Out of the Dark (1988)

Out of the Dark

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The female members of “Suite Nothings”, a local phone se-…. excuse me, phone fantasy hotline, have recently found themselves in a very disturbing scenario. Turns out, someone wearing a clown mask and calling themselves Bobo is going around with the intention of slowly stalking and killing the girls, one by one. Detectives Meyers and McDonald think they might have a suspect in Kevin, a local photographer who’s dating Kristi, one of the ladies who works at the Suite Nothings hotline. But Kristi and the other gals are sure of his innocence, and convinced that the killer is a creepy, repeat client who keeps calling and violently harassing each of them over the phone. So while the police conduct their own investigation, Kristi and Kevin go off on their own to try to pin down the identity of the murderous stalker themselves, before any more of Kristi’s coworkers end up on his radar.

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So I take it everyone’s efforts were a failure, then?

Have you ever watched a movie that started out really good, but the more you watched it the more you realized that the film clearly never figured out what it wanted to be and was suffering from an obnoxious identity crisis that sort of brought down the entire production? Cause that’s what watching the 1988 slasher Out of the Dark feels like. It’s the kind of movie that has a lot of strong concepts and ideas, and it actually pulls most of them off surprisingly well. But at some point you end up realizing about half-way through that whoever was in charge of putting the film together never bothered to try to figure out if any of those ideas actually worked well together or not. In the case of Out of the Dark, they did not. But luckily most of the film’s differing bits end up being greater than the sum of its parts, so while disappointing it’s not a total wash.

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Well at least someone is entertained.

The problem with not being able to pin down the genre is that the whole tone of the film ends up feeling wildly inconsistent. The film starts off strong with the whole slasher vibe, but then it throws in elements of mystery, crime drama and erotic thriller, and then proceeds to ping-pong throughout all these elements as the film goes on. Which would be fine, you know, cause I really like the melding of different genres, but it never feels like the filmmakers got around to the all important “melding” part. They just seem to jump from one scene to the next, and you’re never quite sure what tone you’re going to get. Don’t get me wrong, they execute each scene successfully, so the slasher parts feel like slashers and the thriller parts feel like thrillers, but there often isn’t any strong link between them, so it regularly feels like you’re switching between several different kinds of movies.

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The downside to all this switching is that the plot ends up suffering as a result. Scenes end abruptly without a proper conclusion, and character and plot-lines appear and disappear at the drop of a hat. In one scene, Kevin and Kristi sneak into a suspect’s tiny office, only the suspect comes back early and Kristi is sent outside to try to stall him. Except she doesn’t succeed, and the suspect enters the room anyway. Then the scene changes to Kevin and Kristi getting out of a cab outside of town. We never figure out how the hell Kevin got out without the cops rightly being called on his breaking-and-entering ass. The film probably figured out it would be too ridiculous to explain away, so instead it chose to gloss right over it. Even worse? The film stars Karen Black as the owner of Suite Nothings. She starts out with a main role in the film and is even at the center of one of the movie’s subplots involving her Ex/estranged husband Dennis, a drunkard suffering from a mid-life crisis who blames all his misfortunes and woes on Kevin, and has physically threatened him and vowed revenge. But then a little past the half-way mark the film just abruptly drops her like a hot potato, and the whole plot involving Dennis gets forgotten, except for a brief appearance towards the end where he shows up for a hot second to mock another secondary character’s death, drink and slip back off into the shadows, the film likely cutting away right before he tripped, passed out and was eaten by a bunch of alley rats, which would have been a more dignified ending than he deserved. And don’t even get me started on the film’s lame ending, or their piss-poor job of hiding the identity of the killer despite providing a plethora of other suspects for us to consider. I honestly just think that the movie had so much that it was trying to accomplish that even it forgot at times and just simply failed at keeping everything straight.

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So what…they forgot me…not like I care…*hic*

The one part where the movie shines is the cast and the visuals. The film looks shockingly good for a low-budget B-movie. For a production that often aims to be as sleazy as it could possibly be, the film can be equal parts airily arty and bloody disgusting, with all the gory bits slowly ramping up as the film progresses. Which sort of ties back into the film’s inconsistent tone, but the visuals still manage to be impressive nonetheless, and like I said, the filmmakers could really hit their mark when they wanted to. So I’ll at least give them credit for the nicely framed scenes, use of color, special effects and cinematography. They did a shockingly good job in that department.

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And though most of the characters may be obnoxious, or hell, even downright unlikable, I gotta admit that the cast of Out of the Dark is pretty friggin’ strong, all things considered. I mean, I’m not gonna say that everyone knocks it out of the park, but there are A LOT of very talented, and in many cases familiar, B-movie actors and newcomers here, including Karen Black, Bud Cort, Geoffrey Lewis, and Tracy Walter. It’s also got Tab Hunter from Cameron’s Closet, Paul Bartel from Eating Raoul, and famous 80’s drag queen Divine in their last film role before their death. Hell, even Karen Witter has a small part in this, and I JUST saw her in Buried Alive (I swear that was not intentional.) Not that I necessarily expect a lot of people to recognize all of those names or even some of the films they were in, but the point is I guarantee that if you’re a fan of 80s/90s TV and movies then you’re going to recognize a lot of very familiar faces.

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Out of the Dark is just another example of the kinds of films I want to like, but yet the film seems intent on going out of its way to make it hard to do. It’s got a fine cast, some nice visuals, the parts it gets right, it really gets right, and the deaths are increasingly disturbing, not to mention brutal and bloody. By all accounts this should be a slasher film that really works. But the plot holes, inconsistencies and hip-hoppie tonal shifts really bring it down and keep it from being great. Parts of it are really fun, but those parts aren’t enough to overlook its other faults. If the script and story planning had been tighter, then I think Out of the Dark could have really worked, but alas. If you’re a horror/thriller fan and enjoy lots of blood and excessive nudity, then this is maybe worth at least one watch. But just know that it’s not something that’s gonna knock your socks off.

Out of the Dark is available on a variety of streaming services.

Out of the Dark is also available on DVD.

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Michi

5 thoughts on “Out of the Dark (1988)

    1. Oh, no, I wouldn’t call it bad. It’s certainly decent for what it is, and the visuals and beginning are quite strong. But the story really falls apart in the end because, well… honestly I’m not sure. I’m starting to think it was simply because they just hadn’t thought that far ahead.

      Liked by 1 person

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