Linda Blair stars in Hell Night – not a documentary about the recent American election, but a slasher movie from 1981.
Four college kids spend a night in a murder house as an initiation ritual for a fraternity, even though two of them are girls… not sure how that works. In any case, this basket of deplorables is soon being depleted by their own stupidity; wandering off to check what that noise was, making little attempt to leave the grounds, and in once instance actually returning to the house having managed to escape… told you it was an ’80s slasher.
But apart from the plot, the acting, the jokes and the dialogue, it’s actually pretty good. While most of its contemporaries simply splice together sex and stabbings to make a quick buck, this actually seems to have been produced with the intention of making a halfway decent scary movie. The production design is good (in the sense that there is some), Dan Wyman’s music is interesting and director Tom De Simone gives his scares room to breathe.
A scream queen since childhood, Blair acts everybody else off the screen (not exactly difficult) as a screamy mechanic. When one scratches the surface of the genre, one finds it’s full of capable young women. Her Little Red Riding Hood costume denotes an innocence soon to be lost – or possibly just an excuse to show her cleavage (and it’s slightly odd to see the little girl from The Exorcist sexualised). With her cherubic face and golden locks, she really is the Shirley Temple of horror.
Although unoriginal, Hell Night is a hell of a lot of fun. Crafted with more care than the lazy likes of Prom Night or The House on Sorority Row, this is a superior entry into the 1980s slasher cycle. Mind you, there’s not much in the way of competition. As film critic and walking horror encyclopedia Kim Newman says: “Any film which is nicely acted, moderately restrained in its throat-slashing and keeps the boom microphone out of the frame looks like a classic.”
In this case, the film is a cut above the rest thanks to its focus on suspense, wisely keeping its villain (whose actor remains a mystery to this day) in shadow and making creepy use of its autumnal, gothic surroundings. Like its peers, it apes Halloween and Friday the 13th, but does so with a level of competence that keeps it watchable 35 years on… and when it comes to ’80s slashers, and the Republican Party, competence is in short supply.