Hell Night (1981)

HELL NIGHT (1981) is shamefully underrated and I wonder what kind of drugs you’d have to be on to not see how superior it is to the films it’s usually lumped with. It’s often painted as a HALLOWEEN also-ran but it does so much to distinguish itself from the fly by nights of its day that it should be considered a classic in its own right. The set –up is certainly simple but the execution is remarkable. It has a structure all its own and the cinematography, the direction and the score severely surpass what it’s given credit for. I can understand that its lack of T&A and gore could have left young audiences back in ‘81 feeling disgruntled, but its multitude of other attributes should be crystal clear by now.

I’ve written about HELL NIGHT a couple times before; once over at Retro Slashers and once for the book “Butcher Knives and Body Counts” (which is really good even if I’m in it!) Because of that I thought I might skip this FINAL GIRL FILM CLUB selection but wait, I still have more to say about HELL NIGHT. There’s still so much I love about it that I have yet to mention. Every time I take a trip to Garth Manor, I find a different room.

HELL NIGHT is about four pledges who spend the night in a mansion as part of an initiation. The place is rumored to be haunted thanks to a dark history. A father so sickened by his children who were all born with deformities killed his entire family there save for one, whom he forced to witness the act. Not all of the bodies were recovered and legend has it that the surviving son still lurks about. The pledges are locked on the property behind a massive razor sharp gate and pranks are planned to make their stay as uncomfortable as possible. The house itself is goth –glorious both inside and out; trap doors, secret passages, underground tunnels, a garden maze; it’s all there. Everything is filmed in deep rich tones framed by inky shadows and broken up by glowing candlelight. The pledge kids are dressed in classical costumes from variant eras. Everything adds up to a horror lovers dream come true.

The four pledges form one of the most endearing casts you’ll find in any slasher. LINDA BLAIR as Marti Gaines is impossibly adorable with her chirpy voice and before she discovers her true mettle, she is refreshingly freaked. PETER BARTON, as potential beau Jeff Reed, is relatively dull but his misbegotten old school chivalry makes up for it. Marti and Jeff’s budding relationship is unusual in how sweetly romantic it is. We’re invested in these characters not simply because we get to know them but because we’re allowed to witness the fortuitousness of them getting to know each other. A wonderful scene occurs between the two as they connect by trading childhood traumas. As a kid Marti believes she encountered a witch and in turn Jeff recalls chancing upon an elf. The two decide that their joint histories dealing with unreal beings make them both weirdoes and that as such, they should stick together. Forget every bullshit thing you ever heard about virgins surviving in slasher films. It’s the outsider who lives. The one who sees more.

VINCENT VAN PATTEN as Seth and SUKI GOODWIN as Denise are meant to illustrate a more carnal side of the same romantic coin but they are both so goofy and good-natured that they only read as charming free spirits. Their “sex” scene is nothing more than a cartoon pantomime that ends in a giggle fit. As rowdy as HELL NIGHT might try to present itself in its opening scenes, there’s no mistaking the fact that its heart beats to a corny, old-fashioned drum that was atypical of its time. It’s almost like a film from the fifties dressed up like a film from the eighties. In fact, HELL NIGHT with its characters playing house within an empty mansion and its themes of breaking away from parental expectation could be said to strongly shadow REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE.

HELL NIGHT is directed by TOM DeSIMONE and his work is impressive throughout and simply brilliant on several occasions. Let me point out a couple scenes that I think deserve high praise.

GOODWIN’s Denise is sprawled out on a bed waiting for Seth to return. This shot is composed like a painting and you get lost in just how good she looks. You can’t help it. Then we get the most abrupt and terrifying pullback view of the monster standing over, dwarfing her while she still lays unaware. It’s such a strong bait and switch. There is no way to prepare. The viewer is sneakily lulled by one piece of the puzzle and then taken off guard by the bigger picture. Blink and you’ll miss it but it’s grand.

