Golden Age Slashers

It’s officially October, so it’s time for some pure horror comfort food. I have an inexplicable fondness for slasher films and indeed, this very theme has shown up in the Six Weeks of Halloween before (amongst other related themes). The true Golden Age for slashers was probably that 1980-1983 corridor, but while I have certainly not seen every slasher made during that time (apparently there was rarely a week without a new slasher release during that time), I have seen most of the higher profile ones, so I’m expanding the range to be 1978-1983. Unfortunately, at least one of these isn’t especially slashery and another is borderline, but it was still a good weekend!

The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 3 – Golden Age Slashers

Girls Nite Out – The students of a remote university are preparing for the annual all-night scavenger hunt, but it turns out that they’re the ones being hunted… by a deranged killer wearing the school’s bear mascot outfit!

Girls Nite Out - bear mascot

This starts out as your typical, bog-standard slasher and proceeds along those lines for a while, but eventually derails into something that’s actually pretty interesting… but only for slasher fanatic types. I suspect most normals will just see this as a stiff, awkwardly paced slasher with a silly killer costume (because, to be fair, that is what it is). But if you’ve seen tons of slashers and are down with the formula, the rule-breaking in the third act is pretty cool.

Of course, it takes a while to get there. The much touted scavenger hunt doesn’t even start until halfway through the film, and we only get about 20-30 minutes of standard stalk and slash type stuff (there’s a couple of kills earlier on, but they’re short and feel tacked-on). The bear mascot suit is pretty goofy, but I actually kinda love it, and the killer whips up a bear claw weapon comprised of steak knives taped together between the fingers (a full two years before Freddy donned his infamous glove). There’s some decent buildup before the kills start to flow, but the kills themselves are somewhat unremarkable.

Knife Hands

Then something odd happens. Spoilers, I guess! So our final girl discovers a body and calls the cops. Then the cops actually show up and actually act like responsible adults. They cancel the scavenger hunt, and everyone goes home. For the next ten minutes, the film turns into something of a procedural whodunit, as Hal Holbrook tries to unravel the historical underpinnings of the night’s mayhem (his character’s daughter was murdered by a lunatic in the bear costume many years earlier). Then one girl gets kicked out of her house and is being chased by the killer. She calls the final boy, and they end up in the killers lair, where we find out that the bit character from earlier in the film is actually the twin sister of the historical murderer and Hal Holbrook figured that out and shows up and… then the film just ends. If this sounds a bit rushed and confusing, you’re not alone.

It never really reaches the consistently bonkers level of fun that the best unhinged slashers manage (i.e. this movie can’t compete with something like Pieces), but slasher aficionados might appreciate the weirdness of the third act. **1/2

Effects – A film crew in a remote cabin begin to suspect that some of the “kills” in their low-budget horror flick are actually real, and that the director is an infamous producer of snuff films.

George Romero’s Pittsburg troop of collaborators got together and made this cheapie in the wake of Martin and Dawn of the Dead, notably including star Joe Pilato (of Day of the Dead fame), makeup FX legend Tom Savini, and several other bit players and crew members.


Movies about making movies are one of those meta exercises that can get old fast, but while the first act of this drags a bit and there are some repetitive gags, it eventually takes its ideas to a logical extreme that is surprising and impressive. There’s some rote horror sequences that turn out to be a scene the characters are actually filming for their movie, a fakeout gag that gets old… until it doesn’t. It’s a deceptively simple premise, and while there’s a little too much of the crew just hanging around drinking Iron City beer, doing blow, and chatting, it’s actually cut pretty tightly, and at 84 minutes, never really wears out its welcome.

There’s a film-within-the-film that a few folks sit down and watch about halfway through that is genuinely unnerving, and after that point, it’s pretty much off to the races. The simple fakeout gags from earlier in the film grow more complex, such that you don’t know if you can trust what you’re seeing, and there are several surprises that I truly did not see coming. It’s often referred to as a slasher, but it certainly doesn’t follow most of those conventions. This is a little more unique than that.

It’s clearly a low-budget affair, but there’s a core set of ideas that they commit to heavily, such that this sticks with me a lot more than the more recent spate of mumblecore horror (mumblegore), which often strike me as boring. This has more on its mind than that, and it’s really grown on me (and it’s only been a couple of days). ***

Fade to Black – Eric Binford is an obsessive movie dork who snaps and starts acting out horror scenes from his favorite movies. Hijinks ensue!

This is one of those fun little referential exercises that actually earns the references. Dennis Christopher gives a great performance as the movie nerd who is growing more and more unhinged over time, and he captures a certain melancholy that keeps the whole film grounded. He’s almost like a nerdy Travis Bickle, and the focus on his character plays with slasher conventions in a unique way. The classic makeup and costumes he embodies lend the film some credibility, even if it’s just drafting on the iconography of old Hollywood.

Fade to Black

There are a few other notable appearances in the film too. Tim Thomerson’s cocaine-fueled dumbass cop psychiatrist performance is truly something to behold (there’s this harmonica jam that just comes out of nowhere, but is utterly spellbinding), and I’m not entirely sure it fits with the rest of the movie, but who cares, it’s a lot of fun. Mickey Rourke also shows up in a bit part and gives it his all. Linda Kerridge does a cromulent Marilyn Monroe impersonation too.

I have to wonder if all the short clips of classic Hollywood films would cause a legal headache if the film were made today (indeed, I’m surprised it’s even available these days, they must have been diligent about clearing all those clips). It’s the sort of technique that doesn’t work 9 times out of 10, but this is that one exception that nails the execution.

This is probably the most conventional movie of the weekend, but it’s got a lot going for it, especially if you’re a cinephile. Which, if you’re reading this, you probably are. ***

The Six Weeks of Halloween will keep chugging on Wednesday with a look at some current theatrical releases, and next weekend? Not sure yet, but I’m leaning towards killer kids…

3 thoughts on “Golden Age Slashers”

  1. The crazy bear costume is definitely the most memorable thing about Girls Nite Out, which is about as stock-parts as a slasher can get. I remember Fade to Black being pretty interesting, that one is due a rewatch.

  2. Apparently they shot Girls Nite Out over the course of, like, 3 days because they only had access to the campus for a short time and I’m guessing Hal Holbrook was only on set for a few hours (He’s only in a handful of shots with other people – otherwise he’s just in shot/reverse shot scenes that were probably filmed way out of order). I think they just got all the footage they could and pieced it together in the edit, which is why the end is so oddly abrupt and weird. Not sure if that makes it less interesting, but I’m still pondering it so…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *