Director Tom De Simone’s “Hell Night” usually gets lumped in together with a lot of the other eighties slashers, but in reality his genre offering is so much more unique than a simple hack and slash. “Hell Night” is a great Halloween horror romp that feels like something pulled out of a haunted house Gothic novel. It’s the perfect fixture for the holiday delivering a relentlessly bleak tone that makes it quite an unnerving experience all the way through. Linda Blair can do these kinds of horror movies in her sleep and she plays final girl Marti quite well, doing her best to battle a deformed monster in its territory.
“Home Alone” begat “3 Ninjas,” which begat cheap, kiddie, straight to video, action fare like “Double Blast.” Mixing the appeal of the adventure movie with kids fighting crime, both of which were oddly prevalent in the decade, “Double Blast” is the epitome of the poorly constructed cash ins that littered video stores. The movie is so bad that often times you can see the pair of heroes burst in to laughter as they engage in martial arts with the film’s comedic henchmen. Jimmy and Lisa are an adventurous brother and sister who love to get in to adventures involving ninjas and martial arts. When their dad, a professional kick boxer and widower named Greg goes out for the day to compete in a tournament, rather than take them along, the pair of kids ultimately gets in to big trouble back in town.
It’s Hell Night, the night before classes officially start, and Marti and her friends have been challenged by Alpha Sigma Rho to stay overnight at the dreaded Garth Mansion. The Mansion has a long history involving a deformed family, murder, and suicide, and the classmates are intent on making their night terrifying. Taking the challenge, soon they begin to realize they’re being terrorized by the deformed owner of the manor, and are unknowingly locked in the mansion thanks to the steel gates. Now they have to escape and make their way back to town, or fight for survival and hope for a rescue.
It’s a damn shame that Linda Blair was nominated for a Razzie in 1981 for “Hell Night,” since her performance here isn’t bad. Hell, it’s quite good as she manages to once again hit that rare chord as a final girl who is also insanely hot. Too many times in the eighties did we have horror movies with whiny final girls who were in the avenue of a plain Jane, but Blair is very good as the simple college girl who runs around from a deformed freak in a dress that perfectly shows off her buxom body. Paired with her cherubic face, it’s a perfect formula for a character we can root for. Blair returns once again to the horror fold for “Hell Night,” a damn fun and very underrated Halloween horror movie. Chuck Russell’s film has taken on a life of its own as a cult gem, and feels a lot like an extended episode of “Tales from the Crypt” or an EC Comic.
I can easily picture the classic poster for the film rendered in to a Vault of Horror comic book cover. Though “Hell Night” is admittedly cheap looking, it also packs in a ton of dread and eeriness to it, taking the premise which is mostly a one setting premise, and places a group of hapless college students smack dab at the door step of a brutally creepy mansion in the middle of nowhere. Presenting a hint of self-awareness and some fun creeps here and there, “Hell Night” is set on Hell Night, the last night before classes begin, where a group of freshmen are hazed by their classmates.
After a raucous party in town square, they’re led to Garth Manor by the frat Alpha Sigma Rho, and are challenged to spend the night at the mansion. Garth Manor has a long history involving its wealthy owners, inbreeding, and a patriarch who murdered his wife and deformed children in front of his son Andrew, and then murdered himself. Andrew, as legend explains, is said to roam the grounds haunting it. Blair, as Marti, agree to stay overnight with her small group of friends and are unaware that classmates are running around in the dark playing pranks on them and are hell bent on terrifying them.
Of course, things go awry when we learn that the deformed mongoloid Andrew is actually living in the mansion and begins slowly mutilating any and all of the college students he comes across. What makes “Hell Night” such an eerie out of the box horror film is the way Chuck Russell films the mansion, making it feel like the scene of some really bad fever dream. It also doesn’t help that Andrew knows the house better than anyone, so he always threatens to pop out of a hidden doorway, small crevice or hole, dragging down the students and making their bodies in to decorations for the grounds.
One really unnerving scene finds Marti and friend Jeff having to take a very long and terrifying walk back in to the mansion in hopes of waiting out Andrew. Despite being barricaded in a room, Andrew emerges from the floor draped in a rug, silently stalking them as they linger oblivious to his impending attack. Director Russell transforms the mansion in to a character all its own, making it a series of really dangerous obstacles including a hedge maze and a long row fences with sharp spikes that can impale anyone reckless enough to try and climb it. Andrew himself is a merciless and relentless horror movie monster who rampages through his victims without a second thought.
