"Hell Night" is no movie for people who aren't speaking to each other. The filmmakers have left so many arid wastes between this feeble creepie's obligatory ghastly murders that it constitutes a virtual invitation for audience chitchat and a golden opportunity for wiseacres to flex their wits with sarcastic asides.
Linda Blair, that chronic Miss Pudgikins, returns to horror movie terrain in this low-budget semi-thriller, opening today at area theaters, but about the only thing that will remind moviegoers of her star turn in "The Exorcist" is a scene in which the ghoulish killer bumps off one victim by twisting his head around roughly 180 degrees. This, of course, was one of the neater and nastier special effects in Blair's first picture.
Though the film is mechanical and low, it's hard to summon a "that she has come to this" for Blair, whose big career splashes were made as a kid possessed by the Devil and, later, as the object of a prison rape in a notorious TV movie. By some stretch of the term, she is slightly appealing in parts of "Hell Night," although she occasionally has a hard time holding still, and when, in early scenes, she expresses skepticism about the night she's to spend in a haunted house, she occasionally brings to mind those "oh, brother" looks Ginger Rogers used to flash at Fred Astaire.
In Randolph Feldman's brazenly perfunctory script, two college couples, participating in a joint fraternity-sorority hazing stunt, agree to brave an overnighter at the allegedly dread Garth mansion, where years earlier a father is said to have murdered his wife and three of their four deformed children. The fourth, described in the film as a "gork" and in publicity for the film as a "demented gork," was never found, though it must follow as the night the day that he will be chasing one and all to and fro by the light of the silvery moon.
The prospect of only four potential victims wouldn't satisfy horror movie audiences these days -- there has to be a killing about every 12 minutes -- so three of the hazers return to the house in order to play pranks on the four pledges inside, though naturally life's last prank gets played on all of them. Unfortunately, the murders are not novel or spectacular enough to compete with such standard-setters in this tattered genre as "Friday the 13th."
Although the premise of a nightmarish hazing party is similar to that of "Terror Train," at least the characters in "Hell Night" aren't just a pack of preppy swine; they don't rush to abandon or betray each other once the mayhem ensues. Among the most valuable players in this regard are Vincent Van Patten as Seth, Suki Godwin as his girlfriend, Denise (they make love with large amounts of underwear on, a waste of an R rating), and Kevin Brophy as Peter. Brophy, who has a purposeful-looking face and some sense of style, played "Lucan," the wolf-boy, in a silly ABC series a few years ago.
Director Tom De Simone handles the shocks competently but not imaginatively, and most people will be able to guess from which side of the frame the beastie will leap. It's also a cheat to clone shocks by having characters repeatedly encounter, and have screaming meemies over, bodies of other characters already bumped off. Cinematographer Mac Ahlberg ("I, a Woman") fails to make the most of the handsome 16-room mansion in Redlands, Calif., where most of the picture was filmed, perhaps in one night.