Well well well, it’s been a while since I’ve taken a dive into the cinematic dumpster, with the home video release of Stephen King’s IT dawning upon us it seems as good a time as any to take a look at one of the many killer clown movies out there that just look….truly terrible from those covers. Just, just terrible. That’s why THIS particular clown film—1989’s Out of the Dark—is a true diamond in the rough. For my first Dumpster Dive of the new year, I may have found some true gold.
Out of the Dark follows a team of women who work at a phone sex hotline called Suite Nothings who begin to get picked off by a clown mask-wearing nut by the name of Dr. Bobo. As the death toll grows, the women of Suite Nothings team up with the police to hunt down and stop Dr. Bobo once and for all.
When I happened upon Out of the Dark I couldn’t find too many articles or reviews about it online—in fact, it has a 50% split on Rotten Tomatoes with only six reviews (I’m not even sure it had a theatrical run)–which is exactly the type of mysterious movie I love to give a chance. I was expecting this to be some potentially fun, but still dumb and shlocky slasher movie. I was right and I was wrong, there is some fun and shlock to be had here but this is what happens when you get someone with an actual vision behind a movie. Much like when I put on Drive expecting a Jason Statham action flick, or when I popped on The Guest and thought I was getting Taken: The Early Years, I was totally thrown off by how much style and vision this movie had. Director Michael Schroeder has a filmography that is filled with movies that I haven’t even heard of, outside of Cyborg 2 and 3. I can’t attest to how his style carries over to these other films, but it shines here. The writers also have a very, very small filmography. Between that and the editor being a straight-to-DVD/TV editor, I don’t know how this ended up as interesting as it did.
The reason this is so effective is because Schroeder decided not to go the Friday the 13th route and instead wanted to take the movie seriously. What shocked me the most was Schroeder’s ability for visual storytelling, which is showcased in the opening scene—The cigarette burning in the dark, the marks on the pictures, Jo Ann’s script. It’s a very creepy sequence that isn’t there just for creeps, you learn things about the characters. This leads us right into the new girl coming in and we have our official introduction to the characters and where they work, the film does a great job of making the characters on the same level as far as likability and personality go, you feel nervous for everybody—especially after our first encounter with Bobo.
I keep dancing around the same compliments because I don’t want to reveal too much, one of the most wonderful aspects about the plot is, as I said, the fact that Schroeder and crew decided to go for a mystery instead of a simple slasher. As the film unravels through that second act, you are pulled in more and more without it feeling tired or predictable.
Outside of the creative team, the actors are a lot of fun in their roles. They may not be spectacular performances, but you can tell that everybody is having fun and they bring a lot of life to those characters, who aren’t particularly deep to begin with. The women of Suite Nothings (Karen Black, Starr Andreeff, Lynn Danielson) have a lot of charm, they capture that feeling of people in the office trying to get through the day. Tracey Walter kills it as Lt. Meyers, the tough-as-nails cop tasked with bringing Bobo to justice. He’s basically playing the original Horatio Caine—walks around cool and collected, smoking his cigarettes, chomping on his gum as the cool music plays. A lot of the cop dialogue is super cheesy and cliche (honestly, it gets into Naked Gun territory of comical) but Tracy Walter, Silvana Gallardo and Divine–in his final, brief performance—deliver it all in the most fun ways possible. I can’t tell if that stuff was cheesy ironically or not, or whether the actors knew how cheesy it was, but either way it was fun to watch.
That’s the odd thing about this movie, when it’s cheesy it’s cheesy, when it’s good it’s awesome. I don’t know the validity of this, but it feels like this director was handed a generic slasher script and decided to, with the help of his editor and D.P., turn it into something stylish and atmospheric. Despite all of the unintentional laughs, there is so much unexpected creepiness, tension, mystery and heart jam-packed into this thing that I thought it was able to overcome its issues. Karen Black for instance, her character required her to be the emotional center of a lot of this chaos (despite her ultimately not having a big role in the end—I thought that lent itself to the mystery) and sh puts it all on the table. She’s very broken and vulnerable at times, there’s also a great, short moment between her and her daughter that achieved something that I wish more horror movies would do today. You just need those short, sweet moments of heart to anchor you into the characters and story a bit more.
At the end of the day, is this a hidden gem or could it be tossed back into the dumpster?
Despite all of it’s cheese and silliness, there is so much more to find in here than one would expect. Genuine tension, heart and mystery save what I was expecting to be a shlock fest.
Looking back at my previous Dumpster Dive installments, I’ve been pretty damn lucky with what I’ve watched. So, for my next installment I’m going to be looking as deep into the dumpster as possible. In fact, I’m going to start a stockpile of random potential pieces of trash. If anyone has any suggestions and would like to fuel the potential torture that I’ll be going through, comment with any suggestions you have below.