Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, July 15, 2016

Director Report Card: Tobe Hooper (1990) Part 2

11. I’m Dangerous Tonight

That Tobe Hooper would wind up directing TV movies is not horribly surprising. After all, he had worked in television before, with “Salem’s Lot.” The flops he had made at Cannon, and “Spontaneous Combustion” coming and going without much notice, had taken away the prestige the director had earned from “Poltergeist.” Throughout the late eighties and nineties, Hooper would direct a lot of episodic television. Episodes of “Amazing Stories,” “Freddy’s Nightmares,” “The Equalizer,” and “Tales from the Crypt” would bare his name. During this era, he also directed “I’m Dangerous Tonight,” a feature film made for the USA Network.

Jonas Wilson, a professor of psychology and archeology, receives a stone table used in Aztec human sacrifices. Hidden inside the table is a red cloak. Upon donning the cloak, Wilson is driven into a homicidal frenzy, killing a security guard, his wife, and himself. Afterwards, college student Amy O’Neil unknowingly buys the cloak from a yard sale. Fashioning it into a red dress, Amy finds all her inhibitions gone when she wears it. When the dress ends up in less pure hands, such as Amy’s cousin or a drug-addicted morgue attendant, they become murderous. Now Amy must stop the dress before it causes any more carnage.

“I’m Dangerous Tonight” is based off a short story by Cornell Woolrich. Showing that Woolrich's story was well suited to television, it would later be adapted into two separate episodes of “The Hunger.” As for the TV movie, “I’m Dangerous Tonight” is very typical of its time and place. At times, the film feels like a long episode of the eighties version of “The Twilight Zone” or “The Hitchhiker.” The film airing on the USA Network is fitting. In the early nineties, the network was defined by “Silk Stalkings,” Up All Night and Saturday Nightmares. “I’m Dangerous Tonight,” with its levels of violence and sexiness just slightly outside network TV, not to mention B-list cast, would nicely fit into either of those programming blocks. Even the opening titles, which are written in especially cheesy font, scream cable TV in the early nineties.

“I’m Dangerous Tonight” has a similar problem to many other stories about cursed items. When inanimate objects drive the plot, the characters are constantly forced to interact with the item. When Amy wears the dress, she does a sexy dance and seduces her cousin’s boyfriend. As soon as the dress comes off, she reverts to her innocent personality. When potential love interest Eddie dons the cloak, his attempted murder is starved off when it slips off his shoulder. Later, someone steps on the discarded gown, becoming homicidal that quickly. Despite being easily cut up, the dress is oddly resistant to fire. Finally, when you have people melodramatically standing over a red dress, tempting to put it on and go nuts, things get a bit silly.

If “I’m Dangerous Tonight” is about anything more then pulpy plot devices, it deals with concepts of family responsibility versus sexual freedom. Amy is living with her aunt and cousin following her parents’ death. She also takes care of her grandmother, whose body and mind are totally degraded. When she puts on the possessed red dress, she abandons her responsibilities, instead pursuing sex and fun. Notably, this schism gets grandma killed, tossed down the stairs after tugging on the dress. While there’s some interesting ideas here, the story’s values strike one as hopelessly puritanical. Amy refers to her behavior while wearing the dress as “whorish.” She competes with her cousin over a boy. When Gloria has sex with her boyfriend, she immediately becomes a murderer afterwards. “I’m Dangerous Tonight” seems to align virginal purity with moral goodness and sexual freedom with murder and drug addiction.

Aside from Tobe Hooper completest like myself, I suspect the people most curious about “I’m Dangerous Tonight” are fans of Madchen Amick. Around the same time “I’m Dangerous Tonight” premiered, Amick was playing battered wife Shelly Johnson on “Twin Peaks.” Not long after this movie, she would play the equally virginal love interest in “Sleepwalkers.” Amick is talented enough to elevate even a fairly thin script like this. She drives the story with no problem, acting the character to the best of her abilities. When wearing the evil red dress, she dances seductively and looks lovely. (If you’re really interested in seeing a sexy Madchen Amick, she also has a few scenes in her underwear.) While Amick’s performance isn’t enough to compensate for the movie’s routine qualities, it’s at least more interesting when she’s on-screen.

