Monday, April 6, 2009

Alone in the Dark (1982)

Here we have a little, mostly forgotten, gem from the early 80s. While I love the poster, it's not really indicative of the film. I don't recall one axe murder in the entire thing. This is more along the lines of an "inmates are running the asylum"/home is under siege type of picture than something from the slasher genre that the above image is trying to evoke. Also, not to be confused with the Uwe Boll movie of the same name. Unlike that thing, insert lame Uwe Boll joke here (sorry Uwe, I still love you).

That "someone" is Jack Sholder. You may recall him as the guy that helmed The Hidden, and also Nightmare on Elm Street part II. While Nightmare has a myriad of problems, The Hidden holds up as a great sci-fi actioner. Alone in the Dark, Sholder's first picture, might be his best. What a fucking cast we have here. Martin Landau, Jack Palance, and Erland Van Lidth (we all know him as the opera singing giant from The Running Man) appear as three inmates in Dr. Leo Bain's (Donald Pleasance) ultra progressive insanitorium. Bain treats his patients well; they're allowed to walk the grounds, play games, eat food, and etc. He doesn't really consider them crazy. It's all a matter of perspective, I guess. Bain might be a bit loco himself. Anyway, the dangerous patients, Landau, Palance, Van Lidth, and some guy named Bleeder are confined to the third floor, an area that is under constant electric lockdown. Approach a window and the sensors trigger an alarm that brings down impenetrable barriers. I hope this place has a good generator.

Into this environment arrived Dr. Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz) who, ironically, would go on to play the insane Murdock on "the A-team". Potter arrives in town with his wife, young daughter, and punk rock loving younger sister. They occupy a beautiful, old, isolated, house on the edge of town. The inmates, Palance in particular, are not too trusting of the new guy.

Jack Palance plays a guy named Frank Hawkes, a paranoid schizophrenic. He believes that Potter killed their former doctor so that he could take his place. Landau is Byron "Preacher" Sutcliff, a guy who made the mistake of burning down his church....with a full congregation inside. Van Lidth is "Fatty" Elster, the requisite child molester. Rounding out the foursome is Skaggs, aka the Bleeder. He's so-named because he gets nose bleeds when he's about to kill. This unfortunate problem is the source of one of the picture's better scares.

Well, of course, everything goes to shit eventually. Potter's sister drags the clan off to a punk rock concert to see a band called The Sick Fucks (they're an actual band...and, not that terrible). The female harmonies reminded me of Kim Deal. Apparently, the song they sing ad nauseum (it's their only song I think) is called "chop up your mother" which I guess is fitting. There's a funny moment when the buttoned up Potter is nearly refused entry into the club. This band is so raucous that they cause the power to go out for the entire town...and, well, unfortunately the insane asylum isn't in a bordering town. Put yourself in Palance's shoes for a minute. Where would you go if you were a paranoid schizophrenic who thought your new doctor had murdered your old doctor? Maybe call the cops, or, at the very least, go have a cup of coffee with the guy and try to get to the bottom of things. Or, if that doesn't work, try to chop up his family. Whichever, doesn't really matter in the grand scheme I suppose. Since Hawkes is clearly a leader, and the others probably have more of that follower type personality, they all go along for the ride.

I think Sholder was trying to say something with this picture, something along the lines of "we're all a little crazy". I mean, he employed a band called The Sick Fucks to sing a song advocating the use of sharp instruments in chopping up one's mother. The head of the asylum, Bain, has ideas about treating crazy people, that some might deem a bit on the crazy side. Also, after the powers been out for barely an hour, the townspeople have already begun looting and pillaging the local strip mall. These fucks even lit some fires which I'm sure would please Landau's Preacher. Into this particular fray, arrives Hawkes and crew (in a stolen van) so they can raid a sporting good store. This place has axes, crossbows, machetes, you name it. Skaggs even picks himself up a hockey mask which, unfortunately, he doesn't wear for the finale. Oh, here's another thing I liked. The guy that plays Skaggs (bleeder) never shows his face. I guess he's the official "slasher" of this picture. When he puts on that hockey mask, he actually did it before Jason Voorhees first donned the thing in Friday the 13th part III. Yes, Friday was released a little earlier into theatres, but Alone was shot first. Unfortunately, Jason has that whole supernatural, brute/retard strength thing going for him so he'd probably win in a fight. Skaggs is crazier though.

When it gets right down to it, this movie does creepy extremely well. There's a scene involving a babysitter, her boyfriend who shouldn't be there, and the things we all fear lurking beneath our beds (if I ever see Landau under my bed I'll probably shit a brick). Of course, it's probably not the same watching this thing now. Landau and Palance have both since won oscars. At the time though, their careers were floudering in B (and worse) pictures. I mean, holy shit, when that knife comes up through the bed inbetween the babysitters legs I could only begin to imagine what awful fate might await her. There's also a touching little scene where Fatty pretends to be the babysitter for Potter's daughter (Potter and the rest of the family are away). Does he play the scene like a blubbering psycho. Not really, he's just an overgrown child that wants to hold her hand and take her up to her bedroom to cut up some paper and make origami for her or something. I mentioned he's a molester, right? Yeah, a creepy scene in which Van Lidth manages to inject more than two dimensions.

The assault on the house is well staged with Potter finally having to serve as protector. Preacher sets fire to the basement, Skaggs does some bleeding, the big guy doesn't come out too well...molester's rarely do. I just wish this Sholder guy had more of a prolonged career. I mean, his last big movie was Supernova. I haven't seen it yet, but I hear it was a piece of shit. This guy takes a straight up slasher premise and layers in all this good shit, shit that you don't see in pictures today. Even in Nightmare part 2, he layered in a ton of shit....albeit, mostly homoerotic shit. The opening scene of Alone in the Dark is brilliantly surreal, involving Martin Landau, a diner and, I think, hell. Who the fuck would think to have a scene where Jack Palance beats up a bouncer so he can catch the Sick Fucks in concert? And the bastards standing in line cheer him on! Who're the sick fucks now?


elmo said...

Hook me up, Bizz-otch!

brian said...

I'll bring it in on saturday if you're working.

Lindsey said...

Holy crap. You have NO idea how long I've been trying to find this movie until I stumbled upon this review. I saw this movie 3 years ago and loved it, but I couldn't remember who was in it or what it was called. I'm renting this one first thing after work today. You're great. You just made my day by having this on here. Thank you, thank you.