The Outing (aka The Lamp) (1987)

My first impulse is to think of museums as great, comforting places. I prize knowledge so much that I find it hard to separate that love from the actual locations where it is stored. I spent a lot of time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan when I lived in New York City. I loved seeing the artwork up close. When I went to England and France with my mother in my teens, we went to the Louvre, the Tate, and the Musee d’Orsay and I loved seeing the artwork so close. However, I also think of being in those museums and them triggering my social anxiety. Anytime I was looking at an exhibit and people would walk up, my inner anxiety would speak up. “Am I in their way? Do they want to be alone? Do I look like a weirdo?” I also remember going to a dinosaur museum down in South Carolina as a kid. I remember being terrified because they had the dinosaurs moving and making sounds. I have a vivid imagination and as a kid that made certain places scary or intimidating. A T. Rex skeleton became daunting, a stuffed rattlesnake worried me, and wax figures were especially terrifying. When you are younger, the line between fact and fiction are emotionally blurry even if it is intellectually solid. Even when you are an adult, that line can unexpectedly blur at the most inopportune moments.

I have been in locations after they have closed. It is pretty creepy. I used to work in a regional theater in New Jersey, doing lights, sound, and props. It was a small staff so I often was left to my own devices to work alone in the building. This building was an ancient theater that had been converted to a senior center and then back into a theater. Being alone in the dark in one of those places is very different from being alone in the dark at home. At home, there are windows so you are never truly in the dark. In that old theater, when the lights are out, it was completely and utterly dark to the point where I could not see my hand in front of my face. A lot of commercial spaces have very little natural light and are isolated from the noise and atmosphere of the outside world. I can imagine a museum being totally creepy in the dark after closing. Unlike a theater, there are humanoid figures waiting in that darkness to spook you. I remember the theater had an old cardboard cutout of James Dean which would scare the hell out of me in the low light. I always thought it was somebody waiting for me in the darkness. Like I said above, that line between reality and fiction can unexpectedly blur at the worst times.

The first thing I noticed is the excellent lighting in the movie. Maybe it comes from being a low budget eighties horror movie but there are a ton of shadows everywhere like a haunted house. It makes for a good atmosphere right from the start. The gore effects are pretty good. They use that good old-fashioned Karo syrup blood that looks gunky and goopy and creepy. The digital effects are almost laughable but sometimes I like a good horror movie with cheesy effects. The practical effects are way better and pretty exciting. There are plenty of explosions, smoke, and fire to make things exciting when they need to be exciting. This really is not a creature feature so we get to see a lot of props moving on their own and they did a great job with that. They also have a lot of creepy things to work within a museum that are all really fun.

The acting is not the best but I did not put on this movie expecting much. The main character is played by Andra St. Ivanyi in her only film role. Nothing is subtle about her character and she is over the top long before anything supernatural happens. Her father, a curator, is played by James Huston and is a somewhat bumbling but solid single father. She has a lot of instantly annoying friends who are just the types that cheap horror movies are filled with so you do not feel as bad when the deaths start. Also, they went hard on one of the villains to make him unlikable (including freely using the N-word while white). Deborah Winters plays one of the few likable members of the cast, a teacher who cares dearly for her students. She is also probably the best actor in the movie. Giving her a run for her money is the museum archaeologist played by Danny Daniels with a lot of gravity but also a lot of jovial charm.

Overall, I liked this movie well enough. My only problem with it is that the build is so long that the actual horror movie part feels a bit rushed nearer the end. Of course, it really is a heck of a set up so it is hard to complain too much. This movie is not very psychological like the other selections this year but it has a classic horror movie formula of setting up a bunch of victims and then knocking them down. Kicking back with a classically bad horror movie can be just as good as enjoying a finely crafted one so I do not regret this at all, especially since I have had a copy of it for over a year.  Also, I have no idea why this is called “The Outing”.

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