"Here's a film that borrows elements from not one, but two distinct decades of horror: 1950s bug-eyed monster movies, and 1970s supernatural TV horror.
I know no term for that 1970s style of supernatural TV horror, but you know it if you've seen it. Shows like Ghost Story/Circle of Fear, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Night Gallery, The Darkroom. TV movies like Horror at 37,000 Feet (1972), Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), and The Initiation of Sarah (1978). Theatrical films like The Evil (1978, aka Cry Demon, House of Evil), Burnt Offerings (1976), and The Sentinel (1977) share some of that sensibility. Many 1970s supernatural horror productions feature that same canned music; an eerie harpsichord piece and/or a trilling flute noise.
The Dark opens with a long informational scroll across the screen, read by an ominous narrator, informing us of the various deadly ways in which species adapt to life on Earth, speculating that the same likely occurs elsewhere in the universe, and suggesting that not all first encounters with such life forms are likely to be friendly...
This somber silliness evokes those 1950s BEM movies in which some narrator or scientist delivers an overly-long bit of pseudo-science, spoken with the stern seriousness of a high-school biology film strip. Although, it may also have been inspired by Star Wars's screen scroll, that film released only two years earlier.
The Dark's informational scroll culminates with a red ball of light hurtling toward Earth. We cut to a young woman exiting a movie theater. Oddly, it's night and the streets are deserted. Was she the only patron? Anyway, she's properly frightened, and scurries up the street. She hears footsteps. Spooky voices whisper...
She quickens, runs, ducks, thinks she's safe... An alien monster rips off her head! (No, you don't see it. Despite the alien's MO, you only see one decapitation in the entire film. This film isn't too gory.) Anyway, thus begins...
I say "Theeeee da-a-a-a-a-a-a-ark!" because whenever it's dark and lonely, and some character is wandering about, that eerie (and eerily familiar) canned 1970s music is mixed with non-diagetic spooky voices whispering...
Such non-diagetic whispering makes no sense. This is not a supernatural film. No spirits or ghosts. Just a gypsy fortune teller with some clairvoyance. It seems the whisperings were added solely to create atmosphere, and frighten us with...
And to assure we're scared, characters oblige us by wandering about dark deserted hallways, parking lots, streets, nervously glancing about, sometimes killed, sometimes not. Yet despite the title, this is not a film about the dark, but about a killer alien.
While the atmospheric style is 1970s, the monster story is 1950s, with a shamelessly cheesy alien. Its hands resemble Lon Chaney's werewolf, hairy with long dark fingernails. It hurriedly stumbles after our heroes in what appears to be (in silhouette) Frankenstein monster boots. Its red cat-like eyes shoot raygun beams that toss people across a room before causing them to explode without a trace.
That's the atmosphere and monster. Here are the characters and story:
The dead woman was the daughter of horror novelist Roy Warner (William Devane). Devane has made a career out of playing clean-cut authority figures, but here he is scruffy and long-haired, as befits a horror novelist. Naturally, Roy Warner has also done prison for manslaughter, his novels are "nothing but blood and gore," and he lives in a pricey Hollywood Hills house.
Hey, aren't ALL horror novelists fabulously rich felons who only write blood and gore? (As The Dark was released in 1979, I assume the "rich" part was modeled on someone's idea of Stephen King.)
Roy Warner is one of The Dark's more original characters, as the film is a parade of stereotypes. We have two cops assigned to catch the killer. One's a clean-cut straight-arrow (Richard Jaeckel), the other's a pudgy slob (Biff Elliot) forever dripping donut filling. This allows for the usual comic relief, as when Jaeckel tells Elliot to "buy a bib."
Hey, that's funny stuff.
(Okay, let's not judge too harshly. The critically acclaimed Hill Street Blues was still recycling cop/donut jokes years after The Dark.)
The Dark has the usual Police Captain (Warren J. Kemmerling) who gets heat from the mayor, hates the press, and wants to "keep a tight lid" on events. You've met him in many a Kolchak episode. When one cop suggests the killer is a "zombie," the Captain explodes: "Zombie! Mangler! I don't want to here any of that!"
