One of several dozen slasher movies to find its way to screens during the slasher horror movie boom of the late '70s and early '80s, Tom DeSimone's Hell Night always seems like the one that gets left out in the cold. Granted, there's very little to outwardly discern the 1981 shocker starring The Exorcist's Linda Blair from any other movie of the era featuring a group of annoying college kids being murdered in an isolated setting. (Well, other than the fact that it stars Linda Blair, of course!) In fact, were one to make a check-list of '80s college slasher flicks clichés, there is very little doubt Hell Night would miss a single item during its surprisingly lengthy (translation: overlong) 101-minute runtime.
Chockful of the sort of bad acting you'd expect from a movie starring both Linda Blair and Vincent Van Patten, Hell Night finds four fresh fraternity pledges (the aforementioned Blair and Van Patten, who are joined by Peter Barton and Suki Goodwin) having to spend the night in an allegedly-haunted estate as part of a hazing initiation. Unfortunately for them, though, the scare tactic of a rumored deformed killer roaming the grounds turns out to be all too real for not only the initiates, but for the kids hosting the deadly prank as well, the leader of whom (Peter Brophy), has clearly been in college well past the general four-year course. (As they say: "It's not a tuition fee, it's a cover charge.")
Largely filmed at the historic Kimberly Crest Mansion in Southern California, Hell Night hasn't seen as much love as many of its more popular alumni have: the first (and only) domestic digital release was by Anchor Bay in 1999. Now, nearly twenty years later, the folks at Scream Factory have graduated the title to HD status with a new 4K scan, taken from the best 35mm print available. Alas, said print wasn't 100% complete, so tiny portions of the '80s cult classic have been inserted from an upscaled (and color corrected) Standard-Definition source. Some of the jumps will stand out to eagle-eyed viewers, but these imperfections shouldn't dissuade dedicated fraternity members from picking this one up.
Accompanying the main feature is a DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 soundtrack, which compliments its visual counterpart adequately. English (SDH) subtitles are included for this release, just in case you have to answer your own queries of "Did they really just say that?" as the film's hilariously bad dialogue is effortlessly tossed out by some of its cast.
Bonus materials for this new addition to the amazing, ever-expanding library of Scream Factory titles begin with a cast/crew commentary from the Anchor Bay DVD. But it's the heap of newly-assembled cast/crew interviews and retrospective making-of featurettes ‒ which almost total a whopping four hours ‒ which will really garner the attention and enthusiasm of Hell Night fans. Wrapping up the extras are the perfunctory collection of advertising materials (a trailer, plus a TV and radio spot) and a still gallery. A bonus DVD featuring most of the same special features of the BD50 is also included, which sports reversible cover art (the back side depicts the classic theatrical/video art) and a collectible slipcover.
Personally, Hell Night didn't do much for me. While it does take a few different turns here and there (Van Patten's character's subplot of escaping the estate to find help isn't something that regularly occurs in such tales), it wasn't enough to make up for the fact that this was the only old-school slasher movie in history to nearly put me to sleep. There's no denying, however, that the film has a heavy following out there, so there's no way in Hell I cannot commend and compliment Scream Factory for their efforts in preserving this goofy little low-budget horror flick!
This one most assuredly gets an A for Effort. If you're a longtime fan of the film, you'll definitely want to get this release.