Five Favorite Things:: One Dark Night (1982) By Unk

1: The Setting & Premise

A trio of eighties era mean girls who call themselves “the sisters” convince Julie (Meg Tilly) to spend the night in a mausoleum as part of a group initiation, and plans to scare her become superfluous when an entombed psychic vampire utilizes telekinetic mojo to animate the corpses within. Who can resist such a setup? Ever since I was a wee lad I have loved graveyards, crypts, and mausoleums. My grandmother had a cemetery behind her house and I swear it was a playground as far as I was concerned. Did it creep me out? Yes, but it also contented me in a weird way. I can actually imagine taking up the offer to sleep in a mausoleum overnight. It seems more appealing than camping outdoors because I think I can deal with ghosts and dead bodies better than I can deal with insects (spiders are cute but centipedes and mosquitos have gotta go). The lovely graveyard in ODN (The Angelus- Rosedale Cemetery) may look familiar to horror fans as it was also featured in NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4: THE DREAM MASTER (1988), MORTUARY (1983) and a multitude of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE episodes.

2: The Cast & Director

ODN is Meg Tilly’s film debut and she shows off a lot of charm and talent as good girl Julie (even though she foolishly allows every bad thing to happen to her in this movie out of fear of being called a “pansy”). It’s wild to think that just one year later she’d be holding her own with the legendary Anthony Perkins in PSYCHO II (1983). Elizabeth (E.G) Daily of PEE WEE’s BIG ADVENTURE fame is sympathetic and adorable as Leslie, the lone “sister” who grows a conscience before the nightmare begins. Robin Evans is deliciously vicious as the group’s jealous and conniving leader Carol and Leslie Speights is memorable as her toothbrush gnawing henchwoman. David Mason Daniels has a Christopher Reeve-like quality as Julie’s stalwart boyfriend Steve and it’s a treat to see a post-BATMAN Adam West show up to unravel the supernatural happenings along with likable Melissa Newman. You even get a sprinkling of Donald Hotton (NIGHTWING, THE HEARSE). Director Tom McLoughlin would go on to gift the world with FRIDAY THE 13th Part 6: JASON LIVES, arguably the cleverest, surely the funniest, sequel in the franchise.

3: The Tom Burman Effects

Tom Burman doesn’t seem to get as much attention as his artistic contemporaries Tom Savini and Rob Bottin but he’s designed some of the most impressive and eye-popping work in his field. This guy had his hands in many of my all-time favorites like HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981), MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981), CAT PEOPLE (1982), THE BEAST WITHIN (1982), HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) and he was even responsible for Sloth in THE GOONIES (1985). ONE DARK NIGHT allowed him to create a plethora of assorted rotting corpses in different stages of decomposition and it’s remarkable how much personality he brings to them. There’s a soldier with his face falling off, a child buried with a creepy doll, assorted slimy granny and grampy- types, the requisite bride buried in her wedding gown and finally the film’s emaciated psychic vampire villain who has a penchant for blasting purple electric disco sparks from his eyes.

4: The PG Rating

I saw a lot of R-rated films when I was underage because my older brother worked in a theater for a while and could sneak me in. Plus, it was always pretty easy to buy a ticket for something benign and then sneak into another picture altogether. Sometimes you’d get caught and end up having to go back to the PG movie you paid for and sit through AUTHOR! AUTHOR! (1982), but most of the time it worked. That said, I was kind of relieved that I didn’t have to resort to any shenanigans when I bought my ticket for ODN and could stroll into the movie without any fear of an usher giving me the stink-eye. I did not find ODN to be neutered or diluted in any way due to its rating and I always think of what a fun time I had watching it whenever horror fans complain that a movie isn’t rated R. What can I say? The idea of being pummeled by dead bodies is one that still discomforts me and I guess I cared enough about the characters that I could relate and empathize with their fear even if the situation never evolved into a gore-soaked bloodbath.

5. The Tunnel Scene

About midway through the movie, there is a scene that always gets to me in which the three girls who have just dropped Julie off at the mausoleum drive home through a tunnel (2nd Street Tunnel in Los Angeles which also appears in the same year’s BLADE RUNNER). At this point, Leslie (E.G.) has a change of heart and bravely takes a stand and condemns the actions of her bullying pals. She is then rejected and cast aside by her so-called pals for speaking up and she is unceremoniously expelled from the car and dangerously left all alone at night in the tunnel to walk home alone. It’s beautifully shot with the lights of the tunnel playing off the hot pink satin of her jacket as she realizes her fate and begins to slowly stroll on alone. It almost looks like an eighties album cover to me and yet it’s filled with such pathos and the sad ramifications of not going along with the group. It breaks my heart a bit but it’s actually a good thing; because Leslie draws the line and decides to make her own path (rather than be a blind follower to her friend’s malicious whims) she gets to avoid hanging out with a bunch of smelly dead people. Good call!

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mickster (@mickster)
1 year ago

This is great, Unkle L! I need to watch this one again, and this gives me a good excuse. My husband hasn’t seen it, so I will suggest it to him.

SmallDarkCloud (@smalldarkcloud)
1 year ago

Great write-up! I love, love, love this movie. The cable network TBS used to run One Dark Night late nights on weekends in the late 80s and early 90s, which is where I watched it frequently. USA ran it often, as well. I was still a kid, and Tom Burman’s effects really unnerved me. Raymar’s voice on the tape recording also got to me (shades of The Evil Dead).

The old Shriek Show DVD included, as an extra, a workprint of McLaughlin‘S initial cut, which had a somewhat different ending. If I remember correctly, Carol and Kitty run into a room in the mausoleum, only to find themselves trapped inside, unable to leave. They’re lost inside a kind of limbo forever, the scene suggests. Different kind of horror than the moving corpses.

Chuckles72 (@chuckles72)
1 year ago

I don’t know if Unk mentioned this, but One Dark Night is on Tubi for some free viewing.

Spoilers follow!

So, uh, did Carol and Kitty buy it at the end? I saw lots of stiff corpse-fu going on and some grody meal worms get on them, but was it enough to kill them?

And about the mealworms – can we get a moratorium on their use in all horror and sci-fi? Nothing pulls me out of the moment more than seeing some pet-store gecko food being subbed for actual maggots, alien worms, etc.

SmallDarkCloud (@smalldarkcloud)
1 year ago

Chuckles72 –

The climax of One Dark Night is something of a mess, due to McLaughlin being locked out of post-production by the producers (hence the workprint I mentioned, which was closer to the film he intended).

The weird final scene with the corpse falling in front of the camera was shot by McLoughlin and his crew in his garage, I think. He hated the “new” ending in the producers’ cut, and as a compromise they allowed him to add that scene as a final scare. I think that, yes, they’re dead, but the film (the theatrical cut, anyway) doesn’t really make it clear.

robstercraws (@robstercraws)
1 year ago

Gee. Yet another movie I haven’t seen. Apparently, I was way too picky on horror movie rentals in the 80’s. I’ll make it a Tubi night tonight…