Marti and Jeff have found a safe zone. He’s got a pitch fork ready to do battle if need be and she’s taking a breather on the bed. They’re safe as houses and snug as bugs. Then we see what they do not. At first it makes no logical sense but the carpet is rising. Eventually we’ll discover that there is a trap door in the floor that the monster is (slowly!) making his way through but for those first moments it’s impossible to comprehend. Is it supernatural? Another prank? We don’t know but whatever sense of safety we might have had is completely shattered.

There is a sequence toward the climax that never fails to excite me. It’s as if all the fine elements that have been floating throughout the film collide in one second.VAN PATTEN’s Seth returns to Garth Manor convinced he has destroyed the terrorizing monster. In a flash he is yanked off screen. The shotgun he was yielding fires a shot offstage and then flies toward the front door. It lands, it spins on the floor and stalls perfectly aligned with a light shaft. BLAIR’s Marti, who had been hiding her face, nuzzled in BARTON’s side swiftly jerks her head to look in fear. The head turn is sublimely synchronized with a pitch perfect musical cue from composer DAN WYMAN and it’s a thing of perfection. Gold!

Oh there’s so much more; the rapping on the window that turns out to be a toy parrot, leaving a corpse behind that has the keys to the front gate, the twisting underground tunnels, the high stakes rooftop escape. It goes on and on. I admit there are some things that may come off more muddled then they should but they are easily cleared up if you watch close (and often) enough. Really this movie is such a rarity not only for its time, but for any time. It’s gorgeously shot and it has wonderful characters and if it should happen to be a bit far fetched sometimes well, welcome to the world of film. There are long moments of stillness in HELL NIGHT that probably come across as slow to some today but I love the patience shown and frankly when I’m in Garth Manor, I like to take my time and stay as long as possible.

Because HELL NIGHT borrows heartily from classic, old dark house flicks it’s often mistakenly seen as derivative. The past is not mere window dressing here though, bygone eras and ideas are the source of the horror. Much is made of both Marti and Jeff’s family backgrounds, each are quick to point out that their lineage does not define them. Garth Manor is a place where the inhabitants have failed to escape the family fold. The monsters Marti and Jeff must battle are creatures trapped inside the boundaries set by their parentage. It’s a conflict that many young people engage in on a smaller, less gruesome scale everyday. It’s fitting that in the end the greatest threat is destroyed by an iron fence that encircles the estate, a confining line drawn by its ancestry. When day comes, Marti has won more than just her life; she has won the right to any life she chooses regardless of her upbringing. She turns her back to outdated limitations and walks forward.

Maybe I’m imagining that last part but I’m not imaging this: Garth Manor later went on to star in the Fleetwood Mac video “Big Love.” Yay Garth Manor! You are hotter than any Robert Palmer chick! Dance, Garth Manor, dance!

Streaming Alert :: The Rock-Afire Explosion (2008)


Hello kids, it’s been a while since your Aunt John has done much of anything around these parts and for that, I would like to apologize. Three months ago this week, I went under the knife and laser and whatever else they use to reattach retinas. The recovery process has been tedious, and the very last thing on the list of things I really wanted to do was look at the computer for prolonged periods of time. What I did find myself doing though was developing a pretty noticeable addiction to the documentary section of Netflix Streaming. With my own reality being nothing more than a depressing blur, I looked to the lives of others for inspiration and escapism.

While almost all of the documentaries I watched are not suitable for Kindertrauma coverage, there is one that will resonate with readers traumatized by the automaton house band at the now-defunct Showbiz Pizza Place chain. THE ROCK-AFIRE EXPLOSION (2008) explores the rise and fall of this unlikely super group through the usual tapestry of interviews, stock footage, and mind-bogglingly ‘80s commercials.


