Growing up, writer Warren Chaney was haunted by an image of a genie he saw in his childhood. He went on to serve in the army as an adult, and he became a professional magician before transitioning to television as a writer. Even after all those years, he still couldn’t shake that picture in the back of his head. This particular illustration of a genie—half-animal, half-human—was coupled with a reprint of “Aladdin and His Lamp” in a McGuffey Reader. As Chaney told John Wooley in issue #67 of Fangoria, that “wasn’t your friendly genie, and he scared me.”
With encouragement from his wife, Warren Chaney finally cast the genie from his mind to paper. She had implored him to do a horror film as she was a fan of the genre, but he didn’t want it to be a by-the-numbers slasher. So in his research of the genie’s history, Chaney discovered a darker myth that would suit his movie The Lamp.
In 1893 at a wharf in Galveston, Texas, bloodied corpses are scattered aboard a sailing vessel. Among the massacre lays a torn-open crate labelled “DAMASCUS EXPEDITION, Property of: Houston Science Institute, Texas.” The fleeing captain is suddenly murdered off screen by an unseen entity. The only surviving passenger, a young Arab immigrant, finally escapes with the contents of the crate—an oil lamp—and a matching bracelet worn by her now dead mother.
In modern Seabrook, Texas, three criminals break into a mansion to seize the owner’s valuables. The old woman inside is in fact the young girl from the prologue. The ignorant robbers get more than they bargain for when they uncover the cursed lamp, and they trigger a chain of deadly events.
The lamp ends up at a museum where the curator’s daughter, Alex, accidentally frees the contents inside—The Jinn. Placed under the demon’s thrall, Alex tricks her friends into staying overnight at the museum after hours. It’s there that The Jinn then unleashes a wave of carnage that no one could have ever anticipated.
GENIE VS JINN
If someone were to ask you what a genie is, your answer would likely include the key phrases “magic lamp” or “three wishes.” These elements are standard nowadays, but they’re not intrinsic to jinns, the creatures that genies are based on. The Anglicized word “genie” comes from the French “génie,” which is derived from the Latin “genius.” The word “genie” didn’t become common until Frenchman Antoine Galland wrote “Aladdin and His Lamp” in the 18th century. Despite this story having no veritable Arabic source, it was added to the French translation of One Thousand and One Nights.
Jinns (or djinns) have varying histories depending where you look. In pre-Islamic Arabian mythology, a jinn is a non-immortal who was revered like a god. Scholars argue about where the Arabian jinns came from, but the consensus is they were either evil spirits from deserts and unclean places, or they were pagan deities who became insignificant over time. As for the jinns in Islamic theology, these invisible beings were born from “smokeless fire.” They lived and died like humans, and they were subject to judgment in the afterlife.
The villain of The Lamp is a combination of both jinn and genie lore. Writer Chaney researched the former in-depth, but he still opted to add traits from the latter. For instance, the antagonistic spirit of the film is stored inside an oil lamp; the lamp originated in Galland’s French fairy tale, not in jinn folklore. Then there is the case of the wishes—wish-fulfillment is not one of the jinn’s preternatural abilities. This is another notion from Galland’s “Aladdin.” Though in the movie, there is presumably no limit on wishes since a rule is never stipulated. The three-wish limit wasn’t attached to genies prior to the 1940 remake of The Thief of Bagdad. So yes, the mythologies get muddied in The Lamp. Nonetheless, the union of legends led to the creation of something never before seen on the silver screen.
MAKE A WISH
With Warren Chaney’s script finished, he now needed someone to bring it to life. So he sought out a friend he met through the Milan Film Festival, Tom Daley. The two almost collaborated on another genre film, but accepting circumstances as they are, the pair went to work on The Lamp instead. Daley—a University of Texas film student and a pal of the late Tobe Hooper—was brought in at the movie’s conception. Working in only commercials and music videos so far, this film was going to be Daley’s cinematic debut.
Executive producer Fred T. Kuehnert convinced longtime friend Chaney to film the movie in Texas as opposed to Marina Del Rey, California as he originally intended to do. While most of the filming took place in Galveston and Houston, some scenes were shot in Los Angeles. Two of the movie’s biggest venues were located in Houston, though—the house in the beginning, and the museum most of the action takes place in. The aforementioned is a historical 1907 colonial revival mansion called the William R. Nash House. The swimming pool where one of the robbers meets his untimely demise was added in the seventies. As for the museum, that’s the Houston Museum Of Natural Science.
Not only was Deborah Winters (Blue Sunshine) starring in the movie, she was also an associate producer and in charge of casting. When she was somehow unable to find an actor of Arab descent to portray the old woman character the lamp is stolen from, Winters begrudgingly underwent a dramatic transformation. The process to become the genie’s geriatric master was not easy for Winters—she had to wear uncomfortable head and torso casts, and she was in makeup for five hours daily for four days. On top of that, the removal of said prostheses and makeup was close to two hours. She was clearly no fan of the experience, but she saved the $2 million budgeted film “a lot of money” by playing multiple parts.
