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Review: Hell Night DVD (1981)

By Lance Vaughan



The classic old dark house thriller is given new life when injected with early eighties slasher sensibilities in this not to be missed gothic hybrid. Fright icon Linda Blair joins future Jason fodder Peter Barton (Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter) for a night of old school terror complete with cobwebs, candelabras, and cleavage. Sadly, when all is said and done, Hell Night is a bit too good natured for it's own good. It's admirable that the focus here is more on suspense than gore but this baby is just a couple good kills short of taking it over the top.


Hell Night is presented widescreen and it's a gorgeous, classy looking film. Gone are the much complained about boom mikes from the VHS edition. You can now fully appreciate director Tom DiSimone's handsome staging of pivotal scenes. Check out the one that finds Blair and Barton at the top of the main stairs observing the demise of surfer Vincent Van Patton. The light coming from the door, the spin of the rifle on the floor, the turning of Blair's head (not all the way around this time) to the musical cue, It's perfectly done. Speaking of musical cues, the soundtrack by John Carpenter protégé Dan Wyman (Without Warning) is outstanding and addictive. Considering the budget, Hell Night has no right to look as good as it does, it outshines most of the high budget thrillers of it's time and thanks to the period costumes adorned by the main characters the film seems less dated then it's sister slashers.


Star Blair joins director DiSimone with producers Irwin Yablans (Halloween) and Bruce John Curtis for commentary. It's always a joy to hear from Blair and she rightfully seems pleased with her work here. The character of Marti is a fine heroine. She's resourceful, level headed, mechanically inclined and has the requisite androgynous moniker as pointed out by Men, Women & Chainsaws author Carol J. Clover in her volume on gender in modern horror. This is probably Blair's finest hour outside her famous pea soup spewing tour de force so it's great to her her take on things. From the sound of things Yablans was a very "hands on" producer and had a lot to due with the shape and focus of the film. It's interesting to note that the iron gate that plays such an intricate role in the film and appears to be a quick jump from the front door of the mansion, was in reality over a mile away.

There are two great 30 second television spots and a nice theatrical trailer which do a great job showing off the strong points of the film.

Useful talent bios of Blair, DiSimone and the two producers are included but one wonders why Barton and Van Patton were overlooked, also why not mention DiSimone's work as a gay adult porn director known as Lancer Brooks? I've never seen Heavy Equipment (1977) in 3-D, but it's not for lack of trying.


The DVD cover is the original poster art and I have to say this is one of my all time favorite slasher movie adds. It is repeated in it's entirety inside the case on the flip side of the chapter card. It shows Blair straining against the front gate of Garth Manor screaming her had off as two gorky hands pull at her from below. The slogan "Pray For Day" hangs over the proceedings and a finer job could not have been done. The menu is also exceptional as when you click on a feature, a once still Andrew Garth roars forward toward the jolted viewer. Anchor bay also offers Hell Night in a double feature edition with Fade To Black (1980) so if you don't mind missing out on the commentary this is even a better deal.



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