Pledge Night Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome
Directed by Paul Ziller
Written by Joyce Snyder
1988, 86 minutes, Rated R
Released on September 24th, 2019
Todd Eastland as Bonner
Dennis Sullivan as Bodine
Craig Derrick as Cagle
Shannon McMahon as Wendy
Robert Lentini as Silvera
Joey Belladonna as Young Sidney Snyder
Will Kempe as Acid Sid
It’s Hell Week and the brothers at Phi Epsilon Nu are gearing up to make the lives of their incoming pledges miserable. There is a long history of fraternity hazing rituals intended to test the worthiness of potential members and these guys have a few doozies up their sleeve. What no one knows however is that 20 years ago there was an accident in the house that left a pledge named Sid dead in a bathtub full of corrosive acid. Now, Sid is a vengeful spirit looking to punish anyone participating in Hell Week rituals. The pledges are already being terrorized, but the fraternity brothers are in for a whole new level of hazing. No one is safe from Sid’s wrath and the bodies are piling up throughout the frat house. The question for survival is, how do you kill what is already dead?
Slasher movies were all the rage in the early 1980s, with countless titles pitting silent, masked killers against unwitting teens for minor indiscretions. In 1984, the genre changed with the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street and the introduction of “rubber reality” as a plot device. The film’s villain, Freddy Krueger, is not only terrifying, but supernatural and frequently chatty. Over the next few years, Freddy became more of a personality always quick with a pun or a quip as he claimed his victims, turning him into a cultural icon. Hollywood responded to this success by churning out an endless wave of imitators, all vying to launch the next big franchise. One of these candidates was the independently produced supernatural/slasher hybrid Pledge Night (1988).
Writer/producer Joyce Snyder (Raw Talent) sought to make an entertaining and fact-based account of fraternity hazing rituals and set them within the framework of a horror movie. She researched the popular initiation practices and expanded the story from there. The script is filled with various trials including paddling, branding, sleep deprivation, disgusting food challenges and more. To this, she adds the element of Acid Sid, a chatty ghost armed with supernatural powers. Sid has a distinctly burned face (similar to Freddy Krueger’s) and punctuates his kills with witty pop culture slang from the 1960s.
Directed by Paul Ziller (Lethal Obsession), the film takes its time introducing the horror elements, choosing instead to focus all its energy on the hazing practices for the first half of the picture. Pledge Night is set up as a traditional slasher with the introduction of Dan, a mentally unbalanced fraternity brother having a psychotic break. The effectiveness of this character is undercut by his constant over-the-top maniacal cackle. The tone shifts about an hour in with the emergence of Acid Sid taking over as lead villain. He looks cool and scores points for originality with some of his kills, but he lacks the charisma to carry the picture into franchise territory.
Pledge Night follows all of the clichés of the genre but adds little to the field. Once it overcomes its initial pacing problems, there’s plenty of blood and nudity to reward viewers for their patience. The soundtrack is performed by the band Anthrax – with lead singer Joey Belladonna appearing in a small role in the movie. The rules surrounding Acid Sid fluctuate from one scene to the next and the character is never fully realized. The film is entertaining if at times plodding and is an easy distraction for 90 minutes, but doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression. I’m sure the title has its fans and they will definitely want to pick this one up for their collection, but casual viewers will be satisfied catching it streaming.
Video and Audio:
The original camera negative has received a 2K scan and restoration with impressive results. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture looks terrific with vibrant colors and rich black levels and natural flesh tones.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 track faithfully preserves the audio recordings and is free from hiss, pops or other distortion. Dialogue levels are clean and clear and well-balanced with music and effects tracks.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Director Paul Ziller is the star of the featurette Hell Weeks (15 minutes) in which he shares his memories of getting into film production and working at Troma as an editor. He talks about teaming up with writer Joyce Snyder and the process of shooting the picture. There are stories of the numerous edits made to please the MPAA censor board and his thoughts on the finished product.
Writer/producer Joyce Snyder sits down for the interview segment Graduating to Horror (11 minutes) and candidly discusses her work in the adult film industry and later researching the history of modern fraternity hazing practices. She shares a few entertaining production stories and talks about the casting process and how she views the film as a learning experience.
In Hazing from Hell (12 minutes), actor Robert Lentini who plays one of the pledges, shares his memories of the shoot. He remembers the experience going smoothly and talks about Ziller as a director.
Actor Arthur Lundquist played Dan, the unhinged fraternity brother who serves as villain before Acid Sid shows up. He shares his memories in the interview segment The Bad Man (27 minutes) and has quite a bit to say. He reflects on his approach to the character, working with Ziller and Snyder, and shooting the many death scenes. He reads from his production journal and is happy to see the picture finally receiving a proper release.
Pledge Night was shot at Rutgers University in 1988. Included on this disc is a locations featurette (3 minutes) revisiting the sites in 2019 and through voiceover narration, Snyder shares the numerous legal problems that have plagued the various fraternity houses over the years.
A short theatrical trailer is also included.
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