Monday, May 3, 2021

PLEDGE NIGHT (1990) (101 Films Blu-ray review)


Label: 101 Films
Region Code: B
Rating: Cert. 18
Duration: 86 Minutes
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: English 2.0 Stereo PCM with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Paul Ziller
Cast: Todd Eastland, Dennis Sullivan, Craig Derrick, David Neal Evans, Robert Lentini, James Davies, Lawton Paseks, Michael T. Henderson, Shannon McMahon, Joey Belladonna, Arthur Lundquist, Will Kemp

Shot in '88 but not release till '90 the straight-to-video frat-slasher Pledge Night (1990) is a weird, offbeat late entry in the slasher genre that is a film of two minds. The first two thirds of it is a raunchy campus sex comedy along the lines of Animal House while the final third launches into a offbeat supernatural slasher along the lines of Slumberparty Massacre III with a ressurected character named "Acid Sid" who murders pledges while dropping groan-inducing one-liners like a cut-rate Freddy Krueger.

The film starts off very much like a frat comedy with new pledges enduring Hell Week hazing rituals that put Phi Epsilon Nu pledges Bonner (Todd Eastland, Mommy's Day), Bodine (Dennis Sullivan, Raising Arizona), Cagle (Craig Derrick), Goodman (David Neal Evans), Silvera (Robert Lentini, Deadly Manor), and Zahn (James Davies, Young Nurses in Love) through the wringer with the usual assortment of hijinks at the hands of prank-happy frat guys J.D. (Lawton Paseks, Godzilla) and Chip (Michael T. Henderson, Bix), with help from in-on-it sorority sister Wendy (Shannon McMahon, Blood Sisters, Scewballs).

We learn that back in the sixties the fraternity were hazing  new pledges when one went super wrong, a hippie named Sidney Snyder (Joey Belladonna, of thrashers Anthrax) was dunked in a bathtub during a pledge prank, but one of the fraternity members accidentally filled the tub with muriatic acid instead of harmless vinegar, horribly searing Sid's flesh, who died painfully the next day from his disfiguring injuries. After the tragic prank gone wrong the university banned hazing going forward, but twenty years later the members of the Phi Epsilon Nu fraternity are back to their old tricks.

We get the usual hazing stuff, butt-paddling, hot-iron branding, drinking cups full of putrid vomit-inducing cocktails, creepy-crawly tortures and others mean-spirited and degrading behaviors, including bobbing for fake turds in a toilet and a cherry race. The latter of which which involves pledges picking up a cherry off a block of ice with their bare butt cheeks and carrying it across the room to deposit it into another block of ice, with the unlucky losers tasked with eating the butt-tainted cherry. The frat even hosts a "pig party" wherein they invite plump townie gals to a party and bet on who can sleep with the heaviest of the women who attend, and of course none of the ladies are in on the joke. They also have a designated "bad man", a member of the frat who pretends to have a mental illness or behavioral disorder who acts out during Hell Week, just to fuck with the newbies.

As Hell Week wears on the pledges are made to suffer, but during the course of this particular weekend things go from bad to absurdly worse when the designated "bad man" Dan (Arthur Lundquist) begins to crack-up for real. Seemingly losing his mind Dan begins to murder his frat brothers and sorority sisters, all the while laughing maniacally as he does it. He's not the only threat at the frat house either, this campus slasher takes a supernatural detour with the arrival of Acid Sid, the ressurected Sidney Snyder, who first emerges from the toilet, ripping the junk off a frat brother sitting on the porcelain throne looking at porno-mag.

This slasher is decidedly goofy and not to be taken seriously, so don't expect any real terror or lingering suspense, but it does however have a decent amount of splattery gore and fun kills. For starters Acid Sid is re-birthed chest-burster style from the body of a the unhinged Dan. Sid's face and exposed skin are acid-scarred and melted, and chemical vapors ooze through his clothing, which I thought was a nice touch. Notably the ressurected version of Sid is not played by Belladonna but by actor Will Kemp, who under all the melty-face make-up and latex is a decent stand-in, if twice the singer's size. A cool special effect is a stomach-vagina that harkened back to Videodrome, with Sid shoving a frat guys head into a vaginal looking wound in his stomach, it felt a bit Cronenberg by way of Screaming Mad George. 

As the bodies to pile up we get some fun kills they initially go unnoticed, as the pledges thing that the screams are just more pranks. Deaths include bathtub electrocution, death by electric eggbeater, a sword down the throat, and exploding stomach. Hilariously the filmmakers must think that fire extinguishers are filled with liquid nitrogen because Sid is temporarily defeated after being sprayed with a fire extinguisher, freezing him in his tracks.

