Girls Nite Out (1982) [Arrow Video]

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2022-06-21 22:02

Girls Nite Out(1982)
Studio: Arrow Films
Release date: May 17th, 2022

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

Since the slasher genre began flourishing at the dawn of the 80s, critics have routinely dismissed the genre as derivative, repetitive, and formulaic. And for good reason: these movies often did treat audiences to the same old thing, over and over because it turns out this formula was a successful one. But instead of savaging the genre for giving the people what they want, critics should have been commending the filmmakers who managed to make distinctive films within this formula. Of course, that would have entailed them giving slashers a measure of respect that most of them weren’t willing to extend, but that’s a rant for another time. Anyway, let’s consider something like Girls Nite Out: even by 1982, a campus slasher would have felt quite familiar to contemporary audiences, and the 40 years since has done little to help it in that respect. You can watch plenty of slashers with this setting, so, what, exactly does Girls Nite Out have to offer that others don’t?

Well, for starters, it’s an independent, regional affair, hailing from Jersey-based one-and-done director Robert Deubel, meaning, if nothing else, it’s a singular experience. That’s what’s so fun about these productions that hail from off the beaten path: they feature the familiar framework, but scramble it up with an idiosyncratic approach that warps it into a weird doppelganger of whatever’s being ripped off. In this case, you have the typical slasher movie ingredients: a college campus with the sordid legend of a student, Dickie Cavanaugh, that once murdered his girlfriend. Naturally, he was committed to an asylum in the nearby town, where he hangs himself at the beginning of the movie. However, before a couple of gravediggers are able to commit him to the Earth, they’re ambushed and killed by an unseen attacker, who sets their sights on Dickie’s old stomping grounds: Dewitt University, home of a championship basketball team and an all-night scavenger hunt that will scatter the coeds all around campus, making them easy targets for whoever has decided to follow in Dickie’s blood-stained footsteps.

Before Girls Nite Out gets down to that grisly business, though, it has to indulge the obligatory campus shenanigans. Much of this feels familiar enough, too: you’ve got horndogs trying to get laid, strip poker, booze-soaked costume parties, and all the relationship drama that unfolds in the wake of all of that. But in addition to the stuff you’ll find in most slashers, Girls Nite Out insists on a preoccupation with basketball, as we watch our campus heroes win a big game, with legendary coach and NCAA champion Al McGuire of all people leading the charge. The boys are the kings of the town, earning the admiration of a waitress (Rutanya Alda) at the local diner and the head of campus security (Hal Holbrook!) with a tragic past. Then there’s the scavenger hunt wrinkle, which mostly exists to split the kids up and take advantage of some nice locations: locker rooms, a cemetery, a chapel, etc. However, the commitment to this bit, right down to having a DJ provide constant clues and spinning 60s pop hits, gives the setup here a different sort of vibe, and that can make all the difference with this genre.

While it doesn’t do much to speed up the proceedings (there’s a long stretch without any slasher carnage), it’s fun and offbeat enough to be tolerable. Meanwhile, the characters themselves aren’t a bad set either: they’re all quite affable, save for a guy (David Holbrook, Hal’s son) who goes on a drunken rant, condemning all the girls as lecherous whores, much like Dickie himself once did, making him both an obvious suspect and an obvious red herring all at once. Otherwise, though, this is a nice assortment of theater kid goofs, lovelorn guys, terminally horny guys (including one who thinks it’s romantic to fart in the bed), nerds, and a bunch of gals who mostly get along and like each other. Somehow, all of this feels like an authentic, sleepy college town, so it’s not altogether insufferable that Girls Nite Out becomes this weird, languid hangout movie before the slashing starts.

Once that happens, it’s pretty typical stuff, save for the killer’s costume: the school’s bear mascot, outfitted with a set of deadly knives in place of the claws. It’s not the most imposing slasher killer garb, but the juxtaposition of this googly-eyed get-up shrieking vulgarities and carrying out messy carnage just feels at home in this oddity. None of the kills exactly stand out here, which usually spells trouble for slasher films: there’s no signature gore gag, nor is there an abundance of slayings since the killer racks up a few kills (among the victims: Lauren Marie-Taylor, best known for being gutted by Jason Voorhees one year earlier) when everyone realizes something is amiss, leading to the cancellation of the scavenger hunt when authorities arrive on campus and start investigating. All of this feels like certain doom for a slasher movie, yet this is exactly what rescues Girls Nite Out from the formulaic doldrums. It’s not interested in following the template, choosing instead to take a break from the carnage as the police interrogate various suspects (one clears his name by insisting he was with a prostitute!) before staging a climactic showdown with the killer, who unmasks and reveals their motivation to a bemused Holbrook before the credits unceremoniously roll without a rousing, violent resolution.

