Fueled largely by the explosion of home video, any storyteller with a video camera could – with relative ease – string together a loose plot into something that could get financed, shot, packaged and marketed for mainstream consumption … and that’s basically what happened. Killshots were filmed over and over for no other reason than delivering vicarious thrills. Some of filmdom’s greatest Horror franchises came out of this era, including such juggernauts as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday The 13th, and Halloween. Those tentpoles survive even to this day, though audiences have had to suffer through the inevitable reboot/retool/rehash as storylines shifted from the conventional to the bit eccentric. Like Star Wars inspired a plethora of low-budget imitations, the growing slasher business was encroached by a whole host of lesser pictures, though the bulk of them had to struggle with whatever new ‘hook’ best positioned them to push audiences past their fatigue and into something just a bit fresh.
That pretty much brings us to where Girls Nite Out entered our collective consciousness.
As box office receipts had begun to recede, Girls’ producers needed to hype something different. Audiences had lost interest in death, so the decision makers opted instead on a script that would mix traditional comedy with the celebrated bloodletting, hoping such an infectious combination would interest audiences of both types of stories instead of just the dwindling Horror participants. (For clarity’s sake, the comedy here wasn’t parody – like the Scary Movie folks did much later – but it was more of an Animal House type of manic, larger-than-life characters.) Though I’ve been unable to locate any definite profit analysis of the flick, I suspect it was met with dubious results, at best, some of which is likely owed to its uneven tone.
Alas, Hollywood, take note: humor ain’t all that funny when folks are dyin’.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
“A scavenger hunt game is planned one night for the Dewitt University sorority. The game takes the girls from graveyards to bellfrys and from beds to bathtubs. The terror begins as one by one, each girl is mysteriously murdered by a sadistic maniac …”
I can’t even begin to imagine the thought process that occurred behind-the-scenes on Girls Nite Out. Who thought it would be a good idea to mix the campus comedy with a realistic slasher film – not a Horror flick grounded in comic elements but a crazy frat-style send-up celebrating quick, easy, exploitative, gruesome murders?
Therein lies the bulk of Girls problem.
Chiefly, most of the film’s first half is dedicated to allowing these typical college students to behave with the kind of naïve and somewhat harmless debauchery undergraduates have traditionally displayed on the silver screen. They laugh. They joke. They tease. They taunt, sing, fart, frolic, and boink with the best of them, all the while not having a care in the world. Why should they? Why would they? They’re still kids, after all, so why not ‘get it on?’ Oh, sure, there are some minor bits of foreshadowing which involve some past tragedy might be coming to life again in the present, but they’ll never let that spoil a good drink-off, hook-up party, and scavenger hunt, now would they?
Tonally, this film’s two halves couldn’t be any further apart, and I think that’s what gives this story all the buoyancy of a lead anchor. The set-up to the whole affair is a perfect grand college party – completing with booze and dancing – and the payoff is a growing pile of dead young ladies. None of this was played for giggles. None of this was played for satire. All of it was meant to be part and parcel of a lesser local legend – structured to mimic the same reveal Hitchcock used in the vastly superior Psycho (1960) – but try not to notice the jokes, general apery, and downright silliness of the players! They’re really just a bunch of developing upstanding citizens … well, upstanding until they’re dead on the floor, that is.
I ask you: would you knowingly and willingly set sail on a ship you knew was going to sink?
Also, there’s this little problem with the picture’s killer. Were this a legitimate Horror/Comedy – one that kinda took the conventions of the slasher film and turned them on their head – then perhaps it wouldn’t seem unusual to have the slasher roaming around dressed as the school’s mascot. Right? The jokes about a secret identity practically write themselves when viewers are treated to the sight of this big, lovable teddy bear traipsing around campus with a set of steak knives sewn in his mitts. But Girls wants you to take this seriously – especially in its second half – though none of these sorority ladies do when being approached. I can’t believe anyone on the cast or crew failed to point out the disconnect here, though one of the secrets learned on the disc’s interview tracks is that – yeah – the producers thought the comic bits needed dialing back in the last reel.
It seems like this had a cast of thousands – well, dozens, at least – and no single character is ever really given any moment to shine in the way that would make traditional watchers care about them. As an example, the kills of the first two Friday The 13th movies were celebrated because the victims met increasingly harsher deaths; this created a kind of narrative tension that helped to draw you in to the film. Whether you knew it or not, you were caught up in the killer’s unintentional spell. You wanted to know how Jason Voorhees was going to do it next. And next. And next. You didn’t need to get to know his victims because you weren’t there for them; you were there for the kills. But Girls’ deaths are, essentially, all the same; there is absolutely no novelty to any of them … except for the fact that they’re being committed by someone in a mascot suit. Because no effort was made in the script to differentiate the ladies from one another, I just didn’t care that Sue or Jill or Laurie or Nancy or Barb had her throat cut. If it wasn’t Sue or Jill or Laurie or Nancy or Barb this time, then sit back and wait she’ll be next.
Girls Nite Out (1982) was produced by Concepts Unlimited. DVD distribution (for this particular release) is being coordinated by the exceptional Arrow Video Films. As for the technical specifications? There’s a disclaimer at the front of the film which addresses some weathering the source material for this 2K restoration has gone through, but outside of an occasional line vertical line here and there I thought it looked very good. Colors were bright, though a few sequences clearly photographed in heavy darkness leave a bit more to the imagination than was necessary.
As for the special features? Once again, Arrow proves why they’re one of the top contenders these days: this collection provides a brand-new commentary track, several talent interviews, a collector’s booklet (with essay, cast info, and restoration notes), and the usual extras (trailers and such). It’s a surprising thorough assortment for a rather forgettable yarn from 80’s pop culture history. Nice work, Arrow.
In perfect honesty, I’m not a huge fan of traditional slasher films to begin with (so please take all of this with a grain of salt). Occasionally one will tickle my fancy just enough that I’ll venture out into these waters once more, which is essentially how I can across this copy of Girls Nite Out (1982). My issues with it relate entirely to the fact that it kinda/sorta straddled two (if not three) different narrative types – Comedy, Horror, and Drama – when it didn’t need to, almost behaving like it didn’t know what its writers wanted it to be when it grew up. There’s nothing wrong with mixing genres – I’m a huge fan when it’s done right – but, here, it felt like a lame gimmick, meaning not enough laughs to make it a repeat viewing and not enough bloodshed to make it endorsable.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Arrow Video Films provided me with a complimentary Blu-ray of Girls Nite Out (1982) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.