Slipping into Darkness (1988)

Kicks Just Keep Getting Harder to Find.

Poster image for 1988's Slipping into Darkness

Spoiled rich girls Carlyle, Genevieve and Alex (Michelle Johnson, Anastasia Fielding, and Cristen Kauffman) are out looking for kicks by flirting with the leather-clad bad boys of the local biker gang. Things turn sour, Ebin (Neill Barry), the younger brother of former member Fritz (John D’Aquino), ends up dead, and nobody is exactly certain what happened. The gang is holding the girls responsible and they are looking for revenge, though plans of vengeance rarely come off without a hitch. 

This bizarre teen crime drama is strange in subject and in structure, and has so many oddball touches that it turns it into an art form. The twists and turns are alternately compelling and outlandish, and the characters are as unlikable as they are illogical, but it’s just so much wacky fun that I didn’t even care. Plus, it’s got Adam Roarke as the sheriff!

SLIPPING INTO DARKNESS is a very strange little movie. It starts off as if it’s going to be a typical revenge/vigilante flick, but quickly takes a left turn into what I can only describe as Bizarre Noir. The crimes just keep piling up, and once things start twisting and turning, they don’t let up. And you’ll never see some of these twists coming, either…though that’s partly because they are completely illogical. Illogical characters make illogical choices, so it sort of makes sense. It’s just difficult to believe that anybody would react the way these girls do.

The bikers from 1988's Slipping into Darkness

Alex, for instance, partakes in a truly bizarre scene in which she’s forced to rub mud on biker T-Bone’s (David Sherrill) bare chest while he oinks like a pig. This apparently gets her motor running enough that she succumbs to his “charms” and lets him have his way with her.

Meanwhile, over in a nearby cemetery, Genevieve and gang member Otis (Vyto Ruginis) are involved in a perverse game of cat-and-mouse. There’s the threat of rape, she goads him on, and he declares that she’s not good enough for him to have sex with. Otis must be some sort of expert at reverse psychology, because Genevieve appears crushed at this pronouncement and suddenly becomes desperate. “I’m good enough!” she shouts, stripping down to her lingerie and strutting among the tombstones like some lost Lita Ford cover art, basically begging for sex. This culminates in a scene that blends sex with violence to an uncomfortable degree.

And that’s when things really start to get weird, but to tell anymore would rob you of the joy of discovering it for yourself.

Cemetery seduction scene from 1988's Slipping into Darkness

You don’t hear much about this film at all, which is quite a shame. It’s an unheralded Trash Classic, something of a low-budget version of WILD THINGS which would come out a full decade later. It makes great use of the dusty and barren Nebraska landscapes, including a foreclosed farm and its endless fields of dead corn—the setting for one of the more bizarre chase scenes that I can think of. SLIPPING INTO DARKNESS is not a great movie by any means, but it is greatly sleazy and greatly entertaining…so maybe that makes it some kind of great after all. I’ve always said that if I ran a boutique home video label, this would be the first title I released.

Aside from the sex that has already been mentioned, there is also some implied incest and intercourse with the developmentally challenged—which brings a whole new level of creepiness to the proceedings. You would assume that a man would be behind such cinematic depravity, but this was actually written and directed by one Eleanor Gaver, whose IMDb credits are pretty minimal. She directed HEARTS AND DIAMONDS (1984), of which so little is known that there’s not even a genre listed—though when it premiered at the Miami Film Festival, it was described as “a shoestring, oddball romantic comedy”—and followed this up with an episode of TALES FROM THE DARK SIDE in 1988, the same year as SLIPPING INTO DARKNESS was released. She worked on the script for the TV movie DEAD IN THE WATER (1991) which was directed by Bill Condon, and then gave us three more films that were wholly her own: black comedy LIFE IN THE FAST LANE (aka THERE’S NO FISH FOOD IN HEAVEN, 1998); another mysterious film entitled BUDDY’S BIG BREAK (2002); and the drama HERE ONE MINUTE (2015). She gets bonus points from me for being a production assistant on the documentary THE BEAT GENERATION: AN AMERICAN DREAM (1987). She’s married to painter Sam Messer, Associate Dean at the Yale School of Art, who has worked directly with Paul Auster and Jonathan Safran Foer.

Michelle Johnson, who played our female lead Carlyle, got her start in 1984’s romantic comedy BLAME IT ON RIO as jailbait being lusted after by Michael Caine. It was a pretty big hit, meaning a lot of Americans turned out to see the underage actress take her clothing off. She also appeared in seven episodes of THE LOVE BOAT (coincidentally as a character whose surname is Carlisle); WAXWORK (1988); THE JIGSAW MURDERS (1989); DEATH BECOMES HER (1992); DR. GIGGLES (1992); and others. To the press, Johnson referred to SLIPPING INTO DARKNESS as “an art film”, which may be stretching it a bit, though it is an honorable notion. Roughly 50 years old, she looks even more stunning today than she did when this movie was being shot.

Michele’s romantic counterpart, Fritz, was played by John D’Aquino, who genre fans will recognize as one of the teens responsible for Lance Henriksen’s son’s death in PUMPKINHEAD (1988). He also had recurring roles on television shows SEAQUEST DSV (1993-1995), THAT’S MY BUSH (2001) and CORY IN THE HOUSE (2007-2008). He now lives in California, where he teaches young actors workshops.

The title of the film comes from the song “Slippin’ Into Darkness” by the funk band War, which has much more of a Caribbean flavor to it than is their norm. Hopefully you enjoy the sound, because you’re going to hear it a lot over the course of the movie. The filmmakers either wanted to make sure that they got their money’s worth, or they were trying to hammer some sort of a point home.

Whatever it was, Lord knows I had my fill.


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