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Old 03-30-2006, 03:33 AM
Closet SCREAM fan
 
Scored: 8
Views: 10,618
Dark, The





Reviewer: Jeremy
Review Date: March 29, 2006

Released by: Shriek Show
Release date: 10/11/2005
MSRP: $19.95
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
1979


“On our planet, hundreds of species of animal, plant and insect life protect themselves by using their ability to change their color or shape, to blend into their surroundings. Many other species are capable of killing their prey by use of electric shocks, acids or poisons.”

“Of the millions of planets capable of supporting life in the universe, it is a certainty that hundreds of thousands have developed species of life with characteristics similar, and possibly more dangerous, than those found on our own planet earth.”

“It is also a certainty that not all alien encounters will be friendly!”


The Story

inline ImageA horrible murder has been committed in Los Angeles, the victim being a young woman walking alone at night who was brutally mauled by the assailant. The LAPD assigns Detective Dave Mooney (Richard Jaeckel) and his partner Detective Bressler (Biff Elliot) to the case. From the start, the two men find their work constantly being monitored by the murdered girl’s father, a crime novelist named Roy Warner (William Devane) who spent time in jail for manslaughter because of Mooney’s detective work. Mooney warns him to stay away from the case but Warner is determined to see that his daughter’s killer faces justice for his brutal crime.

inline ImageUp and coming TV reporter Zoe Owens (Cathy Lee Crosby) takes an interest in the case and begins using her journalistic talents to investigate. More brutal murders follow as the killer, seeming to strike at random, stalks the city. The press dubs the killer “the Mangler” because of its habit of ripping off heads and mutilating the bodies. Hysteria begins to spread through Los Angeles as it becomes obvious the police can do nothing to stop the murders. Speculation that the killer might be a zombie or some other supernatural entity becomes commonplace in the media, and even though Mooney and the rest of the police department tries to squash the speculation it becomes apparent even to them that something unnatural is going on, especially when the coroner analyzes samples of the killer’s skin found under the fingernails of the first victim and discovers it to be extremely abnormal.

inline ImageEventually, Warner and Zoe join forces in an attempt to stop the murderer. Their biggest lead is a psychic named DeRenzy (Jacquelyn Hyde), who, on the night of the first murder, attended a party on a yacht and met an aspiring young actor named Randy (Jeffrey Reese). She saw a vision of him dying at the hands of the murderer. Though she believes the young man’s fate is sealed and he cannot be saved, by locating him again they might be able to catch or kill the murderer. But time is running out, and the two must find him before it is too late!

Released in 1979, The Dark was directed by drive-in film veteran John ‘Bud’ Cardos, who took over for Tobe Hooper when the latter director’s leisurely shooting style put the production severely behind after just a few days (due to union regulations, it appears that none of Hooper’s footage remains in the finished film; it’s doubtful there was very much to begin with). Though it’s considered a cinematic misfire by many fans and critics in general, it is not all that bad. It is indeed a cinematic misfire, but mostly due to the tampering that was imposed upon it in post-production by producer Edward L. Montoro (more on that later). As a ‘B’ horror film it is actually above average if one is able to put the alterations aside.

inline ImageThe film features an excellent cast, and every major character is played by a strong performer. William Devane is not always convincing as a grief-stricken father, but as a leading man he works very well for the role. He is a talented enough actor that he has no problem with carrying the movie. Cathy Lee Crosby makes for an endearing heroine, even though she seems a little bit too old for the part of an idealistic young journalist. Richard Jaeckel squarely nails down the part of the crabby Detective Mooney, a character whose thinly veiled hostility actually adds to his charm. The supporting cast is also composed of cinematic veterans with their own distinctive screen presence. B-movie veteran Keenan Wynn makes an impression as the news director at Zoe’s TV station, and Warren Kemmerling, playing Mooney’s police captain supervisor, steals whatever scene he’s in.

inline ImageThe Dark is a surprisingly humorous movie. But it’s a mature kind of humor. The tone remains serious throughout. There is no distracting slapstick, and although there are many moments that are unintentionally funny, that is not the humor I refer to. What I refer to is a rare kind of humor, the type that is allowed to develop out of the characters and their reactions to the situations that they are in, something that is both realistic and effective. This type of humor is difficult to write because it is so subtle, and it works fairly well here. A typical example comes when Detective Mooney finds himself caught in the middle of a protest where angry citizens denounce the LAPD’s handling of the investigation while Zoe and her camera crew film the event. Caught between the protesters haggling him from behind and the reporters sticking a camera and microphone in his face, the exasperated officer finally belts out “This channel sucks!”