In the respective roles of Dr. Wallace and his daughter Alex were James Huston and local university student Andra St. Ivanyi. Both Chaney and Kuehnert commended the performance of newcomer St. Ivanyi, who retired from acting after The Lamp. The Jinn was voiced by Jackson Bostwick, an actor best known for playing the title character in the short-lived 1974 television adaptation of DC Comics’ Shazam!
To help earn its money back ahead of the domestic premiere on September 11, 1987, the film was first distributed in the United Kingdom on April 28 of the same year. Overseas, the original name of The Lamp was kept intact; it was re-titled The Outing back in North America. It’s worth noting that The Outing is an edited cut of the movie. The prologue was removed in whole, and a scene where one of Alex‘s friends is assaulted by a classmate is trimmed.
The Outing earned $1.1 million at the U.S. box office alone before it was distributed on home video starting in 1988. The Lamp was made available on DVD in European countries as early as 2000, but a proper version didn’t see the light of day in the United States until 2013 (DVD) and 2015 (Blu-ray).
The most memorable aspect of H.I.T. Films’ The Lamp is without a doubt The Jinn. This towering, mechanical prop isn’t revealed to audiences for over an hour into the film, but the wait is well worth it. Pursuers of practical special effects will bask in every second shown of this twenty-six foot tall monstrosity. Sculpted from a ton and a half of clay and backed by latex and foam rubber, The Jinn piece was created by Reel EFX in Los Angeles. Gabe Bartalos (Gremlins 2: The New Batch) and Jim Gill (April Fool’s Day) were in charge of the Jinn‘s construction.
Reel EFX’s Martin Becker (Friday the 13th Part III) said The Jinn was “partially pneumatic, partially hydraulic, and partially cable pull.” In addition, it was radio-controlled, and the bottom half sat atop a liquid nitrogen tank. The imposing major effect of The Lamp was a cumbersome one for the crew mainly because of the time constraint—the film was shot in less than six weeks—but audiences today appreciate the effort.
“In a scene where the malevolent genie reanimated snakes encased in specimen jars, the crew actually opted for cobras that were not defanged.”
Although the Jinn didn’t do the dirty work himself once it came to maiming the young cast, he did set things in motion. In a scene where the malevolent genie reanimated snakes encased in specimen jars, the crew actually opted for cobras that were not defanged. This decision was on the basis that venom-less cobras don’t bother snapping their mouths. These serpentine costars caused a bit of a panic when one of the pair got loose one day. Then there is The Mummy that takes a bite out of Alex‘s boyfriend Ted (Scott Bankston)—she was created by Bartalos and rigged up by Gill.
The film boasts more than fifty optical effects provided by David Hewitt, Bill Humphrey, and Larry Arpin of post-production company Hollywood Optical Systems (Terminator 2: Judgment Day). These entailed the glowing, green eyes of The Jinn‘s possessed victims and a bodiless mist with a life of its own. For sure The Lamp is in no shortage of visual treats and bloodletting.
LET THE GENIE OUT OF THE BOTTLE
The Lamp is obscure, but it’s not forgotten. Anyone who’s come across this merciless hidden gem from the eighties will certainly remember it. Even if what they remember it for isn’t especially positive. The film left an average impression on theatergoers in 1987, and critics were fatigued from the slasher onslaught of that decade. Evil Dead II had premiered only a few months in advance; both movies are in equal measures nasty and rather unforgiving with its characters. Alas, viewers will gravitate more toward the aforesaid film because Evil Dead II knows what it is. The Lamp, on the other hand, has an identity crisis.
Warren Chaney stated he didn’t want to make a “regular dice-’em-slice-’em” when penning his script. Be that as it may, the movie ultimately devolves into a series of slasher tropes— teens trapped inside an enclosed space, and a killer hunts them down one-by-one with ample POV shots. Now, is that a bad thing? Quite the opposite. A good deal of the most cherished horror films are slashers. The Lamp is so ambitious in its need to be different from the pack that it regretfully loses momentum too soon.
To add to the confusion, Moviestore Entertainment marketed the film in the U.S. as anything other than an evil genie flick. Renaming it The Outing and having a Jinn-less variation of the theatrical poster—painted by iconic artist Drew Struzan—could have been an attempt to make the film seem more traditional. The slasher sub-genre was on its way out by the late eighties, but Hollywood was going to cash in until the money dried up.
“The Lamp is one of the most guiltily entertaining movies ever made about a killer genie.”
The Lamp is one of the most guiltily entertaining movies ever made about a killer genie. It’s certainly a product of its time considering the poorly thought-out casting decisions as well as a few odious characterizations and moments. Yet in an oddball way, this slapdash and harsh indie horror is entrancing.
By no means is The Lamp a stellar film. However, it is a perfect precursor to all the “wishes gone awry” horror movies we have now—Leprechaun, Wishmaster, and Wish Upon. Sifting through an uneven script and contrived story developments, an inclined viewer just might find some magic still left in this old lamp.
The uncut version of The Lamp/The Outing is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Scream Factory. Let us know what you think about the movie on Twitter, in the official NOFS Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!