There are a ton of vicious deaths, and the battle for survival between Marti and Andrew is amped up in tension the more the body count rises. Blair is very well fitted in the role, giving some great screams and shrieks. She brings a lot of vulnerability and innocence to the character, and we root for her as she is stuck within the walls of the mansion and has to figure out how to get back in to town before Andrew figures out a way to trap and kill her. “Hell Night” is a movie that doesn’t fall in to the trappings of the slasher craze of the eighties, pairing the gorgeous Linda Blair against a very creepy horror villain who mangles his victims more than gashes them with a machete or an axe.
I appreciate how director Tom DeSimone doesn’t really play too many games with his audience. While he is a fan of jump scares and frights here and there, he also holds true with a very straight forward narrative, and an actual resolution. The End is the end. Or is it? Yes. It is.
I hope a great movie company like Shout! or Arrow bring us a wonderful Special Edition soon, since “Hell Night” is overdue for a Deluxe Edition that can expose new audiences to what is a bonafide creepy and spooky horror survival tale. It’s short, simple, and remarkably eerie, with a Gothic horror tone that fits just right.
I guess if you’re going to try to spoof a hit horror movie, you might as well bring with you the star of said film. For better and for worse, Linda Blair is now and will always be associated with her star making turn as Regan in “The Exorcist.” Sadly, she’s more known for the movie, than being a strong actress who gave a strong and compelling performance. Blair uses the chance starring in “Repossessed” to burn the whole motherfucking kit and caboodle to the ground hamming it up big time in a role that’s basically Regan 2.0 if Regan became a doting housewife revisited by Pazuzu. This time, though, she’s named Nancy. Get it? Nancy Regan?
In 1977, James Earl Jones co-starred in what is arguably one of the greatest movies ever made, and what is arguably one of the worst movies ever made. “Exorcist II: The Heretic” is a fine example of what could have happened if the original “The Exorcist” ended as an ill-conceived pseudo-spiritual mess. A bad idea from beginning to end, it’s one of the iconic bad sequels that is famously recollected by its producers as the movie that literally got them chased out of a theater by angry movie goers. Four years after being victimized by a demon, Regan MacNeil has somehow managed to put her life back together and live some semblance of normality. Sadly after the demonic possession, everyone’s life was just about ruined, and Regan’s life remained basically the same, as her mother Chris is frequently out of town. Does a girl have to get possessed again to get your attention, Chris?
William Friedkin’s treatment of William Peter Blatty’s groundbreaking novel thankfully translated in to a groundbreaking horror film that continues to be the standard for the dismal “possession” movie sub-genre. Friedkin’s take on Blatty’s novel is a masterstroke of horror and dramatic cinema, and is easily one of the most intelligent horror films ever made. Ellen Burstyn plays Chris MacNeil a woman still reeling from a bitter divorce who is tasked with a heavy work schedule filming a movie and attending to her young daughter Regan. Linda Blair is brilliant as Regan, a young girl longing for attention, especially from her estranged father, and begins to make contact with an imaginary friend through a Ouija board she called “Captain Howdy.”
It sure is a hard life or Larry Barnes. He’s had a rough time living with an insanely sexy wife Erica, who so happens to be a witch who practices black magic. After failing to curse one of Larry’s business rivals, Larry and Erica clash causing Erica to fall to her death. After casting out his other very sexy female lover and Erica’s sister Maria, she threatens to make his life miserable for causing the death of Erica. After moving on, Amelia, the wife of Larry’s rival is still very bitter and angry about her husband being confined to a wheelchair. Intent on causing hell for Larry, she gives Larry’s new very sexy girlfriend Carol a medallion that Amelia uses as a means of taking control of Carol.
It’s really charming how much confidence UA Pictures seems to place on the fad of roller disco. I’m assuming what with the implentation of the disco scene for John Badham’s “Saturday Night Fever,” I guess someone naturally assumed UA Pictures could market on that success by featuring a coming of age drama in the same vein but with roller disco. The problem with “Roller Boogie,” though is that while it aspires for bigger things, the film falls squarely in the middle of mediocrity. “Roller Boogie” is not a bad film, nor is it a terribly cheesy one like “Breakin’.” It’s merely a depiction of a dance fad that didn’t have a real staying power, and the gimmick isn’t used to tell a very compeling tale when all is said and done.
