ALONE IN THE DARK ( pre-cert UK video cover)
4 stars    feisty fromage!

"Anything can happen when your'e...ALONE in the dark...Anything"

directed by: Jack Sholder
starring: Jack Palance, Donald Pleasance, Martin Landau, Dwight Shultz, Erlan Van Lidth

(back of video blurb):
       "When benign psychiatrist Dr leo Bain hires Dan Potter as his new mental hospital assistant, four violent psychotic inmates see the newcomer as a threat to their security.

       Convinced that Potter has killed Bain (sic), they seize their chance to escape during a power failure, surround Potter's home and prepare to wreak vengeance on him.

       With no weapons, no phone and no electricity, Potter must face them- and the horrors they have in store for him and his family- Alone in the dark..."

choice dialogue:

"I told him if he didn't stop all this nonsense I would hoist him up and cut him in half...
sometimes you have to be forceful with them!"

slash with panache?

       Oh yes! A deliciously bitter cocktail of jet black humour, thrills, spills and terror!

       Before I start the review proper- and it amazes me how often this happens, you would have thought they would pay proper attention to a movie if they are going to bother releasing it!- the ‘back of video blurb’alternate artwork- ALONE IN THE DARK is incorrect. Essentially the bare bones of the story does concern the arrival of a new psychiatrist- Dr. Dan Potter, at an experimental mental institution run by Dr. Leo Bain (Pleasance). He is introduced to the inmates of floor three- although, as Bain points out: "People here aren’t patients- they’re voyagers." The ‘voyagers’ include Jack Palance as Frank Hawkes, a steely eyed ex-prisoner of war and a Martin Landau, outstanding as a maniacally cackling ex-minister Byron Sutcliffe, who; "...used to burn down churches....unfortunately when there were people still inside". Potter has been hired as a replacement for the previous doctor- Harry Merton, who the ‘voyagers’ believe Potter has murdered, but has actually moved to another job. It is their continuing delusion ,which finally manifests itself in a wish for retribution, that prompts them to escape the institution during a power cut and hunt down Potter and his family.

       One of the things that makes ALONE IN THE DARK so special is that the majority of the characters are well rounded and believable. From; Donald Pleasance, who parodies his Dr. Loomis character from HALLOWEEN (1978), as a well meaning but decidedly off the wall psychiatrist who freely gives out matches to pyromaniacs and whose treatment methods range from telling the ‘voyagers’ that he can mould Donald Pleasance hams it up!or infiltrate their dreams and come as either a ‘punisher’ or ‘saviour’- most memorably in the eye watering scene where Landau dreams he makes the unkindest cut of all! There is also Potter’s ‘new-wave’ sister who comes to stay with his family and who, during the final siege, begins to succumb to a ,previously unmentioned, mental condition where she hallucinates a screaming, rotting corpse rising up in front of her (an effect created by Tom Savini)- in one of the films great jump-out-of-your-seat moments. Potter’s daughter is surprisingly un-annoying as the deadpan little girl, who seems the most unfazed at the mayhem surrounding them and reminded me of a blonde Wednesday from the ADDAMS FAMILY films! And of course the trio of lunatics who surround the house, including the hulking Ronald ‘Fatty’ Elster (Erlan Van Lidith)- who show that movie villains can have a sense of humour without descending into buffoonery. Their bone-dry and chilling black comedy really adds that extra something.

       The final showdown, albeit reminiscent of both NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976), is tense, well paced and has a killer (if somewhat unlikely) sting in its tale.'that' (in)famous image... Perhaps the most (in)famous image from the film is the one that was used as cover art in some territories- (although not in the UK), was the shot of the woman ,in a skimpy nightie, kneeling on a bed, a knife shooting up through the mattress between her legs in a perversely phallic way. This is the scene where that most generic of characters- the baby-sitter, (with, again, nods to HALLOWEEN), is terrorised by an unseen assailant hidden under the bed. Superbly playing with both the childhood fear of what is lurking amongst the dust and cobwebs in the darkness below the bed (her boyfriend having being dragged under moments before. They had been about to have sex- natch), and the JAWS like tension of where the knife will pop up next!...However, apart from that explicitly suggestive sexual violence against a woman, the film in fact (almost exclusively) shows violence perpertrated by men against other men (see the 'body-count')... There is also a nice, if occasionally heavy handed, juxtaposition of the sanctity and supposed safety of the family unit and the breakdown of society, most notably the violent looting, which takes place during the power cut. The escapees wander through the destruction with an outward air of calmness and bemusement- they have just escaped from a mental institution only to find the outside world to be even more violently unbalanced. This turning -of-the-tables culminating in them witnessing the apparently motiveless murder of a looter by a man in a hockey mask with a clawed trowel (perhaps a artwork for the US video releasereference to Jason in FRIDAY THE 13TH: PART 3 (1982)). Also, ALONE IN THE DARK almost, and note that I saw almost, manages to pull off a scene in a ‘new-wave/punk’ venue (the standard, post ‘81, replacement for earlier films ‘disco scene’)- where the patrons sport a nice line in nihilism but, obviously, their dress sense still leaves enough room for contemporary giggles. And the place where the ‘Sic F*cks’ play ‘Chop Up Your Mother’ ,whilst women smash the stage with huge (fake) axes and cleavers, is again a home away from home for the ‘voyagers’.

       ALONE IN THE DARK, aside from being deliciously amusing, also provides enough thrills ‘n’ spills for four slasher movies and if you like ‘em a little twisted, this comes highly recommended. (Jack Sholder who directed this marvellous little film also went on to direct, with somewhat less success, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (1985))

BODYCOUNT 11  bodycount!   female:1 / male:10

       1) Male has back snapped over someones knee!
       2) Male thrown from car
       3) Male gutted with clawed trowel
       4) Male hit by reversing van
       5) Male has his throat slit (off-screen)
       6) Female strangled
       7) Male killed with crossbow arrow
       8) Male has his throat slit
       9) Male gets a hatchet in his back, which is slammed in further with baseball bat!
     10) Male stabbed in gut
     11) Male stabbed and hit over the head with a fire extinguisher