Suite Nothings is a phone sex business where lonely and frustrated men can call up and listen to a woman talk dirty to them for five minutes for a fee. It's not the greatest of jobs, and among the small staff under owner Ruth Wilson (Karen Black) there is a sense of camaraderie as they wait for their big break so they can leave tawdry rent-paying occupations such as this far behind. However, there is one regular caller who has begun to worry them because he tends to turn offensive when he phones up, nothing they cannot handle but they could do without him. He calls himself Bobo, as in Bobo the Clown...
Yes, it was yet another eighties slasher flick, but this one was not as bad as that derivation might suggest, particularly at the sorry end of the decade's cycle where you would have thought every tired cliché of the genre had been hammered into the ground through repetition. This did at least have a quirky sense of humour, not that it was an out and out comedy, but it contained a self-awareness of how silly it was getting in its efforts to find something original to say in a played out storyline. Bringing out that eccentricity was a cast which included a bunch of cult faces (many of them from Lust in the Dust) and "Hey, it's that guy!" actors.
The reason those Paul Bartel movie faces appeared here was that director Michael Schroeder had been a good friend of Bartel, so you can imagine him pulling a few strings to secure the services of the likes of Geoffrey Lewis (as a drunken photographer suspect) and one scene wonders such as Lainie Kazan and Tab Hunter. But it was Divine who the film was dedicated to, as he died shortly after shooting his scenes, making Out of the Dark his final screen appearance, thus garnering it a small place in movie history, and a must-see for the one of a kind star's fans. He wasn't in it very much, and you had to wait a while before he showed up, but it was worth seeing him with a soup strainer 'tache if nothing else.
Meanwhile, we had a whodunnit to tackle, as someone is bumping off the girls who answer the phones to the possible killer. The trouble is, when he does strike (literally, as he kills one of them with a baseball bat as his first crime) he is wearing a clown mask in keeping with his nickname which makes identifying him tricky. Our main characters are model Kristi Larson (Lynn Danielson) and her photographer boyfriend Kevin Silvers (Cameron Dye), who are fighting to uncover the murderer because the detective in charge of the case, Lieutenant Frank Meyers (Tracey Walter, one of the supreme "Hey, it's that guy!" guys) is convinced Kevin is the culprit. Can these two sleuth their way to avoiding Kev's looming incarceration?
To the film's credit, even with a pool of very few possibilities for the actual offender it did keep you guessing, though that could be because the red herrings were so obvious and the finale where all was revealed was so absurd. Not in a bad way, the preposterousness of the exposure - he used to be a circus clown who had a really bad experience, apparently (!) - contributed to the amusing nature of the film, and a lot of that was down to the way the script took care to sketch in interesting characters even in the minor, one scene roles: everyone has their quirk here, be they large ones such as what suspect Bud Cort gets (you can't imagine him wearing that stuff, really - a good thing, too) or Hunter's driver noticing an accident victim is wearing a very nice watch. So when people are killed off, it's not the usual cannon fodder, because you have a bit more invested in them. Not to exaggerate the personality, this was a standard horror movie at heart, but a cut above many of its peers.