April 8, 2015

Alone In The Dark (1982) - Dr. Loomis, Grossberger, Howling Mad Murdock, The Sic F*cks, And Two Future Oscar Winners Still Just Paying The Bills

Alone In The Dark (1982) poster
Alone In The Dark (1982)
Currently Out Of Print
Director:  Jack Sholder
Writer:  Jack Sholder, Robert Shaye, and Michael Harrpster
Stars:  Jack Palance, Donald Pleasance, Martin Landau, Dwight Schultz, Erland van Lidth, Deborah Hedwall, Lee Taylor-Allan, Phillip Clark, Elizabeth Ward, Brent Jennings, Gordon Watkins, and Carol Levy

A quartet of murderous psychopaths break out of a mental hospital during a power blackout and lay siege to their doctor's house.

     The movie Alone In The Dark (1982) bears no relation to the long running video game franchise of the same name.  It should not be confused with the godawful Uwe Boll directed movie adaptation of said video game, either.  Alone In The Dark is a splendid little gem of a movie that got lost in the deluge of slasher flicks flooding theaters in 1982, and it ended up largely forgotten outside of genre circles save for its status as one of the "clips no one can quite place" in the 1984 trailer compilation Terror In The Aisles.  It deserves better.

'Preacher' (Martin Landau) approaches Mom's Diner in Alone In The Dark (1982)
Byron 'Preacher' Sutcliffe (Martin Landau) approaches Mom's Diner in the surreal dream sequence preceding the opening credits of director Jack Sholder's 1982 directorial debut Alone In The Dark.
Donald Pleasance in a dream sequence from Alone In The Dark (1982)
Preacher imagines Dr. Leo Bain (Donald Pleasance) as a cleaver wielding short order cook who's about to help him split the tab the hard way...
Martin Landau awakens from a nightmare in Alone In The Dark (1982)
...before he awakens from his nightmare to find himself back at the asylum and (you guessed it) alone in the dark!

     Alone In The Dark was among the first movies produced for Robert Shaye's New Line Cinema just a couple of years before the success of Wes Craven's A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) turned it into The House That Freddy Built.  Shaye's wife Lynn even has a cameo as a receptionist at the Haven, the mental hospital run by the pot smoking Dr. Leo Bain, played by Donald Pleasance.  Pleasance is clearly having a blast in a role that comes across as a parody of his performance as the doom-and-gloom riddled Dr. Loomis in the Halloween franchise.  Dr. Bain subscribes to the notion that no-one is really crazy, that the people society labels as psychotics are only individuals having difficulty adapting to an already psychotic world.  Even the Haven's four most dangerous patients are given considerable free reign.  Paranoid schizophrenic Frank Hawkes (Jack Palance), pyromaniac Byron 'Preacher' Sutcliffe (Martin Landau), hulking pedophile Ronald 'Fatty' Elster (Erland van Lidth), and a homicidal maniac called 'The Bleeder' (Phillip Clark) are contained only by an electric door lock that confines them to their own wing of the hospital at night.  It sure would be a shame if the power went out...

Dwight Schultz and Donald Pleasence in Alone In The Dark (1982)
New hire Dr. Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz) receives an awkwardly enthusiastic welcome from hospital administrator Leo Bain upon arriving for his first day of work at the Haven.
Erland van Lidth in Alone In The Dark (1982)
Dangerous mental patient and pedophile Ronald 'Fatty' Elster (Erland van Lidth) practices his origami, which one presumes must be a big hit with the kids.
Jack Palance in Alone In The Dark (1982)
De facto leader of  the psychos Colonel Frank Hawkes (Jack Palance) in a typically intense moment upon meeting Dr. Potter for the first time.

     As one might imagine, a considerable part of the charm of Alone In The Dark derives from its casting.  Beyond the delightful skewering of new age psychiatry that Pleasance provides, it's hard to deny the thrill of seeing future Oscar winners Jack Palance (Best Supporting Actor, City Slickers, 1991) and Martin Landau (Best Supporting Actor, Ed Wood, 1994) hamming it up to great effect as psychotics in a low budget horror movie.  The two also appeared together two years prior in the low budget sci-fi/horror flick Without Warning (1980), which was only recently rescued from obscurity by a new Scream Factory Blu-ray release.  Many viewers will also likely recognize the late Erland van Lidth, who portrays obese pedophile Ronald 'Fatty' Elster.  Van Lidth had previously made an impression as the hulking prison inmate Grossberger in the popular comedy Stir Crazy (1980), as well as later portraying the opera-singing stalker Dynamo in The Running Man (1987).  If that isn't enough star power to pique your interest, how about we also throw in actor Dwight Schultz as the mild-mannered - and completely sane - Dr. Dan Potter?  Ironically, just a few months later we'd all come to know Schultz primarily as crazed pilot 'Howling Mad' Murdock on the popular TV show The A-Team (1983-87).
The Sic F*cks perform Chop Up Your Mother in Alone In The Dark (1982)
The Sic F*cks perform Chop Up Your Mother just before a citywide blackout brings the show to a halt.
Martin Landau looting during the blackout in Alone In The Dark (1982)
'Preacher' finds just exactly what he's looking for while looting during the blackout...
The Bleeder wearing a hockey mask in Alone In The Dark (1982)
...as does 'The Bleeder' (Phillip Clark), who prefers to keep his identity a secret for now.

     Alone In The Dark was also Jack Sholder's directorial debut.  Sholder later worked with producer Robert Shay again on both A Nightmare On Elm Street 2:  Freddy's Revenge (1985) and the body-jumping alien parasite mini-classic The Hidden (1987) before spending most of the rest of his career working in television.  Contrary to what many fans believe, Sholder did not choose to have The Bleeder don a hockey mask upon escaping the Haven as any kind of homage to the Friday The 13th franchise.  Though released theatrically after the first appearance of Jason's iconic hockey mask in Friday The 13th Part III, Sholder's Alone In The Dark was completed first.  The character of The Bleeder was actually conceived by Shay, who was taken with the idea of a psychopathic killer who keeps his face hidden to facilitate a surprising reveal near the end of the movie.