While it is a supremely stupid slasher its so darn goofy and entertaining in an offbeat way that I had a fantastic time watching it, all the while rolling my eyes and laughing at it, and that it's not meant to be serious makes its easy to enjoy. It also helps that we get a generous helping of topless co-eds, making this mix of goofy slasher and frat-comedy that much more entertaining.

Audio/Video: Pledge Night (1990) arrives on Region B locked Blu-ray from UK distributor 101 Films in 1080p HD framed in 1.85:1 widescreen. This is a 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative and it looks fantastic, it always tickles me pink when a straight-to-video or made-fot-TV gems like this get a restoration from the OCN, looking better than they've ever looked on home video. The grain is tight throughout, the vibrant late-80s colors really shine, black levels are superb and the skin tones look accurate if a bit cool. Fine detail, depth and clarity all shine in HD. This is the same restoration as the Vinegar Syndrome release from 2019
Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo with optional English subtitles. Dialogue is crisp and clean, plus we get a couple of songs from thrashers Anthrax. 

Extras kick-off with the 15-minute Hell Week, an interview with director Paul Ziller who talks about his early days working for Troma as an editor, getting into how Troma acquired films on the cheap, and then getting picked by writer/producer Joyce Snyder to direct the film. He gets into how she mostly worked in XXX before that, and how they had to submit the film to the MPAA five times to get the R-rating, having to trim out a lot of gore, which apparently upset Snyder so much that she went to the department of justice to report the MPAA for unfair business practices.

Joyce Snyder herself appears in the 11-minute Graduating to Horror, in which she gets into her XXX career, exhaustively researching real fraternity hazing rituals that are seen in the film, how an actor quit early on because he didn't support what he considered to be the homo erotic overtones, the special effects in the film, and how Anthrax's Joey Belladonna was a bit of a cry-baby about getting dunked in the vinegar bath.

The 12-munute Hazing From Hell is a video interview with actor Robert Lentini who portrayed Silvera in the movie. He recalls growing up on a peach farm, attending community college, acting in theatre, and shooting a short film in NYC based on his real-life experience of being robbed while trying to buy a fake I.D.. he also gets into getting this role, what it was like on-set and shooting his scenes.

The last of the interviews is the best of the bunch, the 27-minute The Bad Man with actor Arthur Lundquist who is such a character. He talks enthusiastically about making the film, how he was a bit of a nerd in highschool who took a lot of a shit, what it was like shooting his memorable death scene where Acid Sid is birthed out of his body, and taking inspiration from Richard Wordsworth's performance in the Hammer sci-fil film Creeping Unknown a.k.a. The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) for this role. Hos love of the movie making experience is a hoot, he seems like a guy you could sit and chat with for hours and not get ever get tired of hearing hos stories.

The disc is buttoned-up with a 1-minte Theatrical Trailer for the flick, plus a 3-minute Location Featurette that is narrated by Snyder as she recounts actual hazings and wrong doings that occurred on the Rutgers campus where the film was shot.

The single-disc release arrives in a oversized, clear Scanovo keepcase with a single sides sleeve of artwork featuring the original VHS artwork with Acid Sid's hand rising from a toilet bowl displaying the peace sign while holding a banana. The disc features the same artwork as the wrap.

Special Features
- "Hell Weeks" - a video interview with director Paul Ziller (15 min)
- "Graduating to Horror" - a video interview with writer/producer Joyce Snyder (11 min)
-"Hazing From Hell" - a video interview with actor Robert Lentini (12 min)
- "The Bad Man" - a video interview with actor Arthur Lundquist (27 min)
- Locations featurette (3 min)
- Original Theatrical Trailer (1 min)

Pledge Night (1990) is a weird one, a supernatural slasher that starts off as a fairly straight forward frat comedy before morphing into a supernatural slasher, it's an odd mix but it's big-time entertaining. To be honest I enjoyed the college sex-comedy elements a bit more than the wisecracking slasher elements, I happily would have watched a whole movie of just the frat stuff. That not to say that I didn't have fun with it, it's a super-entertaining flick that's never dull, its just a very silly slasher, but it's also got some tasty gore. Top marks to 101 Films for bringing this to the UK on Blu-ray, its a solid presentation with some great extras.

Screenshots from the 101 Films Blu-ray: