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Article by Dana Jung

Ah, the 1980s. Big hair, flashy clothes, and that new TV channel that only shows music videos. Exploitation films too were changing. Gone were the EXCORSIST- and OMEN-inspired horror films of the 70s. Biker movies were passe. And socially relevant nurse and teacher dramas were being replaced by teen comedies and a new type of scary movie: the slasher film. In 1985, New World Pictures released OUT OF CONTROL, a somewhat strange combination of LORD OF THE FLIES and a John Hughes movie that is harder to classify. In some ways the perfect drive-in movie, OUT OF CONTROL contains violent action, teen romance, sex, nudity, and pop music. But there is an undercurrent of weirdness to the film that, intentional or not, implies some deeper meaning behind the exploitive aspects and makes it interesting to watch for its details. However, if you missed it at the drive-in or didn’t catch the 1980s New World Home Video VHS release, then you’re out of luck, because OUT OF CONTROL is NOT available on DVD.

The plot is pretty straightforward. Eight teenagers are celebrating prom night by taking a seaplane to a resort island owned by the wealthy family of one of the teens. A storm causes the plane to ditch near an uninhabited island, the pilot is killed, and before you can sayTHE BLUE LAGOON (or even PARADISE), the teens must fend for themselves. The eight characters offer up a nice sampling of teenage archetypes. There’s the dweeby nerd who narrates the story, the (literal) prom king & queen, her virginal BFF, the quiet young innocent (male & female versions), the bad boy, and the punk rock goth chick. Fascinatingly, nearly all these characters go against type. Instead of being a whiny know-it-all, the nerd is likable and funny and, in one sequence, even brave and heroic. The prom king rich kid is the most insecure and emotionally unstable, and his relationship with the prom queen is tenuous at best. The punker shows a sensitive side (and is a fan of both James Dean and Errol Flynn!), while the bad boy is smart and resourceful, saving all their lives on a number of occasions. He also avoids opportunities to start trouble and is patient and loving with his girlfriend, who won’t give up her virginity to him “until the time is right”  (Note to girlfriend: Smarten up! This dude’s a keeper!)

The movie crams a lot of unusual elements into its lean 78 minute running time. To begin with, the film is bookended by a pre- and post-credits video diary narrated by the nerd (Andrew J. Lederer, who apparently wrote some of the movie without credit). His main motivation in life is getting laid, but he is funny and charming in his own Woody Allen-ish way, and has some of the film’s best lines. The goth chick, he says, is “punk, overly made-up, and rude..I had to have her”  When he searches the island for food with the bad boy, he tells him, “You know how sometimes someone asks you who you’d want to be on a desert island with? I never picked you.” And the scene where he practically invents online dating is priceless. After the intro, the movie gets underway with what has to be a parody of every music video made up to that point. Or possibly the filmmakers just thought it would be cool and funny. The plane crash is an extended sequence that is rather harrowing and claustrophobic. During their first night on the island, the teens do what all teens would do on a deserted island: they get drunk and play spin the bottle! This long scene takes a sexy turn when the kissing turns into stripping, then a more serious tone when some drunken truths emerge. We also get smugglers with French (and other indeterminate) accents, a fairly graphic attempted rape, the four girls ganging up to beat one of the smugglers, a running gun battle, and much more.

Mostly shot on location in what was then Yugoslavia, director Allan Holzman fills nearly every scene with movement, laughs, or tension. Holzman is something of a demi-god in the exploitation world, as he was a product of the Roger Corman factory of filmmakers. Prior to OUT OF CONTROL, he created such classics as CANDY STRIPE NURSES, CRAZY MAMA, BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS, and FORBIDDEN WORLD. After OOC, he became an award-winning director of more serious fare in television and documentaries.

Holzman was blessed by a young & talented cast on OUT OF CONTROL. Martin Hewitt, in a virtual replay of his role in ENDLESS LOVE, has little to do but mope and look the part of a rich snob. Jim Youngs (the bad boy) is familiar as Lori Singer’s boyfriend in FOOTLOOSE (where he played a real bad boy) but also had roles in such 80s flicks as THE WANDERERS, YOUNGBLOOD, and NOBODY’S FOOL before turning to TV and B-movies, then disappearing in the 90s. Claudia Udy (BFF) was a favorite of 80s exploitation (SAVAGE DAWN, NIGHTFORCE, DRAGONARD) before she also quit in the 90s. Sherilyn Fenn (who gets an ‘Introducing’ credit here) was only 19 years old when OUT OF CONTROL was shot, and is almost unrecognizable from the cult idol she would become a few years later in TVs TWIN PEAKS, to say nothing of a long and steady film career.

The real star of OUT OF CONTROL is Betsy Russell, who was already an exploitation queen due to roles in PRIVATE SCHOOL, AVENGING ANGEL, and TOMBOY. Starting out with small roles in television, Russell soon moved to B-movies, where she lit up the screen with a one-two punch: a cuteness-meter reading that was off the scale, and a willingness to go topless. With her auburn hair, dark eyes, and light sprinkling of freckles, Russell was a true drive-in dream girl. She continued to appear in B-movies (the slasher satire CHEERLEADER CAMP, CAMP FEAR, DELTA HEAT) well into the 90s. Like many actresses, however, she quit and took a 10-year hiatus to raise a family, appearing in only one small independent film from the mid-90s to 2006. That year, and still as attractive as ever, she made a very nice comeback in the horror film SAW III, portraying the ex-wife of Jigsaw. She has continued in this role with SAW IV through VI and will appear in SAW 3D, which opens later this month. She has completed a few other films and is hopefully continuing her career with other roles in the future.

When watching OUT OF CONTROL, one can’t help but notice the coming of age subtext in its small flourishes. The prom night attire for the king and queen looks more like a bridal gown (complete with veil) and white groom’s tux. In a moment of solitude, the Fenn character tries on a more adult undergarment that one of the other girls has discarded. The plane crash has an almost surrealistic quality that makes what follows seem almost dreamlike at times, especially since the film never shows how they got on the island. “I think I died and went to heaven” says one character, while one of the smugglers refers to the place as the “isle of lost souls” There are also nice visual references to other films, such as JAWS, TOM JONES, and BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. In one scene, Russell plants her feet and aims a pistol in a nearly exact replica of her poster art for AVENGING ANGEL. The musical score by Hawk and the Brothers Johnson has a decidedly 80s electronic vibe, but there are also songs by Steve Porcaro & David Paich of the 80s supergroup Toto, and the Quincy Jones-produced ‘There’s No Easy Wa’ by James Ingram was a top 10 Adult Contemporary hit. It’s just too bad that to see the love scene that accompanies this song, you’ll have to wait for this unique movie to appear on DVD!


  1. Improvement Partner

    October 24, 2010 at 4:20 am

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    February 5, 2011 at 8:14 pm

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