'Alone in the Dark' (1982) Review

Alone in The Dark 1982by Jesse Miller, MoreHorror.com

Before it was known as the house that Freddy built, New Line Cinema released their very first motion picture – and slasher film – Alone in the dark, an odd, intelligent and little known entry into the genre.

The film opens with a perplexing dream sequence in which a man enters a diner and orders some dinner. This great little scene establishes mood and features excellent use colours, lighting the sequence with the glow of a deep red and green. Suddenly, the dream warps into a nightmare, and the seemingly pleasant staff of the diner morphs into something alien and sinister and advances towards the man wielding some mean-looking cutlery. Then the man awakes screaming and it’s revealed he’s a patient in a mental institution. Intrigued? You should be.

We’re soon introduced to Dr. Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz), a mild-mannered family man who has arrived at this psychiatric haven as a replacement for a Dr. Harry Merton. Potter meets up with the head of this psychiatric haven, Leo Blain (Donald Pleasence), a man who operates the haven in a very carefree manner, refers to the patients as “voyagers” and who likes to smoke some weed here or there. At one point he even gives patient, a pyromaniac, a pack of matches without question. The man is such an oddball that I wonder why he isn’t one of the patients himself. But I digress.

Leo Blain soon introduces Potter to his most dangerous patients – who are contained on the third floor of the haven by an electrically activated security mechanism. Guess how things will go wrong there. These 3rd floor patients are former POW Frank Hawkes, Byron “Preacher”– a pyromaniac with a thing for burning down churches and quoting passages from the bible, “Fatty” an obese child molester and homicidal maniac John Skaggs “The Bleeder”, whose nose tends to bleed when he is stimulated by violence. Usually you get one – okay, sometimes occasionally two – madmen in a slasher film but four madmen, each with their own different and sickening personality? You know that’s going to be chaotic when the time comes.

Afterwards in their rooms, Hawkes comes to the conclusion that Potter had killed their previous doctor - a man they all loved and respected in their own way – and the four begin to hatch a plan to murder him. Soon, the whole region plunges into darkness during a black out and of course, the four madmen escape, along with the rest of the patients in the haven.

This is where the film becomes a bit of a mess and the social commentary provided here by Writer/Director Jack Sholder becomes muddled. Why is it, that only moments after the blackout, townsfolk are going nuts and breaking into stores, setting things on fire and looting? I sure didn’t break stores downtown or set things on fire when I’ve experienced black outs – I don’t think my townsfolk would appreciate it.

I find how all these events unfold to be really disappointing because the film has such a great build up, but the pay off is your run-of-the-mill, character-makes- ridiculous-decision slasher fare, and with these striking, disturbing madmen, there is a lot of potential here to make something much more nastier than what’s on offer here, which is surprisingly tame considering. Blood and gore is sparse but their sudden appearance here or there only makes the appearance all the more startling, as is Tom Savini’s work on a monstrous apparition that appears.

Jack Palance is terrific as Hawkes, with his disquieting, simmering rage and Martin Landau hams it up wonderfully as the wide-eyed Preacher – and how great is that crazed laugh he can get out. Erland Van Lidth’s quiet and greedy-eyed child molester is also disturbing, especially in an extremely uncomfortable scene later, which I will not go into. Dwight Schultz is decent as the pleasant mild mannered doctor while Donald Pleasence turns in a bizarre performance as Dr. Leo Bain – as if he is parodying his Dr. Loomis from Halloween.

Alone in the dark is a mixed bag for me – there are a couple of great ideas here but not all of them are executed too well. There is a fantastic twist in the final moments of the film but even then, the manner in which this was revealed could’ve been made to be much more effective. But aside from these flaws, there is plenty of great stuff here – you’ve got a great premise, fantastic performances from the cast, some great death sequences and a script that has something interesting to say about psychopaths.

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