• Pledge Night (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: September 24th, 2019.
    Director: Paul Ziller
    Cast: Joey Belladonna, Will Kempe, Shannon McMahon, Todd Eastland, Arthur Lundquist
    Year: 1988
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    Pledge Night – Movie Review:

    Back in the late sixties, a hippy named Sid (played by on again/off again Anthrax frontman Joey Belladonna – Anthrax also does the soundtrack, horns up!) was boiled alive in a bathtub full of acid in a fraternity prank gone wrong. Very, very wrong, come to think of it. Well, since then, the university has outlawed hazing but the tradition carries on in 1988 as a whole new crew of young men are about to be initiated into one of the many fraternities in the area, Phi Up.

    The first forty-minutes or so of Pledge Night basically cover the same kind of ground as films like Animal House and the giant fart joke that is King Frat, but it doesn’t do it as well. The new recruits are put through the ringer and submitted to all manner of depraved initiation rites. All the while, Bad Man Dan (Arthur Lundquist, who provides probably the best performance in the film even if he does spend most of his screen time cackling like a loon), one of the brothers, runs around acting like a maniac trying to scare them.

    After the filmmakers run out of bad frat boy humor, ‘Acid’ Sid, the dead hippy that was boiled in the bathtub, returns from the grave and starts killing off the frat boys one after the other. While most people would probably not complain too much about this, seeing as frat boys are probably to blame for most of the worlds’ problems, they don’t take too kindly to being offed by an undead beatnik. As such, they all band together to try and make it out alive.

    “So… where are the chicks?”

    Pledge Night has more homoerotic undertones than Judas Priest’s Hot Rockin’ video. The members of the fraternity spend most of their time running around in their tightie whities, occasionally picking up cherries with their butt cheeks, dry humping one another and seem to be really into spanking each other. This part of the film is at least realistic – having lived in a school dorm populated by frat boy types, I did actually witness plenty of this sort of ‘male bonding’ on a pretty regular basis - but realistic or not, it doesn’t really make for good comedy or good horror. That said, there’s something about the sheer goofiness of all of this that is somehow kind of charming. Yeah, the movie is dumber than a bag of rocks but it doesn’t take itself in the least bit seriously, so why should the audience? It seems like the entire cast is in on it, and they all seem to be having a pretty good time. If the performances aren’t ‘good’ they are at least earnest and to Belladonna’s credit, he’s pretty entertaining to watch here as ‘young’ Sid (an actor named Will Kempe, who went on to do a lot of network TV work, plays ‘Acid’ Sid).

    The film does pick up in the last half hour though and once Sid ‘the killer hippy’ – Charles Manson and I Drink Your Blood proved that hippies can actually be pretty scary – comes back from the dead, at least the body count starts to rise. It’s here that the film delivers and is at least on par with what you’d expect from it. The gore effects from Dean Kartalas are generally pretty strong and plentiful enough to earn this one some marks in the murder set pieces department. You’ve also got to appreciate the set design that went into this one – late-eighties college chic shouldn’t have ever been a thing but this movie serves as an amusing time capsule of that aesthetic, what with all the paddles on the walls, a Samantha Fox poster in the bathroom, a Reagan/Bush poster in a bedroom, the railroad crossing signs used as home décor, the bad spray paint jobs on the walls and, of course, the obligatory 55MPH speed limit sign all on display in the frat house. The movie also offers up some completely unnecessary but wholly welcome nudity, a lot of remarkably goofy dialogue to help hold your attention.

    So, if bad dialogue, homoeroticism, cheap gore and some totally gratuitous nudity gets you going, you’ll probably dig this late-eighties slasher. If not, well, there are plenty of other movies out there to suit your needs but trash film fans should get a big kick out of this one.

    Pledge Night – Blu-ray Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings Pledge Night to Blu-ray on a 50GB disc ‘newly scanned & restored in 2k from its 35mm original camera negative’ and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, with the feature given 26GBs of space. The transfer is excellent. Colors really pop, not just the reds of the blood but the frequently garish or pastel hues of the wardrobe choices on display in the film. Skin tones look nice and natural and black levels are nice and deep. Detail is very strong throughout, depth and texture as well, and while the image retains plenty of organic film grain, there’s very little in the way of print damage to note outside of some small white specks here and there.

