Murfreesboro is a horror town — the sort of place where even non-believers see ghosts, and nobody's surprised when they find out that the toothless old lady next door spent the better part of two decades in a sanitarium for killing her husband. It's got a legacy of gore that stretches from the Battle of Stones River to the heavyweight horror section at the late, lamented Video Culture. Hell, even the World's Largest Red Cedar Bucket has returned from the dead. And how many times have we seen the music scene there drag itself out of a shallow grave? If there were ever fertile ground for Z-grade splatter, it's ol' Bucket City — and Girls Night Out, the new short film from writer-director Meredith Kotas, is one beautiful, blood-splattered bloom.
Okay, maybe "beautiful" isn't the right word. GNO is more Herschell Gordon Lewis than Guillermo del Toro, a no-budget farce built on bawdy gags and over-the-top kills. And we have no qualms about saying GNO is a bad movie — well-constructed but lo-fi, all shock, no substance. But it's a really good bad movie, the sort that begs to be watched with a big group of friends and cold beers all around. The story of a hipster swap-and-shop gone horribly, gorily wrong, GNO is short on insightful commentary on the frailty of the human condition and long on — well, people chowing down on guts. What it lacks in budget it makes up for in off-the-wall dialogue — "Sexual spirit animals!" "I'd kill for your metabolism!" "Whose tits are these?" — and tongue-in-cheek performances.
If Girls Night Out has a camp-counselors-outslashing-the-slashers feel, that's because many involved — from actors Katie Blankenship and April Eubanks to director Kotas and producer/editor Christopher Davis — are volunteers with Murfreesboro's Youth Empowerment through Arts and Humanity (YEAH) and the Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp. Who better to flip the low-rent splatter film on its head than the people who almost always end up skewered by tent stakes before the second reel? Who better to give the genre that gave us I Drink Your Blood an Etsy.com makeover? After all these years on the business end of Jason's machete, it's only fair that the counselors get a swing at some human piñatas.
Worry not, parents: Girls Night Out is by no means autobiography, and your children aren't being tutored by bloody thirsty thrift-shoppers. But it does display a lot of the scrappy charm that makes Murfreesboro so appealing for creative types. It's a town where scary things happen (they elected Bill Ketron fer crying out loud!) and weird stories are a dime a dozen (Davis Market is like The Gate with a cooler full of Dr. Enuf, so we've heard). GNO manages to capture that strange mojo and make it the launching point for a thoroughly entertaining genre piece. Which is nothing less than you should expect from a sweet little shop of horrors like Murfreesboro.
Girls Night Out screens 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 18, at The Basement.