“We’re just typical victims of a society gone berserk!”
There have been lots of decisions made in slasher movies over the years, but few of them are weirder than the choice to put the killer in Girls Nite Out – also known as The Scaremaker, neither of which makes a ton of sense – in a dancing bear costume.
It’s not so weird within the context of the film. The bear is the mascot of the college’s basketball team, and the killer takes it as a matter of convenience, as much as anything. With its big yellow eyes, curly white mohawk, and homemade claws formed out of knives, the suit makes a striking central image around which to build the film’s marketing, which makes the marketing that it did get all the more perplexing, since the bear costume was never really put to use during the movie’s initial run.
By far the most baffling is this Betamax case, which bears (no pun intended) absolutely no resemblance to the events of the film at all, while a Swedish VHS cover featured in the booklet that accompanies the Arrow Blu-ray includes artwork “borrowed” from the poster for the 1976 animal attack film Grizzly to represent the bear-suited killer.
What are those events? After a fairly bog standard cold open, we spend an inordinate amount of time getting to know the wacky denizens of a remote Ohio college. It’s the eve of a big scavenger hunt, a school tradition that took a tragic turn several years ago when one student murdered his girlfriend after she threw him over. He’s been in a mental institution ever since, though we are led to believe that he took his own life at the front of the film.
The scavenger hunt is clearly where the action is going to start, but we spend probably half the movie in the run-up, watching all of these goofy characters interact. As I said on Letterboxd, “What if you made a college slasher flick but every single character thought that they were the class clown/comic relief character?” For real, there have never been so many goofballs in one movie before.
We hang out with them while they celebrate a basketball victory, go to a “golden oldies” themed party, and do lots and lots of bed hopping – which does double duty in establishing plenty of red herrings as to the identity of the killer. It also helps to set up the killer’s motivation. All that bed hopping has consequences, after all, even for the characters who don’t end up on the chopping block. We see relationships tested and broken, characters get into arguments and characters make up.
At the end of the party, several of the students sing a song that concludes by inviting the listener to join their sorority, “if you don’t get pregnant or end up in the slammer.” A pretty succinct summation of what’s at stake.
This massive cast of characters and their multitudinous subplots makes the movie feel scattershot, sure, and it guarantees a decent body count, even if the killer only actually knocks off a handful of targets. It’s also intended to keep the audience guessing as to “whodunit,” though the answer, when it comes, is both predictable and disappointing. Hell, there’s even a hint of the film’s final reveal early on, when two of the characters do an imitation of the Mrs. Bates scene at the end of Psycho. More interesting is trying to guess who’s going to get it, though the answer there is also unfortunately pedestrian.
The killer’s M.O. is established pretty quickly, as they call the girls they slay “sluts” and “bitches.” A tirade in which one jilted boyfriend shouts at the entire party and says that they’re all “whores” sets the tone of the underlying misogyny that drives the crimes. To this end, every victim is female except for a couple of early ones, who are victims of convenience rather than pathology – the proper owner of the bear suit, for example, has to be dispatched because the killer “need[s] it more than you do.”
Much has been made of the misogyny of the slasher genre over the years, and Girls Nite Out does nothing to dispel these claims, but it’s worth noting that though the killer’s motives may be to punish sexually liberated young women, the film itself is considerably less judgmental. Sure, the picture may showcase the fallout of its many sexual escapades, liberally indulged in by both men and women alike, in the form of messy breakups and angry words, but it also makes it unusually clear that possessive jealousy is wrong… especially when it turns violent.
One way it does this is by eschewing the traditional final girl. Or rather, she’s here, played by Julia Montgomery (Revenge of the Nerds), with one other character wondering if she’s the “only truly loyal person left.” But her comparative virtue doesn’t defeat the killer and, likely, isn’t even what keeps her alive. Indeed, because the cast is huge, plenty of other characters survive the night, without the usual obligations of abstaining from sex and drugs.
In fact, our ostensible lead isn’t even present when the killer is revealed. That job falls to veteran character actor Hal Holbrook as the campus security guard whose daughter was the first victim all those years ago. Once the film has unveiled its last shock – one of the early working titles was The Final Clue – it immediately cuts to black. We never even see the killer either arrested or slain, and certainly none of the movie’s many subplots are ever given closure.
In this way, silly as it otherwise is, perhaps Girls Nite Out feels more like real life than most other slashers…
Besides his work as Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Grey is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a film writer with bylines at Unwinnable and others. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year and he is the author of two collections of essays on vintage horror film.