So many horror movies came out in the early 1980's that movie makers sometimes had a hard time finding locations and situations that hadn't been used yet. Sorority and Fraternity initiations were a great way of sticking teens into situations no sane person would go into voluntarily.
Hell Night sticks four unfortunate twentyish kids into Garth Mansion, the site of a grisly family slaughter years before. The sadistic pledge masters lock the huehuehuege iron gates behind them and inform them they have to stay the night. The pledge masters then begin setting off special effects they set up earlier to try and scare the four hapless pledges. As you might guess, there are real horrors inside which start thinning out the cast.
Linda Blair is the obvious star of the show. I am a fan of Linda's but for some reason I just get the feeling while watching this that she is disinterested. In fact early on she seems to be improvising her lines. The GREAT commentary track explains some of this. Apparently everyone on the set had a great time and was loaded half the time. The director (Tom DeSimone)and producer (Irwin Yablans who brought us Halloween) are on the commentary as well. It's obvious everyone got along well and had fun making the film.
Having seen the film before getting the DVD, I really liked the feel of it, although I wasn't sure why. The commentary hit on something I hadn't considered. The pledges are all in costumes since the Hell Night festivities were part of a costume party. The director mentions that this was done so they could logically dress the characters in gothic, period costumes without having to make an actual period film. The old mansion (a real location, not a set) combined with set lighting done almost exclusively with candlelight along with period costumes gives a very gothic, primative feel to the film.
There are a few scenes of gore, but they are usually very, very fast cuts. The trap door in the floor scene rates as one of the all time great suspense scares.
It would be easy to dismiss a lot of the horror films of the early 80's, and to be fair, there were many stinkers, but Hell Night holds genuine entertainment value (and not in a Mystery Science Theater kind of way). The movie is available in a double feature collection with the film Fade To Black. However if that edition doesn't include this great commentary track, I advise you buy this one instead.