Category Archives: 80’s Movies

Teachers (1984)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teaching can be difficult.

Alex (Nick Nolte) is a burned-out teacher who feels that the system is working against him as he tries to do his job in an inner-city school despite having no support from administrators. Things come to an ugly light when Lisa (JoBeth Williams) a former student of his who’s now an attorney takes part in a lawsuit suing the school for graduating a student who could not read.

Producer Irwin Russo drew on his 10-years as a teacher at an inner-city New York high school as the basis for the story and the film has some good trenchant points, but trying to put a satirical spin to it was a mistake. To make a good satire you gotta go all-in and this film timidly goes half-way with humor that at times, especially at the beginning, is off-putting. It’s not until the second-half when it gets more serious does it ever start catching its stride and the production would’ve been better had it remained a drama from the very beginning.

Nolte comes off like he’s suffering from one long hang-over, which may have been the intention, but the way he basically sleepwalks through the role gives the film no energy and makes the viewer feel as drowsy as he is. His relationship with Lisa, his former student, is forced and uninteresting and even a bit unbelievable since they look to be basically the same age. Judd Hirsh who plays the vice principal should’ve been the lead adult character as he does a great job of balancing the comedy with the drama by playing it straight and simply responding in sometimes glib and humorous ways to the insanity around him.

Ultimately it would’ve worked better had Ralph Macchio been made the star as he’s excellent despite the irony that he was already 23 at the time, but looking more like he was still in the eight grade. Crispin Glover as his goofball friend doesn’t work as well. Sometimes his pseudo-psycho characters are interesting, but here it is poorly defined and distracting. Laura Dern’s character is annoying as she plays another one of those perennial teen girls who gets pregnant and then wants an abortion, which has been so overused in so many other high school films that by now it seems like a cliche.

I did like the on-location shooting done at the former Central High School in Columbus, Ohio and the student body looks to be made up of actual teens and not just young adults trying to play one, but they did seem at times to be a bit unrealistically too well behaved. The scene where a teacher Mr. Stiles (Royal Dano) would fall asleep behind his desk and the students would still quietly do their homework made no sense as I would think they’d take advantage of the situation and goof-off instead.  Richard Mulligan’s role as an escaped mental patient pretending to be a substitute teacher is equally implausible as I thought the authorities would’ve caught up to him much sooner than they do although it is fun seeing him wearing a General Custer outfit as it looks quite similar to the one he wore in Little Big Man when he played the actual Custer.

There are a few good moments here and there, but it’s badly undermined by the misguided humor and corny ending. The eclectic supporting cast though is a treat to watch. I enjoyed William Schallert as a principal who seemingly wants to avoid confrontation at all costs as well as Lee Grant as a lawyer, which is the type of profession her acting style seems born to play. Originally the part was written for a man, but she plays it better than any guy ever could and I also enjoyed seeing her with a brunette hairdo instead of her usual red one, which makes her appear younger than she did in the 70’s.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 5, 1984

Runtime: 1 Hour 47 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Arthur Hiller

Studio: MGM/UA

Available: DVD

Romero (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Priest battles the oppression.

Based on the life of Oscar Amulfo Romero (Raul Julia) the film centers on his ascent to Archbishop of San Salvador during the political turmoil of 1977. It was presumed that Romero who had traditionally always been reserved and apolitical would act as a nice balance between the authoritative military regime and the congregation, but as the oppressive authorities welded more of a dogmatic style and killed anyone who spoke out against it, Romero became the symbol of the resistance sending him into a perilous position where his livelihood and life came into serious doubt.

On the technical end this film does quite well and noted Australian director John Duigan creates a vivid atmosphere of the time period. Many scenes are quite disturbing and even gut-wrenching as we see the faces of men, woman, and children shot and killed in cold-blood. The part where Romero sits inside the squalor of a prison cell while hearing the moans of someone being tortured in the next one and unable to do anything about it except cry out was for me the most unsettling. The outdoor scenery has a scorched earth look, which nicely reflected the mood and mind-set of most of the people living there and every shot showing a military tank passing by got me jittery. Sometimes nothing would occur, but just seeing a tank was enough to make me nervous and to that end the film does its job as I’m sure that was the same feeling those that lived through the ordeal also felt.

