Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Outing (1987)

Picture it: Sicily, 1946. No, wait, that's a line from The Golden Girls. Let's try again. Picture it: La Feria, a small rural town in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. It's a hot summer day in 1990 and yours truly here has just come out of the bathroom of the local Maverick Market off on old Highway 83. My father is putting gas in the family van and I've strayed away from the bunch, as I always did when I had the opportunity in those days. As I made my way to the store's exit to rejoin the rest of the clan, I saw a little video rental section out of the corner of my eye and without even thinking, made a B-line for it. Quickly, I scanned the merchandise to see what they had to offer and saw a slew of titles that I'd never seen before. At the bottom of the shelf, I picked up this box and stared lovingly at the fantastic art before me. I'm a sucker for good box art. Just look at the photo for the blog's banner taken from Video Gem's big box art for the film House of Death. Just amazing. As my father came into the store to have me escorted by the ear, I kept that neat picture in my head and stored it for future reference alongside the great box art of The Mutilator and Squirm. Little did I know that I wouldn't see this again until 2003.

There was a little mom and pop video shop in the lovely little city of Warrensburg, Missouri called Video Castle that I frequented due to it's low rental prices and no membership fee. "Membership fee" - when was the last time you heard that term? My kid sister had introduced me to the place and I immediately fell in love with it due to it's vast collection of out of print and very hard to find 80's horror titles. Up to then and not since the 80's had I seen such a wide VHS horror collection as they boys showcased. I was a bit jealous, let me tell you, and within those great forgotten titles like Cheerleader Camp and Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, was this little piece. As many times as I'd been in there and as many times as I rented, I never picked this one up. Soon enough, as all mom and pops did, they fell victim to converting the whole store into the DVD format and all their older titles - and I mean all of them - went on sale for the low price...of 49 cents. When I heard the news, I got into my car and rushed over only to be disappointed in seeing that most of the good horror titles had been sold, including this one. Though I did manage to rescue several ones that were on my list, this one was still one of those elusive videocassettes I thought would forever be out of my reach.

I did some reading on this title on various other horror sites and I was disappointed to read that this was just another bad piece of 80's horror history. It didn't seem to have any redeeming values or qualities, that the story was bad and it was just outright pointless. I got to exchange emails with several horror collectors on-line and they all had the same opinion. I was crushed. There wasn't any way that a film with such great box art would end up being a 10-ton bomb, could there? Needless to say, last month I was finally to get this on DVD-R through a collector's website and I was excited that I finally had it. Seeing that it had taken me this long to just find the film itself in any format, I told myself that I would put everyone's reviews and opinions aside and judge it on my own.

The basis of the story is that a mysterious lamp and a mystical bracelet are recovered from the scene of crime when a group of thugs vandalize an old woman's home, leaving her for dead. The items are turned over to the local museum and curator Dr. Wallace (played by daddy eye-candy James Huston) who is in charge of finding out their origins. While vising him one day, his daughter Alex (Andra St. Ivanyi) sees the lamp as suddenly has an immediate attraction to it. The lamp itslef is a prime example how one piece of critical prop can make or break a film. In this case, whomever was responsible for the creation of lamp really outdid themselves. Sleek design, crafty artsmanship and just the touch it needs to be memorable: the small hand on the end of the lamp that hold the red jewel. Absolutely beautiful. Alex begins to obsess over the lamp, even going as far as to steal the bracelet from the museum and ask her schoolteacher if there are such things as genies. Her curiosity grows until she one day grabs hold of the lamp and accidentally lets out the contents. When she is chastised by her father for messing with the darn thing, she spits out the usual teenaged tantrum and even goes as far as to say, "I wish you were dead." to poor dear ol' dad. She is soon possessed by the spirit of what's inside the lamp and, as corny as all this sounds, it actually holds up in the end. When her classmates attend a field trip to the museum, the "spirit" gets her to convice several of her best friends, including her beau, to sneak into the museum once everyone has gone for the night to have a sleepover. I mean, she's the daughter of one of the curator's, right? Why wouldn't she be able to have access to the place? But here is the little twist: Once all the kids are in the museum basement and once all the doors are locked for the night, the spirit leaves Alex and she becomes confused as to why she - and everyone else - are in the museum at all.

The group then remembers why they are there - to have fun, drink, and sex each other up, as they do in these kinds of films. But mysteriously, the kids are all picked off one by one, along with the remaining staff on board including the head curator and an opera-toting - and rather obnoxious - secutiry guard which are gloriously slaughtered by means of ceiling fan and large harpoon, respectively. The films suddenly turns into an all-too fun game of cat and mouse as Alex tries to comprehend just what's going on. The best scene in the whole film was the "death by snakes", watch it and see what I mean. It made my skin crawl, and not in the good way. That scene itself was one of the most inventive - and by the way, eerie - death scenes I'd ever seen in a teen slasher pic.

Now we will touch on the subject of the actual genie, or "Djinn" as it is referred to here. We all were brought up with the stories of Ali Baba and the Forty theievs and the younger generation was raised on the Disney classic, so we all know when you release a genie, he grants you one wish as a token of gratitude for setting him free. See where I'm going with this? Well, it turns out that the "Djinn" isn't after Alex, he's after her father in the goal of fulfilling her wish! What wish, you ask? The one she muttered without thinking at the film's opening! Now is it coming together? So that's the reason the bracelet on her wrist glows! Not because the genie is in pursuit of her, but because the genie is actually determined to grant her wish! So with this in mind, we finally get to see the demon, sorry, the genie face to face. Now, seeing how great the film was up to this exact point is something to marvel in itself, but once the bad boy is actually materialized, oh Lord, is it funny. I think they found the poor chap in the bargain bin at Muppet Remnants R Us, because it totally shows. Now in fear of their lives, Alex and her dad have to find the mystery of the lamp and figure out how to defeat it. With the aide of a strategically placed Commodore 64 (did I just say that?) they find out that the only way to destroy the genie is to destroy the lamp! Now who would have thought that one out, right? To make this discombobulated long ending short, the "Djinn" just about destroys Alex's father but once the lamp is thrown into the even-more strategically placed incinerator, the darn things explodes in a fiery frenzy and poof! just like that, the story comes to a close and all can live happily ever after.

The film as a whole, honestly, isn't that great. But it's got so much going it for it in terms of camp and eighties references that you can't help but like it. In terms of the murder sequences, just the whole "Snake Bath" scene is enough to give you the heebies. I don't know why so many horror fans have a complete "I loved it" or "This movie sucks" viewpoint toward this hidden fun fest. For all the time I waited to finally set eyes on this one, it was a great payoff. Kids in 80's gear with their hi-top shoes, leg warmers and boom boxes, the cheesy synth music in the background, you just can't resist. This one is a real hard one to find, folks, but if you see it, please do me the honor of picking this up! Give it a try and you'll see what I mean. Just don't make any wishes you really don't want to have come true.

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