Happy Hell Night missed the slasher frenzy by almost a decade but it’s still a pretty good attempt at a straightforward horror movie. As legend has it, twenty-five years ago seven students were slaughtered by a seemingly unstoppable force named Malius (Charles Cragin). The survivors - a student (played by a very young Sam Rockwell) and a priest (Irfan Mensur) forged ahead to a new life while Malius remained locked up at the local loony bin, eating nothing but bugs and sitting in a musty, old cell. Now it’s the present day and Blood-Soaked U is celebrating Hell Night. Strangely there’s only two initiates, one being Sonny (Franke John Hughes), a motorcycle riding rebel whose brother, Eric (the very handsome Nick Gregory), is the president of the fraternity. Oh yeah, and Sonny is doing the naked pretzel with Eric’s girlfriend, Liz (Laura Carney). So when fellow frat brother, Bara (Ted Clark), who runs a campus television show, comes up with the daring idea to sneak into the nut house and snap a picture of Malius, Eric is only too happy to send his deceitful brother on his way. Unfortunately, things go awry and Malius escapes with only one thing on his mind: murder.
This Canadian/Russian co-production wisely took a more serious approach to an already worn out premise. Although the small budget, choppy editing and time lapses are sadly apparent (two of the actors have totally different hair styles by the second half of the film) Happy Hell Night manages to maintain a sinister atmosphere. Some of the carnage is pretty top notch too. Armed with a trusty pickaxe, Malius does some major damaged to a few of the more indiscreet students.
Happy Hell Night has several strong points. The two male leads are excellent in their prospective roles and the love triangle actually supports the great, downbeat ending. Now when was the last time a subplot came into play in a slasher flick? That’s like, sooo 1982! Both Nick Gregory and Franke John Hughes have gone on to fairly successful careers. In fact, this film is brimming with now familiar faces including Jorja Fox and the above referenced Rockwell. Darrin McGavin also shows up to help get the bloodshed flowing but puts in a rather cardboard performance. It’s easy to see that he was slumming it, but he barely even manages to look alive in his few scenes. Cragin makes an awesomely malevolent Malius. His black eyes and old man/baby face are haunting. Cragin only made a few films, but he truly looks like he was made to scare the pants off an unsuspecting audience.
Ted Clark gives the film a breath of brevity as well. As Bara, he’s an annoying brat with a bad mullet, but he’s given the best lines in the movie and does not disappoint in their delivery. It’s worth the price of a rental just to hear lines like “They get the bitches and I get the riches,” “You got the willies or what,” and “While you were out fucking the dog…” A decade later, Clark would become one of the backwoods hillbillies in another underrated gem, Wrong Turn. Director and co-writer Brian Owens didn’t find much fame after Happy Hell Night, though he did go on to pen the dismal Brainscan, and it’s unfortunate since although it’s not perfect, this movie is overflowing with flickers of talent. The image of the squirming Jesus statue looks like it came right out of a fever dream. If only Owens been given a bigger budget and a better time frame, who knows what this film might have become. Give it a shot, you could do a lot worse.