Out of the Dark:
Released in the US in 1989, director Michael Schroeder's Out of the Dark probably should have stayed in the dark, recouping only a quarter of its modest budget. Though never less than a guilty entertainment, it's easy to see why Dark met with blank stares; its odd mix of soft-core sex, hammy humor, and slasher-style violence - anchored by numerous weird performances - it reads more like a Showtime Red Shoe Diaries misfire than a feature film. Of course now with Sony Screen Classics by Request delivering such oddities via manufacturing on demand, those who think they've seen it all can delve even deeper into the darkest corners of cinematic sin.
Based on the amusing conceit of a Phone Sex company operating entirely out of a downtown office, in which the lusty ladies all come to work and close up shop together, (obviously a few years before the 'everything all the time' ethos of the Internet) Dark willfully establishes a crackpot attitude. The always-curious Karen Black plays Madame Hen to her ladies, who not only work together, but also all contract for some dubious headshots by photographer Kevin Silvers (Cameron Dye). This gives Schroeder opportunity to roll his MTV cameras as Silvers conducts sexy, topless photo sessions full of smoke and longing. Unfortunately a clown-masked killer with absolutely no fear of discovery targets the phone sex ladies for some headshots of his own - shots to the head with a baseball bat, that is. The ladies suspect a creepy caller, or is it sleazy office dweller Doug Stringer (Bud Cort at his most disturbing) doing the killing?
In a stunning coup-de-wha? Tracey (yeah, you got it ... Repo Man) Walter heads up the investigation as Lieutenant Frank Meyers. That's enough to send this thing right off the rails, even while increasing its unintentional entertainment value. I'd say believability is important even in satire, but since we can't tell if Dark is a satire, or meant to be taken seriously, any lack of truth is magnified. For starters, I doubt most Phone Sex Operators are as gorgeous as these women, and I really doubt Walter is the right choice to play a lieutenant. He's cast 180 degrees against type; scruffy, petulant and bitter, and makes a really unpleasant protagonist - if you can even say there's a protagonist to be found here.
It's your choice, then! You can pick your killer from the small handful of red herrings presented; and at the risk of giving everything away, a mystery this film ain't. Or you can pick your protagonist from the small handful of likable characters presented, and since the girls keep getting killed, your choices dwindle throughout. Meanwhile, other than seeing the creepy clown unmasked, we're not exactly waiting for Lt. Meyers to crack the case, we're more likely to urge him into a life of crime or a job as a cut-rate chauffer. This is wrong-headed casting at its finest folks! Interspersed throughout are topless women, kinda-steamy sex scenes, and terrifying murder sequences. OK, rather violent and sleazy, but not really that terrifying, however our killer clown is truly, veritably creepy, while the boneheaded ways his victims put up with his pre-kill shenanigans will have you screaming in frustration before the brutality begins.
As with most Made-on-Demand disks, this feature will have the strongest appeal for those who remember seeing it way back when, and who want to relive past weirdness. Nevertheless, this curious mix of sex, horror and humor, with a frankly degenerate cast, (including also Paul Bartel and Divine in strange cameos) is just too peculiar to pass up, for connoisseurs of cuckoo cruelty.
This M.O.D. disk on a professional quality DVD-ROM, looks pretty darn good for a 20-plus-year-old forgotten film. Colors are well saturated and for the most part dark levels are deep. Very minor aliasing occasionally crops up as the camera pans over sharp edges, while some shots shimmer a tiny bit possibly due to overuse of digital noise reduction. Some overt grain in really dark scenes, and a very small amount of fading is noticeable once or twice. However, on the whole, this is a decent looking presentation.
Digital Stereo Audio is acceptable. Dialog is easy to hear and doesn't conflict with the very '80s soundtrack. No degradation of the source recording is detectable, though there's nothing going on beyond standard stereo separation to excite your ears.
This M.O.D. disk is extras-free.
This late-'80s thriller is a curious mix of sex, horror and humor, with a frankly degenerate cast including Tracey Walter, Karen Black, and Paul Bartel and Divine (both in strange cameos). A killer clown is on the loose, murdering Phone Sex operators, leaving us to marvel at creepy, sometimes disturbing murders, kinky soft-core sex, and not a soul to identify with. For connoisseurs of cuckoo cruelty, it's just too peculiar to pass up. Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
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