I get it: all of this probably seems fairly awful, especially if you’re looking for a slasher that plays by the rules and delivers what you expect of it without much of a fuss. The further I burrow down this rabbit hole, though, the more I appreciate weird digressions like Girls Nite Out. It’s hardly surprising that it came and went without much fanfare in 1982, and I’m not even sure it’s established itself as a cult favorite among slasher die-hards (and that’s a crowd that’s always eager to induct titles into its disreputable canon). One thing’s for sure though: you’ll probably need to be among the devotees to appreciate it, which is to say it’s definitely not for everybody. It might not even be for the most zealous slasher enthusiasts who consider the genre to be a vehicle for gore effects. But if you appreciate that the slasher genre often inspired people to make movies when they had little or no business doing so, Girls Nite Out is emblematic of this ethos, a splatter movie with minimal splatter but plenty charm that willed itself onto the screen despite so many budgetary restraints—the old college try, if you will.

The disc:

Arrow Video continues to be the definitive label for obscure slashers. Not to diminish the fine efforts of other labels, but Arrow has carved a wonderful niche here, with Girls Nite Out being the latest notch in its belt. Its high-definition offering is an obvious upgrade over the old Media Blasters DVD, which featured an unremarkable transfer and hollow, inconsistent audio. Unless you’re some kind of absolute purist, don’t fret too much over Arrow’s disclaimer about the video quality here: while the transfer source is a composite of release prints sporting some obvious wear and tear (plus some tape master inserts), the result is still quite sterling considering the film in question. In fact, this transfer has me wishing boutique labels would provide an option to watch transfers taken from release prints: something about the scratches and cigarette burns just adds to the effect here. Meanwhile, the sound is also a tremendous upgrade: it’s still a mono track, but it feels much more robust and dynamic than its DVD predecessor.

Likewise, the supplements here are more substantial than that disc, which only featured a short interview with Julie Montgomery and the alternate Scaremaker title card. Arrow ports both of those over in addition to their own newly-produced material, headlined by an audio commentary with Justin Kerswell and Amanda Reyes. The disc also features five new interviews with various cast members, starting with Montgomery, who speaks for 20 minutes, briefly touching on her career before Girls Nite Out before discussing that film’s production. She also mentions her other famous role in Revenge of the Nerds and expresses her appreciation for fans who still recognize her from these films (she’s less happy about not appearing on the posters for either of them, where she was replaced by women who didn’t even appear in the movies). Laura Summer’s interview clocks in at 15 minutes, allowing her to share some anecdotes from the production and discuss her later career as a voice-over actress (where she eventually voiced Janine on The Real Ghostbusters). Lois Robbins chats for about 8 minutes, focusing mostly on the good time she had shooting Girls Nite Out, a sentiment shared by co-star Paul Christie, whose 20-minute interview features plenty of scene-specific anecdotes and career recollections. Like Summer, he also went on to have a prolific voice-acting career that had him working on Nickelodeon shows (he was the voice of Stick Stickly, which is something I haven’t thought about in 25 years) and Budweiser ads. Lauren Marie-Taylor and John Didrichsen, who met on the set and later married, interview via Zoom with some really nice, fond memories of a production where they fell in love. It’s all very sweet, and it’s heartening to see that both have remained successful (she worked for 12 years on Loving before moving on to education, while he turned to music, teaching, and even truck driving).

A recurring theme throughout all of these interviews is the easy-going nature of the production. Even though they were strapped for time and money, the atmosphere was never tense, as director Robert Deubel encouraged improvisation and allowed actors to work their way through a scene. Many of the cast members knew each other from NYC acting circles and have remained friends since, creating a familial atmosphere on set. Likened to a “party” or “summer camp” during the interviews, the production is consistently painted as a fun experience by all involved, something that shines through in the infectious nature of the film itself. It should be noted that nobody involved can explain how in the hell they landed Al McGuire for this, his lone acting appearance.

However, the accompanying essay by Fangoria legend Michael Gingold provides just about everything else you’d ever need to know about the film’s production. In the absence of interviews with the producers, this is certainly the next best thing: an extensive account of the film’s conception (the idea was actually hatched before Friday the 13th), production, and its lame duck arrival that necessitated several title changes in an effort to sell it to audiences that were already growing tired of slasher movies. The disc comes with newly-commissioned cover art with the option to reverse to the original poster design, and it should be noted that Arrow has an exclusive slip-cover with the alternate Scaremaker art available on its website.

Once again, I’m left in awe by what Arrow has done to rescue a semi-forgotten slasher from obscurity. Years ago, we felt lucky to even have these films on DVD, with or without an abundance of special features and average presentations; now, they’re being restored to such pristine quality that labels feel compelled to apologize for restoring release prints rather than original negatives. I find that silly—just about the only thing Arrow has to apologize for is raising the bar so high for slasher movie home video releases.
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