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.
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!
It is kinda an interesting oddity. There’s just too much useless stuffing between the “good” parts. I almost fell asleep! I never almost fall asleep! Still, I’m so glad I have a copy because when it’s nuts it’s really nuts.
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.
That is the BEST trailer guy voice!
and yep, Wynn and the rest of the cast are probably worth a view alone.
If only the producers of THE DARK were smart enough to have gotten Philip Michael Thomas to sing the theme song….
Wow. This might be a better example of his musical inclinations…
DEATH DRUG (1978)
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.
Right? She’s sorta got a perpetual daze thing going on… even when confronting a wall of slime….
I don’t remember “That’s Incredible!” being so cheap and clunky looking. The only story that appeals to me in this clip is the mustache cat who gets caught sitting in a pot on the stove… Way to bury the lead…
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.
I found out the author’s name is Max Franklin and promptly ordered the book.
The ghoul thing makes much more sense and gels with what Casey Kasem was saying in the movie. What you just briefly described is way more interesting than anything they say in the film.
It would have cost them nothing to just throw that explanation in there and they would have saved $ on laser effects.
I guess that is what is so irritating about the movie, the fact that they keep stalling and won’t pin anything down.
I was really confused too by the psychic after her attack. I just read she was meant to have suffered a stroke but I did not get that. I had no idea why she was talking out of the side of her mouth & just thought that it was the craziest acting decision of all time.
The DVD does have a commentary so I may have to give it a listen. I’m kind of fascinated by how this weird movie got so off track!
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.
You’re right! KOTS came first! I’ll adjust the text accordingly. I learned on the dvd extras that J”B”C also took over the directing duties for someone else in the case of MUTANT (aka Night Shadows). I guess It’s cool that he was always waiting in the wings like that! He seems like an interesting fellow and it must be quite an uphill battle when a project is just dumped in your lap like that. Even though I stand warned, I might have to check out this GOR 2.
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.
Brilliant observation DH!
I guess Star Wars is all to blame for The Dark’s dip into Sci -fi because The Dark was released a month before Alien but the success of Alien must have REALLY put the nail into the occult’s coffin…
It’s sad but a world without Alien is not a world I want to know. They were just showing it on IFCHD the other night. That movie STILL looks amazing. (With the lone exception of Ash’s severed head)
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.
DF, I want somebody to write that book too! I think there was a time in the 70’s where the culture started to move away from religion and those horror movies expressed a fear of a supernatural backlash. I can’t tell if it’s society not being so afraid of religion anymore or it’s me not being a child anymore but I enjoy the occult movies now more out of nostalgia rather than the same type of superstitious fear that I did before. Maybe you should write that book DF! You’ve already sold a copy!
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!
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.
Oh what could’ve been had Tobe Hooper been left alone to let the hulking mangler wreak havoc in the Southland…