Although Julia does not resemble the actual Archbishop who was in his 60’s at the time and looked much older than Julia who despite the dyed gray hair still appeared to be in his 40’s, his all-around performance is quite exemplary. Throughout his career he had played many flamboyant parts, so seeing him effectively portray a buttoned-down persona was quite interesting and a testament to his acting skill.

Spoiler Alert!

The only issue that I had was that on the emotional level it fails. Since it was produced by the Catholic church I presumed that we’re supposed to feel ‘inspired’ when it’s over and yet I walked away from it feeling anything but. I kept waiting for a Gandhi-like moment where we would see first-hand how all of his struggles finally came to fruition and how one person can truly move mountains and make a difference and yet that never happens. Instead he gets murdered while conducting a religious service and the war he sought to end continued to rage on for another decade killing an additional 60,000 to 90,000 more people.

Yes, there were indeed moments where Romero displayed amazing courage, but every time he revealed his bravery it just made his situation even worse. If the idea was to motivate the viewer to go out and be a hero it doesn’t work. If anything it unintentionally seems to state that laying low and keeping your mouth shut in the face of adversity is a good thing because at least you’ll remain alive and if you do choose to fight, it will only lead to death and nothing substantial to show for it.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Release: August 25, 1989

Runtime: 1 Hour 42 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: John Duigan

Studio: Four Square

Available: DVD, Amazon Video

Split Image (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Their son becomes brainwashed.

Danny (Micheal O’Keefe) is a struggling athlete who’s feeling overwhelmed by the demands and pressures of college life. He meets-up with Rebecca (Karen Allen) who invites him to a weekend stay at what turns out to be a religious cult run by Kirklander (Peter Fonda). It is there that Danny becomes brainwashed into the organization and cuts off all ties with his parents (Brian Dennehy, Elizabeth Ashley) who decide they have no option but to kidnap him and then have him deprogrammed by a brash, caustic deprogrammer (James Woods) who they find to be rude but helpful

This film is very similar to Ticket to Heaven that was produced in Canada and has the same story and structure. The Canadian production though is a bit better especially with the way it examines the protagonist getting acclimated into the cult. Both films have the young man becoming brainwashed in a matter of one weekend which to me is too quick. The Canadian film though at least examines the different activities that they go through to wear him down and it gets in your face with it, so the viewer feels as exhausted as the young man when t’s over while this film glosses over that part making the transition seem too extreme. The Canadian film also detailed the character’s constant inner turmoil even after he’d been indoctrinated while here Danny behaves like a light switch that completely changes from his old self in a snap and then never looks back, which is less realistic

The B-story dealing with a romance that he has with Rebecca while in the group degrades the the story to a sappy opera level and should’ve been left out. Allen certainly is perfect for her role as her bright, beaming blue eyes gives her character that brainwashed appearance, but the extended conversations she has with Danny are strained making me believe that the scenes inside the cult should’ve been cut as they’re corny instead of compelling and focused instead  solely on the parents point-of-view at trying to get him out.

The film though does score with the deprogramming segment, which gets much more extended here. Director Ted Kotcheff uses elaborate visual effects to convey Danny’s point-of-view and unlike in Ticket to Heaven the deprogrammer doesn’t allow the family and friends to sit-in on his sessions as he feared they won’t understand his methods, which is more believable.

Ashley as the mother is great especially her meltdown near the end with Danny when he tries to physically attack her.  I had some problems though with Dennehy’s character as he seemed much too calm and laid back and even starts singing as they drive to the cult location even though most people would be nervous and then later showing him breaking down and crying as he watched an old video of Danny is too overwrought.

Woods though perfectly captures the anti-hero with his intended brashness being more amusing than offensive. The part where he plays-out a scene to the movie Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Spencer Tracy was I’m convinced ad-libbed and a great example of  how his acting genius gives this movie a needed edge and whose presence keeps it watchable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 50 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, Amazon Video

Ticket to Heaven (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: He joins a cult.

Despondent over his recent break-up with his girlfriend, David (Nick Mancuso) visits a religious revival group attended by many young adults his age. He finds their incessant, ritualistic games of singing and dancing to be annoying at first as well as their lack of sleep and skimpy diet, but eventually he succumbs to their control. His friend Larry (Saul Rubinek) tracks him down and tries to free him, but realizes they have brainwashed him to such a severe extent that he is forced to concoct an elaborate kidnapping plan in order to bring him to an undisclosed place where he can then be deprogrammed.

