• Hell Night

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: January 2nd, 2018.
    Director: Tom DeSimone
    Cast: Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten, Peter Barton, Suki Goodwin
    Year: 1981
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    The Movie:

    Directed by Tom DeSimone, 1981’s Hell Night is primarily set in and around a mansion twelve-years before the start of the film’s main plot where a man named Raymond Garth murdered his wife and their three children. As the years passed, an urban legend grew around the case purporting that there was a fourth child, a disfigured boy, that survived that massacre and that this child still lives somewhere within the confines of the creepy, and fairly massive, old home.

    In the modern day of 1981, we meet a few college kids out to make it through this year’s pledge night. Their mission? To spend a night in the house on the anniversary of the murders. It’s here that we meet sweet, innocent Marti (Linda Blair), her new friend Jeff (Peter Barton), bad boy Seth (Vincent Van Patten) and promiscuous British drug fiend Denise (Suki Goodwin). Marti and Jeff explore the place as best they can while Seth and Denise spend most of the night in bed (good on Denise for dressing for the occasion in all her early eighties lingerie finery!).

    Outside the house, members of the sorority are up to no good – rigging a series of pranks and scares to get under the skin of the new recruits. But of course, soon enough someone starts killing off characters one a time, someone very big, and very angry… clearly upset that there are people rummaging about in his home.

    Hell Night is essentially a slasher film but there’s no disputing the fact that it has a very noticeable gothic horror influence running throughout. From the costumes to the mansion location there’s a lot of shadowy atmosphere made all the better by ace cinematographer Mac Ahlberg’s work behind the camera. If nothing else, this a really nicely shot film (Ahlberg always did great work even when working in low budget genre and exploitation films). Dan Wyman’s score also complements this aspect of the movie quite well. So while the stalk and slash elements and gory murders that are so often associated with slasher films is certainly here, the gothic trappings give the movie a decidedly different flavor than something like Friday The 13th, My Bloody Valentine or pretty much any other slasher film from the eighties you’d care to mention.

    Having said that, the film is slow at times and it does suffer from some pacing issues. The movie does take a little while to get going, and while the film does bother to introduce us to the characters during this opening stretch, they’re not exactly so fascinating as to compensate. The story is fairly predictable and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where this is all headed before the end credits hit the screen.

    But the good outweighs the bad to be certain. In addition to some creative kills and the aforementioned production values, the cast is solid. Top billed Linda Blair is in very fine form here. She not only looks great but her performance is very solid. She’s believable in her part and genuinely likeable too. Peter Barton proves a good match for her, he too comes across as a nice guy. As the story evolves we find ourselves wanting Marti and Jeff to make it out in one piece. On the flip side of that coin are Vincent Van Patten and Suki Goodwin, tasked with playing polar opposites to Blair and Barton’s characters. Seth is your stereotypical frat boy, out to get laid and have a good time, and Denise is essentially his female equivalent. That said, they play their parts well and are, if nothing else, entertaining to watch.


    Shout! Factory brings Hell Night to Blu-ray on a 50GB disc with an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed properly at 1.85.1 widescreen with the following disclaimer:

    “Regarding the transfer: This new transfer of Hell Night comes from a 4K scan of the best archival 35mm film print. After an extensive search for the original film elements, the print was the only available element. We did extensive color correction and film restoration to clean up the film damage. The print was missing some minor footage, so we have inserted some standard definition footage to deliver the complete film. We hope you enjoy this new restoration of this ‘80s horror classic.”

    For this reason, we can’t expect visual perfection here. The image is softer than some are going to like and detail doesn’t ever approach the highs that the format can provide. Having said that, it’s more than watchable and an improvement over the old Anchor Bay DVD release. If colors are a little flat they are at least well defined. Black levels are generally pretty good and the standard definition inserts match the film sourced footage surprisingly well. There is some print damage noticeable throughout, the occasional scratch and such, but the disc is well authored in that there are no noticeable compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction issues.

    In the end this is what it is – a good transfer of less than perfect elements, and fans should be able to live with that, particularly how the rest of the disc shapes up.

    The only audio option on the disc is a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track in the film’s native English with removable subtitles available in English only. Those wanting a fancy surround mix will be disappointed but if you an appreciate a true to source listening experience, this gets the job done without any major issues. The track is a little flat in spots but dialogue stays clean, clear and easy to follow. The score sounds decent and the track is free of hiss, distortion and other audible defects.

