HAPPY HELL NIGHT is the decrepit mule train of slasher films, taking up the rear and sweeping up the malignant droppings of the FRIDAY THE 13TH, HALLOWEEN and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series, not to mention scores of other horror gore-fests of the 1980s.
Holed up in the dank cell of a madhouse for 25 years after he went on a killing spree, carving up college freshmen during Hell Night in 1965, the emaciated Father Malius (Charles Cragin) sits silently in his cell awaiting the call to murder again. He doesn't have much longer to wait, for local
fraternity students are preparing for their traditional Hell Night hazing. At the instigation of sleazy college cable personality Ned Bara (Ted Clark), the Phi Delta fraternity decides to break into the madhouse to snap a picture of the lunatic.
To wreak vengeance on his younger brother, Sonny (Frank Hughes), for sleeping with his girlfriend, Liz (Laura Garney), Eric (Nick Gregory), a big man on campus, selects his brother Sonny, a new Phi Delta pledge, to go snap the photo of Malius. Arriving at the madhouse, Sonny's plans to photograph
the lunatic go awry and the murderous priest escapes and heads for the fraternity house with a pickaxe and proceeds to carve up the college freshmen. As the corpses pile up, Eric and Sonny's father (Darren McGavin) arrives to help defeat Malius, only to become another victim.
Finally, performing an ancient ritual, Liz, Sonny and Eric destroy Malius. But, unbeknownst to them, Malius isn't corporeal--he's an evil spirit. When Liz reassures Eric in the back of an ambulance that "everything's gonna be alright now," Malius is seen driving the ambulance, stating
sardonically, "No problem."
Representing the last gasp of an exhausted horror formula, HAPPY HELL NIGHT lacks a single moment of originality or inventiveness. Writer-director Brian Owens appears to be relying on the viewers' tacit acceptance of the horror conventions employed herein, as if their very familiarity will
compensate for Owens's listless and confused presentation. The film recycles the supernatural slasher, the sexually promiscuous victims, the bloody killings and the ritualistic expulsion of evil with a liturgical monotone. It's all terribly predictable and boring.
Although cutting quite a swath with his pickaxe, Malius lacks even the marginal enigmatic allure of such horror luminaries as Jason and Freddy. Instead, he resembles a nightmare amalgam of John Qualen's Muley from THE GRAPES OF WRATH and Gandhi. Talking like a debauched Tex Avery cartoon dog,
mouthing witticisms like "no kidding" when one of his victims shrieks that he can't stop the bleeding of his severed hand, Malius comes across like Droopy with a bloody pickaxe.
Although top-billed Darren McGavin has a mere four scenes in HAPPY HELL NIGHT, the erstwhile TV heartthrob does supply the biggest laugh. After McGavin is attacked by Malius, he's deposited on a bed where he dies. But when Sonny looks back on the bed, McGavin is gone. Searching for McGavin, he
comes upon a prone body with a pickaxe tucked under his arm. Thinking it's Malius, Sonny grabs the pickaxe and gives the body a good jab, only to see the luckless McGavin bolt upright, the pickaxe embedded in his chest, screaming like a banshee. (Excessive violence, profanity, nudity.)
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