Early on in his career, multi-talented Paul Bartel had a string of successes. His wonderfully bizarre low-budgeter PRIVATE PARTS (1972) became a midnight movie favorite that quickly paved the way for a stint working with legendary producer Roger Corman. That union resulted in the Bartel-directed DEATH RACE 2000 (1975), a big money-maker for Corman's company, as well as acting gigs in other successful films like HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1976) and PIRANHA (1978). Bartel moved into the 80s promisingly enough with the independently-produced black comedy EATING RAOUL (1982), which garnered the attention of both critics and audiences alike. And then came some missteps, starting with the lambasted western comedy flop LUST IN THE DUST (1985). Despite actually being a fine film, Bartel's comedy / drama follow-up SCENES FROM THE CLASS STRUGGLE IN BEVERLY HILLS (1989) also performed poorly at the box office and with critics. In between Lust and Scenes, Bartel sunk a huge chunk of change into Out of the Dark; a psycho-sexual thriller, hoping its blend of steaminess and slashings would find an audience. Sadly, it didn't. The film also under-performed; reportedly recouping only 1/4th of its budget. Because of these bad breaks, Bartel was mostly relegated to playing small character parts in film and TV through the 90s until his death.
I must start off this review by saying; Holy cow, what a cast! This movie has a dream 'B' movie ensemble if there ever was one. Around to play colorful supporting roles are Karen Black, Bud Cort and Tracey Walter; the latter in a much bigger role than he usually gets. Bartel himself shows up for a bit as the bewigged owner of a sleazy hotel, and he's brought much of his Lust in the Dust cast (Divine [out of drag], Lainie Kazan, Tab Hunter, Geoffrey Lewis...) along with him to play small roles. If that's not enough, dedicated 80s genre fans should also recognize many of the beautiful actresses showcased in this film. There's Starr Andreeff (from the underrated Corman-produced vampire drama DANCE OF THE DAMNED), Karen Mayo-Chandler (from the hilarious exploitation / horror spoof HARD TO DIE) and Playboy Playmate Karen Witter (who had the lead role in the lousy Poe adaptation BURIED ALIVE). The real stars of this one - well, if we're figuring screen time - are Cameron Dye and Lynn Danielson, who are adequate in their roles but hard to pay a whole lot of attention to whenever much of the rest of the cast are doing their thing.
Oh yeah, there's something of a plot in here, too. A sadistic serial killer who dresses up as a clown and calls himself Bobo is after the sexy babes working for Ruth's (Black) phone fantasy 900 business "Suite Nothings." Bobo has been calling the girls up for quite some time and his deep, threatening voice and sudden outbursts creep a few of the employees (who all seem to be aspiring actresses slumming until they get their big break) out, but they view him as basically being harmless. That is until he proves the "clown after midnight" adage right by surprising one of the ladies in a park late at night with a baseball bat. Not content with just that, he shows an even sicker side by mutilating the corpse and cutting her nipples off. Once a second girl is strangled with a water hose, Ruth and her girls realize the psycho is specifically targeting their establishment. A pair of detectives (Walter, Silvana Gallardo) are brought in to investigate. They set up a sting operation to catch the killer, but it backfires and another girl ends up dead.
So who is doing the killings? Amongst the suspects are Kevin Silvers (Dye), a photographer the girls go to for headshots who's also in charge of doing a magazine layout featuring them. His girlfriend Kristi (Danielson), who also works for "Suite Nothings," is oblivious to the fact the man she loves has a long criminal record that includes assault on an underage former girlfriend. Dennis (Lewis), Ruth's ex-husband, is an alcoholic photographer who's insanely jealous that Kevin, his former protégé, has gone on to bigger and better things after leaving him. And then there's Dave Stringer (Cort), a geeky, awkward accountant who has the hots for Barbara (Mayo-Chandler) and is renting an office on the same floor as the phone sex company.
There are a handful of nude scenes thrown in here, but the director and the writers don't rely on the actresses charms alone to keep this entertaining. There's a good sense of humor, 80s music-video-esque visual style, some suspense, a few memorably sick moments (including a nasty surprise hidden inside a filing cabinet) and multiple suspects played by an array of fine character actors to keep you on your toes. There's not much in the way of blood and gore and the ending is a little weak, but otherwise this is a fun, slickly-made little thriller that really should have done better than it did.
Pay attention for an amusing extended plug for the tasteless comedy MORTUARY ACADEMY (1988), which was also directed by Schroeder, written by Zane W. Levitt and featured Bartel, Walter, Danielson and Witter.