Thursday, August 5, 2010

Tobe or not Tobe: I'M DANGEROUS TONIGHT (1990)

Looking to penetrate the market beyond game show programming, the USA Network started looking toward original movies in 1990. Perhaps influenced by their successful NIGHT FLIGHT and USA UP ALL NIGHT programs, the product they used as a springboard in the summer of 1990 were fixed in the horror/exploitation genre. Titles included Frank Darabont’s feature debut BURIED ALIVE (May 1990); the killer car feature WHEELS OF TERROR (July 1990); the ludicrous HITLER’S DAUGHTER (Sept. 1990); and NIGHTMARE ON THE 13th FLOOR (Oct. 1990). Debuted smack dab in the middle of these titles was Tobe Hooper’s return to feature length television, I’M DANGEROUS TONIGHT (Aug. 1990).

The film opens with an ancient Aztec sacrificial alter being delivered to Dr. Jonas Wilson (William Berger) at the Tiverton College Museum. It was used for rituals involving the killing of “20,000 victims at a time” (says the overly knowledgeable delivery man) and Dr. Wilson quickly opens it to find a mummified body wrapped in a red cloak inside. He removes the cloak and immediately goes mad from touching it. You know what this means: the lowly security guard – who is required by cinema law to be watching a sporting event (boxing this time) – gets killed!

We are then introduced to Amy O’Neil (M├Ądchen Amick), a parentless college student who is bit of a pushover. How much so? In the first five minutes she is on screen we see her agree to read a 1,200 page book for her study partner Eddie (Corey Parker); agree to find props for a play; agree to sew her cousin Gloria (Daisy Hall) a dress; agree to take care of her ailing grandmother (Natalie Schafer); and believe her cheating aunt when she tells her she is getting no inheritance. Before you can scream Cinderella, Amy is at an estate sale of Dr. Wilson’s property and picks out a trunk for the play. Inside she finds the red cloak and, when she touches it, has flashes of Dr. Wilson killing his wife. Rule #1 when buying fabric: avoid the stuff that makes you see past murders! Amy quickly sees the effects of the cloak when Eddie puts it on while rehearsing Romeo & Juliet and becomes a badass fencer. Despite all the “red” flags, she still opts to turn material into a dress that she wears to the Easter dance, where she seduces Gloria’s man as this red dress has unleashed her inner whore.

Amy gets home safely after she comes to her senses when the dress came off, but is confronted by mute grandma who can somehow sense the evil in the material. They struggle over the dress and Gram dies after her wheelchair takes a flight off the steps. A bummer for the family but not enough to stop Gloria from asking to borrow the dress the next day after the funeral (yes, in movies funerals always happen the next day). Amy says she threw in out, but snooping Gloria finds it hidden in the closet and puts it on to visit her footballer beau. Naturally, she becomes a psycho and she strangles him in the shower and cuts off his penis (off screen). “You’re about to get sacked Mr. Superstar Quarterback,” she says before doing him in, showing Aztec spirits have no love for the game. Gloria then tries to run Eddie and Amy off the road in a 4X4, but flips the car and dies in the ensuing fire.

The next day Amy gets two visits from the exposition department. First, Prof. Buchanan (Anthony Perkins) pops up as she is jogging in the woods and inquires about the purchase she made. He then tells her all about the cloak and how it can bring forth the wearer’s deepest nature. So if you are sexually repressed, you may become “a whore” as Amy so delicately puts it. Later, Lt. Ackman (R. Lee Ermey) visits her because he is suspicious of the two deaths happening so close together. He finds Amy’s story of a possessed dress outlandish, but there are now reports of a woman in a red dress killing drug dealers in the days since her cousin’s death. Amy investigates further and finds out that assistant coroner Wanda Thatcher (Dee Wallace-Stone) took the dress, which regenerated after the fire, from her cousin’s body. And this dress really brings out the worst in Wanda as she craves cocaine, booze, and ice cream! So Amy must now try to stop Wanda while proving to the police her story is real.

“From Tobe Hooper, the director of POLTERGEIST, a new force in fear” 
“The director of POLTERGEIST brings you a new kind of terror.” 
Having experienced the biggest flop of his career, director Tobe Hooper bounced back with this average horror story. Adapted from a Cornell Woolrich short story originally published in 1937, I’M DANGEROUS TONIGHT has very little to do with the source material outside of an evil dress. The Woolrich story was a pulpy gangster story that jumped from Paris to the America, whereas this is more of fairy tale story. To be honest, this would make a pretty good TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode or hour length film. The film seems to end at the 50 minute mark but then continues on with the Wanda storyline. In fact, this reminds me a lot of Sam Raimi's recent DRAG ME TO HELL.

Hooper’s direction is very workmanlike, rarely offering the visual flair that set his previous TV feature (SALEM’S LOT) apart from other made-for-TV movies. There are even a few bits that are downright embarrassing. For example, Amy’s entrance into the dance is hilarious as everyone rubber necks at her and Gloria even jumps in front of her boyfriend as if to protect him. And wait until you get a load of the music and white guys dancing. Later, Hooper offers one of the most unintentionally funny bits of his career when Amick has a tug of war with her wheelchair bound grandmother over the dress. The prospect of Hooper working with Perkins is certainly intriguing, but Perkins dials it down in terms of his trademark oddball performances and is only in the thing for a total of maybe 15 minutes.

On the plus side, there is some good acting. Amick is very good and attractive, even if she is forced to do the standard Hollywood “hot girl in sweater with her hair pulled back = nerd” routine. The cigar smoking, food obsessed cop character played by R. Lee Ermey is a hoot. Also, Dee Wallace-Stone is unrecognizable as the femme fatale, mostly because she isn’t a crying suburban mother. I’m glad Hooper gave her the chance to play against type here as the raven haired killer. So while it may not be vintage Hooper (1974-86), I’M DANGEROUS TONIGHT is watchable Hooper especially when you consider SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION before it.

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