The Dark also has a bizarre gypsy fortune teller, a midget newspaper vendor (more comic relief), and jive-talking blacks (one of them wearing a puffy denim pimp cap). Philip Michael Thomas (Miami Vice) has a bit part as an angry young black man. In fact, the Internet Movie Database credits Thomas as "Angry Young Black Man." This is noteworthy, because the film credits refer to Thomas's character as: "Corn Rows."
Well, his hair IS in corn rows.
Cathy Lee Crosby (That's Incredible) plays Zoe, a crusading TV reporter. And yes, although hired for her looks, she's tired of covering fluff, and wants to do hard news in "the big league."
Zoe's supposed to be bright, but she's not very. At least not as written. Zoe pontificates that it's "ironic" that the daughter of a horror novelist (who trades in gore) was killed in gory fashion. Warner accuses Zoe of implying that it was "poetic justice." Zoe insists she meant ironic, but that's because she's illiterate. Irony requires incongruity, so it would have been ironic if Warner's books had promoted peace.
I don't think the screenwriter intended Zoe to be illiterate, but she is.
Zoe's illiteracy also causes her to be self-contradictory. She accuses detective Jaeckel of not doing enough to find the killer. Moments later, she switches and accuses him of going too far ("Thirty-two caliber justice?" she accuses).
One senses the screenwriter was writing cool clichés, unaware when his lines were contradictory. Zoe is supposed to be smart and idealistic, yet if one listens, she sounds illiterate and ego-driven. But since Crosby looks good, we're not really listening to her Zoe.
I've discussed atmosphere, monster, characters. I haven't gotten to the story yet? Well, the "story" is simple. What you'd expect. Characters wander about...
Occasionally, their heads are ripped off, or shot into nothingness by the alien's red raygun eye beams (I call them eye beams, but sometimes they look more like mini-photon torpedoes). Curiously, when one jive-talking black guy goes in search of his prostitute, he gets shot with those eye beams and explodes into nothingness. But later, it's reported that he was decapitated. Then, when another character burns and disappears into nothingness, the remaining characters marvel that there appears to be nothing left.
As Warner and Zoe repeat to each other: "Weird."
Eventually, clues are found and the alien is cornered. At which point, the heroes run away. The cops arrive, and there's much shooting of guns and eye beams. The alien snatches Zoe and, maintaining proper 1950s BEM standards, for the first time in the film he does not instantly kill his victim. Seems he just wants to hold Zoe, maybe carry her off somewhere. This gives her time to scream and be rescued.
The Dark was produced by Film Ventures International, a prolific horror film company during the rise of video. It eventually went bankrupt, the fate of many indie startups. Much later, The Dark was re-released on video as The Mutilator, making all that whispering of "Theeeee da-a-a-a-a-a-ark" all the more nonsensical. (Not to be confused with the 1985 slasher film, The Mutilator, aka Fall Break).
The Dark is hardly original or great. And despite its comic relief or cheesy clichés, it's not intended as parody. Nor is it unintentionally funny. But it is fun.
If you like 1950s BEM movies, if you like 1970s TV supernatural thrillers, then you'll enjoy this walk through...
Bindy Sue FrÝnkŁnschtein | under the rubble | 01/11/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"THE DARK is an interesting little movie. We have a serial-killing alien (John "Incredible 2-Headed Transplant" Bloom) that can decapitate or pulverize it's victims w/ one blazing glance! William Devane is a writer whose daughter was "The Mangler"'s first victim. He teams up w/ TV personality, Zoe Owens (Cathy Lee Crosby) in order to get to the bottom of the mysterious goings-on. Richard Jaeckel is det. Mooney, the cop on the hunt for the creature. A psychic named De Renzey (Jacquelyn Hyde) sees visions of the murderous monster and finally encounters it in her living room! Bloom is good as the alien, lumbering along slaughtering anyone he can get alone in the dark. Devane and Crosby are likeable enough. Jaeckel is a grumpy guy in this one! Keenan Wynn (Piranha) is his crusty old self as Zoe's boss. Check out Casey Kasem as the pathologist! THE DARK is well worth owning, as it is even better the second or third time you watch it. Atomic cheese for sure, yet endearing and enjoyable. Yes, Phillip Michael Thomas is in it for about two seconds. John "Bud" Cardos does a proper job w/ material that could have been a total mess. This would make a cool double-dip w/ his epic KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS. P.S.- Watch out for that blind dude, he's the harbinger of doom! A keeper..."
