Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hell Night (USA, 1981)

Hell Night was the third non-X-rated film of Tom DeSimone, who had honed his directorial skills the prior 13 years as a maker of gay pornography both under his own name and as Lancer Brooks. His earlier projects of note include his only non-gay and non-hardcore films, the extremely idiosyncratic comedy Catterbox (1977T/trailer one and two), which could once be found in both an R and X-rated version, and a 3-D women's prison film with Uschi Digard entitled Prison Girls (1972), as well as a couple of gay porn "classics", The Idol (1979) and Heavy Equipment (1977, in 3-D and featuring both Al Parker* and Jack Wrangler**, two icons of the Golden Age of gay porn, as well as the legendary Christy Twins). After Hell Night, DeSimone went on to add some life again to the flogged-to-death girls in prison genre with The Concrete Jungle (1982) and Reform School Girls (1986/trailer) as well as a few more porno films—such as Bi-Coastal (1985)—before first disappearing into television direction and then from the face of the earth. Nonetheless, Sizemore must have seen Hell Night as a possible stepping stone to a more legitimate career for he obviously gave his best to the rather unoriginal script by Randy Feldman—as do the young stars for that matter.
By no means a masterpiece, Hell Night (trailer) is a competently made Golden Age "dead teenager film" that is better for a laugh than for either gore or a scare. The worst that can really be held against the film, aside for the numerous plot holes, is the fact that although featuring a young and surprisingly hot Linda Blair at the beginning of her exploitation film prime, she plays the good girl of the flick and thus remains dressed for the entire proceedings. (The picture of her presented here shows all her niceties that the film is missing.) But even if Hell Night is low on Linda's amplitudes (34C-24-34), the plot does at least include one curvaceous Australian-accented goodtime girl (one-film wonder Suki Goodwin as Denise Dunsmore) that does look damn nice in her skivvies and garters and dies for showing them to us. (Still, odd for a film of its time, nowhere is a breast ever flashed.)
In general, the plot of the film is so old that it seems less from the Golden Age of Slashers than from the Silent Age of Hollywood, but as old hat as the basic premise is—teenagers spending the night in a supposedly haunted mansion as part of an initiation and dying for doing so—the acting of the soon-to-be-dead teenagers is at least above average, the characters (mostly) believable and likable, the direction competent and the cinematography excellent. Hell Night takes its time getting to the meat of the matter, as a good portion of the film is spent both on establishing characters and setting up the situation.
As mentioned before, the basic premise is that of a bunch of teens spending the night in an infamous house, the Garth Manor, as an initiation to join what seems to be the world's only unisex sorority/fraternity (sorternity?). Locked in the house, the four pledges divide into groups of two, the sex-negatives Marti Gaines (Linda Blaire) and Jeff Reed (Seth Peter Barton) and the sex-positives Seth (Vincent Van Patton) and Denise (Suki Goodwin) while, unbeknownst to them, a small band of jokers (including Jenny Neumann, the star of Larry Buchanans’s legendary Mistress of the Apes (1979/theme song)) remains outside to trigger the various scary sound effects and tricks they have rigged up in the house (all electric, but in a house without electricity). Unbeknownst to all of them, the one surviving member of the Garth Family massacre is alive and well in the tunnels beneath the house, and he don’t take well to visitors.
One by one the numbers dwindle as no one acts any more intelligent than can be expected in a film like this, but, as Roger Elbert said in his review of the film at the time, nothing "excitingly violent" really ever happens. Nonetheless, atmosphere and good characterization go a long way, and the film has enough of both, otherwise the plot holes and idiotic actions would ruin the film. You can probably guess who the only survivor of the hellish night is...
Presently Hell Night is seemingly destined for remake hell, as according to Entertainment Weekly, Sony Screen Gems plans to de-ball yet another R-rated horror flick of the 80s and remake the flick as a PG-13 atrocity. In truth, though, as fun as Hell Night is, the plot is so old that one has a hard time castigating Sony Screen Gems as being uncreative in their decision... besides, truth be told, by today’s standards, the original version hardly warrants an R-rating (although the carefree attitude about teenage sex and alcohol and drug use might cause problems for the rating board in today's prim and proper USA). In any event, regarding the original flick, it might not be a masterpiece but it is extremely well shot as well as fun and entertaining. It hardly deserves a place on anyone’s "must-see" list, but easily deserves preferential treatment to so much of the modern PG-13 slasher crap that has followed in the wake of the original R-rated Scream (1996/trailer).
Besides, to tell the truth, Linda Blair has one bitching cleavage. Why did we all hate her back then? Unlike Final Girl, I’d give the flick 10 out of 10 heaving bosoms nowadays just because of Linda... but then, the difference in our rating of the film probably has something to do with the differences in our age and sex.


* To quote alsgaypornstars.com: "Al Parker was born in June 1952 in Natick MA and he grew up to be a truly great, bearded, horse-hung star of gay porn. He stood about 5ft 10ins tall and had a 9-inch cock. He began his porn career in the 1970s as an early Colt star and was still making movies well into the 1980s, mainly for the likes of Falcon and his own company Surge. He was also a director. He died of AIDS in August 1992 in San Francisco. Before doing gay porn, Al worked at Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion."

** To quote GaySexBlog.net: "Jack Wrangler was one of the biggest gay porn stars of the 1970s, in case you didn't know. He made 85 movies. Jack's story is quite, er, interesting. A child actor who performed in the Christian TV show Faith of our Children, he had bit parts in TV shows like Mod Squad before venturing into gay, and eventually straight, porn. In 1979, at age 33, he got married to 55-year-old movie star Margaret Whiting after meeting her at one of his jack-off performances."

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