Monday, June 1, 2020

"What Are You Going to Have for Dessert? A Stomach Pump?" - Girls Nite Out (1982) - Film #179

Slasher movies from the early 1980s are always a gold mine of cinematic quality, and Girls Nite Out (1982) (sometimes known as The Scaremaker) is no different, despite the fact that there is no girls nite out (or, for that matter, a girls' night out) depicted anywhere in the film.

Unfortunately, your universe's critics fail to see the pure ore in this particular gold mine. Reviewer callanvass writes insultingly, "This is one of the worst slashers I have ever seen, and I've seen a lot of slashers." Reviewer dagonseve writes coherently, "If the feel of a Slasher title is what you're after you'll be sorely disappointed when you discover that the film primarily focuses on college tomfoolery." And reviewer FieCrier writes dismissively, "Absolutely one of the worst slasher movies I have ever seen. As Jim Harper writes in his book on slashers, Legacy of Blood, 'Watch it if you have to, but you'll probably wish you hadn't.'"

Please read on for a less biased recounting of the seminal slasher film Girls Nite Out...

The film begins at Weston Hill Sanitarium, where a strange wind moans through the hallways and a female nurse investigates an obscene phone call by walking into a pitch-black office. The body of a man wearing pajamas suddenly falls from above, though we don’t see where the body is in relation to the nurse.

The film cuts to a college basketball game. Dewitt University wins the game at the buzzer. Of course, immediately afterward, one of the players (whose name, perhaps improbably, is Maniac) vomits in the locker room toiler. He tells his friend Teddy Ratliff he is upset because he was dumped by a girl. “I couldn’t think of nothin’ else out there tonight. Damn.”

“You gotta pull yourself together, man,” his friend says.

Meanwhile, in another locker room, two of the cheerleaders discuss one of them breaking up with a boyfriend (not the star player) to date her own cousin, the team mascot.

After Ratliff does a dreadful W. C. Fields impression, the group meets to discuss going to a sorority party.

At a cemetery the same night, two gravediggers (one of whom has just driven up to the graveside in his van, leaving the lights on) explain to each other that they are burying Cavanaugh, “the guy who killed that college security guard’s daughter. He just hung himself in the asylum. His sister’s the one paying us to bury him.” (It is instructive to see that in your universe the dead are put to rest by paying random leather-jacketed workers to dig graves in the middle of the night.) The gravediggers, however, are the ones destined to occupy the grave, as an unseen man hits them both with a shovel and buries them unceremoniously.

Oddly, the film cuts from the murder and burial to a disc jockey introducing a song—a song that we never hear, as the film cuts to a diner, where Ratliff orders a huge amount of food. “What are you going to have for dessert?” the waitress, Barney (played by Rutanya Alda), asks him. “A stomach pump?”

At their table, Ratliff makes out with his girlfriend Lynn while Maniac watches. Lynn says to Ratliff, “You know, you’re going to drive Barney crazy.”

“Oh, that’s not a drive, it’s a putt,” he quips.

Seconds later, Maniac does what is described as an impression of Mrs. Bates from Psycho (1960).

After the gang finds out their hamburgers were paid for by campus cop Hal Holbrook (“Funny, I always figured he didn’t like students much”), Lynn leaves Ratliff and Maniac—both shirtless for some reason, drinking and seemingly doing impressions of Hawkeye and Trapper John from M*A*S*H—to go to the party early. Growing serious for a second, Ratliff tells his girlfriend, “Watch out for the boogeyman.”

She quips, “Any boogeyman would make a better date than you, honey.”

Lynn walks across campus at night as the camera stalks her, but the camera turns out to be a nerdy student that Lynn accompanies to the sorority party, where about one-third of the partying students are wearing costumes for some reason. At the party, Maniac tries to connect with his recent girlfriend, but she tells him she can’t compete with Jack Daniels, basketball, and Teddy Ratliff.

In another part of the party, a student tells the story of Dickie Cavanaugh. “In many ways, he was a lot like you boys: young, semi-literate. He was an American. Then one night they took old Dickie out into the woods. Dickie came back but his mind just kinda stayed out there. They had to take him up to the loony bin in old Weston Hill. He’s been there ever since, just screaming and hollering all night long.”

From another student, we hear that Dickie Cavanaugh killed a cheerleader who broke up with him. Also, as previously established to some extent, we find out that Hal Holbrook’s character, the security guard Mac, is the father of the cheerleader who was killed.

Once the background has been established, the film returns to the party-goers, some of whom are playing strip poker in a corner of the room. Various relationships are set up, most of which involve jealousy by men who all look like each other, not to mention the budding relationship between the cousins. Eventually, the main group of characters pose together for a picture.

Then the party ends.

At his apartment, the promiscuous team mascot, Benson (who also happens to be one of the aforementioned cousins), responds to a knock at his door, only to be knifed in the chest. His black-gloved killer enters the apartment and takes the bear mascot costume off Benson’s Eames chair, saying with a gravelly voice, “Sorry, but I need this more than you do.”

Elsewhere, in bed, Lynn rightly berates Ratliff for hitting on other women at the party, but Ratliff gets into her good graces by breaking wind under the elaborate bedcovers. Ratliff then goes outside to check on a noise he heard, which results in him being scared by the traditional cat in the garbage can.

