[This review is part of the Final Girl Film Club.]
When Linda Blair became the voice of her generation after starring in the universally beloved, era-defining epic Roller Boogie, few would have assumed her new role carried with it such professional constraints. Unfortunately for the talented ingenue, Blair's name would become synonymous with the worst aspects of 70s roller disco excess. She could not escape the four-wheeled skate-shoe shadow. Every script, every offer, every chance of continuing her film career came at the expense of breaking free from the death grip that was the roller disco typecast. All she wanted was to branch out, to show her range.
And so, in an effort at rebranding, Blair took a huge risk and expressed interest in perhaps participating in the early eighties horror film Hell Night. Yes, horror was new to her, and acting in such a film would be a risky gamble—“hell” playing such a prominent role in the title, this film implied the occult, demonic forces—but Blair ignored the risks, the entreaties of her handlers; she would star in Hell Night. (Fun fact: After doing a little research, I discovered that, apparently, when Ms. Blair was but a struggling young actress she also appeared in an artsy-sounding non-roller-skate-containing movie about a Catholic priest with a crisis of faith. Boring.)
Roller Boogie star Linda Blair heads Hell Night's elite cast as Marti Gaines, a sorority pledge with plenty of car-fixing know-how. Huh, why did I mention her car-fixing skills? Seems a random character trait to bring up so early in the piece. It’s not like I’ll come back to that—like her car knowledge will come in handy later. Really, this is a strange piece of information to just throw out at you. Oh well.
So, anyway, Roller Boogie star Linda Blair’s like joining a sorority and stuff, and also another girl is joining as well, oh and also some guys are also joining a related fraternity; and then so…so like every year, the frat like has this thing called "hell night" for new recruits where they lock fresh fish onto the gated Garth Manor grounds, a place that like had this murder situation a bunch of years back where this father went crazy because he like had a bunch of kids with birth defects and stuff; then he up and decided to, you know, do away with them and then…and so, anyway, like the frat locks up new recruits at the murder place to spend the night there, and so Roller Boogie star Linda Blair is stuck with three other people to spend the night there with:
British American Apparel Flapper Junkie (Suki Goodwin):
Casey Affleck by way of Donny Osmond (Peter Barton):
And Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’s Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten)
And then the people from the Manor who were supposed to be like dead, but weren't dead, start attacking and totally killing everyone (you know the drill), but then Rock 'n' Roll High School's Tom Roberts like climbs over the spiked gate and goes to try to get help, but he can't get help, so he goes back to the Manor with a gun to try to save everyone and—
You know what, I just gotta interrupt this. Somethin’s been gnawing at me. You see, while Roller Boogie star Linda Blair is ostensibly the star of Hell Night, by focusing so heavily, up until now, on Roller Boogie star Linda Blair’s arc I've buried the lead. And so, with apologies to Roller Boogie star Linda Blair, I must address the story of the unsung Surly Police Desk Clerk, briefly cameo’d near the end of the film—an untold tale of one man’s heart-breaking decline.
As mentioned before, near the end of the picture, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’s Tom Roberts manages to escape Garth Manor, whereupon he hightails it to the police station to get some help. There he is met be the incredulous, aforementioned Surly Police Desk Clerk. Now, Surly Police Desk Clerk don’t cotton to Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’s Tom Roberts’ ruckus-raisin’ fratboy ways and so gives the young man the heave-ho but good.
Left with no other option, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’s Tom Robert’s walks into the nearby unlocked, open-door’d evidence room whereupon he grabs a shotgun—from one of the many lying on the table—and a bunch of shells; escapes through the window and makes it back to Garth Manor to help his acquaintances.
This is where Hell Night so bizarrely decided to abandon Surly Police Desk Clerk’s story. Ah, but this is where it just gets interesting.
Prosecutor: And now, Surly Police Desk Clerk, if you would be so kind as to illustrate for the court, once again, what transpired on the night of the fifteenth.
Surly Police Desk Clerk: I told ya’, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School’s Tom Roberts just up and shows up, all full a’ piss ‘n’ vinegar, going on about some murder or whatnot that was s'posed to've happened and—
Prosecutor: And the fact that he was raving like a man high to the gills on PCP, didn't alarm you?
Defense Lawyer: Objection. Leading question.
Prosecutor: Now, Surly Police Desk Clerk, when Rock 'n' Roll High School's Tom Roberts approached you, what was his state of mind?
