Alone in the Dark (1982)
Directed by: Jack Sholder
Starring: Dwight Schultz, Jack Palance, Donald Pleasence, Martin Landau, Erland van Lidth, Carol Levy
(out of 4)
… like a storm raging inside you!
No, this isn’t the abomination directed by Uwe Boll in 2005. This little known movie was directed by Jack Sholder (The Hidden, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2) and stars Palance, Landau, and van Lidth as psychopaths recently escaped from a mental institution run by Donald Pleasence, who himself isn’t exactly running on all cylinders. Dwight Schultz (before he was Murdock from The A-Team and Lt. Barclay from Star Trek: The Next Generation) plays new arrival Dr. Potter, who along with his family becomes the target of the three psychos (along with a fourth) who believe he has killed their previous doctor.
Sound interesting? Well, it is. Alone in the Dark is a thinking-man’s slasher film, if there is such a thing. Actually, there’s very little “slashing” in the fashion of a Friday the 13th film – the killing is incidental and rather tame compared to other hardcore slasher films of the period. Sure, you get a good look at Carol Levy’s breasts and one psycho briefly dons a hockey mask (before Friday the 13th Part 3), but you get the sense that the movie has loftier issues. It helps that the killers aren’t faceless (except for one, who “doesn’t like showing his face to strangers” as the Dr. Bain character explains) but Oscar-winning legends. Martin Landau (Ed Wood) plays Preacher, a pyromaniac who thinks he’s God’s Angel of Death (the worst kind of pyro, I’m sure). Jack Palance (Shane, Batman, etc) plays Frank Hawkes, ex-POW and leader of the group. Pleasence is on hand as Dr. Bain, the pleasant enough but extremely odd overseer of the very special mental hospital in town. I suspect it’s a play on his Dr. Loomis of the Halloween movies, but here he’s laid back, saying lines like “What are you experiencing, right now?” He also happens to smoke weed from time to time. The institution itself is what Bain calls a “haven” for those he calls “voyagers”. There’s no security except for an electronic security system on the third floor where the worst offenders are kept (like Erland van Lidth, who plays a hulking child molester) – Dr. Bain, of course, can’t understand why the state won’t just let them walk around so they can explore their “space”.
Yo, that shit must be good, B. My boy hasn’t coughed like that since back in the day yo!
The inevitable town blackout occurs – an act of sabotage or an act of God (you decide) – and the four lunatics escape rather easily to begin their killing spree. They eventually corner Dr. Potter and his wife, daughter, and sister (who previously had a breakdown but is “really into music” right now, especially punk bands like the Sic F*cks – who give two performances in the film). Trapped in the house with no electricity, they engage in a fight for survival.
So it’s a little bit of the house-under-siege scenario that we’ve all seen before. Most of the performances are decent even if some are a bit over the top. (I thought Landau’s performance was pretty campy – he’s creepy, but I felt he should have played it more subdued). However, Pleasance and Palance give wonderful performances – Palance plays his character with a quiet but menacing intensity and slow burn, and Pleasance gives a nice edge to his character’s bizarre philosophy. Both have great lines – Palance says “There are no crazy people, Doctor. We’re all just on vacation.” Pleasance asks if he can smoke, before producing a peace pipe and then gives the line “Mind moving fast, is crazy. Mind slowed, is saint. Mind stopped, is God.” He later calls out the homicidal maniacs saying “Let’s explore some things together!”
Look what the 80s did to me!
There are a few missteps – the “twist” at the end involving the “bleeder” (has nosebleeds when he kills somebody) doesn’t make much sense given the nature of his personality, but it’s a minor quibble in a film that opens with a surreal nightmare and closes with a bit of existentialism that drives the movie’s point home. Palance’s character escapes to a punk club and is immediately picked up by a spaced-out girl who gets more turned on after he pulls a gun on her. The smile on Palance’s face before the credits roll tells us he’ll be just fine in a world that is possibly more insane than anybody in Dr. Bain’s little asylum. A haven, indeed.
– Bill Gordon
Alone in the Dark is released on Image Entertainment DVD in Dolby 5.1 and DTS, with 1:85:1 aspect ratio, anamorphic. It’s got interesting interviews with actress Carol Levy (she demonstrates her abilities as a contortionist) and The Sic F*cks (I’m not censoring – that’s how they spell it). There’s informative liner notes, a trailer for the film, and a nice commentary by Jack Sholder, (I would recommend checking out his other films The Hidden and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 – Freddy’s Revenge, which is a lot better than people give it credit for).
Carol Levy shows us that God exists.