DirectorTom De Simone
Release Date(s)1981 (January 2, 2018)
Studio(s)Compass International Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: A-
In the pantheon of horror films, specifically slashers from the 1980s, you couldn’t get much more atypical than Hell Night. A generic story about a group of college fraternity members staying overnight in a supposedly haunted mansion and eventually being picked off one by one couldn’t be any less original than a story about a group of teenagers going into the woods and being hacked to pieces by a maniac. It’s pretty standard fare, I’ll admit. However, most slashers don’t really take the time to develop their characters, spend some time with them, and get to know them – something that makes Hell Night not exactly unique, but refreshing in the scheme of things.
Focusing on its characters and atmosphere over a numerous body count, Hell Night is certainly one of my favorites from the slasher era. My aunt, of all people, gave me a copy of the film on VHS, along with a few others, when I was about 8 years old. At the time, I was just getting into horror and had no idea what the movie was or what it was about. It didn’t even come with a case, just a generic Video Treasures label with the title in bold slapped onto a squashed, full screen video cassette. It didn’t matter much at the time though. I just enjoyed it for what it was.
My memories of watching it on tape were of a murky, dark environment wherein it was a little difficult to tell what was going on at times. Thanks to DVD, and now Blu-ray, that’s not a problem anymore. I can now see the Gothic set design and lightning choices that were put into it. It’s an excellent location for a horror movie, which is a big, sprawling mansion that, until the very end, we only see at night, making it that much creepier. It’s also refreshing that the cast seems to be having a good time, and according to them, they got along tremendously well during shooting. Even the back and forth dialogue between Linda Blair and Peter Barton, as mundane as it may seem, is charming. On the surface, what appears to be a quick and dirty, on the fly horror movie done on the cheap for a quick buck turns out to be one that, while not quite a masterpiece, is a notch above most of its ilk.
I have been wanting a nice-looking home video release of this film for a long time, and Scream Factory has now delivered that. Unfortunately, none of the original camera elements could be found for the transfer. Instead, they’ve opted to use lesser elements, which was all that was available to them. To quote their website: “We did an extensive search for the original film elements, but were unable to locate them. Therefore, this new transfer comes from a 4K scan of the best surviving archival 35mm film print of Hell Night. We did extensive color correction and film restoration to clean up any film damage. Because the print was missing some minor footage, we have inserted a small amount of standard definition footage to deliver the complete film.” Armed with this information, adjusting your expectations before going in can only have them surpassed, and they are. The standard definition footage that they mention makes up roughly five minutes of actual screen time, which in a film that’s 101 minutes in length, is small potatoes. It’s barely noticeable most of the time as it makes up mostly moments of scene transitions, only occasionally lasting longer than a few seconds, so it’s not really worth complaint. The rest of the transfer is quite pleasant for what it is, and is still a major step up from previous releases (most especially over my aforementioned VHS copy). Blacks are crushed and there’s an inherent softness, obviously, but it appears film-like with good textures and detail. Colors are reproduced well most of the time, as are skin tones, and it’s bright enough to follow screen direction well during darker scenes. There’s also some minor damage leftover, typically dirt and occasional scratches. It’s not reference quality, but the transfer presented here is quite enjoyable. The audio, which is presented via an English mono DTS-HD track with optional subtitles in English SDH, is along the same lines. It’s fairly flat but dialogue is clean and clear for the most part. Sound effects and score are certainly dated with a sort of TV movie of the week quality to them, which is inherent to the time period they were produced in. The overall quality of the track is simply fine.
This release is also packed to the nines with excellent extras, many of them brand new. Things begin with an audio commentary carried over from the Anchor Bay DVD release with Linda Blair, director Tom De Simone, and producers Irwin Yablans and Bruce Cohn Curtis, which is lively and contains some great nuggets of information. There’s also roughly 4 hours of new interviews with various cast and crew members, including Linda Blair: The Beauty of Horror, Hell Nights with Tom De Simone, Peter Barton: Facing Fear on Hell Night, Producing Hell with Bruce Cohn Curtis, Randy Feldman: Writing Hell, Vincent Van Patten and Suki Goodwin: In Conversation, Kevin Brophy and Jenny Neumann: In Conversation, Gothic Design in Hell Night with art director Steven G. Legler, Anatomy of the Death Scenes with writer Randy Feldman, make-up artist Pam Peitzman, special effects supervisor John Eggett, director Tom De Simone, and art director Steven G. Legler, and On Location at Kimberly Crest with director Tom De Simone. If you’re a fan of this film, all of these interviews are must-watches as there’s plenty of great behind the scenes stories. There’s also the original theatrical trailer (presented in standard definition); 2 TV spots; a radio spot; an animated photo gallery with a variety of behind the scenes stills; and a DVD copy containing most of the extras found on the Blu-ray, but not all of them.
If it isn’t obvious by now, I’m a big fan of Hell Night. This Blu-ray was easily my most anticipated Scream Factory release to date. I understand that the movie isn’t for everyone, but I love it. And Scream Factory’s efforts to finally bring it to Blu-ray finally are not without merit. Nitpickers may complain about the quality of the transfer, but it’s either this or nothing, at least for now. And with an amazing amount of extras to back it up, this is probably one of their best titles overall. Highly recommended viewing for horror fans!
- Tim Salmons