The Dark (1979)
He's a million miles from home... and hungry.
Year of Release: 1979
Also Known As: The Mutilator
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Running Time: 92 minutes (1:32)
Director: John 'Bud' Cardos
William Devane ... Roy Warner / Steve Dupree
Cathy Lee Crosby ... Zoe Owens
Richard Jaeckel ... Det. Dave Mooney
Keenan Wynn ... Sherman 'Sherm' Moss
Warren J. Kemmerling ... Police Captain Speer
Biff Elliot ... Detective Jack Bresler
Jacquelyn Hyde ... De Renzy
Casey Kasem ... Police Pathologist
Kathy Hilton ... Shelly Warner
John Bloom ... The Dark
Writer Steve Dupree takes a personal interest in a series of baffling decapitation murders in the L.A. area - all of which seem to indicate some kind of supernatural force at work. At night "The Mangler" stalks the streets of Los Angeles, killing and mutilating one random victim every night. Also on the murder trail is a TV reporter, and a police detective. But despite their efforts, only a mysterious psychic, De Renzy, knows what the killer really is and how to stop it.
The Dark... I think Keenan Wynn really puts this one into perspective when he says there ain't no reason to be scared of The Dark, cause whatcha aughta be scared of is what's in it, an what's in it tends to involve pacin' so bad you're constantly on the verge of becomin' Freddy Krueger chow. An scarier still is havin' to worry about psychic lounge lizards who look like Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? an wear chunks of dryer hose on their heads. That's a pretty nasty one-two punch. I actually hadda take three Xanax tablets an chug a six pack of Jolt cola just to steady my nerves there at one point. They just about lull you to sleep... an then they shove Jacquelyn Hyde right in your face like a switch blade wielded by a meth addict holdin' up a 7-Eleven just to see how many Baby Boomers in the audience keel over, it's despicable. An speakin' of instability, we had this real bad wind storm Wednesday night that allegedly blew my TV antenna offa the roof an into the torso of one of Skunky Hernandez' Jersey cows about a half mile up the road. Now Skunky's claimin' I owe 'im $250 "restitution," even though all his cattle taste freezer burnt cause he's too durn cheap to patch up the woodpecker holes in that block of Swiss cheese he calls a barn. My attorney, Cletus Rubenstein, says I'm prolly liable for the damage even though I used an entire half rolla duct tape to secure the antenna, but he's pretty sure I won't hafta shell out the full $250 since that cow was clearly used an not up to the standards required to achieve full market value. Most of Skunky's cattle look like they survived a knife fight in a Turkish prison anyhow cause they end up layin' out in the pasture an takin' a big ole steamy dump on the ground, only to have their tails tear off when they try to extricate themselves from their frozen patties. I think he's just doin' this cause I won't sell 'im my '76 Dodge Coronet, the big baby. Once I dig the hornet nest outta the radiator an get the weeds mowed down in the floorboards it's really gonna be somethin', I just keep gettin' distracted by bullstuff like this every time I get ready to tear the engine apart. What the heck ever happened to "love thy neighbor" anyway? I live downwind of this guy for 15 years, an this is how he treats me the first time one of his dilapidated frozen meat patties gets tacked to a water trough? I said I was sorry. I even told 'im he could keep the antenna after I realized they took Mannix off the air when I turned on the TV last week. An sure, it's kinda gotten mashed into a metallic tumbleweed over the years, but the tourists eat that crap up an I'm pretty sure he could sell it to some yuppie from Seattle as a "slice of rural Americana" or whatever those people call it when they're tryin' real hard to make it seem like they aren't patronizin' you. Some days it just doesn't pay to get outta the hide-a-bed.