Although religious cults aren’t quite as prevalent now back in the 70’s there were many incidents of parents losing their teens or young adult children to the icy grip of these brainwashing organizations and the struggles to bring them back to the real world proved grueling and sometimes futile. This film, based on the nonfiction novel ‘Moonwebs’ by Josh Freed, manages to hit home the finer points of the phenomenon giving the viewer a vivid understanding of the situation not only for those that became members, but their family and friends who had to helplessly watch loved ones devolve into a mindless, robotic shell of what they once were.

One of the drawbacks though is that the protagonist is portrayed too broadly. The film makes it seem as if anyone could get brainwashed by these groups, which I don’t agree with. I realize everyone can at times be vulnerable, but certain people fall more into these mind traps than others and there’s nothing clear as to why David fell prey so badly and just saying he was upset about his recent breakup is not enough of an explanation for a such a severe downward spiral.

Rubinek as his friend is really annoying and turning him into the essential hero of the film makes it even worse. On the petty side I couldn’t stand his overly bushy eyebrows or that he goes on stage dressed as a giant carrot and later a tomato just for cheap laughs, which is the type of guy you want to see fade away not ultimately root for. What really got on my nerves though was how he comes up with such an elaborate kidnapping plan and pulls it off confidently despite having no experience and the fact that he gets so many others to help him do it including his own boss really pushes the film’s credibility badly.

The direction though deserves accolades particularly the first 25 minutes, which detail the different manipulative tactics these groups do in order to wear down the newbies. The shots showing David trying to leave the group and constantly being hounded by other members refusing to ever let him be alone are memorable. I also liked the bird’s eye shots of all the people taking part, which is almost jaw dropping at just how many there were.

The performance by Kim Cattrall as one of the group’s main members nicely illustrates how a young smiling, pretty face could allure a young man to let down his guard only for her to ultimately convey her controlling claws later. The scenes dealing with the deprogramming are good, but could’ve been extended and there’s never any mention of the time frame as the movie makes it seems like it takes only a few days when in reality it could sometimes be weeks or even months. Overall it’s a compelling look at a difficult subject that is quite similar to Split Image starring Micheal O’Keefe, which came out around the same time and will be reviewed tomorrow.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: October 9, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 48Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Ralph L. Thomas

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD

Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen forms punk band.

Corinne (Diane Lane) is an angry 17-year-old who lashes out at a TV-reporter during an interview when she describes the challenges of trying to make-ends-meet while working at a fast food place after the death of her mother. Her tirade resonates with other teens and this new found celebrity gives her the idea to form her own punk band called The Stains.  She goes on tour with two other bands and makes a splash by going out on stage wearing a wild skunk-like hair-do and a see-through blouse. This gets her media attention and a fan following, but will her new found fame last, or will it just go to her head?

This interesting look at the punk band scene, that could make a great companion piece to The Decline of Western Civilization, was filmed in a sardonically humorous pseudo-documentary style, but unfortunately did not fare well when it was initially released. After getting a bad response when it was first shown in Denver in October of 1982 the studio shelved the film for 2 years,inserted a new tacked-on ending and then sold it to the USA Network where it became a staple to their weekend, overnight programming and quickly garnered a cult following.

The film still does not get as much attention as I think it deserves and tends to get overshadowed by the overrated This is Spinal Tap. This film though is a lot grittier and that fact that it was directed by Lou Adler, who worked for many decades in the music business, helps give it an authentic appeal as it analyzes the underside of the music business by showing how the majority of bands live on society’s fringe while excising the glitz and glamour completely. It also astutely examines the inner-conflicts and raging egos that go on behind-the-scenes and how the almost constant back-stabbing infects the mind-set of those trying to break-in.

The script was written by Nancy Dowd who is best known or penning Slap Shot and this film works in much the same way as that one by placing it in a similar setting of an economically strapped, working class Pennsylvania town. The shots of the gray, rundown region is what really gives this film an extra edge and helps the viewer identify with why the characters will do almost anything to get out of it. One of the best shots comes while watching Corinne walking around outside as she makes plans for her band while in the backdrop we see the grimy steel mill life that she’s grown-up in and hitting-home how her dreams for her punk band isn’t based so much on rebellion, but more on hoped for escape.

