Thursday, January 22, 2015

Census Bloodbath: Back To Back To Skull - Day 3

Year: 1982
Director: Robert Deubel
Cast: Julia Montgomery, James Carroll, Suzanne Barnes
Run Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

One of the fun (read: intensely aggravating) things about documenting slasher history is that, just like the internal morality of the genre, its timeline is monumentally dubious. With big Hollywood movies, it's easy to track when they came out, what theaters they played in, and all sorts of nonsense like that. Everyone who was alive enough to participate remembers when Die Hard came out. It's freaking Die Hard.

But slashers are generally formed in the other end of the Hollywood spectrum. Although several were released or even produced under the wing of some of the big studios (Paramount wide-distributed Friday the 13th and MGM gave the world Killer Party), but many of the upwards of 300 slasher films made and released in the decade weren't so lucky. A vast majority were cobbled together in someone's backyard with the hopes that, once they were finished, they could find a home with some local distributor looking to make a quick buck.

This system means that many of the lower tier slashers have an infinitum of names, poster art, recuts, and release dates. Such is the case with today's collegiate slasher, a 1982 film known widely (or about as widely as these things can possibly be) as Girls Nite Out, a title it was given during its 1984 re-release. Its original title was The Scaremaker, so if we want to be period-accurate, we might as well call it by that name. But if we want to be popularity-accurate and not make fools of ourselves because that original name is a turd, it might be better to stick with Girls Nite Out.

You can see where things might get a little confusing. At any rate, the film we're looking at is going to be called Girls Nite Out throughout this review, because if there's one thing I know, it's that if I just pick the name that I prefer and stick with it, nobody will complain because I guarantee not a single person born post-1990 outside of a very select group will ever make motions to view this film. And not a single person born in or before the 80's is likely to have overly fond memories of this decent but forgettable flick, so I'm pretty much diplomatically immune from stirring the waters of nerd rage.

Anyway - on with the show!

Raise your hand if you wish I was obsessed with romantic comedies.

Girls Nite Out takes place on the campus of DeWitt University, a small but sprawling college in Weston Hill, Ohio which - in the heady tradition of slasher movies ripping off of one another to the point of farce - is about 90% comprised of heavy woodland. After an inmate named Dickie Cavanaugh hangs himself in the nearby asylum, his gravediggers are murdered by a mysterious assailant, who then heads toward the school to reward its reliably teeming pool of sluts and whores with premature, bloody death.

After killing the school's mascot and taking his costume - a dancing bear - the shadowy figure pimps itself out with a set of knives shaped like a bear's claw (this is two years before A Nightmare on Elm Street, mind you, though there is no reasonable evidence that this film could have been seen by Wes Craven - or anybody else - prior to that film's release) and gallivants around during the annual sorority scavenger hunt, whispering sweet nothings about promiscuity while slicing co-eds to bits.

It's perhaps not quite as menacing as I've made it sound.

Also check out these knife claws! It's like the No Fear Shakespeare version of Freddy Krueger.

Of course, before the killing can begin we must Meet the Meat, who up until this point have been partying the night away at a post-game basketball celebration that is either a costume party or an Oldies party, nobody is quite clear on that. The incessant repetition of the song "Yummy Yummy Yummy I've Got Love in My Tummy" is a substantial clue, but one gets the sense that the producers dug through their garage and all they could find was this and a Lovin' Spoonful record, so they decided to make the most of it. So it's still up in the air, but what you need to take away from this is that everybody is dressing up, getting drunk, and hooking up, as randy collegiates are wont to do.

At the center of this hormonal firestorm are Lynn (Julia Montgomery), a slightly prudish but fiercely loyal and jealous blondie; Teddy (James Carroll of He Knows You're Alone), Lynn's boyfriend and captain of the basketball team; Dawn (Suzanne Barnes), a gold digger and the object of Teddy's illicit affections; Peter "Maniac" Krizaniac (Mart McChesney), star ball player and the object of Teddy's repressed homoerotic fascinations, at least as evidenced by how much time they spend together shirtless, feeding each other Jack Daniels; Leslie (Lois Robbins), Peter's ex-girlfriend who finally realized she couldn't compete with the twin temptations of basketball and Teddy's firm chest; Benson (Mathew Dunn), the horned-up president of Delta Phi who moonlights as the school's mascot; and Sheila (Lauren-Marie Taylor of Friday the 13th Part 2), Benson's second cousin/penis recipient who is carelessly cheating on her boyfriend Mike (David Holbrook), an early member of the Nice Guy movement who gives us our first suspect when he storms out of the party shouting about how everyone is whores.

And that's not even mentioning the hip waitress Barney (Rutanya Alda), Mac (the Hal Holbrook) the campus police officer with a dark past, and a gaggle of individuals with speaking parts who resolutely refuse to die, including a radio DJ, two hyperactive theater kids, a nerd, a rich douche, and a modest sprinkling of sorority bimbos. So now that we've given every struggling actor in 80's Hollywood their fifteen minutes of fame, let's get down to the good stuff.

Smokey the Bear here, reminding you that only you can prevent forest skewerings.

As the bear stomps around killing pairs of sorority girls after they inevitably split up when trying to decipher cryptic clues, a problem becomes immediately apparent. Though a couple of the murders are smeared with enough ketchup blood to pique the interest of any slasher buff, they are of a piece that ill-defined type of murder where their corpse ends up covered in blood from no discernible source. Slasher films get their power from specificity - fans want to see the gore and know exactly what painful thing is occurring where. That's what makes gory kills so squeal-inducing.