Anyway, we got more important things to discuss than subpar shish-kabob meat, cause The Dark's gotta hold the record for starrin' the largest cast of actors who desperately wanna change the subject anytime it comes up at a castin' call. We got enough embarrassed shish-kabob meat here to feed the entire population of Huntington, West Virginia for two whole days an by God I'm not about to let 'em forget about what they did, so I'll run down a few things this flick taught me before movin' on to the good stuff. First thing I noticed was that sometimes cops figure it's better not to pull over the speedin' drunk driver cause they wanna see how the incident plays out. They also tend to keep their dash cams off when engagin' in these types of scientific endeavors. Second, even though a majority of people hangin' around your crime scene tend to be elderly folks with nothin' to go home to, you still prolly shouldn't discuss your scapegoat options right in front of 'em. Some of 'em might actually have their Miracle Ears turned on. An third, the best way to be taken seriously as an investigative journalist is to sleep with the first guy you find skulkin' around your news studio after hours. Sooner or later you're bound to sleep with somebody important that can help your career. This has been scientifically documented in a series of experiments known as "The Weathergirl Hypothesis."
But as is often the case, there's usually some bad egg stinkin' up the hen house in a movie, an the thing that really bruised my bologna about The Dark was how irresponsible these directors can be with their content. I mean, here we've got a perfectly educational movie about space aliens who turn people into sides of roast beef with their laser eyeballs, only that's not good enough for 'em an they end up gettin' a wild hair up their asses an doin' somethin' morally bankrupt that makes you hafta reswallow your Jiffy Pop after it makes its triumphant return from your gut bucket. Seriously you guys? You're gonna make the hooker a smoker, are you kiddin' me? That's the worst possible thing somebody whose livelihood depends upon havin' adequate lung capacity an physical stamina could possibly do to themselves. Now sure, the practice can probably improve their form an technique for the oral portion of their work, but that's only one facet an the shortness of breath that comes with this habit is goin' to cause the rest of their job performance to suffer. Not to mention that it can be a little jarrin' to see 'em spit out somethin' black afterwards. That kinda thing'll really scare a guy if they dunno what they just saw, in addition to makin' you feel real stupid when the doctor can't find anything wrong with your wingding. This kinda bad example bein' laid out where impressionable young prostitutes can see it is an affront to our society, an I would encourage any professional cock jockeys or anyone interested in becomin' one to consult their doctor about the dangers of smokin' an the impact it can have on their careers. If we allow this kinda stuff into film it'll only reinforce the position of nuts like Tipper Gore who've been claimin' for years that television an movies encourage stupidity in the population, which could easily result in more people askin' 'er to speak in public an I think that we can all agree that nobody wants that.
The movie begins with Paris Hilton's mama walkin' down the darkest alleyway she can find in search of a Crip recruiter to see if she's got what it takes to be passed around like a bag of Doritos at a pot party, only instead she's followed by some real P.O.'d guy who starts roarin' like King Kong passin' a kidney stone before tearin' off 'er face to send to Gunnar Hansen as a belated birthday gift. Meanwhile, on some liberal party barge near Burbank, some real hammy guy sits down next to a withered old Psychic Friends employee (De Renzy) who starts seein' his impendin' murder superimposed on his face an tells 'im to get his accursed keister away from 'er before any of his bad karma rubs off. The next day, Cathy Lee Crosby's talkin' to Keenan Wynn about becomin' a real reporter so she can cover the murder that took place last night instead of doin' fluff pieces at the animal shelter an smooshin' 'er boobs together for the cameras. Keenan don't like this idea one bit, but he can't really get up to stop 'er when she takes off cause he's spent too much time starin' at 'er sweater. Elsewhere, these two cops (Mooney an Bresler) have this guy who looks like he was spawned as a result of Erik Estrada gettin' Judd Nelson real drunk one night (Willy Devane) identifyin' the girl who lost the face off at center ice the night before, an about the