Summer has struck again, so it’s time for the melanin-challenged folks like Yours Truly to retreat to the cool air conditioning of the local cineplex. And the return of the summer movie season means the return of our long-suffering feature Fright Flashback! Every Wednesday from now until mid-August, we’ll be exploring an older horror film that is somehow spiritually related to an anticipated new release. Only this time, there’s a twist. We’ll be merging this project with my Census Bloodbath marathon, so we can keep that train a-rolling as well! So every week, we’ll be reviewing an 80’s slasher film instead of just any old horror flick.
This week, we’re anticipating The Mummy, in which Tom Cruise and that chick from Annabelle fight an ancient mummy unearthed from her tomb. Our slasher features another powerful, mythical enemy: a bloodthirsty genie. Let’s dive into 1987’s The Lamp!
Director: Tom Daley
Cast: Deborah Winters, James Huston, Andra St. Ivanyi
Run Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
As any reader of Census Bloodbath certainly should know by now, 1984’s Nightmare on Elm Street done changed the game. The newly revived slasher genre was flooded with a deluge of supernatural villainy, taking after Wes Craven’s dreamlike M.O. And although it takes after certain Elm Street precursors like The Boogeyman or The Ghost Dance, The Lamp (inexplicably directed by a Tom Daley who is patently not a teenage swim champion) certainly could not have existed without Freddy Krueger. So I guess we know who to thank.
And I know it’s rare, but I really do mean that sincerely.
As elemental as the plot of The Lamp is, there are a lot of moving parts, so let’s get into it. We open on two separate prologues, the first depicting a series of mysterious deaths in Galveston, Texas in 1893, leaving behind only a young girl whose mother (Deborah Winters) was the very first victim. The second depicts the final minutes of that young girl, now an old woman (Deborah Winters again), as she is robbed of her mysterious lamp by three Southern fried hooligans. They open the lamp, they die in horrible supernatural ways. Pretty straightforward.
Anyway, the lamp ends up in the custody of the local museum, which is curated by Dr. Wallace (James Huston). His relationship with his daughter Alex (Andra St. Ivanyi) has become strained since her mother died, but he’s finally found happiness with Alex’s high school teacher Eve Ferrell (Deborah Winters again, and did I mention she has an associate producer credit on this movie?). So Alex finds a magic bracelet that’s linked to the lamp, and wouldn’t you know it, her sexy teen friends want to spend the night in her father’s museum.
There’s barely 40 minutes left, but let’s Meet the Meat and make it snappy. We have Ted (Scott Bankston), Alex’s horrifyingly bland new boyfriend; Babs (Damon Merrill) and Ross (Barry Coffing), a white couple; and Terry (Raan Lewis) and Gwen (Tracye Walker), a black couple. Look, the person handing out character traits could only stay for the first half hour, OK? Their revelry is intruded upon by the ne plus ultra of 80’s bullies, Mike (Red Mitchell). Mike is the worst. Mike thinks that because he used to date Alex, he has free license to ram her new boyfriend’s car and strangle her on school grounds. You will want Mike to die a horrible death, and you will not be disappointed.
So yeah, a genie gets released from the lamp. It possesses some of them, murders most of them, Alex and Associate Producer Deborah Winters survive, and credits roll.
Bada bing, bada boom.
The Lamp, genie or no genie, is a bog-standard late 80’s slasher at the structural level: we have a set of heteronormative pair-bonded teens spending the night somewhere they shouldn’t be, with a prankster skulking around to add an element of chaos until they all die in mostly bloodless ways. But the filmmakers must have mad a wish on a magic lamp, because the result is far greater than the sum of its parts.
For starters, every inch of this film is draped in terrible neon fashions, and radios are shoehorned into as many scenes as possible to allow for a free-flowing New Wave synthcrap soundtrack. That’s the bait for an 80’s cheese-o-phile like myself, but here’s the hook: The Lamp is completely insane. One thing I value above all else in an 80’s slasher is when a movie proves to be completely unpredictable, showing me sights I never thought I’d see in a million years.
Unfortunately, a major part of what’s inexplicable about The Lamp is Mike, who never ceases to be deeply offensive, but if you view this as a bizarre-world time capsule, it makes for an enjoyably surreal watch. Take for instance this one scene, which takes up no more than five minutes of the total run time: Mike barrels down the school hallway, grabs his ex in a chokehold, calls the principal the N word, and starts beating up Ted until Ms. Ferrell lays him out with a broomstick, flipping him over like a kung fu queen. This is a nuclear blast of lunacy that just keeps building into a stunning crescendo. And it’s less than five percent of the movie!
Thankfully though, the N-word use is a one-time thing.
What else does The Lamp have to offer other than utter weirdness? OK, not a whole lot, but the death scenes – though bloodless – compensate for the lack of gore with a whole slew of explosive supernatural effects. This movie must have had a bit of a budget on it, because not only do we get a random car chase in the first act, we get a whole roster of kills involving people being levitated Elm Street style into a variety of gruesome demises. The kills could perhaps stand to be more creative, but they still maintain the madcap, anything-can-happen energy, with death pouring in from all sides rather than a single killer with an axe or whatever.
It’s not a perfect movie, (don’t think I’ve forgiven Mike, who has a flagrantly unnecessary - though thankfully brief – rape scene) but The Lamp floats by being blissfully amusing in its own dumb-as-rocks way. If I can’t have actual quality I will accept something that’s thoroughly weird, and The Lamp gives me what I need.
Killer: Jinn (Jackson Bostwick)
Final Girl: Alex Wallace: Alex Wallace (Andra St. Ivanyi)
Best Kill: One of the robbers is hung with an invisible rope in a sublime effect that proves the movie certainly won’t be a waste of time.
Sign of the Times: Literally any outfit or song in the entire movie.
Scariest Moment: An old woman weakly protests as robbers steal the lamp and proceed to murder her with an axe.
Weirdest Moment: One of the museum’s security guards loudly sings opera while making his rounds.
Champion Dialogue: “I never said I was the wizard of coffee and toast.”
Body Count: 16; not including a female teen who presumably dies but we don’t specifically see it.
- Young Arab Woman dies… somehow.
- Random Dude is mauled offscreen.
- Old Arab Woman is axed to death.
- Max is cut in half or crushed or something, it's hard to tell.
- Harley has his face impaled on an axe.
- Faylene is hung with an invisible rope.
- Dr. Theo Bressling has his head chopped with a ceiling fan.
- Bob is impaled on a spear.
- Ross is split in half offscreen.
- Babs is attacked by bath cobras.
- Terry is bitten by a snake in his pants.
- Tony gets his head twisted off by a medieval helmet.
- Mike is impaled with a viking helmet.
- Jeff is killed offscreen.
- Ted is devoured by a reanimated corpse.
- Dr. Wallace is killed offscreen.
TL;DR: The Lamp is a thoroughly weird and engrossing supernatural slasher flick.
Rating: 7/10Word Count: 1317