Monday, October 21, 2013

The Outing (1987) dir. Tom Daley

a.k.a. The Lamp

Logline: An ancient and mysterious Djinn lamp is discovered in the house of a murdered old woman and then moved to a nearby museum for study. Not-so-coincidentally, this all happens at precisely the same time that the daughter of the museum's chief archaeologist and her goofy, sex-crazed pals decide to sneak into the museum for an overnight full of beer, debauchery, and natural history education. No, the teens haven't decided that learning is fun: it turns out that this daughter, Alex (Andra St. Ivanyi), is lightly possessed by the lamp's matching bracelet and that for the wish she made that morning to come true, the genie will need all the bodies lined up in one convenient location.

Crime in the Past: Our lamp from 3500 BCE (along with its fancy fashion bracelet) has had a long history of inserting itself into the lives of Arab women and fulfilling their wishes. In 1983, a cargo ship from the Middle East carries it to Galveston, Texas, as the possession of yet another Arab woman. Something happens, and all of the boat's crew turn up dead. The lamp's growling mystical occupant then does something vague and offscreen to the ship's captain as the Arab woman dies. The lamp and bracelet then find their way into the possession of the dead woman's close relation. The vague cycle continues. Wishers gonna wish.

Bodycount: 15 wished away into goopy oblivion.

Themes/Moral Code: The victims fit into the predictable molds: old-lady-murdering hick punk ruffians die; underage teens imbibing alcohol and getting randy die; racist, girlfriend-beating high school bullies die; even absentee fathers aren't safe from this slimy genie's wrath.

But really the film's controlling theme is exactly what you'd think it is.

Killer's Motivation: It's a goddamn genie. He's just doing his job. Well, sort of. See, this genie (who most closely resembles an unflushed turd) should technically only be following the command of his unwitting caretaker Alex's breakfast time wish, which was the perpetual absent-minded refrain of most angst-filled teen girls whose dads don't take them to enough Houston Astros games: "I wish my dad were dead!" If fulfilling that wish is the genie's sole concern, he sure does take the long, corpse-filled route to get there. This floating turd decides to murder everyone in Alex's general vicinity, perhaps because he's never seen a clear picture of Alex's father or maybe because he left his glasses back in the lamp. Pretty much omnipotent, the Djinn can levitate his victims, will their heads to explode, conjure up some venomous snakes to bite them, or simply shoot laser beams from his eyes to zap them, if he's not feeling like putting in a lot of effort. The dudes simply enjoys the slaughter. Nevertheless, fulfilling Alex's wish is his ultimate motivation, as he tells her that after doing so he will "own her." What this means is never made crystal clear, but we feel certain that the lamp-- as roomy as it may be-- is a bit cramped for two.

Final Girl: Alex loves Guess jeans, bad food, and her dead mom. She's so upset with her beloved father for spending the majority of his time these days at work dusting off old genie lamps that over a breakfast of burnt toast she wishes him dead. She immediately regrets her careless words and her and her father soon make up, but unfortunately the genie has very good hearing. Although she possesses a healthy amount of spunk, Alex is an unmemorable heroine. She comes off a little dim, and the fact that she used to date a blatantly racist prick is another strike against her faculty of judgement (the first strike being, y'know, wishing for her dad's death around a genie bracelet). However, I do believe she holds the distinction of being the only final girl spooked by the tinkling sound made by the contents of a Pepsi truck being unloaded, post-ordeal. And that's something.

Evaluation: Dopey simplicity, carried out with enough earnestness, can be endearing. And Tom Daley's The Outing is sublimely dopey: at the film's climax, one of the heroes consults a museum computer for assistance in defeating the rampaging Djinn, and it helpfully spits back at him "DESTROY THE LAMP, KILL THE GENIE." This is what we are dealing with here. Nevertheless, Daley (whose only directing credit is The Outing and whose only IMDB profile picture is of him piloting a boat) barrels through the pitfalls of a largely amateur cast, a harebrained script, and very little money by crafting the film with nary a dull moment in its brief running time. By structuring this supernatural demon flick as a slasher and ensuring an addition to the body count every five minutes or so, the film moves at a satisfying clip, and because the special makeup effects team do a nice job with what little they have to work with, it's easy to be pleased by the frequent thrifty carnage on display, which runs the gamut from random snake violence to levitating electro-lynchings. Apparently the film-- originally titled The Lamp-- had 18 minutes lopped off for its U.S. release, so perhaps we can thank this judicious editing for its en vogue slasher pacing. (This also appears to be one of the few cases in which being edited by the distributor after the fact was a boon to the film in question: I certainly can't imagine an extra eighteen minutes of teens stumbling into museum exhibits helping the The Outing any.) This U.S. version of The Outing was released just this month on DVD by Scream Factory after decades of commercial unavailability. I wish for you to pick yourself up a copy, if you feel so inclined.


  1. Sounds like fun, I'll be sure to keep an eye out for it. And an enjoyable read as always JC :)

    1. As fun as a bottle full of genies. Thanks, Simon!