GORE IN THE STORE
PLEDGE NIGHT ***
Directed by Paul Ziller.
Starring Todd Eastland, Dennis Sullivan, Craig Derrick, Will Kempe, Shannon McMahon, Joey Belladonna.
Horror/Comedy, USA, 86 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by 101 Films on 26th April 2021.
Imagine, if you will, a movie that was filmed in the 1980s, contains an undead supernatural slasher bursting out of a teenage boy’s body, has dubious references to homosexuality as well as plenty of naked female flesh and features a weird cameo – got one in your head yet?
Well, FREDDY’S REVENGE it ain’t because the movie in question is PLEDGE NIGHT, the latest forgotten horror given the Blu-ray treatment by 101 Films. With a title like that you could be forgiven for thinking that this is some early 1980s slasher set in a university and featuring all manner of unsuitably disgusting and politically incorrect goings-on, perhaps by a janitor or creepy teacher out for revenge and who stalks their hapless victims through strangely deserted corridors before being offed by a virginal student who may or may not be a descendent of somebody the killer knows – and how wrong you would be!
Filmed in 1988 but released in 1990, PLEDGE NIGHT is one of those last-chance grabs at cashing in on the teen slashers from the genre’s golden age – you know, before we all went meta and could escape insane killers using real-world logic – and as such feels a little out of place, especially when you consider that the higher profile A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VIII: JASON TAKES MANHATTAN had marked the decline of the slasher the year before and much more sensible THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was looming on the horizon.
Anyway, the movie still believes that it is the early ‘80s judging by everybody’s hair and clothes, and so we are introduced to our core bunch of characters as ‘Hell Week’ is taking place at a university – basically, all the new pledges are put through a series of pranks to see if they are worthy of joining the frat house. As with all of these movies you have to ask yourself why because the frat houses and those within just seem like the most despicable people you could ever wish to meet, let alone join in with, but hey ho. Larry Bonner (Todd Eastman) is our wannabe pledge of choice and he seems a little more sensitive than the others; perhaps it is because he seems to be the only one with a mother who visits him and so he has a ‘character’ to develop but mother tells him the story of Acid Sid, her ex-boyfriend from when she was at the same university. He’s an ex because he was killed in a prank where somebody put acid in a bath he was thrown in and – and here’s the kicker – it turns out that a mysterious somebody has returned to the campus and is really killing the students. Better call Columbo...
PLEDGE NIGHT is an odd one because tonally it is all over the place, ranging from PORKY’S-style frat boy sex comedy to gory slasher via a vague attempt at a bit of melodrama that doesn’t really work, and for the first 45 minutes nothing in the least terrifying – or funny, come to think of it – actually happens, although for some reason Anthrax singer Joey Belladonna plays the young Acid Sid, who is supposed to be a student although Belladonna was 28 at the time (but he is still more convincing as a college-age student than the rest of the cast), and that in itself is quite amusing. Writer/producer Joyce Snyder claims in the special features that she managed to obtain the rights to one of Anthrax’s albums, which doesn’t explain why only one song and the same riff is repeatedly used as a music cue or how come Belladonna came as part of the deal, but if nothing else you can see the somewhat misguided idea of trying to attract a youth audience with their inclusion.
However, once Acid Sid reappears in his undead state and is played by Will Kempe – presumably because Joey Belladonna had a proper job to be getting on with – the movie suddenly knuckles down and gives you what you wanted from the off – kills! Lots of kills in fact, because the haphazard pacing that meant we went nearly 50 minutes without any proper violence means that a now much taller Acid Sid has to kill off a whole frat house in about half-an-hour which, to his credit, he pretty much does. The effects are crude but serviceable, the camera cutting away whenever anything approaching detail looms close – note that the scene where one of the students attempts to kill Sid by plunging a spike through his stomach is framed so we don’t actually get to see the damage – but there are some gloriously gloopy blood gags peppered throughout that means we get our quota of the red stuff (and plenty of gratuitous nudity so bonus slasher movie points there too).
Acid Sid himself is an obvious attempt to create a new Freddy Krueger but in much the same way that SHOCKER’s Horace Pinker was an attempt to create a new horror icon and failed spectacularly. Sid’s make-up is shoddy and not as defined as Krueger, Pinhead or Leatherface, looking like the actor has just plunged his face into a jam sponge and whatever stuck to his skin was the final look. His one-liners are also terrible and delivered with all the wit and charisma of someone who hasn’t actually read the script properly and is just making it up as they go, which wouldn’t be surprising if that were the case.
So given everything that you can criticise PLEDGE NIGHT for, is it actually any good? Well, yes it is, as long as you approach it in the right way and know up front that this is probably one of the daftest movies you are ever likely to see. It ticks all of the boxes for slasher movies of the time, which may sound like a negative but if it didn’t have ludicrous kills, bad acting, boobs, horrible characters and a plot that makes no sense then you’d soon be complaining, and even as the last hurrah of a certain type of horror film there is a harmless charm to it, like somebody involved in the production cared enough to put it out regardless. Overall, PLEDGE NIGHT doesn’t stand up to the gold standard of slashers such as FRIDAY THE 13TH or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, or second tier titles like PROM NIGHT or THE BURNING but you could marathon it with the SLEEPAWAY CAMP sequels or Adam Green’s HATCHET movies for a bit of a giggle with a knowing crowd because sometimes you don’t want to watch an intellectual horror movie that makes you think and, if nothing else, PLEDGE NIGHT goes out of its way to be the film to put on whenever that need arises.