time Willy starts horkin' up a little Chinese takeout they figure they've got a positive ID. Later that night, some other guy's about to give a prostitute the grand tour of his place of business, only before he can get ahold of 'er business end she hasta go buy some cigarettes an pretty quick the lights go out on 'im while he's lookin' over his check book to see if he can afford to go around the world. So he figures the hooker's just up to some kinda harlot hijinx an goes lookin' for 'er, cept all he finds is a set of atomic red eyeballs starin' at 'im an when he gets too close they start firin' Star Wars lasers at 'im til he gets deep fried like a Milky Way bar on Bourbon Street. While that's goin' on, Mooney's over at the pool hall with Willy tryin' to dig up some leads on who may've wanted to kill his daughter an Willy pretty much tells 'im he's got absolutely nothin' in the way of help on account of his deadbeat Daddery, but that he's gonna be hangin' around interferin' with the police investigation every step of the way to make sure he's gettin' his money's worth as a taxpayer. Then Mooney gets a call sayin' the paramedics just had to spatula another victim up offa the concrete, an that if he ever wants to be able to look at a waffle again he'd better wait til the corpse's been zipped up before headin' over. So Mooney drives over there an when the hooker won't tell 'im anything besides the truth he gets P.O.'d an has 'er arrested. Then some brothers show up an hassle 'im for bein' more steps behind than the flabby guy with neck rolls in the back row of a choreographed dance number, an Mooney has to leave before he snaps an goes Dirty Harry on 'em.
The next mornin', Willy installs a police scanner in his car so it'll be easier to follow Mooney around town all day an make his life miserable. Cept he ain't the only one tryin' to annoy Mooney into hangin' 'imself in the evidence locker, an once Mooney gets to his office he finds De Renzy in there waitin' for 'im cause she wants to give 'im a vague description of the next victim an sell 'im a tarot card readin'. Then Cathy an 'er co-anchor hit the streets to shove their cameras into the faces of grievin' loved ones to try an jack up their saggin' ratins, an while that's goin' on Mooney an Bresler head into that room at the police station where they make drunk drivers watch those movies where paramedics try to dig enough skin outta the exhaust manifolds of totaled Chevy Novas for the family of the deceased to have somethin' to bury. The forensics guy (Casey Kasem) hasta use this room cause it's the only one with a projection screen an he's already kinda P.O.'d to begin with since no matter what the janitor tries he can't get rid of the barf aroma, so as you can imagine he's none too thrilled when everybody bursts out laughin' after he explains that the crud found underneath the first victim's fingerprints indicates the killer either just dug 'imself outta the Saint Helens eruption or is a grey alien. Then the chief tells everybody to go find this lunatic an to put out an ABP on Art Bell to find out if he knows anything. So with nightfall upon 'im, Willy goes out to this ritzy bar to get sloshed an runs into Cathy, who instantly recognizes 'im as the jerk who won't squeeze out a few tears on camera even after she pouted 'er lips out an put on 'er real cute face, an the two of 'em pry each other for information like a coupla paranoid schizophrenics on a Cheaters rerun. Then this hotshot with a concealed carry permit leaves the bar an hasta employ the "good guy with a gun" technique of neutralizin' the Laser Floyd flayer when he's attacked in an alley. Unfortunately, his flawless firearm safety trainin' costs 'im his life when he can't get the safety off an ends up gettin' his head torn free an spiked into the concrete like a Nerf Turbo in a street football game. The next day, our poorman's Zelda Rubinstein goes to see Cathy since Willy wouldn't pay any attention to 'er or even fill out a favorable Psychic Hotline survey on 'er behalf, an she proceeds to spill 'er guts about the latest corpse that turned up. So Cathy goes to interview some protesters outside the police station, at which point Mooney shows up an she an Keenan decide Mooney ain't under enough stress an invite 'im to go for a ride on their trollercoaster til a coupla veins in his nostrils start bulgin' out like the tin housin' on a rotten Spam canister. Later that evenin', Cathy's just about to leave the news studio but runs into Willy who's sneakin' around lookin' for any new leads an desperate women who're into guys with Ponch's haircut, at which point she starts singin' Take Me Home Tonight with 'er thighs.
