Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Voyagers of the Bloody Kind: Alone in the Dark (1982)

Alone in the Dark (1982)
starring: Jack Palance, Donald Pleasence and Martin Landau

Psychiatrist and family man, Dr. Dan Potter is replacing a certain doctor in Dr. Leo Bain's (the late Donald Pleasance) psychiatric haven. Little did he know, he will be handling the "men at the third floor", loons that are deemed too dangerous to wander about freely by themselves like the other patients in the place. These are former POW Frank Hawkes, fire-bug preacher Byron Sutcliff, overweight child molester Ronald Elster and a homicidal maniac, John Skaggs AKA The Bleeder, due to his condition wherein his nose drips the red stuff whenever he kills.

When Dr. Bain broke it to these men that their usual doctor is no longer treating them, they were not too happy about this. In fact, they assumed that Dan killed their preferred doc and is now after them, leading the four to plot an escape and hunt down Dr. Potter.

First impression gone cold.
Some time later, at Potter's household, Dan welcomes his younger sister Toni back to the family after being treated for a mental breakdown. To celebrate her recovery, the family went out to a local nightclub when an act of God (or sabotage) suddenly cuts off the power from the entire town, freeing the four maniacs from the haven and setting them off to the Potter's residence, taking turns on harassing, skulking and murdering anyone who dares get in their way.

"Here i am! Rock you like a Hurricane!"
Alone in the Dark plays with the common cliches found in slasher films while, altogether, not following them; instead of our usual kids go to the woods build-up, the film resembles more of a 70s thriller wherein we are given the time to familiarize ourselves with the setting of our film as well as its casts. This being said, we are treated with a lot of hammy acting and strange characters that are supposed to satire and provoke the idea that everybody is a little crazy in the head. This seems to be a running hint around the story as even the head psychiatrist of the haven, Dr. Bain, shows signs of being a bit off in the head, unless you count giving matches to pyromaniacs and threatening to split a zealot in half under God's name "normal".

The movie works its way through this idea on a fair run until the blackout happens, which then sets the film to a more bodycount-friendly turn which, interestingly, feels also a bit different; while most slashers are marketed for the kills, While it does feature scantily clad eye candies killed and gory close-ups, Alone in the Dark is more atmosphere driven and the kills are nothing much but a by-product of the plot.

the one bed scene you don't wanna be in
In another clever variation to our slasher tropes, Potter family is anything but a push-over. Most of the time in a slasher, victims usually do dumb things like splitting up and running away from a single psycho instead of ganging up on them; in here, the entire Potter family actually learned to team up during the climactic siege and even kill off most of the psychos. A favorite of mine is Dr. Potter's daughter, Lyla, who is amazingly deadpan calm and unfazed by the attacks, a characterization I find this somewhat admirable if not a little out of place.

On the other side of the coin, a well performed Martin Landau and Jack Palance brought their respective heinous madmen to life with much ramblings and outbursts that they appear terrifying all thanks to their characters' unpredictability;  The Running Man's Erland van Lidth acted out a calm yet eerie 400-pound child molester that is featured in one tension driven scene where his character came to a vacant Potter house and left alone with Dr. Potter's daughter; Lastly, there's the little-known psycho "Bleeder" whose identity is hidden through out the film until the near end, where he reveals himself to Dr. Potter and his family. These men did an air of a performance that, albeit a cheesy, greatly delivers in terms of creepiness and intensity as they all appear to be very normal looking people, that is until they started talking and breaking bones.
who's afraid of the dark?
Seeing that the film had a lot of the anti-tropes working for it positively, it is, of course, not without some drawbacks. Alone in the Dark had a few lagging moments and I do feel like the script is a bit rushed; I find the "blackout" scenes to be no more than a convenient plot element that works for and against the characters, first when it caused the electric system keeping the maniacs at bay to malfunction and lead to their escape, and then later when it somehow saved the Potters from one of the villains. I wouldn't call it cheating, but these scenes just felt they were executed too easily for me.

Nevertheless, Alone in the Dark is still an 80s slasher with an original premise (for its time), well acted and well directed while avoiding the usual clichés in favor of focusing more on tension and some psychological subtext. While its not overly well thought-out through, it's a better attempt than most popcorn drive-ins and an underrated cult classic that deserves to be bought and owned.
1 male split down the middle with cleaver (dream)
1 male hoisted and had his back snapped over killer's knee
1 male punched on the temple, killed
1 male had his neck clawed with trowel
1 male plowed by a reversing van
1 male dragged underneath the bed, later found with throat slit
1 female gets an elevated strangling
1 male pinned to a tree by a shot crossbow arrow
1 male axed offscreen
1 male gets a cleaver to the back and had it forced further in with a baseball bat
1 male knifed on the gut
1 male knifed on the chest and left for death inside a basement
total: 12

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