The noncommittal murders just don't really cut it, and the killer's incessant whispering devalues the whole experience. Much like someone hugging a concerto when you're trying to make out with them, whispering killers are just a huge distraction. In the genre, the two big archetypes are "silent, masked killer" and "killer who only speaks in terrible puns," so I suppose there's room for a solid median, but this bear's endless, gravelly ruminations on the whorelike qualities of his victims just doesn't cut the mustard (er- ketchup).

And the grand reveal in the finale [Barney is secretly Katie Cavanaugh, Dickie's twin sister, who is keeping his body in the freezer and channeling his vengeful spirit] ends the film with a whimper, exposing the killer's identity but refusing to extrapolate what that might actually mean for the narrative, ending on a macabre image without pursuing the implications of it. It's like fading out on the chorus of a great song, never giving it a chance to end on a real corker.

Although, in fairness, maybe that was never a possibility to begin with.

In addition to the clumsy kills, the plot is more like a series of disconnected vignettes with an overlong police procedural tacked on after it should have ended. And the acting is... challenged. Peter especially performs like his lips were stung by a bee and are slowly swelling while he speaks. Hal Holbrook is decent (as he should be), but his parts were clearly shot separately from the rest of the cast so he is penned in either by talking on the phone or joining conversations from a shadowy limbo zone. So no, Girls Nite Out is not a great film. But what strengths it does possess lie solely in the realm of the bizarre, an area I have a great deal of respect for.

A large portion of the plot is devoted to the characters partying, which is generally the more tedious segment of the slasher formula, but with such a vast array of incredibly strange characters, Girls Nite Out becomes a fascinating curio of retro eccentricity. One common slasher trope that I have noted time and time again is the tendencies for characters to pull impressions out of thin air, but this film takes that idea and runs a marathon with it.

In a three minute scene, the pair of comic relief theater kids trade off approximately 679 impressions, waggle their tongues enough times to make Gene Simmons uncomfortable, and run off smacking their asses and chanting like tribal warriors. This carries on into just about every male character in the bunch as Benson spouts a drunken limerick, Teddy imitates cowboys and gentlemen and Peter imitates Mrs. Bates from Psycho and some sort of... sex Frankenstein. 

Hey, I didn't say they were GOOD impressions.

On top of that blanket of peculiarity, Girls Nite Out is full of gem moments like Mac drawing hair over a newspaper picture to discover what the man's twin sister would look like, a whole day being skipped without anybody really noticing, and - most importantly of all - the ponderous amount of time devoted to depictions of shirtless men in just about every scenario imaginable.

This is perhaps the single most exciting element of the film, and yes I do mean academically (to a point). In a genre notable and derisible for exploiting the female form, Girls Nite Out not only exploits the men with fervor, it has a big honkin' zero boob scenes. The women always demurely cover themselves with bedsheets or bubbles, leaving the men free to bandy about their firmer bits for the world to see. In fact, some scenes are so shameless that for a second I thought the uploader had accidentally switched the tape with something called "Locker Room Bonanza LXIX."

Don't believe me? Take a gander.

Things are about to get steamy for young Maniac.

These gentlemen are one Brokeback away from mounting each other.

So despite the deficiencies of Girls Nite Out, its predilection for male flesh sets it apart from its kin. It's not an easy film to recommend, but the costume is unique (if campy), the weapon is clever for a pre-Freddy slasher and the scavenger hunt framing device, though not thoroughly explored, is a clever setting for what could have been just another generic campus slasher. Though it may not be a diamond in the rough, it's forgotten, unorthodox films like these that keep me coming back to the slasher well after all this time.

Killer: The DeWitt Bear [Katie Cavanaugh/Barney (Rutanya Alda)]
Final Girl: Lynn Connors (Julia Montgomery), I guess.
Best Kill: Benson is stabbed in the pecs. He died as he lived, resolutely shirtless.
Sign of the Times: Peter's post-game outfit of choice is a pair of bright green Converse high-tops draped around his neck over a tastefully timeless fringed leather jacket.
Scariest Moment: A nurse walks into Dickie Cavanaugh's room and his hanging corpse drops down from the door frame.
Weirdest Moment: When Teddy and Lynn are relaxing post-coitus, he says "I think I heard something outside!" then farts in bed.
Champion Dialogue: "What are you gonna have for dessert, a stomach pump?"
Body Count: 8
  1. Dickie Cavanaugh hangs himself.
  2. Gravedigger #1 is hit with a shovel.
  3. Gravedigger #2 is hacked with a shovel.
  4. Benson is stabbed in the chest.
  5. Jane is clawed in the throat.
  6. Kathy is killed offscreen.
  7. Sheila is clawed in the throat.
  8. Leslie is killed offscreen. 
TL;DR: Girls Nite Out is a slasher with uncomfortable and ill-rendered kills, but its clever framing device and ample male flesh slightly make up for that.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 2044


  1. "Locker Room Bonanza LXIX"

    Heh. I got it.

    They should remake this one, instead of the good ones: that bear's waggling tongue and everything is kind of creeping me out, and imagine what that suit would be like after 1-5 kills, just caked in blood and viscera.

    1. I am thoroughly behind that idea. As long as they cast Ryan Reynolds