The Films (2/5):
This double feature from Scream Factory includes two movies the company previously released on a four film DVD that also included What’s the Matter with Helen? and The Vagrant. Both The Outing and The Godsend have gotten new HD transfers on this disc, and The Outing is presented in a longer cut than the earlier release. While I wasn’t crazy about either movie, they apparently both have decent cult followings, and their fans are likely to be pleased with their presentation here.
Presented under its original title, The Lamp (aka The Outing) is a Texas-made supernatural slasher that opens with a prologue (previously cut from U.S. theatrical and home video releases) where the titular lamp arrives in the states aboard a ship whose passengers (except for one) have all been brutally murdered. The movie then cuts forward to present day, where a gang of hicks breaks into the house of an old woman (Deborah Winters, who also plays the surviving passenger and the protagonist’s dad’s girlfriend), who is now in possession of the lamp. After murdering the old lady, their attempt to rob the house is cut short when the evil spirit residing in the lamp quickly and gorily dispatches them. The lamp then ends up at a museum, where the daughter (Andra St. Ivanyi) of the archaeologist (James Huston) investigating it is possessed by the spirit – a jinn, or evil genie – when she and her friends decide to sneak into the museum at night. Partying and hanky panky ensue, until the jinn inevitably picks off the teens one at a time.
This is a pretty good premise for a regionally produced B-movie, but one of the biggest problems with The Outing is that, in between the setup and the teens’ night at the museum, there’s a 45 minute stretch of dull expository scenes featuring the archaeologist, his girlfriend, his daughter and her friends that have barely further the story or develop the characters. It feels like a pretty transparent attempt to pad the film to feature length; while there are conflicting reports on the internet about an international cut of The Outing that runs 15-20 minutes longer, it’s hard for me to believe that the movie’s producers didn’t already leave everything in. The movie does finally pay off once the characters reach the museum, but what should be good, cheesy fun is undercut by a cast of generic preppie teen characters and the a nasty mean streak to the proceedings, including a completely gratuitous rape scene. The Outing’s high point comes when we finally get a good look at the jinn, but the endearingly low budget practical effects (including a handful of stop motion shots) are over far too soon. If I’d seen The Outing on home video or cable as a kid, I might share others’ nostalgia for it and be more forgiving, but other than the final scene’s unintentionally hilarious non sequitur (and blatant product placement), it was a disappointment.
The second half of the double feature, The Godsend, is an underwhelming, strangely sleepy British supernatural thriller. The movie begins with married couple Alan and Kate Marlowe (Malcolm Stoddard and Cyd Hayman) and their four children, including an infant son. They’re visited by a mysterious pregnant woman (Angela Pleasance) who suddenly goes into labor at their home; the woman disappears the next morning, and Alan and Kate decide to raise the baby, who they name Bonnie. The story takes a tragic turn when Alan discovers their own baby has died in the crib he was sharing with Bonnie; the grieving parents decide that Bonnie is indeed a godsend, but after the story jumps ahead a few years, other tragedies (under mysterious circumstances) cause Alan to suspect that Bonnie’s arrival in their lives may actually be a curse.
The premise of The Godsend, adapted from a novel by Bernard Taylor, isn’t a bad one, but it was one of several “evil kid” movies that followed the success of The Omen, and it tries to follow in that movie’s footsteps with a classy, “serious” approach to genre. The problem is that any movie which revolves around an evil kid attempting to pick off her siblings one at a time is inherently tasteless, and The Godsend desperately needs a filmmaker who will embrace its disreputability. Instead, director Gabrielle Beaumont plays everything tediously straightfaced to the point of unintentional laughs, particularly the way Stoddard and Hayman are directed to give weirdly muted responses to their kids’ deaths.
The movie is also skittish about actually showing any kids getting killed, and while graphic detail isn’t needed to make the story effective, The Godsend is restrained to the point of becoming a horror movie where all of the horror occurs offscreen. As it’s clear early on that Bonnie (Joanne Boorman and Wilhemina Green) is an evil kid and the cause of the family’s misfortunes, there’s no suspense at all, nor any real attempt to sustain tension or an eerie atmosphere. The result is a dreary slog – the movie is a Cannon Films production, and it desperately needs some of the trademark weirdness the company would soon become known for.
Scream Factory presents The Outing and The Godsend in new HD transfers created for this release, each movie presented in 1.78:1 widescreen (The Godsend was previously framed at 1.66:1, though the minor cropping doesn’t result in any tight or awkward framing). Both movies look good – some minor noise reduction is visible, but overall, each has a pleasantly film-like presentation. Colors and detail are strong, with only occasional print damage visible – the opening prologue of The Outing, bearing original title The Lamp, looks a little rougher, but I imagine fans will be glad for its inclusion. Of the two, The Outing looks a little sharper overall, but this is due to The Godsend’s gauzy, soft focus cinematography. A DTS-HD 2.0 audio track is included for each film – both sound good, with clear dialogue, effects and music, and only minimal hiss.
The only extra included is a theatrical trailer for The Godsend.
While neither movie included in this feature did much for me, their fans should be happy with their presentations here, particularly the longer version of The Outing. For other horror fans who haven’t seen them before, I’d suggest a rental to see if they work without the benefit of nostalgia.