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Five Favorite Things:: Hell Night (1981) By Unk

June 25th, 2020 by unkle lancifer · 10 Comments

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.

Tags: Five Favorite Things




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popcornmonster
popcornmonster
3 months ago

Good movie. For years I saw this rental sitting on shelves at the video store and always passed it by. Maybe because those Fangorias and GoreZones I was reading didn’t have any mentions of it. A few years ago I finally watched it and really enjoyed it. It’s one of those hidden gems that is actually right out there in front of you.

Caffeinated Joe
3 months ago

Makes me want to sit in the dark and watch again! Fun film, better than many others.

Geoff
Geoff
3 months ago

That’s gotta be the same Leza Miller who sang on the Sergio Mendes hit “Never Gonna Let You Go” the following year. I love the trend of early 80s horror movies to include pop ballad theme songs – Prom Night, Happy Birthday To Me, The Seduction, The Attic. Hell Night isn’t a ballad but it just reminds of that bygone era when the songs on the soundtrack actually had something to do with the plot of the movie.

I have a very fond memory of my dad taking my sister and brother and me out one Saturday afternoon to stock up on junk food to watch the cable premiere of Hell Night later that evening. It was just a nice bonding moment and I loved the anticipation of being allowed to watch an R-rated scary movie. It’s one of those memories where I recall more about the preparation than the actual movie.

Ghastly1
Ghastly1
3 months ago

Hell Night is a really cool movie. I first came across it at a video store and rented it based on the cover, it was very entertaining and pairs well with The Funhouse.

Chuckles72
Chuckles72
3 months ago

The scene where Seth in climbing over the gate never fails to make my scrot shrivel.

This flick is kind of a “how to” for making tense horror movie scenes. There are several simple examples including the gate-climbing scene, Seth’s grappling match over the shotgun and Peter’s fumbling with the lock on the gate.

Unk pointed out how the Hell House did double duty in Fleetwood Mac’s Big Love video. I was watching Burnt Offerings the other day and I realized for the first time that the house in Burnt Offerings is the same location for the mortuary in Phantasm! How did I not know this?!!

Bonus – did you hear that some guy in Illinois left all of his estate to Peter Barton (who played Jeff) and Kevin Brophy (who played Peter)? The guy was just some kind of superfan or something – the actors never met him.

SmallDarkCloud
SmallDarkCloud
3 months ago

Unkle Lancifer:

It’s worth noting that, although it’s likely a coincidence, Hell Night and The Funhouse have strong parallels.

Both films feature four teenagers (two boys, two girls) who spend the night in a structure where they are not supposed to be. The monster is basically an abused child (or an adult survivor of child abuse) that resembles Frankenstein’s monster in different ways. And the final scene features the “final girl” emerging in daylight, traumatized but alive, for a haunting ending.

kathryngrace
kathryngrace
3 months ago

It’s funny – the first time I saw this I liked it alright but I amazed by it. But I recently watched it again with my boyfriend, and was completely blown away.
I don’t know if I just wasn’t in the right mood for it the first time I saw it or if I was just salty that Peter Barton’s character doesn’t make it. The second time was the charm though, and now it’s one of my favorites.

kathryngrace
kathryngrace
3 months ago

I should not write on very little sleep. That first sentence should end, “but I wasn’t amazed by it.”