Well-acted, wild, cross-genre mix of sci-fi and horror starring William Devane as a writer who takes a personal interest in a series of baffling decapitation murders in L.A., all of which seem to indicate some kind of supernatural force at work. Every night “The Mangler” stalks the streets, killing and mutilating one random victim. Also on the murder trail is a TV reporter (Cathy Lee Crosby), and a police detective (Richard Jaeckel), but despite their efforts only a mysterious psychic DeRenzy (Jacquelyn Hyde) knows what the killer really is and how to stop it.
The Dark 5.5
There are times when I should know better. And, in some of those times, my curiosity completely overwhelms all common sense. This usually happens with b-movies in the comedy, science-fiction and horror genres – for some reason, I keep hoping to find a hidden gem (which, let’s face it happens often enough. Enough so that I can’t seem to end my quest, at least)
Such was the case with ‘The Dark’.
What truly compelled me was the early-‘70s Hammer-style artwork on the DVD box, which showcased a mix of horror and science fiction that evoked an imaginary film I’d like to call ‘Godzilla of the Living Dead’. I simply couldn’t pass it up – it sounded just too twisted and amusing. In fact, despite the disc being severely damaged (I found it in a pawn shop), I simply had to take a gamble on it.
…to mixed results.
On the plus side, while the film didn’t even have echoes of Godzilla, it did feel like a ‘space Frankenstein’s zombie’ movie in some ways (if you don’t agree with me that this is a plus, then you should stop now and walk away from your computer while you still can). Basically, the film is about a Karloff-esque alien running rampant in L.A. and the people trying to track it down and put a halt to its reign of terror. This alien mostly kills with its humanoid hands, however, so we only get a sense that it’s not of this world on the few occasions that it… shoots lasers from its eyes.
Are you having fun, yet? Whoop whoop whoop!!!
On the minus side, the evil “space-zombie” killer is probably the most likeable character in this film: our hero is a sullen, brooding, pseudo-cool cat, the inspector is a totally unredeemable jerk, and his side-kick is a stupid dumb @$$. The last two were probably (poorly) written for comic relief, but the comedy crashes like a ton of bricks due to subpar acting chops and a director who does not have a flair for comedy whatsoever.
In fact, the director (who, it must noted, was called in at the last minute to replace Tobe Hooper), started his career as a stuntman and, from what I understand, basically spent his career being a filler on screen, behind the camera, on the crew, …etc. So he isn’t exactly going to be remembered for his oeuvre. In fact, a quick glance at his filmography (as director) suggests that he was probably only a hack – there are no memorable films in the handful he helmed.
Unsurprisingly, his limited skill shines brightly in ‘The Dark’.
For a film that is purported to be a spooky thriller, and which was originally (before rewrites), supposed to be more of a standard slasher-style film in the ‘Halloween’ and ‘Friday the 13th’ vein, it holds no grip on the viewer. In fact, the film has so little sense of suspense that scenes frequently jump into one another incoherently – thereby dispensing of any possible tension build up. Even within the individual scenes we find the director choosing camera angles and cuts that actually minimize their potential (for example, a small error that everyone’s seen before is an action scene where an actor clearly misses a punch – something easily corrected with a different camera angle).
This film is not entirely the director’s fault, however. The story itself is so poorly conceived (which is hardly surprising considering the last-minute rewrites) that it comes across as being hokey at best. I mean, there is no explanation of how the alien got here, what it wants, why it terrorizes L.A. (and why only at certain times of day for that matter!), …etc.
The way the main characters catch up to it is also ridiculous, as it involves a prescient woman who had an encounter with one of his future victims – but the film hinges on them finding out that she exists, so there isn’t any crucial investigative work and an unfolding of clues being done (at least this would have held the film together a little bit!).
The film is such a loser that even the title is ill-suited: most of the film takes place in daylight and there isn’t remotely a sense of foreboding when it does get dark – not even in the few short scenes in which the space psychopath appears. I don’t know… maybe the film’s title was a reference to the fact that all the characters remained in the dark about what is going on for most of the movie despite their best efforts and intentions. Maybe.
At least this would be somewhat clever.
Despite all of this, the film has a charm that makes it difficult for me to pan outright. Maybe it’s because I went through quite a bit to get the darned movie to play in my DVD player (it took weeks!), so the eventual relief translated into a few sympathy points. I’m not sure about that, but I know that I would probably be alone in giving it such ‘high’ praise – for ‘The Dark’ is anything but a good movie.
Remarkably, ‘The Dark’ fails at almost all it attempts to do – just not enough to warrant an iconic ‘Ed Wood’ status. And, yet, ironically, that’s also why it will forever languish in the dark, forgotten by filmgoers everywhere.
Honestly, I don’t expect that we’ll ever see a remake or reboot of this one – even in this day and age.