Spotlight: Carol Kane in Office Killer
Office Killer seemed like the type of film that should have been heralded as a cult classic the moment it was released back in 1997. It certainly has all the ingredients. There’s a starry cast featuring the likes of Molly Ringwald and Jeanne Tripplehorn, the film’s director was artist Cindy Sherman making her directorial debut, and the story appeared to be a biting satire about office politics under the clever guise of a slasher film (which were thriving at the time due to the success of films such as Scream).
Unfortunately, while Office Killer might have many quality ingredients, it wasn’t baked quite long enough to satisfy most audiences at the time and people either didn’t care for it or didn’t even bother giving it a chance. Was it too many cooks in the kitchen? Studio interference by the notoriously pesky producers over at Dimension Films? The barely-there theatrical release that left most people encountering it for the first time on the new release wall at their local video store? No one knows for sure since everyone involved in the production seems to have taken an oath of silence after making it as if they were all involved in some sort of I Know What You Did Last Summer-style cover-up.
While the satire and slasher elements sometimes butt heads, Office Killer does offer more than enough intriguing elements to please both horror and dark comedy fans alike. The one element of the film that holds up throughout the tonal whiplash is Carol Kane who plays the film’s protagonist and main villain, Dorine Douglas. Only Kane is able to impress from scene to scene as the film carousels through slasher film, corporate satire, and melodrama.
Kane’s Dorine is, at first, a sort of pathetic Carrie White-esque character you either want to shake some sense into, hug, or both. She’s a pushover who follows orders and seems to shrink with every passing minute she’s forced to interact with another human being. She’s also in desperate need of a makeover with her penciled-in eyebrows, frumpy sweaters, and bizarre hairdos (truly, what this film is missing most is a makeover montage). She’s the person who’s been working at the company the longest and the one people go to when they have a proofreading issue. She’s incredibly competent at what she does and this job appears to be all she has in her life besides a domineering wheelchair-bound mother back home who she has a strained but dependent relationship with.
It’s no surprise that Dorine loses it a bit when she discovers she’s become a victim of corporate downsizing and will now have to work from home. To Dorine, being stuck at home all day with her mother hurling insults at her is truly a fate worse than death.
When she accidentally electrocutes an annoying co-worker while working late at the office, she decides not to call the police. Instead, she transports his body back to her basement and keeps him there as a new friend. Before long, she’s knocking off anyone else who annoys her or threatens to spill her secrets and she begins creating a gruesome array of corpses in her basement.
Through flashbacks and some of Dorine’s own recollections to Nora, a guilt-ridden co-worker played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, we discover that Dorine’s childhood was far from perfect. Her mother never believed her stories about abuse from her father and Dorine herself caused the car accident that killed her father and crippled her mother for life. That’s pretty heavy stuff and you can’t help but feel for Dorine a little bit even as she’s chopping through co-workers left and right.
While some of the co-workers might have had it coming, many of the victims after the film’s midpoint don’t seem to be motivated by anything other than bloodlust and a need to satisfy the demands of a horror film. An innocent pair of Girl Scouts and a lowly mail boy at work end up on the receiving end of Dorine’s blade and, while Kane does what she can and does look imposing as a sort of gender-flipped Michael Myers, it dulls our compassion for the character and makes her more of a one-note boogeywoman. To Kane’s credit, she even makes this section of the film work. No one can play crazy like Carol Kane.
Kane’s finest and most haunting scene as Dorine occurs towards the film’s grisly climax where she goes upstairs to check on her mother and finds her dead from natural causes. The guttural screams Kane unleashes are primal and uncomfortable to listen to and what you’d expect from a grieving daughter. As horrible of a mother as she was, you can see that Dorine does love her and it’s like a piece of her has died. As she starts to panic, Kane becomes manic and immediately goes into denial chanting “I don’t care” over and over again and, at one point, even whispering it in a creepy way. Before long, the scene takes a sharp turn and she’s telling her mother she hopes she’s burning in hell with her father. It sure makes for a memorable scene.
After her mother’s corpse is taken away by the paramedics, Dorine is unshackled and free to live her life and decides to take care of all the loose ends by setting fire to the house and destroying all the evidence of the many people she’s killed.
The film ends with Dorine driving off with a snazzy new disguise (hey, she finally got that makeover!), as her voice-over tells us that she’s moving to a new town and might be popping up at your office soon. It’s a campy “good for her” ending that doesn’t quite match the rest of the film, but as always, Kane sells it and leaves you wanting more. Personally, I wouldn’t mind an Office Killer franchise where Dorine goes from office to office, knocking off annoying co-workers in increasingly odd and creative ways.
At times, you get the feeling that there were three different drafts of the Office Killer script going around and everyone got one with a different tone or genre, but only Kane was given all three and is able to bounce from tone to tone with impressive dexterity. She can do anything the film demands of her – be scary, pathetic, flirty, shy, funny, and campy. It’s clear that she would have thrived had the film leaned more towards the horror or satire, because she understands who this woman is so completely. Kane is more than worth seeing the film for, but the film itself, tonally bizarre as it is, is long overdue for a reappraisal by horror and dark comedy fans alike.