Amick is certainly more compelling then some of the film’s other main players. Corey Parker, who previously appeared in “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning” and “Biloxi Blues,” plays Eddie. A fellow psych student who has a mild interest in theater, Eddie quickly becomes Amy’s love interest. There’s only two scenes genuinely devoted to the characters’ romance. In all their other scenes together, Eddie is being influenced by the evil dress. Despite his declarations of love for her, I doubt that relationship will last. Parker has some okay chemistry with Amick but isn’t very memorable. As the cousin Gloria, Daisy Hall is an immensely unlikable character. She’s usually hateful towards Amy – calling her a “slut” in one scene – and doesn’t even seem to like her boyfriend very much. Hall’s performance is shrill and high pitched.

Aside from the young actors in the main roles, “I’m Dangerous Tonight” does have some recognizable faces in the supporting cast. Anthony Perkins plays Buchanan, the professor that quickly figures out what’s actually happening. Perkins being who he is, the script cast Proffessor Buchanan as something of a red herring, his loyalties uncertain until the end. The character basically exist to drop some exposition but Perkins remains a likable presence. More entertaining is Dee Wallace. She plays Wanda, a recovering drug addict who gets her hands on the dress and starts killing. Considering Wallace is usually cast as mother figures, it’s fun to see her playing a low-life. Wallace is convincingly dangerous in the role, stabbing drug dealers and cracking heads with bricks.

Oddly, some tough guy actors pop up in even smaller roles. The film provides a late period role for spaghetti western actor William Berger. He appears as Jonas Wilson, the discoverer of the cloak. His entire performance is isolated to the opening scene. I’m not sure why an established, known performer like Berger would be stuck with a small role like this. Though he does fine, I suppose. R. Lee Ermey appears as the cop investigating the murders. It’s a very standard role, of the sneaking detective who chats with people in search of clues. Ermey is likable in the part, especially in a scene where he talks to Amy in the school cafeteria.

Though it feels more like a thriller at times, “I’m Dangerous Tonight” is still technically a horror film. This is most apparent in the series of murder scenes. The opening kill has blood being splattered on a mummified corpse. An okay sequence is devoted to Gloria strangling her boyfriend in the shower. In the last act, Wallace’s Wanda chases Amy through the darken home. When Wanda is busting through a locked door to reach a victim, “I’m Dangerous Tonight” practically feels like a slasher movie. However, the TV origins means there’s not much in the way of gory special effects. The struggle between television standards and genre requirements is most evident during a car chase. While Amy and Eddie are in his car, Gloria attacks them in her Jeep. It’s a hysterically pitched sequence, eventually reaching an unflattering level of silliness.

It’s evident that “I’m Dangerous Tonight” was strictly a work-for-hire gig for Tobe Hooper. If you’re looking for the director’s trademarks, you’ll have to dig deep. I suppose the themes of family mildly relate to Hooper’s reoccurring quirks, though Amy’s dysfunction are on a much milder level then Leatherface’s. There’s none of the likable insanity that characterized the director’s eighties output, as “I’m Dangerous Tonight” is too restrained. There’s a brief moment of interesting production design. The dance club where Amy slips on the red gown features some arches and a checkered floorboard. Every once in a while, a tracking shot will emerge. There’s not much else of interest.

Providing the music for “I’m Dangerous Tonight” is Nicholas Pike. Pike had a lot of experience with both television and the horror genre. He provided the scores for “Graveyard Shift,” “CHUD II,” “Critters 2” and would go on to score many episodes of “Tales from the Crypt.” Pike’s work is inelegant. There’s some chattering synth and shrieking cords. Mostly, the soundtrack is composed of discordant noise. It’s usually easy to ignore. During moments of attempt tension, such as the car chase, the music becomes actively distracting. Pike’s music is another indicator that “I’m Dangerous Tonight” is a forgettable TV movie.

Of course, “I’m Dangerous Tonight” has never been released on domestic DVD. In order to see the movie, I had to buy an old VHS copy. One of the critical blurbs on the back refer to the film as “A nice scary movie,” which hardly seems like box worthy praise. The picture quality is dark and the sound is tinny. This is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to find on YouTube but, as of this writing, nobody’s posted it. A Region 2 DVD release was recently announced, presumably making the film more available from now on. Not that “I’m Dangerous Tonight” is worth this much effort. The film is a forgettable TV programmer, featuring one or two interesting idea or performance and little else. [Grade: C]

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