Friday, February 20, 2015

Outcast (1990)

Directed by:
Roman Buchok

Never heard of this one before? There's a good reason for that. This is one of those rare instances where an English-language film from North America was released all around the world... except for on the continent where it was made. Not sure how it works out like that, but it sometimes does as there were several American films that were released pretty much everywhere except for in America. This one's Canadian and I can't even find evidence that it was released in Canada. It was, however, released on VHS in such far ranging countries as Brazil (as O Exterminador Recrutado Pelo Demônio = "The Exterminator Recruited by the Devil"), Argentina (as Pacto sin control = "Covenant without Control"), Spain (as Proscrito = "Outlaw"), Germany (as Outcast - Der teufelspakt = "Outcast: The Devil Pact"), Yugoslavia (as Davolov Legionair = "Devil's Legionnaire"), Poland (as Wyrzutek = "Outcast") and even Japan, each time with appropriate subtitles. It was also released on VHS in the UK and then later on DVD. But here? Nope. Nada. Zilch. Thankfully we now live in an age where borders don't matter so much when it comes to availability. So what's it all about? Well, I'd say the best way to describe it would be if someone combined the first three entries of The Omen series, jumbled the events around a little bit and mixed in some "outsider's revenge"-style horror (a la Carrie) with a dash of "Faust." Or something like that.

Ever since his mother Ruth (Soo Garay) remarried when he was still a young boy, Henry Dieter has been abused by his religious fanatic deacon stepfather (Steve Mousseau), who locks him in a shed out back behind their house and frequently whips "the fear of God" into him while his mom turns a blind eye. A now teenage Henry (John Tench) has had enough, breaks out of the shack and goes into town. After a run-in at a bar with a couple of guys who mock him and call him a faggot, Henry wanders into the parking lot and encounters a strange, nameless man (Peter Read) dressed like a cross between a priest and Indiana Jones (?!) who claims he's been watching him. The man has a tattoo gun in the back of his car but warns that he's very selective about who he tattoos. He wants to make sure they're ready and saves his special tattoo (a goat's head inside a pentagram) for those "who are true appreciators of the art." Before the strange drifter disappears, he promises that their paths will cross again when Henry is a little older.

Henry returns home drunk, burns down the shack and is chased off by his stepfather, who shoots him in the leg and warns that if he ever comes back there he'll kill him. After hitching a ride in the back of a truck, Henry ends up downtown in some major city (actually Toronto, though this is set in the U.S.) where things don't get any better for him. He's forced to live out on the streets, pick through dumpsters and steal and is harassed and beaten by a couple of sadistic cops. He eventually meets and starts hanging out with a couple of no-good street punks; Johnny (Dean Richards) and Lizard (Douglas C. Frye), and their hooker friend Candy (Krista Bulmer), who take them under their wing and nickname him "gimp." His new "friends" convince him to rob a store and then run away once the cops come. Henry's thrown in jail, released two years later, starts hitting the bottle again (he's had a drinking problem since childhood) and finds things just as hopeless as they were before. Ready to end his life, Henry decides to step in front of a car, but he's yanked out of the way by the same weird tattoo  man he'd met years earlier.

The Drifter takes Henry to small brick building, locks him inside so can detox and then gives him a drug that induces a dream where he's rich and powerful; a dream the Drifter promises doesn't have to be just a dream if only Henry is willing to trust in and follow him. You see, the Drifter's been walking the Earth for 2000 years and has been waiting all that time for the right person to bestow a special gift upon, and that person is Henry. Henry reluctantly takes up the offer, is given a pentagram tattoo on his chest and become healthy, stronger and more confident over the course of the next few months. Part of the pact is that he'll have power of everyone and everything; the ability to take a life or spare a life and be able to do as he pleases with no consequence whatsoever. The only thing he's warned not to do is to "give life." After the Drifter disappears, Henry is unleashed back into the world a new man, but now an evil, vengeance-minded man armed with supernatural powers.

Henry throws out his hick duds for new sunglasses and an all-black outfit and leather jacket, steals a sports car and then lays claim on Candy, who'd never give him the time of day before. He gets into an altercation with a stranger on the sidewalk and impales him, runs over Johnny's foot, kicks a jack out from under a car and crushes a guy, blows up a gas station, hustles some guys in a pool hall and then pummels them with pool balls (including knocking a guy's eye out with one), kills the mean cop who used to hassle him with shards of broken glass and makes his stepfather turn a chainsaw on himself. After getting revenge on everyone who'd made his life a living hell, he kicks Candy to the curb and briefly takes up with Becky (Christina Kaufman), the only person in town who was ever nice to him. Instead of using his new powers to gain power, Henry instead just trolls around the big city with the same people, doing pretty much the same things he was doing before. Unhappy with his progess, the Drifter intervenes again and suggests he get educated, get involved in business and become "the single most powerful and feared man the world has ever seen" so he can start "the new order."

This all starts out surprisingly well and the film is pretty entertaining and interesting for the first half, despite most of the cast being extremely amateurish. It's shot, scored, lit and edited well enough, too. Tench is uneven but decent in the lead role, as is Read (who really reminds one of Michael Ironside at times) as the enigmatic Drifter. Unfortunately, things start to unravel big time in the last half hour with the introduction two extremely underdeveloped characters; a female psychic (Tracey Hoyt) and a private eye (Paul Amato), who set out to put an end to Henry's reign of terror. The pacing also seems really off, as if this tries to pack too much into 93 minutes. So much time is spent in the gutter with lowlifes that Henry's (potentially far more interesting) ascent in the corporate world has to be rushed through in just a few brief scenes. But hey, at least you get to see stuff blow up, a guy forced to shove a knife down his throat and a hand mashed in a blender.

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