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Frank's Movie Log

My life at the movies.

Hell Night

1981 | United States | 101 min | More...
A still from Hell Night (1981)
  • Watched on D: 2 stars (out of 5)
    on Sat Apr 9, 2022 via Watch TCM

    Four collegiate pledges must spend the night in the local haunted manor. They aren’t alone.

    Reviewing this one proves difficult. The film opens well, with a raucous college frat party full of extras. The party has a medieval theme, with everyone dressed in period costumes. Then the film shifts to the haunted manor in an exposition leaden sequence.

    The manor proves atmospheric. Candles and fireplaces abound, casting flickering shadows. The medieval costumes mesh well with the gothic atmosphere. We watch the fraternity leads enact clever tricks to scare the pledges. Then an unseen assailant picks off said leads before turning his attention to the pledges.

    I’m not sure what went wrong. Vince Van Patten entertains as a surfer-dude turned action hero, and Suki Goodwin steals all her scenes as a hedonistic coed. But top-billed Linda Blair sleepwalks through the first two acts before going wide-eyed and whiny in the finale.

    The execution proves uneven as well. At one point, the kids returned to the manor searching for one pledge. But didn’t they just find her severed head? After rewinding, I realized the head belonged to someone else. An understandable mistake given the blink-and-you-miss-it moment allotted to the severed head effect. But later, in this same movie, we get a scene involving a background rug so memorable it could have worked in Carpenter’s original Halloween.

    Perhaps its reach exceeded its grasp. There are atmospheric sequences set in basement tunnels and a shadowy hedge maze, but the film doesn’t milk them. This reeks of budget limitations. But the budget doesn’t explain the running time. Judicious editing could cut the exposition and reduce this to a lean eighty minutes. As a bonus, you’d lose the plot-hole where the college has been using the manor for twelve years without incident.

    I was thinking about all of this while the end credits ran. Then a name caught my eye. One of the credited production assistants was Frank Darabont. Early on, I noticed an executive producer credit to Chuck Russell, but assumed it was another Chuck Russell. But the Darabont credit made me check the IMDb and yes, it’s them. Six years after this movie, they’d be making A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Humble beginnings indeed.