[review by JA Kerswell]
Ever wondered what John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) would have looked like if Michael Myers had been played by David Van Day of early 80s pop duo Dollar? Well, look no further! Sadly, there is precious little else to recommend INTO THE DARKNESS. Although, as ever, there’s always some fun to be had for the slasher completest or masochist (perhaps double if you’re both).
|Strike a pose - and then die!|
I once asked director Norman J Warren why the slasher explosion of the late 70s and early 1980s hadn’t created a boom in British examples? He shrugged his shoulders and good-naturedly said he had no idea. Warren would have been good placed to make one himself. His 1978 film TERROR had mixed the supernatural thrills of Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA (1977) and pre-empted the show-stopping gore scenes of FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980). Indeed, no end of Brit proto-slashers helped influence the North American slasher boom by playing grindhouses and drive-ins in the States in the 1970s: everything from Pete Walker’s excellent FRIGHTMARE (1974) to the delightfully trashy thrills of TOWER OF EVIL (1972). And, of course, Brian Clemens’ 1970s TV series THRILLER essentially set the template for every woman-in-peril thriller to follow.
Whilst there were a few examples during the Golden Age and beyond, it perhaps seems fitting that David Kent-Watson’s INTO THE DARKNESS joined the burgeoning shot-on-video masses of the mid to late 1980s. That’s not to say it was breaking any new ground otherwise. Its models-menaced-by-psycho storyline was well worn (and well tested) and its travelogue approach - presumably to try and put more money on the screen - is also as old as the hills.
Most of the men in INTO THE DARKNESS have at least one character flaw or skeleton in their closet, so as to point the finger at them. Jeff (John Saint Ryan) is a West End actor whose job offers have dried up since a past allegation of improper conduct by an actress. This lack of job offers means his agent (a sweaty cameo by prolific character actor Ronald Lacey, who might be most recognised as a melting Nazi in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)) insists he takes an upcoming modelling job to pay back his debts. Unhappy to be spending a week with swimsuit models (his mustache and muscle t-shirt perhaps hinting why) he has no choice. He meets photographer Sutton (Brett Sinclair) and his bevy of Essex bottle blonde beauties and a shy brunette newcomer. Sutton has his own problems. His assistants are dysfunctional and he is being harangued by his agent Miss Jenny (an acerbic turn by Pleasence’s real-life daughter Polly Jo) after losing most of his contracts.
|Donald Pleasance dreams of a new loft conversion with his proceeds from INTO THE DARKNESS ...|
Soon the not-so-merry crew head to Malta for some sunshine, swim-wear modelling and murder! Someone is bumping off the models one g-string at a time ...
INTO THE DARKNESS is at least blessed with some entertaining characters. Acting wise it’s very much a mixed bag. The women who play the models were clearly not chosen for their thespian skills. Although, ironically, the film is extremely coy with nudity and violence (bar a tepid rehash of Hitchcock's famous shower scene in PSYCHO (1960)). With most of the kills taking place off screen. However, some of the entertainingly questionable acting by the models (“Oh Susie, for Christ’s sake let’s get out of here!”) gives the film a taste of campiness that the rest of the film would have benefited from.
Kent-Watson seems drunk in love with Malta. I can see why. I’ve been there and it’s beautiful. But a slasher/thriller needs less close ups on goats and local firework dances and more on, well, the slasher cat and mouse theatrics. A potentially tense scene where one model is killed after she hangs back from a shoot and does the tourist thing at a remote temple is fluffed after she is bumped off in a blink of an eye with the minimum of fuss. It’s even more galling as it comes hot in the heels of a seemingly endless cod romantic interlude with Jeff and rookie model Debbie (Jamie Rivas - who looks like she could barely carry a handbag let alone a film), which includes yet more travelogue ‘highlights’.
Donald Pleasence, of course, is a welcome presence even in an ultimately thankless role as a shadowy swim-wear company owner who follows Sutton round telling him what a crap job he’s doing! He also intones slightly sinister mutterings to gormless models whilst hoisting his right eyebrow skywards, such as “You always have your guardian angel ... or devil.” He might as well have a red herring sellotaped to his forehead. He at least has fun throwing some shade, making “gay liberation” cracks at Jeff’s expense (despite his and Debbie’s romance taking up half the film) and teasing one of the girls when she asks how old a murdered model was? With the eyebrow arched again he volunteers: “She’s dead, you can’t get any older than that!”
|"Please! I'm begging you! I can't take another rendition of Mirror Mirror (Mon Amour)!"|
Pleasance’s role is ultimately superfluous to the story, but at least you hope he got a suntan out of it - and his younger daughter got the ‘role of a lifetime’ with a cameo as the talent agent with a face like a smacked arse. Pleasance was very open about taking jobs to pay for the lifestyle he liked to keep. He’d just come off Argento’s PHENOMENA and the entertaining giallo NOTHING UNDERNEATH (both 1985) and was soon to reprise his role as Dr Loomis (and not for the last time) in HALLOWEEN 4:THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988).
Kent-Watson had made a minor stir with his earlier film GBH (1983), a violent gangland thriller that (according to its nasty-bating, bloody VHS cover) attempted to out shock THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY (1980) (only on a budget that stretched to a bag of chips and half a pint of lager). GBH and INTO THE DARKNESS share some of the same cast - as well as its fondness for fisticuffs and casual homophobia. However, the fact that Kent-Watson wrote this film under the pseudonym Michael Parkinson (the name of a famous real life chat show host) suggests his tongue was very firmly placed in cheek.
The vaguely new wave soundtrack features songs that sound like a mix of The Psychedelic Furs and Men at Work. I was genuinely surprised that it was Chris Rea, who would soon go on to achieve beige super-stardom as the housewives’ MOR favourite. Quite how he ended up providing the sounds for INTO THE DARKNESS is anyone’s guess.
A few scenes, such as the ones where a couple of models are menaced in the catacombs and the grand denouement in an old Old West film set work better not because they are particularly well staged or thrilling, but shine compared to the rest of the film. Kent-Watson has all the elements to make a good slasher flick, including the de rigueur flashback motive where the killer’s mother belittles him as a child as she taunts him: “I’m a tart! That’s right, a prostitute. Your loving mother a whore!” Sadly, nothing is at full throttle and, ultimately, it seems the film was made as little more than an excuse for a jolly to Malta.
female: 5 / male: 2