Two of the interview subjects rightfully garner the most camera time, Rock-afire inventor Aaron Fechter and fanboy Chris Thrash and when the camera was not pointed on them, I wanted to click the fast forward button. The fascinating tour of Fechter’s once big, shiny, and very ‘80s corporate headquarters (requisite Michael Jackson cameo alert!), which is now a forgotten warehouse of decaying animatronic curiosities is akin to watching a surreal episode of HOARDERS. If this gloriously creepy place was open for public tours, I would be the second in line right after Thrash, who worked day and night as a DJ at a roller-rink to save up to get his very own Rock-afire Explosion, which he keeps in, what looks like, a detached garage. It does get borderline uncomfortable when he invites neighborhood children over unsupervised to take in the floor-show, but hey, who I am to judge? If he wants to show off the prized possession he worked so hard to get and spread the Rock-afire gospel by parading around in a plush character costume, then more power to him!

Sadly, there’s no mention of what Thrash actually shelled out for these robots, but we are left with the knowledge that Fechter still has one in mint-in-crate condition for sale at his warehouse of broken dreams. If any of you traumatots pony up the cash for it, please invite me over… please!


Traumafessions :: Reader M. on Arnold plus a Tin Can Name That Trauma!

Other than real life boarding school there were 2 films that traumatised me, firstly the 1970s film ARNOLD (not good to watch at the age of eight) and secondly a film that I cannot source. Perhaps you know what it is called:

I saw parts of it by accident as a child – so my memory is a bit vague I’m afraid. Someone was being kept alive under the earth (hot country/dusty ground) and they could communicate/be fed through what looked like open ended tin can pipes. You never really saw the person underground, only glimpses of them. He/she seemed to have no hair and was very dirty. I think the person could crawl through different tunnels to different tin cans??

Someone used to visit the person underground and drove a pick up truck. Occasionally the camera would look down one of the tin pipes and you would catch glimpses of a frightened eye looking up, most likely a woman.

Thanks for reading,

M.

Kindertrauma:: Brain Scrub Movie Bonanza!

I need to clean my head of movies! I keep watching them and then before I can write about them another jumps in my head. I can hardly make way for the new guy when the last one is still hanging around. The inside of my noggin is starting to look like a hoarder house. It’s time to purge. My apologies to these fine movies that deserve more than mini-reviews but I must lighten my brain baggage…

STAKE LAND (2010)

This did not look like my type of movie but then it so very much was. Luckily I listened to a friend who told me not to be dumb and watch it. I thought it was going to be a dude movie where everybody is cool and does impossible acrobatics while shooting things but it wasn’t. It didn’t hurt that both KELLY McGILLIS (THE INKEEPERS) and DANIELLE HARRIS (HALLOWEEN(s)) showed up to stomp on my heart like they thought it was made of grapes and they were winos going through detox. STAKE LAND surprised me with its emotional depth and no matter where our vampire hunters traveled in this post-apocalyptic road movie, it always looked and felt like home to me. Finishing this one felt like finishing a good book.

ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011)

Aunt John and I had just finished watching the television series SPACED on Netflix Streaming (I had no idea it did not actually take place in outer space) and it left us craving any and everything that anyone involved in that show ever did. Otherwise I may have missed ATTACK THE BLOCK even though it has rightfully ended up on many a best of the year list. This is a wonderfully humorous and entertaining action flick with some really cool and inventive special effects. I love monsters but I especially love furry monsters. This is one of those movies that sets up characters one way and then forces you to see them from another perspective and I always commend that. Everyone should own a copy of this and keep it on hand for whenever they don’t want to feel like crud. It’s like a shot of concentrated un-cruddyness.

ABSENTIA (2011)

Be careful, this is a quiet séance of a movie that could conjure up a Lovecraftian doorway into your living room wall and then yank you through it. ABSENTIA is so smart and sneaky that I really didn’t have a clue what it was doing to me until it was too late. Somehow it had me so under its spell that it was able to simply show me total darkness at one point and that was chilling enough. This movie is less show than tell but what it tells crawls under your skin. Have you ever stayed up late sharing uncanny tales with friends only to find that suddenly there is a weird vibe in the room? That vibe is in this movie. I also want to publicly apologize for making fun of people who are afraid of spiders. I feel the same way about oversized centipedes. Check out the OFFICIAL SITE.