So bad it's good!!!!!
Tad Petrie | Columbus,OH USA | 09/14/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The Dark is one of those sci-fi/action/thriller movies that is big on talent(William Devane, Richard Jaeckel) and not much else. There is a murderer on the loose in L.A., is it an alien? We don't know! Is it a supernatural monster? We don't know!
What we do know is somebody or some THING is killing people at night in L.A. and the only one who can stop him is a down and out, alcoholic writer,(Devane, who is also the father of the killer's first victim), who finds out who the killer is from a clairvoyant old woman. The only saving grace about this celluloid turkey,(other than Cathy Lee Crosby as eye candy), is Richard Jaeckel's typical, but nonetheless letter perfect portrayal of the tough cop,(with a great big .357 Magnum) who's gonna get the killer no matter what! This movie is a must have for all Richard Jaeckel fans! Oh, there's also a blind guy who is seen walking at night throughout the movie who doesn't even get so much as a scratch."
Laughter Lurks In The Dark
Stanley Runk | Camp North Pines | 01/26/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The concept of the dark or the darkness has played a seriously important role in horror since the first horror story was ever told. In fact, it's practically almost a character itself. Numerous horrible things can hide and attack in the dark. Even the immortal Dio tells us, "And monsters always know it's better in The Dark!" Along comes this flick from the 70s called The Dark. This is the film that attempts to answer what is it in the dark that scares us so much. What's waiting there in the dark to attack? Is it a vampire? a madman? an evil spirit or demon? a slimy Lovecraftian monster? No, that evil force in the dark is a hairy alien with laserbeam eyes that wants to pull your head off. He's randomly taking heads on the street at night(long before the Predator did, mind you). Sometimes he decides to blast them with his laser eyes instead. Laser victims explode. I'm not talking about an enormous splat of blood and body parts, but an actual explosion of sparks and a loud bang. The alien's motives are never explained, making him a real pain in the ass for the police to catch. Personally I like this lack of an explaination, coz it's more realistic to assume the alien wouldn't tell everyone his plans so that the audience can experience the "closure" they always seem to need. The Dark is pretty much what you would expect of this kind of film, and if you're on this page reading about this film, I'm sure you're a fan of silly horror flicks and already know something about it. The alien isn't seen much-either from a distance or in a few short closeups. He does look kinda creepy, too bad we don't see more of his face. The film was directed by John "Bud" Cardos(his name itself an indicator of the quality of this film) who also brought us the William Shatner classic, Kingdom Of The Spiders. There's a short interview with ol' "Bud" on the disc, and the guy actually seems really cool. He's kinda surprised by the fact that he's being interviewed for this film coz he thought it pretty much disappeared and had no fans. The Dark is fun. It's not too pricey, it's given the Media Blasters treatment, it's just silly, harmless fun."
Terry Armstrong | Mt. Steriling, IL USA | 10/06/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's a good movie as far as the story goes. Plus the acting isn't all that bad. It's a basic 1970's horror/sci-fi movie but it had its off moments. Mostly the monster at the end looks like some green fat creature from the black lagoon. And as far as the picture on the front of a guy shooting, "Superman", like lazer beams goes, its more like a bad light show than the latter. Still a good movie all in all. Worth the purchace as a serious horror/sci-fi with a "Plan 9 from Outer Space" ending."