Thursday, September 18, 2014

Census Bloodbath: The Mild, Mild West

Year: 1981
Director: Byron Quisenberry
Cast: Joe Allaine, Pepper Martin, Joseph Alvarado
Run Time: 1 hour 22 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.

If I devoutly adhered to this philosophy, you wouldn't be reading this right now. You see, the first slasher film released in the cornerstone year of the slasher Golden Age was the exception that proves the rule - i.e. such a crappy film that it makes even the thinnest dregs of 1980 look like blockbuster masterpieces. Although the film is popularly known as Scream, as it was titled during its desperate 1983 re-release, we shall be calling it by its original title, The Outing, so as not to besmirch the grand esteem that title should hold within the slasher genre.

I was actually quite excited to see this film, having discovered it on Netflix when I was originally watching the Scream franchise. So imagine poor little Brennan with the image of that cover art in his head, stewing for years and years as he imagines what this film could be like. You can't buy that kind of hype. But the thing about obscure film is that, while some are hidden gems, others should stay hidden.

And thus I give you The Outing, the (so far) worst slasher movie of Census Bloodbath.

Once we get into the direct-to-video age, it may be knocked off its perch, but I have a feeling it might have what it takes to go all the way.

The shot you see above you is three things. One of those things is the first shot in the movie. The second of those things is the best shot in the movie. The third of those things is the most expensive shot in the movie. With actual lighting and a visual effect (the doll's eyes turn toward the camera), the basic competence of this shot, when compared to the quality of the rest of the film, allows one to infer that they squandered their entire budget right here at the beginning. This theory becomes even more compelling when you learn that the film was shot in sequence.

This weird but intriguing opening shot provides a brief spark of interest in a film that quickly becomes a black hole of withering, bleating awfulness. Also it has next to nothing to do with the actual plot. Which is...

A group of rafters get stranded in a ghost town up in the mountains and end up being pursued by a mysterious killer. These people are of such varied ages and creeds (and arrive in such massive quantities) that the film seems like it might actually become a unique character study in which different types of people bounce off of one another while the body count piles up dramatically. Alas, not many of them actually perish and the reason the group has chosen to be together is never explained. They are but paper dolls, tossed upon the winds of fortune.

Forgive me, that metaphor went too far. These characters are thinner than paper. Although there are around 14 rafters involved in the goings on, only a couple are given names and even fewer are given rudimentary personality traits. But let's slough through them, for that is what my format requires. There's Lou (Joe Allaine), our de facto protagonist (if only because he is mysteriously given the most screen time despite obviously being a side character) and resident slobby idiot of the group; Ross (Gregg Palmer), a jovial builder who is taking a vacation; Al (Alvy Moore, also of The Horror Show and Intruder, both from 1989), a grouchy businessman; Marion (Ann Bronston), Al's wet moppish granddaughter; Bob (Pepper Martin of Return to Horror High), Marion's pre-enlightened, chain-smoking, chauvinist douche of a husband who "don't take no lip from any damn female"; Andy (Bob Macgonigal), a douchey jock who gains a substantial amount of weight as the movie progresses; the two handsome cowboy tour guides Stan (Ethan Wayne) and Rudy (Joseph Alvarado); and an annoyingly large ensemble that refuses to die even though they're only meatsacks that take up space - Laura, Janice, Maggie, Fred, and Len, according to the credits.

As if that wasn't enough, two bikers - Rod and Jerry - show up in the middle in what would be an obvious act of body count padding if the film actually deemed it advisable to kill its own characters.

Half of these people survive. This wouldn't be annoying in any other genre. But there's just too darn many to keep track of.

These characters spend two nights in the ghost town in a poorly edited haze of what amounts to nothing more than a string of tedious vignettes about people walking into dark rooms where nothing much happens, standing on dark porches where nothing much happens, or panning the camera demurely away when something actually happens.

Even more than the waste of a good body count is the execrably watered down kill sequences. In a movie where characters don't do anything but sit around and wait to be killed, it's a common courtesy to dispatch them in creatively gruesome ways. But the few characters who do kick it tend to do so offscreen in an entirely bloodless manner. Rude.

This is literally the goriest shot of the movie.

So in between the deathless swaths of nothing happening to a sea of characters who stand around until the time comes to wander off alone, we are treated to a variety of underlit shots of the town overlaid with cricket sound effects where the track is quite clearly too short because it skips and restarts right in the middle.

I offer you this question: Is it possible to retain any interest in a film where the actors are visibly bored? It's an interesting philosophical discussion to have, I think. I would present The Outing as evidence - considering that there are pauses in the dialogue wide enough to fit the entire cast laid end to end and phrases like "the killer stacked their mangled bodies in this shed" are met with a simple "oh" - but I would never ever, even in my darkest hour, consider allowing another human being to lay eyes on this movie. Not even Perez Hilton. 

This is a film where characters stand stock still on a porch in the same position for about three minutes like they're training to be a department store window display. This is a film where the meat cleaver is clearly made of papier-mâché. This is a film where even the campy elements (a ghost sailor rides up on a horse at midnight) are so drenched in tedium that it makes you lose all respect for yourself for even watching it all the way through.

And to top it all off, there's not even a reveal. The killer is never shown. Not a single frame. We can infer that he's probably some sort of piratey ghost, but considering that he is felled by a shotgun (admittedly wielded by a ghost) that theory doesn't hold water. But by the time this "climactic" (see: "so poorly edited you can't tell what the hell is going on") moment appears, every single movie-related brain cell has died so it's not valuable to expend the effort to actually attempt to decipher any of it.

Legend has it that director Byron Quisenberry (perhaps most famous as a stunt man on the 1989 nuclear train wreck Miracle Mile - review coming soon!) didn't reveal the ending of the script to the actors while they were shooting. Evidently he neglected to inform the audience as well.

Avoid at all costs.

Killer: For the first time in this entire process, I have no clue who the killer was. It could have been the wind. Or maybe a possum. Who knows.
Final Girl: There's like 8 people who survive, none of whom deserve it, although a good portion of them are women. So there's that.
Best Kill: Andy is slammed against a wall and thrown from a balcony, but the most entertaining part is how he weakly stumbles backwards up the stairs while clutching his throat before it actually gets axed.
Sign of the Times: The score sounds like the aftermath of the Seinfeld bassline gaining sentience and seeking revenge on its human overlords.
Scariest Moment: A tarantula crawls onto Lou's hand.
Weirdest Moment: A (presumably ghostly) sailor shows up, hands them the body of their friend, says a monologue about the Great Horn Spoon, then vanishes into the night.
Champion Dialogue: "The ice chest is in the jail."
Body Count: 8; reluctantly including the killer.
  1. John is hung with a noose.
  2. Ross is killed offscreen, presumably cleaved.
  3. Al is hacked with a cleaver.
  4. Rod is tossed through a door.
  5. Jerry is killed offscreen.
  6. Andy is thrown from a balcony and has his neck axed.
  7. Bob is axed in the face.
  8. The Killer [sic] is shot with a shotgun. 
TL;DR: The Outing is boring as hell and one of the worst slasher movies I've ever seen.
Rating: 1/10
Word Count: 1511


  1. Cards of Death was worse.

  2. The September of Doom continues!

    I kind of like the idea of a disaster/slasher, though. Or a Scooby Doo homage where everybody dies.

    1. Wait a second--how much property damage was there in The Fog?