THE WOMAN (2011)

This movie pissed me off. I wanted to duct tape it to a football and kick it down the street. I thought I was going to get the happy “hooray for revenge” feeling from it but no, I was too busy mourning the fate of one of the characters. I should probably try to react to movies intellectually rather than emotionally but really, where’s the fun in that? I’ve calmed down now. I’ve thrown the hateful diatribe I wrote in the trash. This is a horror movie and it in no way promised to make me feel good. Strangely it wasn’t even the torture and rape that got to me (I was braced for that); it was mostly just one death that unraveled the whole sweater.

Although I’m half inclined to demand a rewrite I must give this one props for both getting my dander up and for showcasing three outstanding (and one really stinky) performances. It’s no surprise that ANGELA BETTIS is mesmeric but SEAN BRIDGERS really hits the psycho nail on the head, and POLLYANNA McINTOSH mostly owned a role that could have easily nosedived. I admit I’m a hard sell when it comes to movies about feral wild women. Their outfits always look one dinosaur bone short of a sexy cave girl Halloween costume to me. It’s my problem I know. I’m not the right audience. In the end, this is a gadfly movie that is meant to rile so I guess it was a success in that department. I admire director LUCKY McGEE’s aberrant view of the world and co-writer JACK KETCHUM’s fearlessness when observing the bowels of scumbaggery but still, I think I needed the pendulum to swing a little more toward the less infuriating side of the fence. I can’t play the trailer because it will upset me but here is HELLEN REDDY on THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL

WAKE WOOD/ THE CALLER (2011/2011)

I liked big chunks of both of these flicks but they each fell through my fingers at some point. WAKE WOOD has great atmosphere and a wonderful setting and actors, it just seemed to mimic too many other films rather than throw any of its own curves. THE CALLER has some of the creepiest phone calls I’ve ever heard (voiced by LORNA RAVER, Mrs. Ganush of DRAG ME TO HELL) but for every “oh shit” moment there seemed to be an additional plot hole I couldn’t leap over. I dug the mood of both of these but they’re the type of movies that rely on specific rules to function and I wasn’t convinced either played fair on their own game board. In the end I was reasonably entertained by both but not fully satisfied by either.

I think I might find the trailer for THE CALLER scarier than the movie…

DRIVE (2011)

This is not a terribly violent movie but in moments it’s almost painful to behold. At some points I felt like I was taking on the physical damage myself. I guess it felt like that because for most of the film’s runtime, I was lulled into an ambrosia-flooded dream state where everything in the world looked beautiful and it was always 1982. Why do people have to be so stabby and break me out of my trance? I don’t really care about DRIVE’s plot because it involves money and cars and “Give me back my stuff!” drama but what a lovely movie that I never wanted to ever end. It’s like another dimension and what an excellent earworm soundtrack. DRIVE is sort of like how I fantasized adult life would be like as a kid, wrongfully imagining that someday I’d be miraculously cool. I’ve heard DRIVE described as an homage to MICHAEL MANN, but for me it felt like an homage to every late night I spent trying to get a glimpse of the mad bad dangerous world waiting outside through cable. It’s like an incredible remake of the terrible remake of BREATHLESS but PAUL SCHRADER and GIORGIO MORODER are shoved in the blender too and folks get their asses handed to them like in VICE SQUAD. I have a feeling that a zillion bubbles of substance are going to rise to the surface as I return to this one over the years, but for now, the style it’s oozing is more than enough for me. All I know is that there was a moment during the movie when I actually wished I knew how to drive. That’s saying something!

Name That Trauma :: Reader Allison on a Cockroach-Filled Chest Cavity

In the early 1980s (need more specific? Let’s say 1983-1987), my mom wanted to a see a movie for her birthday in November. She picked out what she thought was an indie film with a non-scary plot; I was 5-6 and would be tagging along. About half-way through the movie, the main character wakes up in the middle of having open-heart surgery. There’s a curtain hanging between his head and chest, and there’s no one in the stark white operating room. He pulls the curtain apart to see his chest cavity is split open. All of a sudden, millions of cockroaches come pouring out of his chest, spilling all over the floor. At that point, my dad swooped me up and quickly removed me from the theater. I think I remember seeing SNOW WHITE posters in the lobby and I see that it was re-released in 1983 and 1987.

