Tom DeSimone started his directing career in gay porn as Lancer Brooks, creating the first homosexual film with dialogue and a plot with 1970’s The Conversation before going mainstream and making Chatterbox. After this film, he’d be behind such greats as Reform School Girls and Angel III: The Final Chapter, as well as uncredited direction on another fabulous Linda Blair movie, Savage Streets.
Oh Linda Blair. By 1981, Linda was eight years past The Exorcist and a few years past a major drug bust. While some people may say they lived their lives, I get the feeling that Ms. Blair really lived her life, starting to date Rick Springfield at fifteen after seeing him play the Whiskey-A-Go-Go, as well as relationships with Deep Purple bassist Glenn Hughes and Styx frontman Tommy Shaw. And a year after Hell Night, a nude pictorial in Oui magazine would lead to her dating Rick James, who spoke of her in glowing terms in his autobiography: “Linda was incredible. A free spirit. A beautiful mind. A mind-blowing body. She liked getting high and getting down as much as I did.”
But hey — we’re here to talk about Hell Night and lots of teenagers are basically begging to get killed. Let’s get to it!
Spoiler before we go any further: I was basically two minutes into this movie before declaring my pure love for it.
During a college costume party, Peter (Kevin Brophy, who played the main character in the TV show Lucan) is all fired up about initiating the new pledges of Alpha Sigma Rho: rich kid Jeff (Peter Barton of TV’s The Powers of Matthew Star), Marti, a smart girl from a poor family (Blair); party girl Denise (Suki Goodwin in her only movie role) and stoner Seth (Vincent Van Patten, son of Dick, former pro tennis player, star of the failed pilot The Bionic Kid and current World Poker Tour commentator). They’re forced to spend the night at Garth Manor, the abandoned mansion when Ramon Garth murdered his wife and three deformed children before hanging himself. Then, the fourth child Andrew somehow survived and still roams the grounds.
The moment they get there, Marti and Jeff have sex, just before a ghost shows up to frighten her. Unbeknownst to them, beyond that ghost, Peter and two other students have been setting up traps and scares all over the house. As soon as they finish, the denizens of the house attack, decapitating one of them and then stringing another up on the roof. Peter tries to prank Denise, only to be chased into a hedge maze and killed with a scythe.
Seth and Denise respond to all of these murders and pranks by getting high and having sex, which really seems to be the best possible solution. When Seth leaves Denise to go to the bathroom, he returns to find a severed head in their bed.
Of course, it all goes very slasher and the kids each gets killed off in various ways after discovering the remains of the Garth family in the tunnels under the house. The police have no interest in helping them, so they try and survive the night themselves. Marti is the final girl, hot-wiring cars and slamming strange killers into spiked gates to make it through the night.
I love the end of the movie, where she wakes up as the sun rises and just gets out of the car, which has a dead killer on the hood and walks away.
There are some weird things about Hell Night beyond the actual movie, like the two actors who played the Garth killers being unlisted in the credits because they were unknown German nationals that spoke little English. The bearded one died soon after the film wrapped and the other is gone to history.
Even stranger is that when a man in Illinois named Ray Fulk died, he asked for his estate to be split between Hell Night stars Kevin Brophy and Peter Barton, despite never meeting the actors. That’s right, they split a million dollars just for him being a fan of their work.
It’s also the last movie that Irwin Yablans’. Compass International Pictures would release. They had some hits — Halloween, Tourist Trap, Fade to Black and Blood Beach, as well as some smaller films like Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula, The Day Time Ended and Roller Boogie. They’d soon reform as part of Universal Studios and be called Trancas International Films, where they’d produce all of the Halloween films.
Hell Night also had Kevin Costner working as a grip and was one of the first films Frank Darabont worked on. It’s another example of the fact that a movie that wasn’t thought of all that fondly in 1981 appears to be an utter classic once you watch it in 2019.