The Dark (1979)
Directed by: John “Bud” Cardos
Starring: William Devane, Cathy Lee Crosby, Richard Jaeckel, Keenan Wynn, Jacquelyn Hyde, Casey Kasem
(out of 4)
Tobe Hooper is a pretty good director. He gave us classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Poltergeist, and even Lifeforce. Oh yeah, he also worked on this dull piece of crap known as The Dark for a handful of days, before the executive producers of the film, Derek Power and Igo Kantor, fired him and brought in John “Bud” Cardos (Kingdom of the Spiders) to take his place. I guess it goes to show that in addition to talent, sometimes it helps to be lucky.
John “Bud” Cardos seems like a nice guy and all, but I can’t quite let him off the hook for this ridiculous late 70s alien monster flick. He did another movie called Outlaw of Gor (based on the John Norman novel), which was so bad it got savaged on MST3K. (Mike Nelson says it best: You really undermine your authority when you put “Bud” in the middle of your name). Perhaps the guy is just unlucky.
The Dark concerns a monster from space that kills one person every night. He either uses brute force to decapitate his victims or, if he’s feeling lazy, just shoots laser beams from his eyes until the victims explode. Some crazy psychic (Jacquelyn Hyde) predicts the death of a future victim. William Devane (Rolling Thunder) shows up as the father of one of the victims who clashes with the cop on the case (Richard Jaeckel). He gets involved with a local news reporter (Crosby) and the two of them basically spend most of the movie loitering around and having boring conversations. The police are completely inept, and we are treated to their mundane investigation while occasionally the creature kills somebody (in a few rather tame set pieces).
Originally, The Dark was supposed to be about a zombie-type killer, who was really an abandoned animal-boy previously kept in a cellar (think The Beast Within). About 75% of the movie was already in the can. And then Alien happened (and Moonraker and Star Trek: The Motion Picture and The Black Hole, etc). Space aliens are the rage, dude! Well, I guess they were going to be – it’s a little hazy as to when during the release cycle of these other films production changes were made. Producers Ed Montoro and Dick Clark (yes, that Dick Clark) obviously found it necessary to change the monster into an alien. Perhaps it was due to test screenings? Who can say?
Believe it or not, the change helps. Without the laser-eyes the movie would be even more deadly dull than it already is. The best sequence comes at the finale where the alien monster, now cornered by cops, goes batshit crazy with the lasers. All sorts of cops get blown up and thrown about. It’s actually fun to watch, and it’s the only thing that’s fun in this flick, so if you get the DVD I suggest going straight to the last five minutes.
Much of this film reaches Ed Wood levels of inanity. The opening crawl is hilarious (only Uwe Boll’s Alone in the Dark betters it in terms of absurdity). It talks about species of animals on earth that can kill with electric shocks and poisons (and this is related to a laser-eyed alien in trucker clothes, how?). It talks about millions of planets in the universe capable of supporting life (do the writers know something we don’t?). Finally it tells us that not all alien encounters will be friendly. Well, they may not all be friendly, but I assume that they will at least carry some kind of purpose. What meaning, exactly, should we apply to our so-called killer? He growls a lot, shoots lasers, and that’s about it. Nothing else is learned about the thing, except that a little fire makes him go poof into nothingness. Hey, maybe we all just imagined it!
The police captain says “Mangler? Zombie? I don’t want to hear those two words again! You understand?” The police detective’s partner eats donuts all the time. Jaeckel’s character actually asks “You mean, it bothers to think?” reminding me of a particular comment about Earth people in Plan 9 From Outer Space. Philip Michael Thomas (pre-Miami Vice) plays an angry black man named Corn Rows. William Devane looks like he just wandered off the Rolling Thunder set. Keenan Wynn is just as I remember him from Laserblast. Casey Kasem is in it (did Dick Clark have a hand in that?) and so is Paris Hilton’s mom. And to top it all off, there’s a midget selling newspapers.
Probably the dumbest turn is the psychic who actually says lines like “You are both young and a little wild. This time he has the upper hand. Next time, it will be different.” (She’s talking about a horse). She also utters the immortal line “anger does not become you.” Then evil spirits attack her and trash her house. Ladies and gentlemen, somebody actually wrote this stuff.
If The Dark wasn’t so deadly dull I think I would have appreciated it more. Unfortunately, it’s just a simple late 70s curio meant to cash in on the alien craze. Personally, I think everybody involved just had a thing for laser eyes.
- Bill Gordon
The DVD of The Dark comes from Shriek Show in a nice anamorphic wide screen print. Interview and commentary with the director is included, as well as trailers for The Being, Just Before Dawn, and a curious Grind house double-feature of The Dark and Beyond the Door II. This is the best looking disc I have ever seen for a crappy movie, and while watching the scratchy trailer for The Dark, I wonder if they cleaned the film up too much. Sometimes, the Grindhouse look can cover up a whole mountain of mistakes.