Surly Police Desk Clerk: State of mind? How am I s'posed ta know that? I told ya, these damn kids pull these pranks every year. Dozens of 'em came in that night. How’s I ta know this one wasn't just joshin' me.
Prosecutor: And yet, knowing that these kids, drunk in most cases—or in Rock 'n' Roll High School's Tom Roberts' case, who knows what?—were to come in that night, you didn't think to lock the evidence room, or at least close the door?
Defense Lawyer: Objection. Irrelevant.
Surly Police Desk Clerk: I told ya, that wasn't my...Danny was s'posed to be in charge of the room that night. How's I ta know—
Prosecutor: Passing the buck. Go tell that to the victims' families.
Surly Police Desk Clerk: Now hold on a goddamn minute, you don't even know Rock 'n' Roll High School's Tom Roberts was responsible for the murders—or that it was our evidence gun what done it. You can't put that on me. That place was such a shit show when we got there—him among the dead, I might add—who's ta know what happened. If Roller Boogie star Linda Blair hadn't disappeared from town, she probably could've explained what happened. If ya ask me, maybe Rock 'n' Roll High School's Tom Roberts went there ta save 'em all, got licked; and Roller Boogie star Linda Blair, so spooked from what happened, decided to leave this town for good. I don't consider myself responsible for anything, exceptin' maybe avertin' a bigger massacre.
Prosecutor: Tell yourself that if it helps you sleep at night.
Defense Lawyer: Objection!
Surly Police Desk Clerk: Now you wait a goddamn minute!
Surly Police Desk Clerk jumps from his seat.
Judge: Order, order.
End of transcription.
As any resident of Anytown USA is well aware, tensions have long been high between the students of College and those the privileged ones have derisively referred to as townies. For evidence of the schism in the past few years, one did not need to luck any further than the furor that erupted over the firing of Surly Police Desk Clerk (46), a man forever associated with the Garth Manor murders. Although the crime would, for the most part, go unsolved, the students at College laid all blame on an ineffectual police force—and Surly Police Desk Clerk in particular.
Residents, however, pointed the finger at the unchecked, libertine ways of an over-privileged educated class. When Surly Police Desk Clerk was suspended from duty and incarcerated for two years, many townsfolk felt that the man was railroaded by a hamstrung police-force hoping to make good with the well-appointed College, an institution many recognize as being the largest economic factor in Anytown's survival.
"Them damn gold-spoon kids 's what's wrong with this town, ya ask me. None of this wouldn't've happened, had Mayor Thompson not been so scared of College. They just made an example of Surly Police Desk Clerk to keep them College folk happy. And you can quote me on that," came the not-unpopular-among-local-residents view from Nancy Peters, mother of two and lifetime resident of Anytown.
After an attempt to clear his name failed, Surly Police Desk Clerk became a man obsessed. "He just couldn't let it go. After he got out of jail, I told him he had to move on, get another job, forget about the past, but he couldn't...he...he was so focused. Once he set his mind to something, he couldn't let it go," sighed Surly Police Desk Clerk's widow (45). Surly Police Desk Clerk would continually vow to get justice against College, his own way if need be.
Surly Police Desk Clerk’s last interaction with College came on the night of May 10th, when he was sighted prowling the grounds in front of the hated fraternity he saw as responsible for his troubles. After an anonymous 911 call alerted the authorities to a stranger’s presence, the police arrived to find Surly Police Desk Clerk—inebriated, naked, and brandishing a shotgun—spying on the building.
"He wasn't happy so much anymore when he got out of jail," said Tony (8), Surly Police Desk Clerk's youngest son.
A Tragic End
"I should have spotted the warning signs sooner; I should have realized it...last week, on the day before...the day before it happened, he came back from the auto shop, going on about how the mechanic looked like those pictures he'd seen of Roller Boogie star Linda Blair—you know, from the missing person posters that were posted all over town back in the Garth Manor days. But when he talked about her, he wasn't angry like he usually was when raving about College; he seemed more...I don't know, detached." said the widow.
When Surly Police Desk Clerk's wife arrived home from shopping last Wednesday and heard the uninterrupted blare of her husband's car horn, she knew something was wrong. Leaving her groceries in the car, she rushed through the house and into the sealed garage where, to her horror, she discovered her husband, slumped over the steering wheel of his still-idling vehicle. Scotch-taped to Surly Police Desk Clerk’s chest was a torn sheet of loose-leaf paper to which the words “No Justice” were hastily scrawled in purple crayon.
Surly Police Desk Clerk is survived by his wife and three children.