1: Theme Song/ Score
HELL NIGHT crashes open with a shrill scream followed by the rallying anthem ‘Theme from HELL NIGHT’ sung by Leza Miller. Leza has a chirpy, raspy voice which is perfect because you can easily imagine star LINDA BLAIR belting out the lyrics warning about a creature with “real sharp teeth and eyes that shine.” DAN WYMAN, who is responsible for the film’s underrated score, wrote the song and if you’re curious about his credentials, he helped out with the music for both HALLOWEEN and THE FOG. The more you watch the movie the more the persuasive score will get under your skin. One of my favorite moments involves a character dropping a gun that spins around followed by BLAIR turning her head toward it and the way the musical cues embellish that moment is pure joy.
2: Garth Manor
That House! HELL NIGHT’s exteriors were filmed at the Kimberly Crest Mansion (which also shows up in FLEETWOOD MAC’s “Big Love” music video) in Redlands, California. It’s a majestic building with tons of personality that it seems to take on a life of its own thanks to the masterful way it’s lit and shot in the movie. Through a bunch of cinematic trickery, the mansion becomes even more daunting and expansive with the suggestion that there are hedge mazes in the front courtyard and a labyrinth of tunnels beneath (in actuality, only two tunnel sets were utilized and then repurposed again and again). Although we don’t see an exorbitant amount of the interiors (which were filmed elsewhere), director TOM DeSIMONE is able to convince the audience that the location is sprawling with hidden passageways, trapdoors and a treacherous roof. Every time I watch HELL NIGHT, I get the sense that I’m viewing new details and uncharted territory.
3: The Cast
I know it’s wrong to say but HELL NIGHT is my favorite LINDA BLAIR movie. I realize THE EXORCIST is far superior but I think we see a lot more of BLAIR’s charm and warmhearted personality in this movie (plus I get to avoid seeing her get a brain scan). Her character Marti is one of the great slasher heroines in my book as she doesn’t magically become competent or survive by luck alone, she actually earned her resourcefulness by working hard at her father’s auto shop for years. Mr. Incredible Jawline PETER BARTON (FRIDAY THE 13th PART 4: THE FINAL CHAPTER) is a fitting romantic and chivalrous match for Marti; even though they’re from different worlds, they click as twin outsiders who are not seen fully by their peers. SUKI GOODWIN is adorable as the frothy, good-natured party girl Denise and VINCENT VAN PATTON as surfer dude Seth is the secret fearless hero of the film. I love Seth! He escapes the horror-filled mansion only to be scoffed at by the police when he tries to get their help (typical) and so he steals a shotgun and returns to save his new friends! I want to build a statue for Seth. I dig also that all four of this dream team don variant classic party costumes that not only fit their personalities but go far to give the whole film a timeless quality that continues to this day.
4: Andrew Garth
HELL NIGHT’s main (but not lone) mayhem-causing killer has a rather pitiable past. Where Marti’s positive relationship with her father and working-class background allowed her to thrive, Andrew’s rich yet dysfunctional dad focused on his imperfections and forced him to watch the execution of his mentally and physically challenged siblings. It’s almost as if money can’t buy you happiness! I don’t want to excuse Andrew’s rude behavior (trying to murder everybody) but to be fair, they were invading his home and he’s had a tough life. I love that Andrew is kept well within the shadows as the film’s roller-coaster ride ascends and how his visage becomes horrifically ubiquitous as it descends. There’s very much a Frankenstein monster-like quality to poor Andrew (albeit a Frankenstein monster on speed) and I’ll always get a kick out of the way he enters a room via a trap door under a rug to stand ominously silent like a ghost (just like Michael Myers did before him). Andrew’s final demise is incredibly clever and well-orchestrated. I hate to see him go but at least he does so in style.
5: The General Vibe
HELL NIGHT is a fun movie. It’s my go-to comfort spook show that leaves zero bitter after taste. It respects all of its characters as more than just cannon fodder and presents a thrilling scenario without ever leaning even slightly toward sadism. It’s almost amusing that critics at the time were quick to dismiss it as a cynical dead teenager movie because it doesn’t have a bad bone in its body and is generally quaint compared to some of its slasher siblings. Its benign attempts at bawdiness, references to drug use, and low-key killings would hardly render it a PG-rated movie today. But don’t get me wrong, it’s not a complete cuddle cartoon, although HELL NIGHT never dwells on its violence, I find a few of the characters so likable that their deaths truly do sting. Funny, when I was younger I certainly did wish it had some gory showcase kills like some of its cinematic brethren but I now I really enjoy that it’s got a voice and amiable disposition all its own. I’ll always appreciate a pitiless horror film that can drag me over hot coals kicking and screaming but sometimes it’s just nice to hang in a big old spooky house with LINDA BLAIR knowing the night will end with her walking away stunned but victorious.
BONUS: The Poster
HELL NIGHT’s poster/advertising art is way up there as one of my favorites in all of the early eighties slasher boom. Just looking at it puts me right in the mood and brings back many memories of being thrilled and stirred as a young horror fan. It’s a gorgeous work of art. I dig the blues and greens swimming around that offset BLAIR’s crimson gown and the gnarly hands rising from the bottom of the frame as if they’re twisting out of hell and meaning to drag her in. Check out that luminous moon! Look at that glowing window atop the mansion! The whole thing resembles the cover of a romantic gothic novel. “Pray for Day” is a killer, relatable tagline as well.