I know that’s not a lot to go on, but won’t someone please help me out?

Allison

Name That Trauma:: Reader Pho22 On Burning Ashes In A Pool

This trauma is not from my childhood, it’s actually from earlier today but I wondered if you guys could help me anyway. I was in a restaurant and there was a black and white movie on the TV with the sound off. In the movie, a man is followed around by a woman and two children who stare at him with automaton blank looks on their faces. Eventually he turns into a smoldering silhouette of ashes at the bottom of an empty pool. The movie ends with several of these ash figures in the pool and then the pool fills with water that washes them away. I don’t know what channel it was on but it’s been bugging me all day. Any ideas?

Thanks,

— Pho22

Grave Encounters (2011)

I’m shocked by how much I enjoyed GRAVE ENCOUNTERS. I remember checking out the trailer a while back and shrugging. It even dared to have one of those “I’m screaming and now my mouth is stretching bigger than it should!” ghouls in it! Bah, and who needs another found-footage movie and the limited color palette that comes with? Andre from HORROR DIGEST was my canary in the coalmine. She watched it, survived unscathed and wrote a review about how it made her pee and poop her pants. That’s all I needed to know to journey forward and so I checked it out one night and found it to be better than it had a right to be. It starts out very mundane with a guy explaining how the footage came into his possession but once the actual footage gets started, it’s entertaining all the way.

GRAVE is titled after a ghost hunting program not unlike PARANORMAL STATE which your Aunt John has forced me to watch a zillion times against my will. I’m always complaining because nothing ever happens and the folks on the show are forced to act amazed by the flimsiest evidence. GRAVE works as a clever parody of such a show. There’s a phony shit shoveling psychic and an amusing scene where the host pays off a gardener to lie through his teeth about his experiences. The “Grave Encounters” crew (who stand in dramatic, ready-for-action poses) is filming their sixth episode in an abandoned mental hospital that they will find out is indeed seriously haunted. What ensues, though never fully believable, is so fun and gleefully spooky that you’ll feel like a kid running through a neighborhood haunted-house on Halloween. You know it’s not real, but you can’t help getting into the frenetic spirit anyway.

Not only are the shock scares surprisingly effective, but this movie also plays with your mind pretty good too. The asylum turns into a trippy maze of sorts and things get eerily surreal. The authentic setting, not unlike the one employed in SESSION 9 is an indisputably unnerving place. Unlike most films of this kind, the cast is exceedingly likable (particularly lead SEAN ROBERTSON) and are easy to empathize with. Some of the effects don’t come off as well as they could, so the blurrier you can make your eyes by drinking alcohol while watching this, the better. There may be glitches scattered about but I think the overall exuberance on display overrides them. I ended up viewing it a second time so that Aunt John could check it out and now I like it even more. I don’t mind telling you he jumped pretty high off the couch at one moment. GRAVE ENCOUNTERS is on Netflix Streaming, iTunes & Amazon so check it out; don’t take it too seriously and don’t be surprised if it ends up leaving you feeling inexplicably tweaked.

Name That Trauma :: Reader MD2112 on an Indigo Man Art Book

Hello all!

First of all, a big shout-out to the readers for helping me solve my last Name That Trauma about artist Laurie Lipton that I posted back in October.

My next query is also art-related. When I was around 9 years old (circa 1981), my family and I visited my ‘hipster’ uncle’s house. He was always very avant-garde and into all sorts of art, music, and film. During our visit there, I came across a coffee-table book he had that was about a group of humanoid characters that were like colors personified. There was a yellow man, a red man, but the one that stuck out in my mind was an indigo man, mainly because I had never heard that word before. I don’t remember much about the theme or the story of the book, but the paintings/drawings had such a surreal quality that they stick in my mind to this day.

I’d love to find out what the book was and the name of the artist, anybody? Bueller? Beuller?

MD2112