    Carried over from the previous Anchor Bay DVD release is the audio commentary featuring actress Linda Blair, director Tom DeSimone and the film’s two producers, Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis. For those who haven’t heard the track before, it’s pretty informative particularly in that it allows DeSimone to talk about his rather unique career arc (he made quite a bit of gay hardcore porno films before segueing into this picture and then a prolific television career). They discuss the different cast members that appeared in the picture, the sets and locations used, some of the murder set pieces, the costumes, the film’s production history and quite a bit more.

    From there we move on to the ridiculously extensive selection of featurettes starting with Linda Blair: The Beauty Of Horror, a thirty-five-minute piece in which the film’s leading lady talks about her experiences working on the film. She starts off by talking about how she got into the acting game before then discusses some high points of her career and some of her genre work. Of course, there’s lots of talk about Hell Night too, what it was like on set, having to work long into the cold night during the shoot, friendships that occurred during the making of the movie and more.

    Hell Nights With Tom De Simone clocks in at twenty-seven-minutes and it sees him return the mansion location used in the shoot to discuss the gothic horror influences that are so readily apparent throughout this particular film. He also talks up the contributions of the different cast and crew members, some changes that had to be made to the film during the shoot, some of the murder set pieces that were constructed and other related topics.

    Peter Barton: Facing Fear is a twenty-one-minute piece in which the actor talks about how he was seriously considering retiring before Hell Night was made and how part of his motivation for taking the part in this film was to star in a film that would be remembered. He then talks about some of his other rolls from various points in his career, his experiences on set and his thoughts on the film in general.

    Producing Hell With Bruce Cohn Curtis spends fourteen minutes with one of the film’s producers as he talks about how his earlier work with Blair on Roller Boogie served as a starting point for Hell Night. He also discusses how he wound up teaming up with Yablan to make the film, how they got the project bankrolled and his thoughts on his career in general.

    Randy Feldman: Writing Hell is twenty-six minutes in length and it allows the man who wrote the movie to detail the ins and outs of how he came up with the ideas for the film in the first place. He notes some of his influences, talks about his love of horror and then shares some of his own thoughts about how what he wrote translated to the big screen once the movie was finished.

    Vincent Van Patten and Suki Goodwin In Conversation gets the two performers talking for twenty-seven minutes. This is an interesting piece in which the two actors really just sort of stroll down memory lane together, talking about how they shared so many scenes together in the film, what it was like on, set their characters, interactions with their fellow cast members, thoughts on the film in general and more. Kevin Brophy and Jenny Neumann In Conversation is a similar piece that runs twenty-three minutes and is put together the same way – more of an informal conversational piece than a formal sit-down interview – but it works! Both of these are interesting and entertaining.

    Gothic Design In Hell Night is a twenty-three minute segment with Steven G. Legler wherein he talks about what had to be done to the Kimberly Crest House to make it into the location we see used for so much of Hell Night. He talks about working with DeSimone and some of the other crew to get the look for the film just right and what went into that. as this plays out we get a nice look at some of his work by way of some cool behind the scenes photos from his time spent on set.

    Anatomy Of The Death Scenes is a twenty-two-minute piece with DeSimone, Feldman, Lelger, makeup artist Pam Peitzman and SFX artist John Eggert all jump into this piece that, as the title implies, shows off what was involved in both the planning and the execution of the film’s murder set pieces.

    The disc also includes On Location At The Kimberly Crest House, a seven-minute featurette narrated by Tom De Simone that explores the mansion as it exists in the modern day and does a contrast/compare thing showing it against how it appears in Hell Night.

    Rounding out the extras are the film’s original theatrical trailer, a handful of TV spots, an original radio spot and a still gallery. Menus and chapter selection are also included. As this is a combo pack release we also get a DVD version of the movie (though it doesn’t contain all of the extras that are found on the DVD). This collector’s edition release also comes with a slipcover for the first pressing and reversible cover art with the newly created Shout! Factory art on one side and the iconic original poster art on the reverse.

    The Final Word:

    If the transfer on Hell Night isn’t going to blow you away, you’ve got to hand it to Shout! Factory for going all out on the supplemental package and leaving no stone unturned. The extras on this disc are, in a word, impressive. The movie itself remains a pretty entertaining mix of slasher movie trappings and gothic horror clichés and it works well enough on those levels and as a showcase for Linda Blair.

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

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      Great review, Ian. I'm a little disappointed to learn about the transfer, since this is -- hands down -- my favorite slasher film of all time. But I'm going to upgrade regardless for the extras. Still, I'm kind of bummed.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Unless better elements show up, this is the best we're likely going to get for some time!