The Dark (1979) Blu-ray Review: I’d Be Okay If It Had Stayed in the Dark

The Dark is probably better left there, in the dark. Starring William Devane, Cathy Lee Crosby, Richard Jaeckel with appearances by Keenan Wynn, Casey Kasem, and Jacqueline Hyde. There are even cameos by Philip Michael Thomas (Miami Vice) and Angelo Rossitto (Freaks). None of these notable names make this alien hunt any better. Okay, possibly Jacqueline Hyde. 

The movie starts with a creepy narrator voicing the opening crawl (reminiscent of Count Yorga’s opening narration) about humans not being the only living things in the universe. We then see a red shooting star race across the Los Angeles skyline and crash somewhere, somewhere that no one saw or heard it seems. What this crash did was unleash an alien Frankenstein’s monster/werewolf mash-up loose on mankind, which goes around ripping people’s heads off; a cool scene later in the picture. The monster’s first victim is a young lady played by Kathy Richards (later Hilton, mother of Paris) whose father is author Roy Warner aka Steve Dupree (William Devane). An ex-con turned writer of violent trash fiction, Warner vows to catch whoever or whatever has killed his kid. Meanwhile, Police Detective Mooney (Jaeckel) assigned to the murders is the same guy that sent Warner to prison for killing his wife.  Ah, the tension!  

As the monster claims more heads, for what or why we never know, gains more media coverage and police consternation, news anchor/reporter Zoe Owens (Crosby, who I really only recall seeing on the TV show That’s Incredible) gets involved to uncover who this terror really is. Mostly so she can advance her career to the “big leagues.” She then teams up with Warner and the hunt is on to beat the cops to the scoop and find this crazed killer.

The dynamic duo decides to follow a lead the cops dismiss from a mystic named De Renzy (Hyde, who steals the show). She has a vision of a victim not yet killed. They then run around L.A. searching for this random young man. Finding him drunk and abusive one night, they follow him as he flees from them into the LA night. Following them all is Detective Mooney. They end up at an abandoned church where the monster is lurking and about to take out 20 or so cops with his alien super strength and laser beam eyes. Amongst the chaos, Warner grabs some burning debris which spooks the monster (like Frankenstein’s). Warner then lights him up and the monster explodes, evaporating into thin air. We end with Warner staring off into the night sky as Zoe watches him from the bedroom window. The creepy narrator returns to tell us that only the blind will no longer fear The Dark. 

Oh, boy. So that’s The Dark in a nutshell. And really about all there is to it. It isn’t horrible but it could have been way better. Maybe in its original form, it would have been. The original story had the monster as a human who’d been locked away in an attic all his life by two unloving parents. When the house burned down and the parents were killed, the young man ran wild. Badly burned and impervious to pain, he becomes some mad monster who goes around ripping heads off of people with his unusual strength. After filming, the producers decided to change up the story and reshoot some scenes to capitalize on the Star Wars/ Alien craze. As it stands, The Dark plays more like an average TV-movie with bland special effects.  

The Dark was also originally slated to be directed by Tobe Hooper of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre fame but after falling behind two weeks in two days, Hooper was fired making The Dark one of Tobe Hooper’s bloopers. Allegedly, he needed help later helming Poltergeist as well. “Allegedly.” The Hooper connection is what brought Devane to the project and somehow inspired his odd, dated, tough hippie look throughout the movie. John “Bud” Cadros (Kingdom Of The Spiders) was asked by producer Dick Clark (yes, that Dick Clark) to take over and get the picture made. Which he did, on time and on budget. Nothing wrong with that but Bud stamps mediocrity all over this one. 

The special features are also lackluster and only slightly interesting. The interview with composer Roger Calloway is informative and gives a good look at what went into the making of the music, which is actually creepy. The audio commentary consists of producer Igo Kantor and Cardos chatting about what they recall of the film and pointing out some things viewers may have missed. They also veer off and talk about a bunch of other stuff, like Jerry Lewis’ WWII clown movie. All the while, Kantor’s phone keeps going off because he can’t figure out how to turn it to silent. It is interesting to hear that they agree that the original story was better before the lasers and Alien/Star Wars aspect was added, turning The Dark into an odd sci-fi horror instead of a creepy monster flick. They do also agree that the lasers were okay too. The Blu-ray release and the movie itself would have benefited from an additional audio track by some cinefile who could pull all the loose ends of The Dark together a little tighter. 

Special Features include 

  • High Definition (1080p) restoration 
  • Audio Commentary featuring producer Igo Kantor and director John “Bud” Cardos
  • Isolated score 
  • Interview with composer Roger Kellaway
  • Interview with John “Bud” Cardos 
  • Theatrical trailer 
  • Reversible artwork 
  • Mini Poster

“A chilling tale of alien terror” it’s not. It isn’t terrible but I wasn’t afraid of The Dark. I was indeed entertained for 91 minutes but it’s lackluster and the extras don’t really help much either. Perhaps Tobe Hooper could have made something more frightful? Perhaps the producers would have killed that too with their desire to lure in the sci-fi, space alien market? The world may never know. For now, we’re left in…the dark. 

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Joe Garcia III

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