The mid-to-late ’80s was a major boom time for the horror film – and sadly, it also represented the last era where regionally made horror films could actually get national theatrical distribution. Even when these films weren’t particularly good, they would have a sense of localized identity and the quirkiness of something that didn’t go through the Hollywood development process en route to the big screen.
An interesting artifact from this era that illustrates those qualities is The Outing. Made by independent filmmakers in Texas, it’s an oddball stab at commercial horror that uses the concept of “the genie in the lamp” about a decade before the better-known Wishmaster series would get to it.
The Outing begins with a lamp that has a sinister history – illustrated via a double-prologue – making its way to a museum run by widower Dr. Wallace (James Huston). His daughter Alex (Andra St. Ivanyi) plays with a bracelet from the same shipment of artifacts only for it to get stuck on her wrist – this allows a sinister genie residing in the lamp to manipulate her. She talks a group of friends into sneaking into the museum after hours for a basement party, thus paving the way for a series of creative death setpieces as Alex comes to realize the evil she has unwittingly unleashed.
As a horror film, The Outing is a mess. Producer Warren Chaney’s script is packed with too many characters and subplots for it to explore with any clarity. It also suffers from violent shifts in tone: it’s the kind of movie where a tender scene between the heroine and her boyfriend is followed shortly by a tacky scene of attempted gang-rape on another character. More damningly, it has a long, dull stretch in the 2nd act where the overburdened subplots are juggled to facilitate the after-hours party where the horror will really get going.
The performances vary wildly in quality and so do the effects. For an example of the latter, there’s an interesting large-scale animatronic for the genie but whenever it has to move it is obviously being pushed on wheels. Director Tom Daley tries to invest it with some tricky camerawork to jazz things up but it can’t cover up the amateurish, lopsided quality of the film.
However, The Outing is interesting as a weirdo artifact from the dying days of theatrically-distributed regional genre filmmaking. The way it swings like a see-saw from earnest melodrama to lashings of blood and sleaze gives an entertainingly unpredictable quality. It also has some flat-out bizarre takes on familiar scenes, like a skirmish between Alex’s current beau and her jealous ex that is as violent a brawl from an action movie (even a teacher and principal throw kids into lockers!).
Most importantly for horror fans, the third act offsets the goofiness of the whole enterprise with a surprising mean streak toward its fluffy protagonists, throwing in vicious deaths, surprise nudity and a really cruel climactic plot twist for the heroine. In fact, the latter element almost transforms the proceedings into a twisted afterschool special about the dangers of disobeying/disrespecting your elders.
Simply put, The Outing isn’t that good but it’s eccentric enough for bad-horror archaeologists to find amusing. The regional horror filmmakers don’t make ’em like this anymore.
Blu-Ray Notes: This title was recently released by Scream Factory as part of a double-feature blu-ray with The Godsend. It has a new HD transfer: much it offers an uptick color but the sharpness of the image has some rough spots, particularly during the murky-looking prologue. The good news is that Scream Factory has used the longer cut of the film, complete with its original title card of The Lamp. The lossless mono soundtrack is basic but fine. There are no extras for this title but the inclusion of The Godsend on the same disc makes the disc a pretty solid value for the hardcore horror collectors.