Kinda creepy, kinda fun, kinda funny. It’s a treat if you’re in the right mood for it.
By Review Staff
Mill Creek Entertainment has released the cheesy 1989 killer clown thriller, Out of the Dark, starring Karen Witter, Karen Black, Bud Cort, Geoffrey Lewis, Tracey Walter, Divine (in his final role before he died), and Cameron Dye—a B-movie cast to die for (literally)! Directed by Michael Schroeder from a script by J. Greg De Felice and Zane W. Levitt, this late-80s shocker was produced by Levitt, David C. Thomas, and the great Paul Bartel, and features some cool instrumental ’80s synth-pop cues by Paul Antonelli and David Wheatley.
The film was released as part of Mill Creek’s 10-movie, 3-DVD set, Shadow Stalkers, a collection featuring “10 terrifying features.”
The (simple) Out of the Dark setup: “Suite Nothings” is a low-rent, L.A. phone-sex hotline staffed by wannabe models passing the time while waiting for their big break. But all is not well; Bobo, a psychotic killer who wears a clown mask, is picking them off one by one and the police are clueless trying to uncover the clown’s identity while the body count continues to pile up.
The opening scene sets the tone as a man, presumably the film’s killer, is seen talking to one of the phone-sex operators while fondling a knife and saying how he “likes nipples” as he works the blade towards his own. When it looks like he’s about to slice into himself, his eerie voice becomes silent and the call ends. The scene is so over the top, so “80s thriller,” it entices you to see just what this maniac might do. As the film proceeds, you wonder who’s going to be next, and which of the sexy ladies will remain standing (if any are so lucky). But a question lingers: Just what is this movie aiming to be? Horror/slasher? Comedy? Erotic thriller? Somehow, someway, by design or, most likely, by accident…it winds up all of the above.
The tone shifts wildly, beginning with a comical look at the phone sex industry featuring the operators doin’ their thang working from a rundown building (what’s up with their office space? A series of cubicles separated by curtains that look like bed sheets). The film ping-pongs to some expertly shot softcore, the kind of long-ish, drawn out, airbrushed scenes you’d expect to see in any number of ’90s erotica via the straight-to-video shelves at your favorite hometown rental shack. Throw in some relationship-style drama for the soap fans and a couple hard-nosed police officers for that crime-procedural flavor, and you got it covered—often with chuckle-worthy results.
The movie was reportedly shot on a small budget ($1.6 million), but doesn’t always show it. At times it looks like a high-end made-for-television film, but the cinematography by Julio Macat is glossy, belying its small, B-movie origins. Producer-actor Bartel reportedly spent a lot of money to get this production made.
Bobo the Clown’s (whose demented voice and pun-filled language is reminiscent of Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street sequels) murders are interesting. A complete lack of logic and smarts on the part of the victim takes place during the first kill, which happens in a darkened park where one of the phone sex operators is walking her dog in the dimly lit, scary-as-f*ck park (what else?) when along comes Bobo out of nowhere, holding a baseball bat. So what does she do? She smiles and mimes as if she’s playing a baseball game with him. Yeah, I don’t scare too easily, but the first glimpse of that freaky clown mask would’ve sent me (and my dog) sprinting in the opposite direction at a speed I never knew I possessed had this happened to me in real life. But not this dimwit. Somebody’s gotta die first, I guess.
Future murders are more imaginative and less preposterous (relatively speaking), including that of Barbara (played by gorgeous Karen Mayo-Chandler, Beverly Hills Cop, Party Line, Hard to Die, ’89 Playboy playmate who apparently once dated Jack Nicholson). She gets to pose and strip for photographer Kevin before her death, complete with neon lighting, smoke and over-cranked slow-mo in an overlong erotic set piece. Best of all, it’s set to a pretty cool. era-appropriate instrumental synth track.
I found the lead protagonists fun to watch, with handsome youngster Cameron Dye (Valley Girl, The Last Starfighter) as photographer Kevin Silvers, and Karen Witter (a 1982 Playboy Playmate of the Month, guest spots on TV’s The X-Files, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, NYPD Blue) as Jo Ann, one of the phone-sex operators and Kevin’s girlfriend.
But who is the killer? That’s the fun of Out of the Dark; like a good episode of Murder, She Wrote, you’re kept guessing until the end (not that you can’t figure it out). Is it Doug Stringer (Bud Cort), the creepy accountant with perverted tastes who works in the office next door? Is it older photographer Dennis (Geoffrey Lewis), who trains his lens on unsuspecting models while harboring a grudge against his protege (the better-looking Kevin)? Is it one of Kevin’s models? Hell, maybe it’s Kevin himself! You might figure it out early on, but I’m willing to bet you you’ll question your guess a couple times during the film’s 89-minute runtime.
It’s fun attempting to figure out what function the myriad guest stars serve, as each come and go with little fanfare. Chief among them are the police officers, Lt. Frank Meyers (Tracey Walter, Duplex, The Two Jakes) and McDonald (Silvana Gallardo, Death Wish II, A Walk in the Clouds).
Here’s one hilarious example of a scene between these partners: When cliche-ridden, grizzled Lt. Meyers is flabbergasted by Kevin’s sleazy work shooting nude models, he disgustedly tells his partner, “Anyone who photographs phone-sex girls has gotta be a little bit kinky,” to which McDonald replies, “Maybe he’s just trying to make a buck. I mean, c’mon Frank, try to be a little liberal!” Which begs the question, is a man who works as a photographer shooting nude models in his apartment considered “liberal” today? ’89 was certainly on the outskirts of the sexual liberation era, but my oh my, how the times have changed! The scene ends with the two cops in their car and McDonald saying, “Look at the guy…he probably gets more ass than a toilet seat.” And here I thought Eminem came up with that line.
When researching the film, much is made about the the appearance of singer/drag queen Divine, who plays Detective Langella, a rival cop. There’s a a big buildup to his character, who remains off-screen for most of the film as McDonald and Meyers frequently allude to his eventual appearance (he’s supposedly a brash, well known, unorthodox cop). By the time his scene arrives, it’s a bit anticlimactic, and if you blink you’ll miss it.
Out of the Dark was released in 1989, but filmed in early ’88. Divine (real name Harris Glenn Milstead) passed away on March 7, 1988. It was his final appearance.
If you’re a horror freak and like to watch everything in the genre—good or bad—Out of the Dark is enough fun to keep exploitation fans happy with its mishmash of genre cliches. The version on this Mill Creek compilation looks fine on my smaller TV, despite sharing space with three other titles on the same disc, and it looked adequate on my 2016 60″ Vizio. We obviously hopoe for a Blu-ray upgrade someday, but for now, at less than $10, it won’t set you back much to add this collection to your standard-def library.
The other nine films on Mill Creek’s Shadow Stalkers DVD set are as follows: