Dress For Success: I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990)

Matty looks back at Tobe Hooper’s made-for-TV chiller.

After The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), the final film in his three picture deal with Cannon, flopped with critics and audiences alike, director Tobe Hooper found steady employment in episodic television. First came the finale of Steven Spielberg’s Emmy Award-winning Amazing Stories; a project allegedly gifted to Hooper as an apology of sorts following the very public controversy surrounding his and Spielberg’s previous collaboration, Poltergeist (1982). Next, Hooper took the reins of a well-received episode of The Equalizer before offering a quirky, albeit revisionist take on Freddy Krueger’s origins in the solid pilot of the otherwise rubbish A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) spin-off series, Freddy’s Nightmares. While a return to the big screen with the unfairly maligned Spontaneous Combustion (1990) did little to revive Hooper’s bankability in the eyes of the mainstream, it did at least encourage him to pursue feature-length projects again — and the made-for-cable epic that followed, I’M DANGEROUS TONIGHT, premiered just six months after Spontaneous Combustion’s theatrical bow in a two-hour slot on the USA Network on Wednesday 8th August 1990.

Another criminally underappreciated opus from the most criminally underappreciated of all the Masters of Horror, there’s plenty to enjoy about this succulently strange chiller. A loose adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s 1937 short story (a tale that would later be used as the basis for two steamy episodes of SyFy’s The Hunger), in I’m Dangerous Tonight Hooper reworks the bulk of Woolrich’s plot, but retains several of the crime writer’s noir-ish beats and his general air of pulpy, macabre silliness. After all, an evil dress that possesses those who wear it can only be treated with so much sincerity, right? However, compared to the likes of, say, Eaten Alive (1976), Lifeforce (1985), and Hooper’s subsequent, wildly excessive exploration of animism, The Mangler (1995), there is a sense that the usually bombastic auteur plays I’m Dangerous Tonight a little too tamely.

Keeping the kind of outrageousness he’d normally embellish in check, at times Hooper — a truly dab hand at scenes of madness and mayhem — is kneecapped by the (then) restrictions of television. Less-is-more worked wonderfully on his splendid miniseries adaptation of Salem’s Lot (1979) thanks to the strength of the source text. Here Hooper’s subtlety doesn’t sit right with daft material that would have benefited immensely from a dose of the helmer’s patented brand of ghoulish decadence. For instance, the grisly punchline to a throat-slitting gag, evocative of Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980), is stifled by an unfortunate lack of claret, and I’m Dangerous Tonight’s erotic undercurrent is more tepid than red hot — though Hooper does succeed in making the sight of Mädchen Amick, Daisy Hall, and Dee Wallace, who each take it in turns to vamp it up in the film’s malevolent red frock, a ten-outta-ten on the va-va-voom scale.

What’s good is great. I’m Dangerous Tonight sports a gorgeous look courtesy of production designer Leonard A. Mazzola and Hooper’s Spontaneous Combustion cinematographer Levie Isaaks, and the whole thing drips with a scintillating air of menace. Best, mind, is a ferociously assembled scene that harks back to the primal fury of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974); an excellently done razor blade castration that’s bolstered by Hooper’s suggestive, out-of-shot framing. For what it’s worth, the irony of it not being shown isn’t lost on me considering my criticism re: Hooper being hindered somewhat by his coyness. This stirring, impeccably edited sequence, though, is born from assured technique and not a consequence of the TVM form, and it deserves to be mentioned in the same revered tones as the better known set pieces from Hooper’s better known offerings.

Fresh from season one of Twin Peaks and at the height of the show’s pop culture cool, Amick toplines as Amy: a timid college student with a cruddy home life. As with much of his output, Hooper roots I’m Dangerous Tonight in fairytale. He paints Amy as a Cinderella figure; an orphan forced to act as den mother as her selfish aunt and cousin (Hall) leave her to tend to their disabled grandma (the final performance of nonagenarian Gilligan’s Island star Natalie Schaefer). Despite dumping this approach in favour of a slasher-lite final third, Hooper has a ball — wink — with these allusions and delights in letting the stunning Amick cut loose during an obscenely ‘90s party, when the character throws away her inhibitions after she fashions a slinky one-piece from a mysterious Aztec robe she acquires at a yard sale (!). R. Lee Ermey provides laconic support as the cynical, cigar-chompin’ ‘tec investigating the ensuing supernatural slaughter, and Anthony Perkins — then in the middle of a fairly decent run of small screen creepers, Stuart Gordon’s Daughter of Darkness (1990) and Mick Garris’ Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990) among them — also appears as a shifty professor.

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