Tom DeSimone (1939- )
In 1970, under the pseudonym, "Lancer Brooks," director Tom DeSimone made the first X-rated gay feature film to include dialogue and a plot, The Collection. Although he would continue making pornography throughout most of his career, he crossed over into genuine cult director status in the 1980s with Hell Night, The Concrete Jungle, Savage Streets, Reform School Girls, and Angel III: The Final Chapter.
I wrote two weeks ago about the male gaze, and DeSimone is the only reason I can think that Vincent Van Patten would spend so much time in Hell Night running around shirtless.
All these years and I’d never seen Hell Night (1981.) I’m not going to say it was a revelation when I finally watched it; however, I will say I enjoyed it much more than I ever anticipated. It’s a typical Slasher, which is to say it’s imperfect, but there are enough interesting things about it that make me believe I’ll watch it again and, perhaps, purchase the Blu-ray.
First, I have to say that Linda Blair is quite good as Marti, the final girl. She has a natural way of acting that, coupled with her husky voice (deeper than her co-star, Peter Barton), feels unique and believable. She’s betrayed only by the screenplay, which has her one moment cowering in fright and the next moment charging after the killer.
Marti and Jeff (Barton) are half of a quartet of fraternity and sorority pledges required to spend the night in a deserted mansion as a rite of initiation. The other half is Seth (Vincent Van Patten) and Denise (Suki Goodwin.) Well, maybe not quite a full half… Seth spends much of the film in only his boxer shorts, not that I’m complaining.
The Alpha Sigma Rho president, Peter (Kevin Brophy), leads a procession of partying college students to the mansion and tells the creepy story of Raymond Garth, who, after spawning two deformed and/or disabled children with his wife, killed his family and then committed suicide. Legend says that a fourth body was never found.
That’s all you get (or need) for plot. There’s no mystery or intrigue when somebody starts murdering the kids, starting with the three who sneak back to the mansion to launch frightening pranks on the four pledges. May (Jenny Neumann), Scott (Jimmy Sturtevant), and Peter, meet untimely fates before the attacks go inside the house.
As far as Slashers go, the effectiveness of the tropes in Hell Night is a mixed bag. Some of the kills are good (Scott) and some are not so good (May.) Responsibility probably falls to former adult entertainment director Tom DeSimone; however, the movie also lacks the creative contributions of a makeup and effects artist like Tom Savini.
The pacing is uneven, ranging from characters slowly walking here and there (I mean, really slowly) to the “monster”/camera pursuing Marti as she races through a winding underground tunnel. It’s also a bit long, with one or two too many “rises from the dead” scenes after we think the threat has been extinguished.
If I was waffling on my enjoyment of Hell Night, the climax sealed the deal. It’s fantastic! I wondered why, when frantically trying to escape, Marti accidentally backed the car into the iron gate in front of the mansion. I’m soon answered by a terrific depiction of the final kill. Some movies leave a bad taste in your mouth. This one left my mouth watering for more.
Written by Randy Feldman
Directed by Tom DeSimone
Starring Linda Blair, Vincent Van Patten, Peter Barton, Kevin Brophy, Jenny Neumann, Suki Goodwin, Jimmy Sturtevant
RT 101 min.
Released Aug. 28, 1981
Home Video Blu-ray (Shout! Factory)
Rating 7 slashers (out of 10)