Martin Landau makes a delivery in Alone In The Dark (1982)
Land Shark!  This screen grab is pretty funny once you know where 'Preacher' got the hat.
Erland van Lidth shares cookies and milk with Elizabeth Ward in Alone In The Dark (1982)
Of course, there's nothing funny about pedophilia - except maybe watching a wise-beyond-her-years little girl (Elizabeth Ward) effortlessly thwart a pedophile's A game while still scoring the cookies and milk.

     Owing largely to its release during the theatrical heyday of the slasher movie, Alone In The Dark is often lumped in with others of the type.  Though it bears obvious cosmetic similarities to the slasher sub-genre, it's ultimately more of a siege movie.  Alone In The Dark goes pretty light on the gratuitous gore, and most of the movie's most suspenseful moments come in the third act after Dr. Potter and his family have been trapped in their home by the trio of psychopaths lurking outside.  Slasher FX superstar Tom Savini does provide one make-up effect in the form of a briefly glimpsed zombie for a dream sequence, but his style of graphic slaughter is otherwise mostly absent.  There is a set piece involving a scantily clad babysitter named Bunky (Carol Levy) and a very big knife that most any slasher movie would be proud to call its own, but even that episode is nearly gore-free.  The appeal of Alone In The Dark, not surprisingly, lies mostly in the strength of its performances and its clever screenplay, two strengths rarely associated with the slasher sub-genre.

Carol Levy thinks there is someone under the bed in Alone In The Dark (1982)
Meanwhile, Bunky the babysitter (Carol Levy) thinks there may be someone under the bed...
A knife through the mattress in Alone In The Dark (1982)
...and there is...
A knife between the legs in Alone In The Dark (1982)
...so maybe it's time for Bunky to get the hell off the bed and consider a less dangerous vocation.

     I intentionally went with relatively few screen caps from the final siege of the Potter household in Alone In The Dark so as not to ruin any of the shocks, and I hope I've been sufficiently vague throughout this post about the specifics of the narrative.  Alone In The Dark is unique amongst horror movies of the era, and it deserves to be seen with its surprises intact.  The original DVD release from Image Entertainment is unfortunately long out of print, though it can still be had for a price.  Alone In The Dark also later appeared in a two disc, four movie Image release alongside Afraid Of The Dark (1991), Relentless 3 (1993), and Relentless 4 (1994), though that release seems to be even harder to track down.  Sadly, it doesn't seem to be currently available on any of the major VOD outlets.  Rumor has it that a high definition master of the movie still exists, so perhaps Scream Factory will someday swoop in to save Alone In The Dark from obscurity just as they did with the previously mentioned Without Warning.

A family under siege in Alone In The Dark (1982)
Dr. Potter and his family prepare to fend off a home invasion...
Outside the house under siege in Alone In The Dark (1982)
... because appearances notwithstanding...
Dr. Potter's family trapped in Alone In The Dark (1982)
...the Potters already know they're not alone in the dark tonight.

     So how, you may ask, might someone go about seeing Alone In The Dark given its current state of release?  Well, if you expect to be anywhere near Timberville, Virginia on Memorial Day Weekend, shoot me an email.  Alone In The Dark is the second confirmed title - alongside the previously announced Rituals (1977) - for the Movies At Dog Farm IV live event this Spring!

April 5, 2015

The Versatile Blogger Award - I'm Not Worthy, But It's An Honor To Be Included In Such Good Company

Versatile Blogger Award
     My compatriots in the blogosphere are far too kind.  I've only been posting sporadically this year, owing mostly to the fact that my inherent laziness has come to the fore.  Even so, Barry at Cinematic Catharsis has been kind enough to nominate me for my first Versatile Blogger Award.  Thank you, Barry.  I feel a bit like I'm accepting an Oscar for not making a movie, but that doesn't make it any less of an honor.  I guess it's time for me to quit slacking off and put my nose back to the grindstone.

     In the spirit of recognizing the hard work of my compatriots, following is a list of my own nominees for the Versatile Blogger Award.  All are fine folk whose work I enjoy and appreciate.  Join me in supporting them so they'll be inspired to continue doing what they do.

Isaac Keith Martinez @ Isaac's Haunted Beard
Matt St. Cyr @ Midnight Cinephile
Erin Lashley @ Seven Doors Of Cinema
Giovanni Susina @ At The Mansion Of Madness
Dave J. Wilson @ Cinematic Shocks
Kev D. @ Zombie Hall
Carl Boehm @ Carl Needs To Make A Movie
Bob Smash @ Candy-Coated Razor Blades

     You may have noticed there are only eight nominees listed above rather than the traditional ten.  I'd feel remiss if I didn't offer a tip of the hat to a couple of sites that have sadly chosen to shutter their doors - The Info Zombie and Blood Sucking Geek.  J.D. at Blood Sucking Geek simply decided it was time to call it a day, and Carl moved seamlessly from The Info Zombie to his new concern listed above.  Both The Info Zombie and Blood Sucking Geek live on in archival form, and I stand ready to offer my continued support to whatever the future holds for their respective proprietors.

     I'd close with the traditional "Ten Things You Might Not Know About Me", but I suspect that would be at least nine things more than you'd probably care to know.  Continue visiting the Dog Farm, and all shall be revealed in due time.

     Thanks to everyone for allowing me to be part of this community of talented individuals, and thanks in particular to Barry at Cinematic Catharsis for the nomination.

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