Elsewhere, De Renzy's tryin' to check out the highlights from the Rams game, cept it gets real hard to hear the announcer when the glopola faced Pazuzu monster shows up an conjures a hurricane in 'er livin' room an blows 'er numerology chart into the dishwasher an completely destroys 'er signs of the Zodiac shot glass collection. Meanwhile, the lights're goin' haywire at a nearby parkin' garage where still another blonde has yet to discover why it's a bad idea to go out at night when there's a skanky drool monster on the loose, an why runnin' in high heels always leads to a face that looks like it got overhauled by a lunatic with a jack plane before she too gets turned into a smolderin' pile of Vidal Sassoon goo. The next mornin', Willy decides he'd better go talk to the horny old lady who hosted the house boat hootenanny so she'll tell 'im where De Renzy lives an he can try an get ahead of the curve, only when he gets over there half of De Renzy's face's pointin' at 'er shoes an she's pretty well gone around De Bendzy claimin' that she saw "it" an that it wasn't of this world. Although frankly these people act like this anytime they meet somebody from Bakersfield, so Willy's still kinda on the fence with regard to 'er credibility. While that's goin' on, the police chief looks like he's tryin' to figure out if he could survive on his pension if he was to retire right now, cause Casey's just explained to 'im that the cosmic cauterizer seems to be gettin' roided up from each murder an the chief orders Mooney to go bombs over Baghdad on this thing an for Casey to quit callin' 'im "Scoob" or he's gonna cuff 'im to a radiator an make 'im watch all five Transformers movies back to back. Back over at Willy's place, he an Cathy still haven't got a clue how to find the next victim an so they start hittin' random bars with the assumption that since the guy happens to be a budding actor who just got shot down by Charlie Band for the lead role in Laserblast, he's prolly not gonna wanna remember today. So after they hit more bars than Charlie Sheen with a stolen credit card an talk to a buncha bouncers with two day old guacamole mats in their beards an B.O. that can stop a horny Courtney Love, they finally locate the guy after he gets P.O.'d at his girlfriend for tellin' 'im he's too drunk to drive an never botherin' to mention that she had two identical twin sisters. Unfortunately, he takes off to prove how sound his judgment is an see how many beach bums he can lodge in his grill while Willy an Cathy give chase, with Mooney not too far behind after havin' turned the tables on Willy in their stalkerific duel. Gonna end it here cause I don't think I could live with myself if I was to spoil the ending on this one. Well, that an the fact that I'm just tired of talkin' about it.
Alrighty, well, on paper this one has a lot of potential. But if the premise seems a little bizarre that's because it is, and because they had originally envisioned it as a zombie movie. But when things didn't go well with their test audiences they decided to give it a science fiction flavor. Essentially, they just tweaked the monster and added a coupla goofy voice over narrations at the beginning and end of the movie, complete with scrolling Star Wars text, cept that they never could figure out how to add that cool 3-D effect where it fades into the background. What I find completely insane about this is that it ultimately doesn't change hardly anything about the movie, raising the question, why bother? The alien is still monstrous in nature, so you're really only exchanging one type of creature for another. It's possible that the zombie effects used in the test screenings were subpar, but if that's the case you could always try again with a different makeup effects guy. It couldn't possibly be cheaper to scrap everything and make an entirely new monster than to retool what you've already got, so I really have no idea what they were going for here. It's possible that the original director (Tobe Hooper, who probably fled from this thing like a paternity suit involvin' triplets to direct Salem's Lot) was the guy working the zombie angle and the new director wanted to change it, but ultimately it seems like a whole lotta wasted time to me. Particularly since we hardly ever see the monster to begin with, and when we do it's Laser Floydin' people to death. If they genuinely believe they were better off with this goofdom, I'd pay to see what they had before they swapped out the zombie for an alien. In any event, the problem with this movie isn't the monster, or the lack of monster, as it were, the problem is abysmal pacing. You could easily cut 10 minutes from this flick and not miss anything important. There's just so much stuff that we really don't need to see, and they spend an eternity to get to a decidedly unsatisfying conclusion. The worse thing about it is that, if it had better pacing, it wouldn't be all that bad, and could possibly even be good. It's a little goofy to be sure, but it isn't actually inept on a technical level, it's simply inadequate in terms of its ability to entertain the viewer. Realistically, the most entertaining thing it has to offer is watching all the pre-fame actors runnin' around, and that should be the appetizer, not the main course. So ultimately, what we've got here is a movie that's too good on a technical level to achieve an endearing campy quality, but that drags so badly it's difficult to enjoy on its merits. Pretty easy to see how this one fell through the cracks, unfortunately.
