I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Alone in the Dark

tn_aloneindarkALONE IN THE DARK is the story of a bunch of people together in the dark. It’s a siege movie, but it starts out like THE NINTH CONFIGURATION or other movies where a guy comes in to take over as the new doctor at a mental hospital, and he meets all the colorful characters and what not. For example New Line Cinema’s mascot Lynn Shaye plays the receptionist who turns out to be a patient.

Dwight Schultz, aka Howling Mad Murdoch, the mentally ill member of the A-Team, gets to play the doctor in this one. It would be cool if Mr. T showed up as a vegan helicopter pilot, or George Peppard as a spacey hippie who absolutely hates it when a plan comes together. Instead they have ex-military Jack Palance and preacher/arsonist Martin Landau as two of the guys on the third floor. These are the patients one hospital employee describes as “very, very intense.” They also got a huge fat child molester (Erland van Lidth, Dynamo from THE RUNNING MAN) and a notion that Dwight Schultz killed the old doctor and they gotta get revenge. They wait for a window of opportunity, and it opens up pretty quick when there’s a power outage and they’re able to get out, Michael Meyers style.

mp_aloneinthedarkSee, you thought when I said “siege movie” and then “mental hospital” it was gonna be ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 in an asylum, with the sane people locked up and the lunatics outside trying to get in. Nope, just some escaped mental patients attacking a house. But at least they got a bow and arrow. That’s pretty cool.

Inside the house is the doctor, his wife (Deborah Hedwall), his daughter (Elizabeth Ward), his sister (Lee Taylor-Allan) and a guy who gave his sister a ride home from jail after an anti-nuke protest. The daughter is a pretty obnoxious character straight off some sitcom like “Blossom.” In fact IMDb says the actress played Carol Seaver in the unaired pilot for “Growing Pains.” She’s a nerdy little girl with thick glasses who says precocious things like “I need a valium.” (What was that they used to say about kids and their relationship to the things that are the darndest?) There are weird conversations like where she talks about people getting their fingers stuck together with super glue and her doctor father for some reason thinks it’s a made up thing that he’s never heard about before.

Palance and Landau elevate the movie. The trick is they probly didn’t actually have to shoot that long, because they’re not really on camera that much. They’re supposedly out in the shadows alot of the time. But when they’re in the hospital and when they show their faces it’s true, they’re “very, very intense.” Palance is his usual tough guy but with a complete disconnect from reality, so there’s no reasoning with him. If he thinks you killed his doctor, even if his doctor is still alive, you may be fucked. Landau is more freaky and does most of his acting with his face. You look at some of the wild-eyed expressions he comes up with here and it’s obvious why he made a good Bela Lugosi.

There’s alot of different business going on here. I guess the title comes from a part where the parents talk to the daughter about being afraid of the dark and what’s under the bed. This comes back later when a neighbor girl finds one of the escaped mental patients actually under her bed stabbing at her, and like a kid she’s afraid to step onto the floor. That was pretty clever.

Also there’s a weird subplot about the sister having a history of mental illness that’s being dredged up by all this mayhem. The best-directed scene is when the camera follows her walking very slowly across the house with all kinds of commotion going on with the other characters in the background, and then she hallucinates some kind of skinless ghoul (courtesy of Tom Savini).

This was the first movie that New Line Cinema actually produced, and Robert Shaye gets a story credit. The director is Jack Sholder of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE fame. Weirdly the opening scene seems like an Elm Street sequel, except with adults. The first shot has red and green lights shining on an old diner, and it turns out to be a weird dream sequence. Didn’t notice any homoerotic stuff, though.

In the tradition of the dancing-alone-in-his-room part of FREDDY’S REVENGE this has some broad, dated parts in it. Not just the corny jokes with the daughter but also the ones at the punk rock show. This is an interesting movie, but not one that completely clicked with me. It’s an odd combination of elements with a few scary moments (the fat guy lifting the girl by her neck) and I forgot to mention it has Donald Pleasance in it. Without Jack Palance I might not think much of it but just for the scene pictured at the beginning of this article I give it respect.

That’s all I got, so happy Halloween everybody.

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thanks to Hermes for recommending this one

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 31st, 2010 at 12:29 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

14 Responses to “Alone in the Dark”

  1. Jack Palance, with a complete disconnect from reality. Got to to see this just for that.

  2. Erlen Van Lidth was not only Dynamo, he was also in STIR CRAZY and THE WARRIORS: and he was a certified genius who was the CEO of his own computer company, an opera singer, and a champion Greco-Roman wrestler for MIT. And pretty good actor. Fascinating individual…

  3. Wow , Vern , you’re on a roll lately , I can barely keep up with all the articles : slasher search , horror movies , Steven Seagal and SF pictures ! Well done , sir , and Happy Halloween to you , too!

  4. “See, you thought when I said “siege movie” and then “mental hospital” it was gonna be ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 in an asylum, with the sane people locked up and the lunatics outside trying to get in. ”
    I think as an action movie, doing it the other way round would be cooler, with insane people having to hold off a bunch of sane bad guys trying to get in.

  5. I love this movie! That ending with Jack Palance is amazing, and also has a hockey-masked killer, the same year Jason showed up with his… I’d say find it and watch it.

  6. Ooops, correction, he was in THE WANDERERS. Even on the cover of the VHS box.

  7. Just a thought I had. Nothing to do with this review.But since you are a scholar of Bad Ass Cinema, i´ve noticed you haven´t reviewed much spaghetti westerns. Movies like Django with Franco Nero where he drags around a big coffin.And really cool revengemovies like Death rides a horse with Lee Van Cleef. especially Van Cleef is cool as hell.

  8. Yeah, this about sums up my experience with ALONE IN THE DARK. It has all these elements that seem like they’re gonna add up to an awesome movie, but in the end it didn’t really connect right somehow. You should check out THE HIDDEN, Vern, that’s a true classic and the one Jack Sholder put all his sholder grease into I think.

  9. I didn’t know about this version of Alone in the Dark. I thought it was going to be a review of the Uwe Boll/Chrsitian Slater version. A pleasant surprise.

  10. Vern, may I once again recommend Jack Scholder’s The Hidden. Back me up guys.

  11. Jek beat me to it: I saw the photo and thought, “Uwe Boll got Jack Palance to star in his crappy AitD movie?? How did I not know this?! Wait, wasn’t Jack Palance dead already? And would that not be _more_ awesome!?”

  12. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention. I got a kick out of it. There was some serious mega acting going on. Pretty fun score too. The little girl is way more fun if you just pretend she’s a kid version of Chloe Sevigny’s character from Zodiac.

  13. And now Martin Landau died. I really hope this doesn’t become like what happened when Groucho died so close to Elvis and everyone forgets to lament Romero’s end.

    Anyways, of coarse his performance in ED WOOD is his best but let us appreciate his great disturbing mega-acting here in ALONE IN THE DARK.

  14. First time I ever saw him was NORTH BY NORTHWEST and THEY CALL ME MR. TIBBS! but I really became a fan of his when I watched the original MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE in reruns as a kid. He was definitely my favorite character. It sucks that people of this level of talent seem to be dropping like flies lately.

    Only because there are no worthy replacements in line. Like who can bring the same type of flair and artistic achievement that dudes like Landau, Romero, Prince and Bowie did in their prime? That’s what makes it more tragic.

    First generation I can think of where living icons and legends have no real worthy runner ups whether it’s in film, music, broadcasting or literature. To quote our always tweeting president: “Sad!”.

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