The Dark (1979)

1979’s THE DARK is notoriously terrible and I guess it has a right to be. At some point midway through production the producers (one of whom was DICK CLARK) decided that the film’s central Earthly menace might attract science fiction fans if it came instead from outer space. I wish I could jump in a time machine and stop them. It’s not a good idea. You can’t shift gears like that. These things need to be decided before the filming starts! I know WOODY ALLEN completely overhauled ANNIE HALL from his original concept but he did not have DIANE KEATON shooting lasers beams out of her eyeballs and bookend the movie with a rambling narration that basically shrugs its shoulders and says, “I don’t know what’s going on either.” THE DARK really didn’t have a fair shot because of said tampering; most everything you learn in the first half is negated or contradicted by the second. It’s not completely without interest though, a few scenes do work nicely and even though it’s chock full of nonsense, its biggest sin is not that it is crazy, its biggest sin is that it is often blindly milling about and
verging on boring.

What’s left of the plot concerns a “mangler” who beheads anyone foolish enough to walk alone at night in the streets of LA. In fact he kills one person each and every night, which is somehow established night two. CASEY KASEM shows up to imply that the killer is some sort of zombie but as that was part of the original discarded plot I don’t think we should listen to Shaggy. WILLIAM DEVANE’s daughter (played by KIM & KYLE RICHARDS’ sis KATHY) was the killer’s first victim so he’s teamed up with plucky, but not plucky enough, newscaster CATHY LEE CROSBY to get to the bottom of things. The excessively random cast brings a great deal to the wobbly table. KEENAN WYNN is hilarious as CROSBY’s boss, RICHARD JAEKEL is equally so as a grisled cop and same goes double or triple for VIVIAN BLAINE as a kooky psychic. Cameos include the likes of a young PHILIP MICHAEL THOMAS as a guy named “Corn Rows.” When it’s in motion THE DARK is lovably bonkers in a similar vein to THE MANITOU or THE VISITOR but when it’s stagnant, it’s dishwater dull. It actually looks pretty amazing in all of its Panavision glory on DVD but there’s no escaping the frustrating, unfocused, half-hearted pace.

Most semi-rational adults will point the blame solely on THE DARK’s preposterous monster (Who is proceeded by whispered chants of “The dark, the dark!”) but frankly I kinda like the guy. He gets at least one exceptional decapitation under his belt and even the dumb laser eyes can’t hide the fact that he enlivens the proceedings whenever he appears. I can’t explain his gargantuan hobo wardrobe but I love how he smashes through walls and throws people around. If he was just allowed to be a mutant, I think he could have gone places. If you stick around for the film’s end you will rewarded with the wondrous sight of the creature taking out a bunch of cops in a ludicrous fashion but will undoubtedly be disappointed in the puff of smoke lame way he is conquered.

Bad movie fans will find a smorgasbord of seventies flavored insanity to chew on but those who don’t suffer fools easily should wait for the next train. In any case, I believe there are lessons to be learned here. Don’t second guess yourself and don’t bend your vision for the fads of the day. Every monster deserves a chance to live up to his full potential and what’s so bad about being from Earth anyway? I should add for those concerned that THE DARK’s director JOHN ‘BUD’ CARDOS (who replaced TOBE HOOPER who was ironically dropped for being too slow) has at least one worthwhile contribution to the world of horror on his resume as he previously helmed the equally nutso but at least never draggy kinderfave KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS.

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Amanda By Night
Amanda By Night (@amanda-by-night)
10 years ago

I’ve had my vhs copy of The Dark for eons and haven’t watched it pretty much for the reasons you stated. I was unaware of all the studio tampering though. I wonder what might have been?

Thanks for this review. If I ever FIND my friggin’ vhs in this mess, I might give it a go!

Dave Howlett
Dave Howlett (@fb765930537)
10 years ago

I’ve never seen this or even heard of it but it looks incredible! Great cast. Keenan Wynn looks like Yukon Cornelius here. And whoever he is, I absolutely LOVE the voice of the trailer guy for this one.

craig (@bluesunshine)
10 years ago

I have spent my whole life attempting to compose a word or phrasing to describe Kathy Lee Crosby, and “not plucky enough” is what I was looking for. Thanks, Unk.

Grokenstein (@grokenstein)
10 years ago

The 1978 novelization by Max Franklin reveals the original story, and may be all that remains of same; the killer is neither an alien, mutant, nor zombie, but what remains of a 19th Century occultist who has achieved immortality through cannibalism but has subsequently been reduced to a grey-skinned ghoul that does nothing BUT live on–and kill to live on.

Which is a keen idea–but the book doesn’t explore it any more than the movie does, and the killer remains just another late ’70s hard-to-kill boogeyman…

…played by John Bloom! Bloom appeared in a slew of mostly-grotty movies, including The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant, Dracula vs Frankenstein, Brain of Blood, Harry and the Hendersons, Runaway Train, The Hills Have Eyes Part II, The Great Outdoors, and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

The paperback can be found easily enough once you know the author’s name, and you’d probably pay more for shipping than the book itself.

Bracer (@bracer)
10 years ago

Actually, this was John “Bud” Cardos’ directorial follow up to Kingdom of the Spiders, which came out in ’77. He followed this with The Day Time Ended in 1980. He’s also notable for taking over the Gor sequel Outlaw of Gor in ’89, which has its moments of goofy charm (and Rebecca Ferratti — lots and lots of Rebecca Ferratti) but is mostly so dull and threadbare it actually made the original Gor look like a John Milius film.

David Fullam
David Fullam (@fb1004515993)
10 years ago

One of the most indicative examples of how the Horror/Occult decade that was the 1970s, turned to sci fi/fantasy practically overnight due to Star Wars and Alien.

David Fullam
David Fullam (@fb1004515993)
10 years ago

I wish someone would write a book about how the 1970s were dominated by the supernatural and occult. We had The Omen, The Exorcist, their sequels and cash ins, “What’s your sign” was a popular pick up line, Dennis Wheatley’s novels were still popular, men who grew up with HP Lovecraft and Robert E Howard started to write for Marvel Comics and shows like Night Gallery. Fun times. Then Star Wars killed it virtually overnight.

David Fullam
David Fullam (@fb1004515993)
10 years ago

I wish I had that talent. That and the rise and fall of the all star 1970s disaster films would be two books I would love to read. God did I love the 1970s!

Buck Theorem
Buck Theorem (@fb100000630459909)
10 years ago

Haha, I love the way the trailer is mostly just laser-eyes and then, when it lists the cast, it has them in stills mostly so dark you can barely see them.

sixtwo (@sixtwo)
9 months ago

Oh what could’ve been had Tobe Hooper been left alone to let the hulking mangler wreak havoc in the Southland…