Okay then, lets deep fry this thing and see if adding some batter'll make it a little more palatable. The plot is not really problematic, but the half-assery involved in how it was thrown together is very apparent. I guess it makes a little more sense for the monster to be an alien since that at least qualifies it as sentient, because it makes no sense for something with a decaying brain stem to be attacking strictly at night, and only once each night. But really, you know what would have made even more sense? Making this a half assed attempt at a slasher flick that unfolds from the perspective of either a concerned citizen, or the police. I realize that's been done to death and that those also tend pretty boring, but that's pretty much what we're lookin' at here anyway, even with the uninspired gimmick. I guess what I'm saying is, if you're going to try something different, make it different. Don't give us this rehashed police drama garbage and change absolutely nothing about the formula other than the identity of the killer. The acting is probably the high point, with numerous actors of relative significance rounding out the cast. That isn't to say it doesn't have problems, an the big one stems from the fact that William Devane's character is written so bizarrely that he's impossible to sympathize with. He was written as a guy that was recently released from prison for manslaughter (the details of which are never given, so for all you know he's a complete monster who pleaded down from a murder charge), and he's always got this smug look on his face like he just beat Stephen Hawking at chess or something. He also comes across as being more interested in making Richard Jaeckel's life a living hell than in actually finding the killer, so he's just damned unlikable. And of course, we're supposed to at least on some level dislike Jaeckel's character, but when you consider everybody else in the movie are tryin' their damndest to push him over the edge until he finally snaps and goes nuts like Michael Douglas in Falling Down, HE ends up being the sympathetic one. I dunno if it was the writer, director, or some combination of the two (I'm leaning toward that one), but these characters are a mess. That said, they're all well acted and give admirable performances, under the circumstances.
Here's who matters and why: William Devane (The Dark Knight Rises, Leprechaun's Revenge, Stargate Continuum, Virus 1995, Timestalkers), Cathy Lee Crosby (The Last Horror Film), Richard Jaeckel (Starman, Blood Song, Day of the Animals, Mako: The Jaws of Death, Grizzly, The Green Slime), Keenan Wynn (Hyper Sapien: People from Another Star, Zoo Ship, The Clonus Horror, Orca, Piranha 1978, Laserblast, Wavelength), Warren J. Kemmerling (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Godzilla 1985, Trauma 1962), Biff Elliot (The Navy vs. The Night Monsters, Destination Inner Space, Blood Bath), Jacquelyn Hyde (Superstition, House of Terror), Casey Kasem (Ghostbusters, The Return of the King 1980, The Night that Panicked America, Doomsday Machine, The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant), Vivian Blaine (Parasite), John Bloom (Star Trek VI, The Hills Have Eyes Part 2, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Brain of Blood, The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant), Jay Lawrence (Kingdom of the Spiders), Russ Marin (Deadly Friend, Chillers, The Sword and the Sorcerer), Vernon Washington (The Last Starfighter, Friday the 13th Part V), John Dresden (Kung Fu Cannibals, Not of this Earth), Roberto Contreras (The Day Time Ended, The Black Scorpion, The Beast of Hollow Mountain), Paula Crist (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Battlestar Galactica 1978, Logan's Run, Battle for the Planet of the Apes), Valla Rae McDade (Kingdom of the Spiders), Ken Minyard (The Return), Gary Littlejohn (Near Dark, Howard the Duck), Mickey Azola (Gargoyles), Everett Creach (Motel Hell, Prophecy), Anna Marlowe (Microwave Massacre, Beyond Evil), Jerry Jensen (Ghosts that Still Walk), Angelo Rossitto (The Offspring, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Galaxina, The Lord of the Rings 1978, The Clones, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Brain of Blood, The Magic Sword, Invasion of the Saucer Men, Dementia, Mesa of Lost Women, The Corpse Vanishes, Spooks Run Wild, Freaks, The Mysterious Island), Kristephan Warren-Stevens (King Kong 1976).