I loved Lane’s acerbic personality and her hilariously caustic opening interview with a TV-reporter really sets the tone for the rest of the film while also helping to solidify that this isn’t going to be just another mainstream Hollywood flick like Almost Famous, which I felt painted rock band life in too much of a sugar coated way, but instead something with a real attitude. In fact I was disappointed that Lane’s salty sarcasm wasn’t played-up even more as it’s funny and on-target and made it easy to see how her character was able to galvanize such a mass following.

On the slight downside I felt her relationship with her two band-mates (Marin Kanter, Laura Dern) with one of them being her sister and the other her cousin got underplayed. The irony is that Dern sued her mother, actress Diane Ladd, in court in order to work on the movie as Ladd felt she was too young to travel on-location to do the shoot. Dern obviously won the battle, but the fight seemed hardly worth it as she ends up having very little to say or do.

Spoiler Alert!

The only time that things becomes insincere is when the Looters head singer (Ray Winstone) performs the opening act for The Stains and is met with a hostile response by her fans, so in retaliation he informs them that Corinne is a corporate sell-out and just like that they all turn on her. Having an entire stadium of young people go from rapid fans to extreme haters in a matter of seconds is just not realistic and one of the reasons why I believe this film did not do well upon its initial release and required a different ending put in, which was filmed several years later, in order to help salvage it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Release: October 16, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 27 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lou Adler

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Nekromantik (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: They like dead bodies.

Rob and Betty (Robert Schmadtke, Beatrice Manowski) are a couple into necrophilia. Rob’s job as a street sweeper allows him to steal human body parts, which he brings home and stores in jars. One day he is able to sneak home a decomposed body and his wife makes love to it, which makes him jealous. Then he loses his job causing his wife to leave him and forcing him into an even darker mental spiral.

Director Jorg Buttgereit has stated that he never intended to be a serious filmmaker and made this simply as a means to rebel at the German film rating system, which would routinely edit out violent scenes from their films and ‘to shock as many people as possible.’ In that category it does succeed, but what I got most out of it was how funny it is with the ‘romantic’ sequence where a couple throws a severed head back and forth between each other in  a sort of playful, loving way while soft, romantic music plays in the background being the funniest.

There’s also an interesting film-within-a-film concept here where it makes pointed observations on the effects of horror movies on the general public while using its characters to inadvertently convey that message. The best scene here involves Robert going to a horror movie inside a theater, which shows  a woman onscreen getting ambushed by her attacker and then cut up by his knife, but the camera then cuts back to the movie audience and observes their detached and ambivalent  expressions even as the screams of the woman continue on the screen, which to me was the film’s most frightening and revealing moment.

The gore factor is of course quite high uses the technique first done in Cannibal Holocaust  where it cuts back and forth between an actual animal killing to that of a human getting cut open until you can no longer differentiate the real from the fake. The special effects are quite authentic looking despite the minuscule budget and even features a cat death although thankfully I think that one was improvised.

The acting by Manowski is excellent as she shows no hesitation or restraint with her role in a demanding part most other actresses would’ve refused. Her onscreen presence adds erotic energy and it’s too bad she didn’t remain in it for the whole duration as it’s only when the two leads interact that it gets  the most interesting. In fact a backstory showing how they first met and what started them off into their sick habit would’ve been nice.

If you’re into trashy gore this flick is for you although it’s more sickening than scary and in fact I don’t consider it a horror movie at all, but more a dark comedy, a very dark one. This was followed 4 years later by a sequel, which continues the story right where this one leaves off,  has the same director and star, and I’m told is even more graphic.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 19, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 15Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Jorg Buttgereit

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube

Angst (1983)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Madman attacks peaceful family.

A serial killer (Erwin Leder) gets released from prison despite still having the urge to kill. He initially tries to strangle a female cab driver (Renate Kastelik), but she throws him out of her car before he can do it. He then goes running through the woods until he comes upon an isolated home. He breaks into it and kills each of the three family members living there one-by-one before eventually taking their lifeless bodies with him in the trunk of his car while he drives aimlessly around Austria.

This film is based on the real-life Austrian case of Werner Kniesek who murdered a family of three in their home on January 16, 1980 shortly after being released from prison. In that case Werner had known one of the victims previously while the movie its portrayed as if the killer has no connection to the occupants at all. In the actual crime Werner also killed the family’s cat where in the movie the pet is a dog, which the killer not only allows to live, but eventually befriends.

