61 Days of Halloween: Hell Night (1981)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Hell Night (1981)

One thing that struck me as interesting when I was viewing Hell Night was the 1981 vintage of horror films. Would I have thought of this fact, and how this film manages to kind of get lost in the shuffle were it not for my invite to discuss it on the Forgotten Filmcast? Maybe not. However, 1981 as year of horror films that have stood the test of time if a oft-covered topic. Fans and aficionados of the genre will have their favorite overlooked titles from that year. The issue with sticking is in part, I believe, due to the glut of horror films that came out that year, particularly in the slasher subgenre. Such that looking into aggregated ratings may not even tell the whole story because more than 30 years later it’s hard to know how much fatigue factored into it.

This was a time when horror itself was being skewered even at this apogee of popularity. The spoof film Student Bodies cites 20+ studio-released horror films the year before all of which made money. If you add to that fact that this was another Linda Blair horror film following her two contributions to The Exorcist series, as well as a few made-for-tv-scares and it becomes easier to see how this may have gotten lost in the shuffle over time.

However, I tend to gravitate towards the overlooked, and had heard of this film prior. I had just not gotten around to seeing it yet. As with almost any horror film, especially one released amidst a rising tide, it’s unlikely that it’ll stand out as a wholly original entity. That’s not to say this film isn’t trying to, at least a bit; and I think it does fairly well in that regard.

It may be another slasher, another slasher with college co-eds but it does try to spice things up. Firstly, the four pledges who are locked in the house of ill-repute overnight are two different factions: those very much into the fraternity/sorority process and those not so enamored with the idea, doing it because they feel they have to. That already gets more of the audience involved because that was one college activity I could care less about, and don’t feel I missed out on at all.

Next, there is the fact that there is some character building and it’s not just a body count film. The film takes a bit more time than most, does a bit more lurking and snooping than a lot of films in attempts to build tension.

There’s also the backstory about why this house is infamous. The exposition needed in this regard is conveyed ingeniously as the pledges, and other brothers and sisters give the pledges a tour and the facts before their Hell Night is set to begin.

There is also the added layer of natural and plausible disbelief added to the film that has members setting up scares to mess with the pledges heads. This leads the pledges to not suspect something out of the ordinary is happening for a while and it’s quite believable.

Then with this being a slasher there is also the question of the kills and those here, though not as many in other films, are well-staged.

Ultimately, it may not stand out and be among the crème de la crème of its vintage, but Hell Night is quite a good slasher that’s worth looking up if you’re looking for something new-to-you.

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