You social deviants out there would probably remember William Devane best for his mainstream roles including; Carter in Payback, Williams in Interstellar, Janeway in Marathon Man, Gregory Sumner from Knott's Landing, and James Heller in 24. Richard Jaeckel probably went unnoticed as Ben Edwards in Baywatch, but he was in there, and he was also; Sheriff Kip McKinney in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, Charlie Prince in 3:10 to Yuma, Sgt. Bowren in The Dirty Dozen, and Lt. Martin Quirk on Spencer for Hire. Casey Kasem was of course best known as the voice of Shaggy from the various Scooby Doo cartoons, but was also the voice of Robin in the Superfriends series, Dr. Watts/Captain Moody on Captain Caveman, Mark on Battle of the Planets, as well as a lot of other animated series, including Transformers. Additionally, Jacquelyn Hyde would prolly prefer you remember her as Miss Blair in Take the Money and Run, Vivian Blaine might appreciate it if you'd tell your friends about her performance as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls instead of what she did in this movie, Roberto Contreras would be much obliged if the part of Pedro from The High Chaparral came to mind when you think of him, and lastly, Philip Michael Thomas would be better known for his role on Miami Vice where he played Ricardo Tubbs. Oh, almost forgot. There's also Kathy Hilton as the blonde who gets killed in the opening sequence and pretty much sets this whole chain of insanity in motion. Kathy's known for doin' things like that, as she's best known for givin' birth to Paris.
The special effects... well, that's a funny story. See they had some special effects, but then they realized they didn't have enough room for special effects AND that sequence where Keenan Wynn walks Cathy Lee Crosby to her car, so you can see why they had to trim those back. Seriously, we've got a few bloody faces, occasional fleeting glimpses of the monster, and some really cheesy laser blasts that fire from the creature's eyeballs. So all in all, we're lookin' at a whole lotta nothin'. There're a few decent shooting locations, if you like '70s nostalgia at least. There're a few nifty shots of storefronts that're enjoyable, as is the A&W style fast food restaurant William Devane stops at to help pad the movie, and the abandoned monastery where the finale was shot isn't too bad either. I suppose to be fair, some of the scenes where the various women fleeing for their lives have a certain gritty quality to them, but the movie also has its fair share of boring interior sequences as well. So not too bad on the shooting locations and cinematography, but they're nothing special. The soundtrack isn't bad, fairly tense at the appropriate moments, and not overused. But I think the most important thing with the soundtrack is what we don't hear, because considering this movie was made in the late '70s, we could very easily have ended up in disco Hell and thankfully, that never happens. Something else I noticed was the presence of a coupla classic Twilight Zone scores interspersed throughout the movie. This can be taken one of two ways, but even though I personally like those old tracks, they don't exactly fit in with a movie made 15 years after that show went off the air. In the end, The Dark has moments of promise and technical competence, but fails to become anything more than a cop drama with a gimmick that doesn't seem to mesh well with the rest of the story. I'd only recommend this one to monster movie completists, as it's more disappointing than bad.