(1991, Canada / Yugoslavia)

3 stars  

directed by: Brian Owens
starring: Larry Robinson, Lisa Nichols, Sam Rockwell, Irfan Mensur, Charles Cragin, Elvis Restaino, Melissa Blanchard, Jeffrey Miller, Dennis Gallant, Laura Carney, Kate Delay, Nick Gregory

choice dialogue:

“Some crazy thing is walking about out there.”

- a vicious vicar to be exact.

slash with panache?


[review by JA Kerswell]

  Creepy priest Zachary Malius (Charles Cragin) is set free to kill co-eds once again in HAPPY HELL NIGHT.

Despite a new decade with 1990 ticking around, some producers in Yugoslavia clearly thought the 1980s had never ended. They greenlit a slasher movie that, on the face of it, wouldn’t have seemed out of place during the subgenre’s Golden Age. During a hazing ritual, a couple of frat boys accidentally set a psycho priest free from the asylum he had been confined to after a killing spree 25 years earlier. HAPPY HELL NIGHT takes a cut-up approach to elements from early 80s slasher movies and mixes in a dash of Euro weirdness, psychedelic religious sacrilege, black magic and adds one of the strangest killers to ever stalk gormless co-eds. And most importantly, it asks the question: how exactly do you cut off someone’s hand with an ice pick?

Back in 1965 on Halloween night, a group of college kids from Phi Delta Sigma broke into the family crypt of local priest Zachary Malius (Charles Cragin) as part of an occult hazing ritual. Malius seemingly becomes possessed by some kind of evil and slaughters seven frat boys and one local girl. Lone survivor Henry (a young Sam Rockwell) alerts another priest and Malius is locked away in the kind of gothic mental hospital usually only seen in horror movies.

Flash forward 25 years, the legend of Malius had endured and, as part of an ill-judged hazing ritual at the same college, two frat boys - Ralph (Jeffrey Miller) and Sonny (Frank John Hughes) - are instructed to break into the asylum and get a photo of the villainess vicar. They are in for a chance at winning a trophy for best hazing prank for Hell Night organised by the world’s oldest college student Ned (Ted Clark). The priest has been locked away in the dark recesses of the asylum and only shown through the grate at his window to scare new nurses. An orderly says “We only check on this one twice a week, just to check if he’s still alive” - before saying that Malius must survive on spiders and bugs. So much for pastoral care!

  A pre-fame Sam Rockwell has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it role in this late entry in the slasher sweepstakes.

In a move that will shock no one who has ever seen a slasher movie from the 1980s, Malius outwits the two collegial dumbwits and escapes the nuthouse - but not before slitting the throat of a nurse with a scalpel for good measure. After abandoning a mortally wounded Ralph, Sonny races back to the college dorms to warn his older brother Eric (Nick Gregory) - who he is in a tussle with over another student Liz (Laura Carney). The adult Henry is alerted by his son (who is also enrolled at the college) that Malius has escaped and he hotfoots it back. Perhaps attracted by the RAMONES-lite sound pumping from the college party that now rages at the halls of residence, Malius returns to his stomping (and slashing) grounds. He retrieves his weapon of choice - an ice pick - and proceeds to kill co-eds with it and bad quips.

HAPPY HELL NIGHT is a strange one. It’s like an early 80s slasher movie was slipped magic mushrooms. All the elements are there - including some surprisingly splashy gore effects in its uncut version - but it goes on its own increasingly deranged direction. That’s not a bad thing, of course. Twisting the formula can produce some pretty interesting results, but it doesn’t fully work here. Oddly, the film boasts one of the creepiest-looking slasher villains in Malius; who moves like sinister molasses with unblinking black eyes. However, the film zaps the creep factor by giving him the kind of cheesy quips that even mid-era Freddy Krueger would have turned his crispy nose up at. Again, it seems whoever put the money up for HAPPY HELL NIGHT had watched a ’highly caffeinated’ 24-hour marathon of 80s slashers and made a checklist of what they thought should be included. Admittedly, as predictable as it is, it goes off into its own gonzo orbit towards the end when it approaches Euro Horror levels of insanity; mixing arcane black magic touches with the stalking and slashing. It even ends with a twist that points - with ultimately false optimism - towards a sequel that ultimately failed to appear.

  Unlike other early 90s slashers, HAPPY HELL NIGHT doesn't skimp on the red stuff - at least in its uncut version.

Most of the younger cast do OK, but old pro Darren McGavin surprisingly gives a terrible performance as the older Henry. Even more surprising is that the creepy - yet wooden - Charles Cragin was a stage actor since 1960. He appeared the same year in Woody Allen’s SHADOWS AND FOG and also in James Cameron’s TRUE LIES (1994). Sam Rockwell went on to an esteemed career but has little more than a cameo in this. He appeared in the slasher adjacent CLOWNHOUSE (1989) a few years earlier. Director Brian Owens flited with the subgenre again with slasher adjacent tech thriller BRAIN SCAN (1994) a few years later.

HAPPY HELL NIGHT was filmed in both Yugoslavia and Canada in 1990. It was released direct to video in both the United States and the UK - although, somewhat confusingly, in the latter it was released under the title HELL NIGHT despite having nothing to do with the superior Linda Blair slasher from 1981.


HAPPY HELL NIGHT is available on UK Bluray at Amazon.co.uk.


BODYCOUNT 12   bodycount!   female: 5 / male: 7

1) Male has hand cut off and killed offscreen
      2) Female has neck slashed with scalpel
      3) Female gets ice pick through the head
      4) Female killed offscreen with icepick
      5) Female hacked to death with ice pick
      6) Male found dead with hack wounds
      7) Male found crucified with nails driven into his face
      8) Female gets ice pick through the head
      9) Male bleeds to death
     10) Female decapitated
     11) Male gets ice pick to the head
     12) Male gets ice pick to the chest



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