Anytime I piece one of my entries together, the first thing I do is a little bit of research on the subject at hand. So much of what I watch has been deemed “obscure” despite the fact that most of these movies had their sites trained on achieving popularity. They weren’t made out of a desire to alienate or drive people away or lose money, but due to various circumstances, such as technical ineptitude or budgetary constraints, they often fell short of most people’s watermark of acceptability. Still, many of these movies are not without their charm, and they certainly have their social value since a lot of them are a reflection of their time’s zeitgeist. Sometimes I run across a film that I find to be legitimately strong that still somehow never quite caught on with the public. Exactly why this happens absolutely fascinates me and compels me to seek out the opinions of others as to why that happened. I need to know why perfectly solid films fail to capture or alienate an audience. In the case of “Girls Nite Out,” IMDb offers evidence that would suggest that most people are just too fucking stupid to get it.
Horror is the most misunderstood of all film genres. Many people love to simplify it as a macabre celebration of the gruesome, which appeals only to angst-drenched, low-brow adolescents with anger issues. While that may account for a segment of the audience, this sad generalization does not exemplify most horror fans. Some may think so, but that’s only because the unintelligent denominator tends to be the most vocal. They will vehemently defend what they love while violently assailing what they hate with a militant idealism. So while there might be some deeply disturbed people out there who love horror, they represent a small minority. Unfortunately, their mongoloid screams are loud enough to convince most people that all horror die hards are unrefined low lives with a craven thirst for simulated violence. These same loud mouth dregs are also primarily responsible for smearing “Girls Nite Out,” a film which refuses to simply ride the mean streak into a ruddy horizon of pornographic “guignol.” In spite of a lot of overwhelmingly negative criticism regarding this film, it DOES deserve a chance to be seen as it contains value not often seen in your average eighties slasher.
The reoccurring descriptor in reviews for this film is “by-numbers.” This is a shallow appraisal made only by obvious people who are probably either prejudiced against this type of film, or by cerebrally challenged types whose bottom line is gross-out violence as opposed to plot of characterization. While “Girls Nite Out” relies on elements that had become clichéd even by 1982, the inclusion of these things is wholly intentional. In fact, the creators nearly steer this into parodic territory, but at the same time they demonstrate a genuine affection toward the genre. Despite an atmosphere of light hearted 1950s drive-in nostalgia, the violent portions are gruesome enough to keep things grounded in the realm of serious horror.
The gist of the plot follows a battery of college characters on an annual scavenger hunt hosted by the campus radio station. Amidst the gleeful event, a mystery killer in the school’s hijacked bear mascot costume stalks select participants, bumping them off in grizzly fashion. We’re introduced to several red herrings throughout the course of the story, though several cinematic references spell out the killer’s true identity for you early on.
At a brief glance, the movie seems like your run-of-the-mill slasher flick, but there are actually quite a few things that set this one apart from most others. For starters, the quality of the writing is a lot stronger than you’ll typically find in films of this nature. Ample time is devoted to establishing the characters. Most slasher films toss you some half-ass stereotypes you can't like or even hate. Here, they kill characters that seem like actual people rather than cheap cardboard. The quality of characters is something you might expect from a “Hollywood Knights” type farce. In fact, Newbomb Turk would have been entirely at home within the context of this movie. This film contains humor worthy of a comedy instead of lowly horror-caliber humor, which can be the ruination of many a film in this vein.
Major kudos goes to the production design team, whose attention to fine detail brings much to the film’s atmosphere. The campus setting, too, feels special. The most is made of the environment, but I also cannot recall a lot of films being set on college campuses, perhaps because these sorts of locations can be difficult to secure.
And then there’s the killer, whom most people write off as goofy. As mentioned before, the film’s antagonist wears the university’s mascot costume while dispensing of people with a claw-like murder weapon constructed out of knives. The costume’s benign, almost cutesy design ultimately lends to its creepiness, though. I’d go as far as to say that the concept of using a beacon of school spirit to wreak terror and vengeance upon students is genius. It should not work, but it does.
Hal Holbrook, probably riding the recognition he’d gained from other recent horror outings such as “The Fog” and “Creepshow,” turns in an unintentionally funny performance as campus security chief Jim MacVey. Holbrook’s scenes were shot in a single day and later edited into the film to make it appear as if he is interacting with his co-stars even though he really wasn't. It’s magical.
The film was shot in 1982, but was not released until 1984. The less-inspired original title “The Scaremaker” was replaced with the more evocative and logically fitting “Girls Nite Out.” The trailer for the movie, a favorite amongst cult film fans, was shot years later. The suggestive actress in bed is not in the actual movie.
Trailer courtesy of MediaB.
This was unavailable on DVD until several years ago when Shriek Show released it as part of part of the “Bloody School Girls” three pack, which also included “One Dark Night” and “Blood Sisters.” Not many people seem aware that this DVD exists, but the pack is worth picking up, as it includes an interview with Julia Montgomery, along with the original trailer. The set as a whole is pretty good, with “One Dark Night” being a two disc release which contains the original anamorphic presentation along with a director’s cut. “Blood Sisters” contains a comedy commentary by Joe Bob Briggs, the trailer, and an interview with Roberta Findlay.
Before I end this, I have to touch on the box for the Thorn EMI VHS release. This thing is a work of art that poses minute relevance to the actual movie. The cover features a snap shot of a frightened girl who does not appear in the film, clutching a sheet. Behind that there's a hand scrawled note that contains the highlighted passages, "You know what really turns me on. I LOVE TO BE SCARED!!," "Weird & Kinky," and "Motor Running." Again, the letter has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie. The back of the box features several lithe looking girls in short shorts, posing cautiously. I believe this shot was actually taken from a theatrical poster for the movie. Again, none of these bitches are in the movie. But still, the box rules, and the movie is a must have for any respectable horror collector. Find it.