Oh "Hell Night", the memories that you bring back. Well, let me rephrase that: Oh the memories that your one-sheet poster art brings back.
Picture it: Reedley, California, the summer of 1982. A small mom and pop video store on the edge of the downtown area - the one place that started it all for me and my love of horror. There's a huge piece of my heart that's still in that store though it's been dead and gone for over two decades, and I look back on those times very fondly. Though my mother and siblings went in for the latest Tom and Jerry videos, little did they know that I was secretly gawking and absorbing the rest that the little video store offered.
"Hell Night" was probably the very first horror image that was burned in my brain for all eternity. Linda Blair screaming out into a dark night, the eerie moon hovering over a dark and chilling house. The hands that reached up for her, pulling her toward the ground. But what I remember most is the film's tagline: "Pray For Day". It was amazing and just looking at the poster art to the left sends a chill down my spine. It reminds me of the days when my naivety about 80's horror would soon blossom into a curiosity that I wouldn't be able to resist.
Sadly, this particular mom and pop was the only place I'd ever remembered seeing the VHS for this. Not sure as to why I never saw it anywhere else (from what I remember) but I didn't come across this one again until I came across the Anchor Bay double-bill edition with "Fade To Black", so of course, I snagged it and took it home with me. But, I put in on my shelf with the rest of my films and there it stayed for a while. Then, I was lucky enough to find a used copy of the solo AB edition and poof! there it stayed on my shelf for a while, as well.
It wasn't until just last week that I came across it while fiddling with my ever-growing collection and thought to myself, "You know, I need to sit down and finally watch this." So I grabbed my cousin and slipped this into the DVD player not knowing what to expect. I had already seen the lovely Ms. Blair in the atrocities known as "Grotesque" and "Witchery" so I was thinking this film would probably go the same route. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised how a well-known and very-used storyline could end up to be so entertaining:
Four fraternity/sorority pledges have to spend one night in the infamous Garth Manor, scene of a slaughter years earlier. But, as the house heads are the one playing the pranks, little to they (and the pledges) know, that they are being stalked by an unknown person. I won't get into much of what transpires in the film because when the credits rolled, I immediately added this to my "essentials" list and was pissed off at myself for not having watched it sooner. I love that the film begins with a slamming frat party complete with good looking men, lots of goils and beer and music. Then the films takes the minimalist approach, having only a handful of characters remain for the duration of the film. The plot has been used before, yes, but I loved how director Tom De Simone took it and ran with it giving us some genuine suspense and great moments of terror. Linda, fresh off her stints in The Exorcist and Exorcist II, looks great as does Peter Barton (before his role in Friday the 13th - The Final Chapter) and the rest of the cast.
For being a slasher, this one was a little bit over the rest of them. Surprisingly, I had a great time watching this one and I loved it's ending even though about a third of the way through, I figured it out. The film's final scene was great and I actually stood up and applauded as the credits rolled. Believe me, it was worth the wait. Now I'm actually thinking of obtaining the one-sheet and displaying it on my beloved horror wall. The version I watched with the AB single version, but I checked AB's double-bill with Fade To Black and it's the same version with the same extras. I just read that the double-bill one is worth some money now that it's extremely out of print. I was lucky enough to find it at a flea market for about 2$! Sadly, I hadn't seen that version beforehand, and I haven't seen it since. I would really like to collect all of AB's double-bills but I've been reading that a good majority of them are already out-of-print.
A classic slasher from a great era that sadly no longer exists...and never will again. If you see it, pick it up. It's a must see.