Saturday, July 5, 2008

#40: Hell Night (Tom DeSimone, 1981)

Before I write anything about Hell Night, I want to begin with a digression about the director, Tom DeSimone. His career path might be one of the strangest in film history. He started out as an editor of educational films and children's movies. He then directed a low-budget action movie before embarking on a career as a gay porn director under the name Lancer Brooks. Eventually, he started making drive-in exploitation films, but unlike other directors who made the move from porno to more "legitimate" filmmaking, he continued to direct gay porn. DeSimone's accomplishments in the adult film world include directing the first-ever 3-D gay porno, entitled Heavy Equipment, as well as the horror/porn gay vampire movie Sons of Satan. Other titles, for your enjoyment: Swap Meat, Erotikus, Hot Truckin', Wet Shorts, and Bi-Coastal. For the non-porn side of his career, DeSimone ran the exploitation gamut from horror to women-in-chains to women-in-prison to bad girls to Chatterbox, the story of a girl with a talking vagina. He also found the time to make a few documentaries. Following the death of the drive-in and porn theaters, DeSimone started directing mainstream television, with the occasional straight-to-video porn title. He hasn't directed anything since 2002.
On to Hell Night. The film begins with the mother of all fraternity parties. The entire street is full of drunken revelry, including some guy blowing into a tuba while sitting on top of a moving vehicle. Inside the frat house, shit is even crazier. Everyone is dressed in costume, the beer steins are overflowing, kegs are thrown through the front window, and sorority girls are propositioned. Finally, frat president Kevin Brophy takes the party to Garth Manor, a spooky old mansion in which a father murdered his entire family and committed suicide twelve years ago tonight. Brophy then instructs the four new fraternity and sorority pledges that they must spend the night in Garth Manor because it's, you know, Hell Night and all. The frat boys are played by Donny Osmond lookalike Peter Barton and Vincent Van Patten, son of Dick Van Patten and current professional poker commentator. The sorority girls are played by Linda Blair and Suki Goodwin. Barton and Blair are goodie-two-shoes who aren't that enthused about joining the Greek system. Barton's joining because of family pressure and Blair joins because she gets a free car and clothes in exchange for doing everyone's English homework. Van Patten is a surfer dude and all-around party guy who gives an extended monologue about surfing that's pretty much a thinly veiled description of gay sex. Viewers unaware of DeSimone's filmography might be scratching their heads at that one, especially since Van Patten is about to have sex with bad girl Goodwin. We know she's the bad girl because she loves casual sex and offers her fellow pledges Quailudes and whiskey. We know the movie is from 1981 because she offers her fellow pledges Quailudes.
The four pledges settle in for the night at Garth Manor. Blair and Barton bond, while Van Patten and Goodwin drink, screw, and take Quailudes. Shortly thereafter, Brophy and some Greek pals sneak back to Garth Manor and attempt to scare the new pledges. They've rigged all kinds of haunted-house crap to the Manor and have a good time pulling frat-dick pranks, until they discover that SOMETHING ELSE IS IN THE HOUSE!! Could it be one of the Garth clan, whose body was never found? Could he be hiding in the underground catacombs beneath the Manor, waiting for his chance to murder sexy, trespassing, young adults? Why didn't he kill anybody during the previous eleven years of Hell Night initiation rituals? The first two questions get answered, the last one doesn't.
Needless to say, Hell Night is not a unique film. It follows the template of late 1970s/early 1980s teen sex comedies and slasher flicks, respectively, in the first half hour and final two-thirds. The fact that Irwin Yablans produced this film in between producing Halloween and Halloween II pretty much says it all. However, the film is skillfully and professionally made, the locations look great, the cast does a good job humanizing the characters -- especially Linda Blair, the atmosphere is just right, there are some clever shock sequences, and, most importantly, it's fun. Really fun. So fun that I'm going to join a fraternity tomorrow and throw a keg through the window.

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