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Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Don’t Turn Out the Light (1987)

My notes on Don’t Turn Out the Light (aka Skull: A Night of Terror, Night of Retribution) (1987).

Robert Bergman and Gerard (Jerry) Ciccoritti had a burst of creativity in the mid-80s, with some promisingly perverse Canadian horror pictures (Psycho Girls, Graveyard Shift), before Ciccoritti vanished into midlist TV (Forever Knight, La Femme Nikita, Highlander) and TV biopics of notable Canadians like Pierre Trudeau and Shania Twain. On this Last House on the Left-type suspense-sleaze item, Bergman (usually the producer) directed and Ciccoritti (usually the director) co-scripted. It has a familiar plot and is broadly played, but a couple of interesting wrinkles elevate the basic set-up and it has an enthusiastically demented finale. In the manner of early Wes Craven, two dysfunctional families on opposite sides of the law are pitted against each other – which brings out their similarities as much as their differences.

City cop David King (Robert Bidaman), traumatised by a hostage incident which ended badly, has moved his wife Jenny (Nadia Capone) and two kids out to the country to take a lower-pressure law enforcement job, but he’s obviously in two minds about rebuilding his family life, as symbolised by refusal to finish redecorating their isolated house and his indulgence in very rough sex in the barn with Sarah (Bonnie Beck), young and pouting wife of his partner Neil Adams (Paul Saunders). Dave and Neil get the job of driving some prisoners across the country, but – thanks to Dave being lech enough to stop and offer help to a stranded woman – they are ambushed by black-clad gang mama Ash (Isabelle Merchant), who is rescuing Skull (Robbie Rox), a bald, scarfaced one-eyed serial killer/criminal boss with a fetish for families (a la Red Dragon) and a terror of the dark. Along with undercharacterised goons Lucas (Paul Babiak) and Hammett (Banito Brown), Skull and Ash evade the pursuing cops and – naturally – invade the King homestead. The presence of children raises the threat threshold, and Sarah has her clothes cut away in a sequence where Lucas reveals he has a fetish for various fabrics – any subsequent sexual assault is offscreen, but this kinky, queasy sequence is probably more memorable than yet another rape sequence would have been.

Just as the King family is in near-meltdown, the crooks are rife with internal dissent – most want to steal the car and get the hell out of the area before the alert is raised, but Skull has an obsessive need to become the man of any house he invades and, when Dave is thought dead, keeps insisting he’s the husband and father here, fingering his eyepatch when his bloodlust rises. Sarah and Neil get mown down when the invaders discover the stash of guns and ammo that Neil has persuaded Jenny to hide in Dave’s cellar against his gun-phobic friend’s wishes (this film is full of people doing amazingly stupid things, but manages to sell them as regular folks’ idiocies rather than plot contrivances). In the finale, Dave dons a mask made from a shovel (with eyeholes) and home-made armour, and becomes a psycho-movie-style menace to the house-squatting villains, emerging from the darkness to shoot off arrows at the gang and trashing his own home to rescue his family and face up to the monstrous fake father. Skull, meanwhile, keeps bragging that the house is his, sounding like a Western homesteader beset by an Indian attack, when he isn’t screaming as the lights go out.

The script is more complicated than most of the actors can manage (Rox is fun, but so over the top that he isn’t as menacing as he might be), though Bidaman is an interestingly unsympathetic hero and Merchant has a nice line in long-suffering, almost sensible villainy as the monster’s practical, often-ignored moll. Made in 1987, it has a grainy, outdoorsy look which gives it the feel of a grindhouse item from fifteen years earlier; it may in fact be the first film to try to copy the look of the ‘70s.

 

Discussion

One thought on “Film review – Don’t Turn Out the Light (1987)

  1. Sheldon Inkol Hey! This was the first feature film I ever worked on. I was boom operator and helped with sets. What a blast from the past… Thanks, Kim. Jerry and Robert would like the review.

    Posted by kimnewman | April 7, 2020, 11:06 am

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