Meanwhile, the black-gloved killer breaks into the campus radio station office to, shockingly, read the secret plans for tomorrow’s scavenger hunt.

The next day, on campus, Hal Holbrook visits Mike Prior (coincidentally played by David Holbrook), who caused a scene at the party last night by calling everyone “whores.” Mr. Holbrook reinforces the film’s backstory with great efficiency: “My daughter was about your age. Then she met a guy like you. Now she’s dead.”

Mike replies, “I’m sorry, but that doesn’t...change the way I feel. Or anything else.”

At midnight, the school scavenger hunt begins, announced on the radio station. Each hour, a clue will be given. He gives the clue while the killer fashions a weapon out of steak knives which he hides underneath the bear mascot’s paw.

The killer uses the weapon to murder, bloodily, one of the students chasing the first scavenger hunt clue.

Elsewhere, another young woman takes a bubble bath at 1:30 a.m next to her wicker basket helpfully stocked with perfume and playing cards.

Wearing black gloves for no discernible reason, Teddy Ratliff sneaks up on the woman and mildly startles her. Cheating on Lynn, he has wine with her.

After a second strange call to the radio station, the DJ contacts Hal Holbrook, who tells him to call back if he figures anything out. This doesn’t deter the killer, of course, who wears his goofy mascot outfit to chase another woman around a lake. Assuming it’s Benson, who of course should be wearing the mascot’s outfit in the middle of the night, she starts unbuttoning her top, but the killer smashes through a window and strangles her, killing her both with strangulation and with the incisions of his steak knife claws.

Later, the killer calls Hal Holbrook, telling him his daughter deserved to die and identifying himself as Dicky Cavanaugh, the original killer. Mr. Holbrook calls the sanitarium to see if Cavanaugh is still locked up. “Don’t you lock your people up at night?”

“Hold on, Mac,” the doctor at the sanitarium responds. “Dicky Cavanaugh checked out of her two days ago.” “Checked out” is a euphemism for suicide: Cavanaugh hung himself in his cell.

Elsewhere, at the scavenger hunt, the killer attacks a woman in a church attic (standing in for a belfry due to a scavenger hunt clue about a bat). When her body is found, she is draped with a towel to resemble a religious statue stored in the attic.

After Mr. Holbrook sensibly instructs the DJ to call off the scavenger hunt, a gaggle of reporters and a bigger gaggle of students gather in front of the chapel. Mr. Holbrook decides to let everybody go if they want, as long as they question a few important people. This leads to a long series of interrogation scenes in which the bear mascot is identified as being close to the crime scene.

In a bold move, the filmmakers use the last act of the film to change the genre of from slasher movie to soap opera, providing helpful flashbacks to earlier in the film as suspicion is placed on various characters whose names we might have missed earlier. There are also scenes in which Ratliff’s cheating on Lynn leads to heated arguments. Dawn, the woman he cheated with, is kidnapped by the killer while she is on the phone with Ratliff.

With seven minutes remaining in the run time, Mr. Holbrook suddenly discovers that Dicky Cavanaugh had a twin sister, so of course he draws long black hair on a picture of Cavanaugh to discover the identity of the killer.

Ratliff rushes to the Student Union, where he finds Dawn alive but slashed.

At that moment, Rutanya Alda reveals herself to be the killer, no longer wearing the mascot costume. “I’m Dicky!” she screams, revealing she believes herself to be her twin brother.

When Mr. Holbrook tells her that Dicky hung himself, she reveals she has Dicky’s body in the freezer.

The End

Girls Nite Out offers one classic shock, and it occurs at the beginning of the film, in the title sequence:

Enthusiasts of low-budget horror movies debate whether the presence of a big star is a hindrance to a good which I must say nothing could possibly be a hindrance to Girls Nite Out. Mr. Holbrook's performance is, as always, competent and heartfelt, making it something of a shame that he is not the film's main character but a supporting player. It was truly nice of the director, Robert Deuble, to be so specific about Mr. Holbrook's character name in the opening titles so that eagle-eyed viewers are able to spot him, rather than assuming he plays another character, such as Maniac or the guy in the bear suit.

Director Deuble went on to direct an episode of American Playhouse in 1983 and then did nothing else in show business, so it would be impossible to ask him the question on every audience member's tongue after viewing this film: Why is it called Girls Nite Out? Several girls spend the night out at a party, it is true, but there is an equal number of boys, so it is hardly a girls' night out. Should the title have been Girls and Boys Nite Out? Should it? And why is girls simply plural in the title and not possessive? Does the "nite" not belong to the girls? Perhaps the "nite" belongs to the killer. Wouldn't Killer's Nite Out be a punchier title? Or Killers Nite Out, for someone as philosophically opposed to punctuation as Mr. Deuble. The questions go on and on and on.

Finally, I must point out that IMDB shows a television movie titled Girls' Night Out (2017) with significantly worse reviews than Girls Nite Out. I have never seen this 2017 film, but it is heartening that some of your universe's critics do not consider Girls Nite Out to be the worst film with its title. There might be hope for your universe yet...