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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Blackout' in the Usual Psycho-Thriller Stew

October 13, 1989|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

A clean, sunny, all-American town; a nubile blonde wandering distractedly through the streets; her crazy relatives; her attentive old boyfriend. . . .

That's all part of the usual psycho-thriller stew in "Blackout" (at selected theaters) and director Doug Adams doesn't handle it any more notably than dozens of other copycats who have preceded him. Hitchcock set the rules of the game and Roman Polanski, in "Repulsion," gave them baroque embellishments. But the only real distinction of this sub-"Psycho," sub-"Marnie" lady-in-peril pastiche lies in the fact that "Psycho's" original scenarist-adapter, Joseph Stefano, was coaxed back into refashioning Adams' script.

Beyond that, it's one more dive into the skeleton closet of twisted sex, voyeurism and murder. Here, Adams gives us yet another beautiful, disturbed young woman--Gail O'Grady as Carolyn Boyle, wandering through yet another town crawling with guilty secrets.

Summoned by a letter from her long-missing father, Carolyn returns to her Santa Paula hometown. She gets a great greeting: Her mom (Carol Lynley) points a shotgun at her and tells her to get out of town; her smarmy Uncle Alan (Michael Keys Hall) grins and fawns over her and pretties up her old room, and her old boyfriend Luke (Joseph Gian) tags around like an obtuse puppy dog.

Santa Paula proves to be one of those mysteriously half-deserted places where guilty secrets, violence and repressed desire lurk under a bucolic surface and people stay taciturn unless they have an important plot development to disclose.

Whatever is going on involves bloody screwdrivers and horrible flashbacks, sex, slaughter and creepy memories--and something vile that happened in Carolyn's bedroom. People either get lost in enigmatic musings or wander up and down staircases, paralyzed with dread. Peep-holes are drilled through the floors, smudge-pots go up in the orange grove outside, mysterious deaths accumulate and broad hints are dropped constantly about grisly goings-on in the attic.

Cliche after banality after questionable twist pours out of the movie's macabre jack-in-the-box. There's no way to become more than passively interested in any of it. "Blackout" (Times-rated Mature for sex, language, nudity and violence) shows a commendable effort to convey menace through atmosphere and camera movement rather than accelerating blood and gore. And Hall's smarmy uncle and Joanna Miles' frightened old flame have a few good moments. Other than that, you'd have to be in a 20-year blackout yourself not to guess what will happen in the attic or to care very much when it does.

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