I’ve spent years complaining how most horror films aren’t very realistic, so I suppose I really can’t complain when one finally does decide to go all-in with graphic realism and not spare anything. The film certainly succeeds in being like a grisly true-life crime, but in the process it’s not very scary either. You know right from the start where it’s going, which makes the eventual violence come off as agonizingly drawn out and pointless. It’s like footage caught on a closed-circuit camera where you have no emotional bond with the people or action and when it’s over you’re left feeling drained and ambivalent.

Many people have praised the innovative camera work, which is provocative and some have even compared this to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, but that film was more compelling in the way the main character was able to entice regular people to help him with his crimes while here there is virtually no dialogue or character arcs. There’s basically no story either just a graphic dramatization of a random crime that gets excessively drawn-out.

Leder is excellent and I liked how he portrays his character as being nervous, anxious and perpetually frightened as opposed to the stereotypical way of showing psychos who are robotically cold and relentlessly evil.  His voice-over narration allows for moments of insight too particularly when, as he is killing his victims, his thoughts are instead focused on past wrongs that were inflicted onto him from years ago by others, which made me believe this could very well be the thought pattern of most killers who selfishly remain fixated on their own personal injustices even as they callously destroy others.

The acting by the supporting cast is impressive too not so much from what they emote since they’re given very little to say or do, but more with the way they sacrificed  their bodies for the project particularly when the killer drags their lifeless corpses over broken glass (no mannequins or dummies were used) and down several flights of stairs. I also loved the dog and in fact he’s the highlight that allows for moments of levity and even comic relief in an otherwise unrelentingly grim film that will appeal only to a select group of people.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 2, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes, 1Hour 15Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Not Rated

Director: Gerald Kargl

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video, YouTube

It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Killer babies shipped away.

Stephen Jarvis (Michael Moriarty) is the father to one of the mutant babies who agrees to have his child shipped away under a court order to a deserted island where it can live freely among the other mutant babies while no longer being a threat to the rest of society. 5 years later Stephen is then asked to join in on an expedition by a group of doctors who want to go to the island to monitor the growth of the children, but when they arrive the children overpower them and force Stephen to return to the mainland in order to meet-up with Stephen’s wife Ellen (Karen Black) who gave birth to one of them years earlier.

Larry Cohen has stated that he wanted to take the theme to its logical conclusion and see what the babies would become like when they grew older, but it was the killer baby plot-line that is what made it so unique and by his point it no longer represents what it initially did. Now they look like overweight versions of the aliens from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the setting like a whacked-out revision of The Island of Dr. Moreau and instead of being a horror film it’s more like a sci-fi flick and not a particularly good one at that.

It’s only mildly interesting when it’s on island anyways, but surprisingly the story doesn’t remain there and the  ill-advised humor that gets thrown in does nothing but make this already silly idea seem even sillier. We do however get to see more of the babies than in the first two installments, but this doesn’t help because they end up resembling second-rate clay animation figures, which looks tacky as hell.

Moriarty elevates it with a much needed edge and the fact that he’s staunchly pro-life in real-life gives the part an added layer of genuineness.  The only problem is that the character has the same arch as the father’s in the first two films had, which makes it redundant.

Black isn’t in it much, but manages to come on strong at the finish. I was perplexed however as to why in all three films it was the father who went on a crusading mission to save the babies and never the mother. Why couldn’t the wives/mothers have worked with their husbands as a team on this endeavor and the fact that they don’t seems sexist.

Per Leonard Maltin’s review there’s some ‘serious comments’ here on many modern-day social issues, but when it’s as cheaply made as this you really don’t care. There’s also too many tangents including a poorly staged street gang fight that is unconvincing. The first film was a novelty with a few redeeming qualities, but the  sequels do nothing but drive that original idea into the ground and turn the entire concept into a laughable, forgettable grade-Z farce.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Possession (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife goes crazy.

Mark (Sam Neill) is shocked to learn that his happy marriage isn’t so happy when his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) asks for a divorce. He hires a detective (Carl Duering) where he learns that she is living in an apartment, but she is not alone as something else resides there with her and it’s not human.

This was sadly the only English language film directed by Ukrainian born Andrzej Zulawksi who did most of his movies in Poland. This one was made in Germany in 1980 and what struck me almost immediately is that it seems like it could’ve been done just yesterday as it institutes much of the hand-held camerawork that is so prevalent in films today, but still quite rare back then. Sometimes I find this technique annoying and overdone, but here it helps build the plot’s kinetic energy and accentuates the material’s off-kilter tone.