Not even Mark Lester could breathe a sense of life or energy behind his film, as it suffers from too much plot and a narrative that’s much too formulaic for a film with the pretense of originality. That’s a shame since Linda Blair is a very solid actress who can pull off the girl next door protagonist whenever she really wants to. Considering the film is more for teens, Blair never really sheds her clothing, but that doesn’t stop her from running around in tight tank tops, hot pants, and short skirts. Blair’s own sex appeal drowns out anything else the movie tries to push in terms of character or sub-plot, and she only comes out ahead slightly above everyone else. Blair is Terry, a young privileged teenager who is on her way to college.
She is a gifted classical musician whose posh parents have gotten her in to an upscale college but, woe is her, she wants to be a roller disco dancer. Apparently there’s a massive population of roller disco dancers in California and on the boardwalk. They travel in packs and perform tricks for tourists while riding to their every day jobs, and Terry wants anxiously to be a part of it all. Bobby James is a fast talking hustler who is also the best roller disco dancer of them all and Terry hires him to teach her all of the best dance moves and skills.
Meanwhile, Terry wants to garner her affection and become her boyfriend while teaching her how to master dance moves on roller skates. The writers also feature a sub-plot involving Bobby’s group of friends which never has a major impact on the overall resolution of the film.
The main crux of the movie is that the roller disco club Jammers is being strong armed out of business by local thugs, and the owner of the club has decided to retire. The roller disco crew want to keep it opened, though, and decide to band together to help the owner. Because disco is forever, baby! Most of the film is centered around the relationship between Terry and Bobby, and how Terry is so not your normal rich girl. She loves him, then hates him, then loves him, and then loves him more because he wants her for her body and not her money.
“Roller Boogie” wouldn’t be so bad if it managed to dig up an interesting storyline and wasn’t so concerned with being more of a safe drama comedy, with dancers suddenly banding together to save their favorite hang out and battling evil land owners. It’s such a dull premise considering there could have been so much more developed around a fascinating form of dance. Look at “Roll Bounce,” a movie about roller disco that happens to be pretty fun since it draws an interesting conflict and channels the vibe of the seventies so much better.
Here it’s less about the dancing and more about Terry rebelling against her upper crest wealth family. Which contradicts the tone as a whole since Lester spends a lot of time with montages of the roller disco dancers doing what they do best. For a film a little under two hours, if director Lester didn’t spend so much time filming various dancers flipping and rolling around the film would be much more compact and easier to endure. Lester has a clear idea of how to spotlight the unique dance form, but the writers have absolutely nothing to do with it. Terry wants to rebel, then she falls for her trainer, then she teams up with the other dancers to save her favorite club and there’s a very rushed climactic dance competition. Of course Terry and Bobby win the contest easily, since the lack of minorities in this movie is more frightenin than “Hell Night,” but that’s a whole other topic altogether. If anything, at least “Roller Boogie” sports a neat disco soundtrack, including a prominent playing of “Boogie Wonderland.”
Plus there’s Lester’s nigh endless footage of dancers rolling around and flipping begins to feel like a documentary, screeching any attempt at momentum with the narrative to a grinding halt. With director Mark L. Lester directing, and Blair starring, you assume we’d have an instant classic on our hands, but “Roller Boogie” isn’t anything remotely special. It’s so plainly bland and forgettable, I’d just about forgotten everything I’d seen when the credits rolled. The movie is barely at the level of “Xanadu” concerning cheese and kitsch value, which doesn’t bode well for star Blair who likely hoped this would skyrocket her as a bonafide leading lady for more youth oriented films.
It’s too bad, too, considering Blair is a solid actress with a girl next door appeal that makes her worth watching in other kinds of films that aren’t horror oriented. And let’s face it, the only reason to watch “Roller Boogie” is because of Blair who looks insanely sexy during her performance and is pretty much off the charts in hotness.
Mark L. Lester’s goofy attempt to market on the Roller Disco craze is a very non-threatening and silly movie whose main crime is being so utterly forgettable. It’s not one of the worst movies ever made, but it also never achieves heights of cult infamy like “Xanadu” and “Staying Alive.” It’s just a brutally mediocre and middling sport drama comedy that you’ll forget about, even in spite of the incredibly vivacious Lindar Blair starring.