• Happy Hell Night (88 Films)



    Released by: 88 Films
    Released on: August 7th, 2017.
    Director: Brian Owens
    Cast: Nick Gregory, Darren McGavin, Sam Rockwell, Jorja Fox, Ted Clark, Charles Cragin
    Year: 1991

    The Movie:

    By the early nineties the slasher film was starting to fade, her glory days behind her by roughly a decade or so. They didn’t disappear altogether though, and 1991’s Happy Hell Night, filmed partially in Canada and partially in Yugoslavia with a very international crew, was one of the better entries from the sub-genre’s twilight years.

    The film begins twenty five years in the past where a group of frat boys from Winfield College are murdered during a Satanic ritual involving a psychotic Catholic priest named Father Zachary Malius. The local authorities toss Malius into a nearby insane asylum to let him rot. As his story is considered rather taboo to talk about, future generations don’t really know much about all of this. It’s kept quiet.

    Fast forward to 1991 and the current crop of students at Winfield College are just about to get down and dirty with some serious hazing - it’s Hell Night time! The Phi Delta Kappa Fraternity, led by Jake (Robert Restraino) and Eric (Nick Gregory), has got their work cut out for them as the competition is tough this year. Soon enough, Eric finds out that his younger brother, Sonny (Frank John Hughes), who desperately wants admission into the fraternity, is nailing his girlfriend Liz (Laura Carney). It’s then that Eric figures who better to send to the asylum for a Hell Night stunt? Eric asks his dad Henry (Darren McGavin, though a young Sam Rockwell plays the part in the flashback scenes) about the story, but he gets nothing out of him and local sheriff (Winston May) proves equally tight lipped.

    At any rate, off he Sonny goes with another pledge named Ralph (Jeffrey Miller) to find and photograph Malius (Charles Cragin), but when one of them winds up dead and the door to Malius’ cell is left open, Hell Night takes on a whole new meaning and gets about as far away from happy as it can get. A newly freed Malius makes his way to the frat house, where pervy dude Ned Bara (Ted Clark) is secretly recording people having sex (one of whom is lovely future TV star Jorja Fox, of C.S.I and E.R., in an uncredited appearance), and mass slaughter ensues.

    Directed by Brian Owens, the genius behind Edward Furlong’s shining moment in Brainscan, Happy Hell Night is not a perfect movie. There are some glaringly odd edits and scene transitions, plot holes aplenty, some rather awkward performances, and some truly painful dialogue. These things often times a bad movie make.

    One thing that Happy Hell Night is though, is a good slasher picture. Taken within the confines of the genre, where things like good acting and tight storytelling honestly don’t matter as much, then Happy Hell Night is actually kind of good. Genuinely good, really. It has the required amount of naked girls and goofy sex scenes, it has some creative and gory kill scenes (the effects featured in the murder set pieces are quite strong and well done), and it has a creepy and effective villain. Any time Cragin is on screen doing this thing, the movie works quite well. His albino-esque appearance very much relays the fact that he’d been locked away in an unlit cell for the last quarter century – the guy is just creepy looking. The movie even manages to be suspenseful in a couple of scenes, playing some nice visual tricks with the shadows of the old Fraternity House and the tombs used for sets. This ensures that the last half of the film has plenty of solid atmospherics, enhanced by some pretty decent camerawork.

    Sure, it borrows a scene or two quite blatantly from Halloween and it would have been much creepier if the villain had just kept his mouth shut instead of forcing him to utter some crappy one liners, but overall Happy Hell Night is a pretty entertaining late period slasher. Don’t go in expecting high art, you aren’t going to find it here but you will find a movie that accomplishes what it sets out to do and that proves to be entertaining in its own right.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    88 Films presents Happy Hell Night on Region B Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation framed at 1.78.1 taken from a ‘High Definition Transfer from the Original Negative.’ This is by and large a pretty nice transfer of a very dark film. There’s very little print damage here, just the odd white speck now and then and one or two minor scratches, while the film’s grain structure appears naturally. Black levels are nice and we get good shadow detail here. Color reproduction is also strong, with the reds really popping in the murder scenes. Skin tone look nice and natural, there doesn’t appear to be any noise reduction gumming up the works, and the image is free of obvious edge enhancement and compression artifacts. Code Red released this domestically on Blu-ray but at the time of this writing that disc isn’t available to compare.

    Audio chores are handled nicely by the disc’s English language LPCM 2.0 track, with optional subtitles available in English only. No issues here, the audio is fine. Dialogue stays clean, clear, nicely balanced and easy to understand. The music sounds a little bit flat at times but that’s likely got more to do with the original recording than anything else. No complaints, this track gets the job done without any issues.

    Extras start off with an audio commentary track featuring Nathaniel Thompson and Tim Greer. This is an amiable talk with the two commentators clearly enjoying themselves as they watch the film. As it plays out they discuss the movie’s production history, how and why it wound up being shot in Canada and Yugoslavia, the various cast members that appear in the picture, similarities to other slasher films and quite a bit more.

    From there we get the first of the disc’s two featurettes, an interview with Jorja Fox entitled The Kappa Sig Girl in which she talks about how she landed her uncredited role in the film, shooting on location in Yugoslovia and Canada, working with Darren McGavin and Sam Rockwell and her thoughts on the film and on horror pictures in general. Also included on the disc is an interview with Nenad Bach entitled Murder Music. Here he talks about composing the music used in the film and talks about how he came onboard to work on the project.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc itself are the film’s original trailer, animated menus and chapter selection. Included inside the red Blu-ray keepcase is an insert booklet that contains an essay by Calum Waddell that makes the case for the film’s worth and that discusses its unusual production and distribution history. 88 Films has also given this release some cool reversible cover sleeve art with the standard poster art on one side and some alternate UK VHS release art using the Frat Fright title on the reverse. The first 300 copies ordered from 88 Films’ web store also come with a nice slipcover.

    The Final Word:

    Happy Hell Night is a decent later era slasher film with a great protagonist and some very nicely executed kill scenes (pun intended). 88 Films has done a nice job bringing this one to Blu-ray, presenting the film in very nice shape and with a decent selection of extra features as well.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!