Death Scenes (22 Minutes)
On Location at Kimberly Crest (7 Minutes)
Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, Radio Spot, and Photo Gallery
In typical Scream Factory fashion, you are given a wide variety of excellent special features, including an informative commentary track and a multitude of interviews with the cast and crew in which they reminisce about their experiences making the film. With over five hours of extras total, you’re pretty much guaranteed to learn everything you could possibly want to know about the film.
“Hell Night” may have an intriguing set-up, but ultimately it suffers from bland execution and a rather uneventful narrative, which results in just another forgettable slasher from the 80s. Regardless of the quality of the film itself, Scream Factory has done a fantastic job with the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, presenting the movie in incredible quality, and with an amazing collection of special features to compliment it. The film is supposedly considered a cult classic by some, so at least as far as they’re concerned, a better release could not be hoped for.
Available on Collector's Edition Blu-ray starting tomorrow.