OUT OF THE DARK ('Medusa Pictures' UK video cover)
2 and a half stars   

"Working here can be murder."

directed by: Cindy Sherman
starring: Carol Kane, Molly Ringwald Jeanne Tripplehorn, Barbara Sukowa, Michael Imperioli, David Thornton, Mike Hodge, Alice Drummond, Florina Rodov, Jason Brill, Eddie Malavarca, Doug Barron, Danny Morgenstern

(back of video blurb):

       "Favourite screen stars Jeanne Tripplehorn (Waterworld, The Firm), Carol Kane (Addams Family Values) and Molly Ringwald (Malicious, The Breakfast Club) head this darkly hilarious thriller. Dorine (Kane) is a quiet and hardworking social outcast who's endured years of abuse as the office doormat. Then one day, this mild-mannered paper pusher accidentally electrocutes one particularly obnoxious co-worker and in the process completely short-circuits her already unstable sanity! From that moment on, Dorine comes to believe that any office mate can be her best friend once they're dead. An outrageous display of the creepier side of office politics!"

choice dialogue:

"It's all about office politics - and to hell with the rest of us!"

slash with panache?

        Cindy Sherman's first, ahem, stab, at film making is a slightly deranged parable essaying the twisted depths office politics can sink to.

        Carol Kane plays Dorine Douglas, a nervy copy editor at Consumer Magazine who has managed to survive 16 years of relative anonymity by keeping her head down and avoiding confrontation. Meek as a mouse, she is however Office politics...ruthlessly efficient at her office duties and seems to live for her job which, at the very least, keeps her away from home and her crippled, belligerent Mother. Her safe status-quo is challenged when her whole department is down-sized on the orders of the power dressed asthmatic editor Virginia Wingate (Barbara Sukowa), (who's know un-affectionately as the "Nicotine Queen") and her uncomfortable messenger of doom, the newly appointed Norah Reed (Jeanne Tripplehorn). Dorine's position is cut to part-time- most of which is spent working from home, and she also has to learn new technologies which in turn mean she is forced to interact with her co-workers.

        Already on the edge Dorine is easy prey for the hardier creatures in the office's pecking order and she soon finds herself at odds with the survivalist dog-eat-dog environment. One night, whilst she's working late, she's forced to seek ... turn deadlyhelp from slimy journalist Gary Michaels (David Thornton) when her PC won't stop buzzing. He teases her and, unable to cope, she runs to the toilet almost in tears. Whilst she's away Gary electrocutes himself. On return Dorine finds his body, panics, and begins to phone the police before stopping for a moment and placing the receiver back without leaving a message. She shakes her head and resigns herself to the fact that she'll have to clear up the mess. Clearly with the last remnants of her sanity slipping away she bundles Gary's body into her car and takes him home to place it on the couch in front of a flickering TV-set in her basement den.

        Gary's disappearance is soon noted- he had been working on the next month's feature article and had promised to deliver it personally to Virginia the next morning. Virginia, chain-smoking and apoplectic with rage when he doesn't sends office aide Kim Poole (Molly Ringwald) to find out what's happened to him. Dorine, who was meant to be helping Gary finish the piece, keeps the heat off herself by sending Kim an e-mail purportedly from the now deceased journalist. Virginia, however, isn't so easy to shake off the trail and Dorine soon has her coming down like a ton of bricks.

        Dorine, having found that she got on with Gary so much better now he was dead, decides that the best way to have supervision with Virginia would be if it was very much a one way affair. Soon another corpse joins Gary on the couch and Dorine, deciding that three's a crowd, sets out to rustle herself up an office-party of stiffs…

        It's not quite clear what Cindy Sherman was aiming for with OFFICE KILLER. Clearly with that awful title you'd think it was going to some kind of parody of all those slick but anemic straight-to-video variations on the psycho-killer Dorine wreaks havocas, well you name it- vagrant, nanny, stepfather etc, which proliferated in the 90's. In some ways it is- recycling some of the office slashings from THE TEMP (1993). However its tone is far too varied to work consistently as a parody, or even an effective black comedy (you have to wonder what John Waters would have made of the material- why hasn't that Herschell Gordon Lewis fan ever made any down and dirty horror flicks I wonder?). There are some laughs to be had from the grand-guginol goings on when Dorine attempts to stop the bodies of her prey (and new found friends) disintegrating by using sticky tape and other office supplies, but most of the film's humour is generated by some agreeably nasty characters, the best of which is the archly clipped Virginia who's like a cross between Bette Davis and Ivana Trump!

        What confuses matters is the fact that Sherman also tries to, despite its grotesque nature, play the subject matter straight at times (introducing an awkward incest angle as the catalyst for Dorine's descent into insanity), which might Paper clips, sticky tape and gore!well have worked, but seems to clash with the gimmicky nature of the rest of the material. A largely indie cast and the indie sensibilities many of them bring sit at odds somewhat with what could be seen as the flip-side updating of the early 80's slasher flick (the bodies gathered round in Dorine's subterranean lair echoes HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981) and any number of subsequent teen hackers). It's nice to see a different approach to that taken by Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson with SCREAM (1996)- especially in the grue department where, despite its low certificate in the UK (a 15), it surpasses that film with some relatively graphic blood letting (mostly with handy office supplies, natch). So, with adding gore-movie to the list of sub-genres OFFICE KILLER nods to it suffers, ultimately, from being a tad unfocused.

        Carol Kane is great in the worm-that-turned role, in what I guess is diametrically opposed to that of the victim in WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979). She veers from timid to raving insanity with obvious gusto, and tries her best to keep the material together. It's also fun to see a pre-CUT Ringwald as a foul mouthed rat racer who finds she's bitten off more than she can chew when she takes on Dorine- (I wonder if, when she was at the height of her PRETTY IN PINK fame she ever imagined she'd be making a film where she is almost strangled to death with a silk scarf in a stairwell?!)

        Ultimately though, OFFICE KILLER fails to excel at any level. Having said that, it may be a failure but it's an interesting failure nonetheless, and it is at least worth a look for any of those whose thoughts have turned to retribution when faced with the nauseous excesses of office politics. ... Now where did I put those paper clips?


     BODYCOUNT 9   bodycount!   female:5 / male:4

        1) Male electrocuted
        2) Male killed in car crash (flashback)
        3) Female poisined with asthma inhaler
        4) Male killed with food processor blade
        5) Female's body glimpsed
        6) Female's body glimpsed
        7) Female dies in her sleep
        8) Male slashed across stomach
        9) Female stabbed to death (off-screen)