The gifted Adjani is the main attraction particularly the drawn out scene where she becomes possessed while inside an underground subway, which has to be seen to be believed and quite frankly a landmark moment in cinema.  I also loved how the director focuses in on her expressive blue eyes where in one scene they convey a fiery evil and then quickly cuts to them exposing a pleading emotion that remains just as captivating.

Sam Neill makes the viewer feel almost exhausted as he manifests the feelings of his character to the point that he looks both physically and emotionally drained and his acting becomes indistinguishable from genuine raw emotions. I have seen him many films before, but here he’s like a different person and not connected to the man we’ve seen or known before.

There’s definitely some over-the-top moments, but what I really liked is how it never forgets about the little details either. I’ve complained before about how blood in most movies looks fake, but here it has just the right reddish hue, which looks more authentic as does the scene where Neill slaps Adjani violently. I also appreciated how the child character (Michael Hogben) is never forgotten. Too many other films dealing with a fighting couple introduce the child up front, but then he essentially disappears as it becomes all about the adults, but parenthood is a 24-hour job that parents can’t just forget about even when it’s inconvenient and this film nicely reminds both the viewer and characters of that.

The more the film went on the more convinced I became of how it could never have been made in the US as there’s too much of an emphasis on making movies ‘marketable’ and genre specific while this film defies all the preconceived formulas, which is why it’s so cool as you have absolutely no idea where it’s going and each new twist is a genuine surprise. Despite being almost 40 years old it remains fresh and inventive and far more original than 99 % of the other movies out there. It’s like a drug trip where after it’s over you feel like you’ve lived through an actual event.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: May 25, 1981

Runtime: 2Hours 7Minutes

Rated R

Director: Andrzej Zulawski

Studio: Gaumont

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2)

Out of the Dark (1989)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stalking phone sex operators.

Women working at a phone sex hotline known as Sweet Nothings suddenly find themselves menaced by a strange killer wearing a clown mask. One-by-one they start turning up dead and suspicions fall on a regular caller named Bobo, but the police have a hard time tracking him down, so the remaining women take matters into their own hands.

The film starts out with potential particularly the recreation of the call center that was completely on-target and had the film remained exclusively in this setting it could’ve been engaging. I wished though that the operators hadn’t all been single as it would’ve been interesting seeing a married woman working there and how her husband adjusted to it. I also wanted to see some character arcs especially from Camille (Star Andreef) who plays a ‘newbie’ starting out in the business. It would’ve been fun having her reserved and shy at the start and then eventually gotten into it after a few days as opposed to her diving into the unique job demands without hesitation right from the start.

Karen Black as the manager of the place is good and I liked how the film analyzes her different life roles from being a single parent raising a daughter to an amusing moment where she jumps on the phone to help out another operator by playing the part of a ‘three-way’ during a sexual fantasy. Unfortunately her presence is sporadic and the film fails to have any consistent protagonist only to eventually settle on two who are so incredibly dull and generic that is just makes things worse.

Tracy Walters is boring as the detective in a tired caricature of a gruff/crude policeman that doesn’t work at all. Divine plays his male rival, but is only seen briefly during the film’s final 30 minutes when he should’ve been given the lead and if he had the movie might’ve been an interesting curio worth catching, which at this point it’s not.

The killer like everyone else in this failed experiment of a movie has no pizazz despite his creepy mask and the comical comments that he makes after he kills each of his victims are annoying. I realize a lot of slasher flicks were having their killers do this at the time, which was all the more reason why this film should’ve avoided it. Finding out his true identity is a big letdown too and there’s never any explanation as to how he’s able to be at two different places at once particularly during the scene where he is shown talking on a pay phone to one of the sex operators and then almost simultaneously appears at her home where he then strangles are.

Initially it seemed, especially with its eclectic cast, that this was going to be a horror parody and that’s how it starts out, but after the first 10 minutes it careens downhill and never recovers. Instead of being a step above the usual horror flick it actually ends up being even worse and don’t let the cast of cult stars fool you either as this is not worth catching for any reason.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 5, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Schroeder

Studio: Cinetel Films

Available: DVD-R, Amazon Video, YouTube