    The only audio option offered up for the feature is an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 track. Optional subtitles are available in English only. The track is clean and clear and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. The dialogue is plenty easy to follow and to understand. There are, however, a few spots where the levels seem to rise and then dip a bit, so keep your remote handy.

    Extras start off with Hell Weeks, a fifteen-minute video interview with director Paul Ziller who speaks about shooting this, his first feature, for two hundred grand at an actual frat house at Ruger’s University. He talks about Joyce Snyder’s script, how he became interested in film by literally finding a piece of film as a kid on the sidewalk, getting into making super 8 movies after his dad bought him the gear for his bar mitzvah, shooting the picture on 35mm, making the picture for the home video market, working as a supervising editor at Troma and what that involved, casting the film locally by using an ad in a trade magazine, how Snyder got Belladonna involved in the film and what he was like to work with, makeup and prosthetic work that was done for the film, working with Shapiro Glickenhaus on the film’s distribution, dealing with the MPAA, editing on tape versus film and the film’s legacy.

    Graduating to Horror is an eleven-minute video interview with writer/producer Joyce Snyder, who also worked as production manager on the film. She talks about her background in producing porno movies after working as an editor at an adult magazine, the different awards she’s won in the adult film industry over the years and how moving to horror was the ‘logical next step’ given that a lot of her adult films were released with R-rated cuts. She talks about writing the script and how the hazing seen in the movie was based on actual events (and how you should give this movie to young people entering college so they’ll know what to expect!), the importance of Dean Kartalas’ effects, how very few people complained on the set save for Belladonna, how she got him and Anthrax’s music in the film, how an actor quite because ‘he was a homophobe and didn’t want to be in a film that had homosexuality in it,’ Erika Goodman’s casting of the picture and what she’s been up to since the movie was made (she had a ‘sexpose’ on BDSM called Mistress Pussycat published in 2015).

    The Bad Man is a video interview with actor Arthur Lundquist that runs twenty-seven-minutes. He talks about the film being originally called A Hazing In Hell, how he got into acting after being a bullied nerd as a kid, answering the ad for casting in the picture, how he was a horror fan at the time of his audition and what his audition was like, improvising during the shooting of certain scenes, his thoughts on Joyce’s ‘well-researched’ screenplay, how he appreciates the film’s descent into the supernatural as well as its comedic aspects, what Joyce was like on set and how she used to talk about her porn experiences during breaks, how Ziller was as a director, the details of having to kill someone with an egg-beater, how there were actual frat brothers all over the place during the shoot, the quality of the effects work in the picture, how he kept a diary on set during the shoot which was later published in Midnight Marquee magazine. He reads from those diary entries toward the end, then closes by talking about how cool it was to just be in a movie. This guy’s enthusiasm is very infectious!

    In Hazing From Hell we get a twelve-minute video interview with actor Robert Lentini who talks about playing a character named Silvera. He starts by talking about growing up as a farm boy, going to community college and getting into the arts, working on some student films, going to New York and getting robbed trying to get fake ID’s and turning that into a movie, getting into doing live theater, auditioning for Pledge Night and landing the part and how happy he was to be working on a feature, how he enjoyed working with Ziller but mostly just winged it during the shoot, how he didn’t really see the comedy in the movie while making it, having to pick up a cherry with his butt, how the worm eating film was shot, working with giant roaches and how the movie actually had a ‘roach guy’ on set, how he feels about his performance in the film, the quality of his mullet and how he learned so much during the shoot and even took notes during the production.

    The disc also contains a three-minute Locations featurette narrated by Snyder who speaks about the locations that were used for the film and how they’ve changed over the years. She also talks about some of the actual hazing that has taken place by frats at Rutgers, some of which have made the news over the years for hazing rituals.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection.

    As to the packaging, we get some nice reversible cover artwork that’s worth pointing out. As this is a combo pack release, we also get a DVD version of the movie taken from the same restoration and featuring extras identical to those found on the Blu-ray disc.

    Pledge Night – The Final Word:

    Pledge Night is pretty goofy stuff, very much a product of its time, but that only adds to its entertainment value. Vinegar Syndrome has done an excellent job bringing it to Blu-ray. The transfer is fantastic, the audio problem free and the interviews all do a great job of documenting the history of the picture and sharing the stories of those who made it.

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