Out of the Dark

Another grisly crime rocks the City of Angels

Sweet Nothings is a sex hotline company that operates in a LA building and a particular psycho in a clown mask decides that talking with the ladies on the other end of the line isn’t enough…he needs to kill them as well! Here’s a plus: Karen Black is the brains behind the operation! She signs up the girls and makes sure they have the vocal chops to get callers aroused through “performance”. A fashion photographer who is a boyfriend to one of the hotline girls also shoots head shots and glamour pictorials for her co-workers.


This is the kind of movie I used to pass the time on Sunday nights. A crackpot cracking wise under a clown mask while using water hose to choke an unfortunate victim after burying a shovel into the head of a guy who woke up to check on some noise in his yard. Ladies working the phones with primo voice acts that certainly tickle the fancies of horndogs in the big city…angels these guys are not. Hell, even Karen Black gets on the phone and cooks up some sauce across the phone when one of her girls (the first victim, smacked across the noggin with a bat) fails to show up for her shift!

What makes a film like Out of the Dark (1988) so cool to me is the faces in the cast. There are some fun ones. Like Tracey Walter (many 80s kids might recognize him from Conan the Destroyer (1984) among many other movies which include Repo Man (1983), Rumble Fish (1983), and Midnight Run (1988)) as a beleaguered LA detective who, despite learning of how the killer is connected to the victims early on, can’t seem to stop the murders, or Paul Bartel (he was involved in the production beyond just a funny cameo where he’s rocking a toupee, operating a sleazy motel), walking upon a soggy, blood-drenched crime scene. 

You have Geoffrey Lewis (of all people) as a boozing “porn photographer”, sinking into the pit of despair and alcoholism due to his protégé (Cameron Dye, the photographer who is eyed as the lead suspect by Walter) moving on to far better things. Black has a fun scene where she waltzes into Lewis’ disheveled pad with orders to leave Dye alone. Sadly, though, the second half abandons the girls and follows Dye and Lynn Danielson-Rosenthal (the “final girl” of the picture) as they investigate Bud Cort (Harold and Maude (1971)), a creep in the building that all the girls are rather suspicious of. 

Starr Andreeff once again makes the most out of a part that other actresses probably couldn’t. Dance of the Damned (1989) is her masterpiece performance, but her beauty and soft grace on camera is hard to take your eyes off of even when playing a character (a voice actress trying to make ends meet until a commercial or other opportunity comes along) coaxing a line of sexual parlance across the phone in order to hold a killer in a booth so the cops can nab his location. I have affection for her string of low budget B-movies where many an actress might shrug their shoulders and consider this run inconsequential. I think you can watch “The Terror Within” (1989), Ghoulies II (1988), or Amityville Dollhouse (1996) and Andreeff doesn’t just fade into the background…she has this ability to ray from the screen. In Out of the Dark, I found her bubbly innocence intoxicating and the way she rolls her eyes and scoffs at the current employment situation (her introductory scene has Karen Black taken aback by how she gets on the phone and goes all “beast mode”, totally “seductress with a gift of arousing verbiage”, returning to her Lil Miss Sweetheart right after it) amused me to no end. While waiting in her apartment for the killer to call, Andreeff gnaws on a carrot and practices for a candy bar commercial in a camera; she really is only in the film for fifteen or so minutes tops, but none of it is wasted. Her character is very much the “got off a bus from Iowa looking to score in Hollywood” doe-eyed lovely, volunteering to lure the killer to call for Walter, suffering the consequences for her bravery.

Divine (in her last film role, I read) plays a "male" cop, rather displeased with Walter appearing at his crime scene at Bartel's hotel. Cops get a bit territorial, you know. It is a small part but his snarling stand-offishness is memorable.

Dye is the focal suspect of the film, his ties to the girls because of his photographic job the reason Walter is suspicious of him. Walter’s partner, played by Angela Robinson Witherspoon, isn’t so sure Dye is the killer. The film certainly paints Cort as an obvious candidate. This film surprises with the reveal of the killer, and I can honestly say, the first time I watched it (June of 2010) I didn’t expect them to pull the trigger on who it turned out to be. Kudos to them for doing so.

Damn, the eyes!

Lynn Danielson-Rosenthal

The film's director gives his other movie some love on the marquee

Bud Cort, wondering who is snooping in his office

Spiral staircase; gotta pimp it whenever I can

Tracy Walter, not sure the killer was actually put to rest

Bartel and the horrifying discovery

Divine, Ace Detective

The Interrogation, complete with hanging face light

Starr Andreeff

Geoffrey Lewis

Karen Black, manning the phone.

I liked particularly how the smut hotline biz is portrayed here. Ultimately, those involved are struggling models and actresses looking to upgrade their careers while working at the hotline until the big day comes that rescues them from the doldrums. Black has one scene where she’s mourning the loss of her gals to the clown-mask killer (the violence isn’t overtly graphic), and her daughter enters the room to comfort her. It is rather unexpected, really.

This could be the one film that allows Walter to blow away the bad guy with a shotgun. And this isn’t a shitty movie, so Walter is actually blasting a bad guy with a shotgun in a quality production! Yay!

As far as the sex and nudity--yeah, couldn't deprive the readers of the smut, right?--the film doesn't go overboard. Sure, a photographer has lots of possible sex opportunity as the models seem enamored with an artist and what he can do to make them potentially famous. Nudity comes with a model getting all worked up while performing for the camera. Dye and Danielson-Rosenthal really seem into their partnership roles. They smolder together and seem to generate a chemistry that burns on screen. They rarely can keep their hands off each other.

As usual, the city that can make or break you career-wise, dreams that could come true but often just don't, is presented realistically. Not a bad little movie.