You can usually tell a great slasher flick by the franchise it creates. A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween were all fantastic horror movies that demanded more money be thrown at them to continue their body counts in long lines of sequels.
But some movies don’t get that exposure, only to be revisited later on and become cult classics for the genre. Or they become one of those movies you riff on with friends. Pledge Night falls way to the latter.
Movie: Pledge Night (1988)
Plot: A group of four pledges to the fraternity Phi Tau Nu (Person To Notify? If someone has a better joke acronym, let me know) must endure a weekend of hazing by the brothers of the fraternity at their house to start off Hell Week. But gratuitous hazing isn’t all that they’re in for. Twenty years ago, a hippie pledged (seemingly accidentally, or he was just stoned) to a fraternity living at this house, and died in a freak accident during the hazing. Now he’s back, killing off pledges, brothers, and sisters in some hazing of his own.
Killer: Acid Sid, the ghost/zombie/whatever of a fraternity pledge that died twenty years ago during hazing. Whatever he is, he returned from the dead a foot taller than when he died. Yes, we’re picking apart this flick continuity piece by continuity piece.
Critique: The late 80s was a weird time for horror movies. With the success of the Holy Trinity of Horror Icons, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers (sans Leatherface, as I’ll get to in a moment), everyone was trying to hit on the next big horror franchise icon. Sometimes it worked, like with the Hellraiser series, the Puppet Master series, Maniac Cop, The Stepfather, and the revival of Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 . Other times it didn’t go so well, like with Psycho Cop, Psycho 3, The Fly 2, and the revival of Russ Thorn in Slumber Party Massacre 2. And sometimes it just goes bad, which is the case with Acid Sid in Pledge Night.
Pledge Night starts off well enough by developing the setting of a fraternity house, but it just keeps going with more hazing than is probably necessary. If we wanted a crazy college comedy, we could have revisited National Lampoon’s Animal House. But Pledge Night tried to be both Animal House and a horror movie by devoting almost half the movie to ass-cherry races, pig parties, and other fraternity rituals before even getting to its first kill.
And I have to say, the kills are mostly glorious, even when they are ridiculous. Cherry bombs, toilet deaths, cake batter mixers, nothing is out of bounds when it comes to Pledge Night‘s kill count. If they could have spaced out the deaths a little bit more, we may have had a “so bad it’s good” horror film franchise on our hands instead of just one bad film.
To be honest, the film was at its best when the killing was going on and Sid wasn’t even the focus. Dan is a fraternity brother with a maniacal laugh that keeps the film interesting and flat-out insane with his maniacal laugh and serial killer demeanor. Unfortunately, Pledge Night trades him in for the ghost of a melted hippie with bad one-liners.
Scene of Awesomeness: I’m a sucker for toilet death scenes. Whether it’s Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning, Ghoulies 1 and 2, Street Trash, Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers, and 1992’s Candyman, there is nothing more unnerving to me than a toilet death scene. It’s supposed to be a safe place, where’s you’re at your most vulnerable: pants down an junk out, or ass wide open. So when Acid Sid’s hand popped out of the toilet right before one of the fraternity brothers sits down to take a crap and look at a porno mag, I was already cringing. You don’t see much, but your imagination isn’t going to get flagged with an “X” rating.
Scene of Ridiculousness: There’s a lot of ridiculousness going on in Pledge Night, but the scene that makes my head spin is the blood-compusting door. While Zahn is chopping into the basement door with an axe to get out, blood explodes from the hole in the door. It’s as if the film crew had an extra blood bag they didn’t have any use for and said, “Hey, let’s blow it up here! We haven’t seen any gore for 15 seconds!”
Body Count: 14, each with their own little flair!
1 dunk into a bathtub with hydrochloric acid
1 vague death on a toilet. Probably had his junk ripped off, considering Acid Sid’s hand was coming out of the toilet.
1 multiple stabbing with multiple screwdrivers
1 “radio in the bathtub” electrocution
1 hand-held electric cooking mixer down the throat
1 Acid Sid busting out of a stomach
1 cherry bomb lit in the ass
1 strangulation with large intestine, followed by some acid tagging on the dead body’s chest ( Awesomely Overkill Award )
1 stomach explosion of bugs and worms
1 one-handed neck crushing, with the head bashed in somehow to leave a smear on the head of a recliner
1 180 degree head twist
1 acid head-burning by being dragged into a stomach. You’ll see…
2 impaled with a sword (off-camera, but implied. you know it happened.)
13 pairs of breasts (counting porno mags), all more gratuitous than soft-core porn. It’s as if they cast some of Anthrax’s groupies since they were just hanging out while Joey Belladonna’s scene was shot.
Actors/Actresses of Note: There are none. The only actor that is famous isn’t even famous for acting. It’s Joey Belladonna, lead singer of the metal band Anthrax, playing Young Sid for a couple of minutes. Anthrax provided the soundtrack for Pledge Night, so they might as well have Joey in it. Maybe he was an investor that wanted to be in a horror movie, instead of directing them like Rob Zombie would. The film budget is estimated at $200,000, so it’s not like it was a big-budget. Too bad they casted someone a head taller than Joey to be Acid Sid.
Quote: “Which way to the protest?” – Young Sid / Acid Sid
Watchability: 3 out of 5. Pledge Night is ridiculously bad even by cookie-cutter 80s horror standards, but worth a watch, and a re-watch with some friends and booze for some fun riffing.