I may have mentioned this in previous reviews, but the 1980s was a major decade for slasher films. Most of them were routine and formulaic, meaning that they relied on the same tired schtick of nubile and horny teenagers being sliced and diced by masked killers. However, there were really only a few of them that really stood out. And I can definitely say that about director Jack Sholder’s 1982 cult classic Alone in the Dark, which remains one of the hidden gems of the entire horror genre.
Dwight Schultz co-stars as Dan Potter, a psychiatrist doctor moving into town with wife Nell and daughter Lyla (Deborah Hedwall and Elizabeth Ward, respectively), while awaiting the arrival of his younger sister Toni (Lee Taylor-Allan), who previously suffered a breakdown. He is appointed by the eccentric Dr. Bain (Donald Pleasence) who runs the isolated mental institution where he becomes the new therapist.
This institution is really off kilter, and that the fact its entirely run by electricity (not a good idea), is also questionable. To add to the already weird atmosphere, the intense third-floor patients, especially Frank Hawkes (Jack Palance) and Bryon “Preacher” Sutcliff (Martin Landau), believe Dan has killed their beloved former doctor. When the power suddenly goes out, Frank, Bryon, along with Ronald “Fatty” Elster (Erland van Lidth), an overweight child molester, and a fourth patient called John “The Bleeder” Skaggs escape and leave the town paved with chaos and destruction. They also steal weapons from a store and decide to pay Potter a visit.
When he and his family are having dinner, along with Detective Burnett (Gordon Watkins), and Tom (Philip Clark), a man Nell and Toni meet in jail after being arrested at a nuclear protest, they find themselves under siege by the group. Burnett is killed and his body is thrown through a window. Bain arrives after unsuccessfully calling, and is then killed by Bryon. While Dan goes out to get Bain’s car to escape, blood falls on Toni’s face as she’s in Tom’s arms. As it turns out, Tom is really The Bleeder, and tries to kill Toni, but Dan kills him. Both Bryon and Ronald try to attack, but they are killed too. As Frank tries to kill everyone with a crossbow, he sees his former doctor on TV. Because of this, he has a change of heart, so he leaves. In the final moments of the film, he is encountered by a young girl, whom he pulls a gun on. They both start laughing as the film fades to black. The end, or is it?
When I saw this film for the first time, I really got a kick out of it. This second time, I still feel the same way. It’s unpredictable, intelligent, and unusually smart for a cult movie slasher. It’s not just a slasher; it’s also a home-invasion thriller, and as well as a look at mental illness, which makes it pretty relevant in contrast to most movies from the ’80s. It also has veterans Palance, Landau, and Pleasence having the time of their lives, and being as over-the-top as they could get. Along with this are some good kills and makeup effects by Tom Brumberger and the great Tom Savini, not to mention that twist reveal of The Bleeder (which influenced Jamie Blanks’ 2001 post-Scream slasher Valentine), and a couple of solid scares (the bed scene with babysitter Bunky is an instant classic). Let’s not forget the inclusion of black humor throughout as well, and it’s the good kind too. This film has everything!
Thanks to the folks of Scream Factory, fans can now own the film on a great collector’s edition Blu-ray. There are two commentaries: one by Sholder, the other by genre film critic Justin Kerswell and film historian Amanda Reyes. The other special features include a new interview with Sholder; new interviews with The Sic F*cks (the punk rock band in the club scenes); a featurette on the locations used in the film; an interview with Carol Levy (Bunky); a stills gallery; and trailer/TV and radio spots.
Like I said, Alone in the Dark is a fun and superior ’80s cult thriller that goes beyond the genre’s clichés and throws them out the window. It’s entertaining as hell and should be regarded more often because it successfully does what it sets out to do, and that’s something that many horror lovers should definitely admire.