Thursday, July 24, 2008

Happy Hell Night

When Halloween was released in 1978, and became amazingly profitable, it unleashed a flood of slasher films that took years to ebb, most of them poorly put together, pale imitations of the original. (Around 1980, I remember a local multiplex showing five slasher movies out of its eight screens, which is overload even for someone who likes such things). In 1992 (the official release date, although fashion in the movie suggests it may have been made several years before), at the very end of the trend, came Happy Hell Night, sometimes known by the even worse title Frat Fright. The movie scores a respectable 5.1/10 on imdb (horror movies seem to score a little lower than most others; 5.1 sometimes is a good movie) although I wasn’t that impressed.

The movie takes place at Winfield College in upstate New York, where everyone speaks with a Bronx accent (It was shot in Yugoslavia). Twenty-five years earlier, there had been at incident at the college where seven students had been hacked to death by a psycho, although no one at the school knows about this, which seems improbable. The killer, a creepy if slight bald-headed dude with black eyes, has spent the years since in an asylum.

In the present-day, a fraternity of thirty-something freshmen (a pet peeve of mine: I understand that older actors are sometimes cast as teens, but it would be nice to avoid those with bald spots and receding hairlines. Or have them wear a cap.) is planning its initiation of new pledges. There is a contest every year for the “most dangerous pledging ritual”, which indicates Winfield College was founded by trial lawyers. This year, the aging students learn of the campus tragedy just in time to come up with a great pledging stunt: Have their pledges break into the asylum to get their picture made with the killer psycho. No way anything could go wrong with that.

In short order, a pair of intrepid dimwits have burgled the looney bin, and surprisingly, the bald headed psycho escapes, going right back to his life’s work of slaughtering everyone he meets. As a distinguishing character trait, every time he kills someone, he says a two-word phrase, the first word of which is always “no”, as in “no tv”, “no noise”, “no fucking”, and “no sex” (he’s trying not to be redundant). This isn’t as clever as the filmmakers intended it to be. For a distinctive weapon, he snags a mountaineer’s ice axe, and goes to town with it.

There follows the requisite slaughter, until the three survivors get together to perform an exorcism (the killer has supernatural origins). All in all, it struck me as tired and badly dated, and for the most part badly acted. A glance at imdb reveals this was the final role for much of the cast, and that may not be a coincidence. The biggest thrill in watching the movie comes from trying to catch which shot was lifted from which movie. This one’s from Halloween, that one’s from Hellraiser

The big name in the cast is Kolchak himself, Darren McGavin. While he is a very watchable actor, his role is very small, and probably was filmed in a day or so. The movie also has small roles for before-they-were-semi-famous Sam Rockwell and Jorja Fox. In an example of sic transit gloria mundi, they are featured on the boxcover despite their small roles, while the now-forgotten “stars” of the film aren’t mentioned at all.

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