HAPPY HELL NIGHT (1992) Blu-ray
Director: Brian Owens
Code Red Releasing

Code Red gives an HD overhaul to the singular Canadian/Yugoslavian nineties slasher HAPPY HELL NIGHT.

It's that time of year again: the "Frathouse Follies" when college fraternities compete for the most dangerous hazing stunt for a freshman pledge. Pledgemaster Jake (Robert Restraino, MOTOR PSYCHO) of the usually raucous Pi Delta Sigma is low on inspiration this time around until college cable access STV host Ned Bara (Ted Clark, WRONG TURN) comes upon an old newspaper article about the brutal murders of seven of their own fraternity brothers in a hazing stunt gone wrong involving the dug up corpse of priest Zachary Malius in 1965. The body they unearthed was never found but the nameless killer was captured and has been in the state institution since then. Bara suggests that one of their pledges should break into the hospital and get a photograph of the inmate. Jake and fellow senior Eric (Nick Gregory) initially shoot down the idea, disbelieving the account until the sheriff (Winston May) shows up to warn Ned off looking further into the story, and Eric's wealthy businessman father Henry (Darren McGavin, THE NIGHT STALKER) proves just as close-mouthed when he asks about it. It is not until Eric catches his younger brother Sonny (Frank John Hughes, THE FUNERAL) in bed with his girlfriend Liz (Laura Carney) that he okays the stunt and send pledging Sonny along with fellow hopeful Ralph (Jeffrey Miller) off to get the photograph. It turns out that the killer is the reanimated Malius (Charles Cragin, SHADOWS AND FOG) and that he has been patiently waiting twenty-five years to be unleashed upon Pi Delta Sigma again for a gory HAPPY HELL NIGHT and only creepy old Father Caine (Janez Vrhovec, a long way from MAN IS NOT A BIRD) – who has long kept secret the actual events of the 1965 massacre – may be able to prevent a bloodbath.

Bearing more resemblance to one of the supernaturally-oriented PROM NIGHT sequels (with more than few similarities to HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II) than other fraternity/sorority slashers of the period and earlier, the Yugoslavian-shot Canadian production HAPPY HELL NIGHT is mostly well-acted, well-photographed, relatively atmospheric, and reasonably gory for a nineties effort (with effects by LEPRECHAUN's Gabe Bartalos and THE RING II's Joel Harlow). The plot is overfamiliar with little in the way of novel twists until McGavin rushes in for his day of work with some breathless exposition (Sam Rockwell plays his role in the flashbacks), and it is just as well that the film leaves more than a few bodies to be discovered underfoot by the final girl since the killer's sub-Freddy Kruegerisms ("No parking!" "No sex!" "No TV!") quickly get monotonous. The sidelining of the final girl for mostly everything but screaming until the climax is novel with the film's emotional focus on the conflict between the two brothers, but it is underdeveloped and the finale lacks emotional resonance. In contemporary viewing amidst a glut of slashers, HAPPY HELL NIGHT is painfully run-of-the-mill, but it certainly should have stood out more amidst the more bloodless few and far between examples of the nineties pre-SCREAM. CSI's Jorja Fox is on hand as an uncredited sorority girl.

Released direct-to-video stateside by Quest Entertainment (LUTHER THE GEEK), HAPPY HELL NIGHT lapsed into obscurity (perhaps deservedly so) until Anchor Bay for a barebones anamorphic DVD in 2004. Code Red did not exactly go the extra mile with their Blu-ray in terms of extras – like the DVD, it includes only the film's trailer (1:54) – but the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widsecreen looks great for a low-budget Canadian film for the nineties. The photography was always of a functional but slick professional standard so the shadows are deep, blood is vividly red (sometimes so much so that it looks like strawberry syrup), the gore prosthetics look more impressive with the enhanced resolution, and even the killer's make-up is a bit more unnerving than the albino with white make-up impression given on previous presentations. The stereo audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 with clear dialogue and effects but the mix is rather basic (the rock theme song does not exactly make much of an impression when it should probably be blasting over the end credits). The cover is reversible. Available from Code Red's Big Cartel, Diabolik DVD and Ronin Flix. (Eric Cotenas)