inline ImageThat the plot is muddled in an understatement to the extreme. The opening and closing narrations to the film (the former of which is quoted in full at the beginning of this review) make it clear that this is supposed to be a film about aliens, or at least a film with an alien in it. But according to John Cardos, the shooting script had nothing to do with extraterrestrials. The killer was supposed to be a deranged, overgrown human, somebody who had been locked in an attic all his life until the house he was in burned to the ground, leaving him disfigured and wandering the streets. However, the finished film contains absolutely no trace of this original plot. If anything the viewer is led to believe that the killer is a zombie, with the bizarre skin samples found serving as the main evidence. The idea that it might be a creature from outer space is mentioned only in passing. As it stands, the only real evidence of the extraterrestrial aspect contained in the plot itself is the fact that the beast can shoot rays from its eyes. The decision to change the nature of the killer was a last-minute one, done before the climax was filmed but after almost everything else was in the can. As a result, the end of the film (which features a rather spectacular battle between the creature and what seems to be entire LAPD) was shot with the need for ray beams taken into account. The rest of the movie, however, does not fare as well because the insertion of the ray beams required the original footage to be tampered with. In fact, in a way The Dark fares worse on DVD than it did on VHS because the extra clarity and detail of the digital transfer makes it obvious just how badly done the special effect is.

So would I recommend The Dark? The answer would be a cautious yes. Some have complained that the tampering ruins the feel of the entire movie, and although I do not feel that way I can understand their point. There is a strange and noticeable vibe to the movie. It has an energy about it that doesn’t make it feel right, even when the acting and direction hit the right notes. But the movie does have its own qualities, and it is still enjoyable even if as a whole it is flawed.

Image Quality

inline ImageUp until this point the only domestic video release of The Dark was from Media Home Video in the 1980’s. Besides being in the expected full-frame format it was also way too dark for its own good. This release rectifies both of those problems, presenting the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and with anamorphic enhancement, and for the first time telling what is happening during the night scenes is not a difficult task.

The daytime exterior shots look marvelous with great colors and excellent clarity. The interior scenes look a little bit soft but don’t fare too poorly either. There is a limited amount of film damage, mostly in the form of isolated scratches or blemishes. There is some minor artifacting visible in some of the darker shots, but nothing terribly bad.

Sound

The only audio option is the film’s original Dolby 2.0 Mono track. It sounds fine for the most part. A little bit flat, but no real issues with distortion or background noise. There are a few times when it is difficult to make out some of the dialogue, but this was also the case with those same portions on the VHS release.

Supplemental Material

inline ImageThe biggest extra on this release is a running commentary with John Cardos, and moderated by Scott Spiegel (the writer of Evil Dead II) and another genre fan. The two mods have trouble keeping on topic and continually pump Cardos for information on his other films, and though this can be annoying at times it is at least informative. Cardos does remember The Dark very well (some of his other work not so much) and he does clarify a lot of the questions surrounding exactly where the alien invader angle came from and at what point it was added to the film, much against his desires. He also talks a little about how he came to be brought onto the film when Tobe Hooper’s services proved inadequate. Strangely enough though, none of the commentators seem willing to mention Hooper by name. I’d attribute this to liability concerns, except in the video interview Cardos openly acknowledges whom he took over for.

inline ImageThe video interview is the only other extra of any real value. Running approximately thirteen and a half minutes, Cardos covers both The Dark and other productions of his like Mutant and Kingdom of the Spiders. Although much of the material covered is also present in the commentary, the interview is, in a way, much preferable since it doesn’t require having to listen at length to the annoying fan boys found on the commentary.

Lastly, there’s a theatrical trailer for the film, a double feature trailer for it and Mario Bava’s Shock (advertised as Beyond the Door II), as well as trailers for The Being, Just Before Dawn, Love Bites and Devil Dog, the Hound of Hell.

Final Thoughts

The Dark is fun but flawed. It could have been much more than it ended up being, especially if it hadn’t been tampered with so damn much. Like the film itself, this DVD release gets a conservative recommendation. The transfer is well above average but the extras are slightly disappointing, particularly the aggravating commentary participants. Nonetheless, this is still a solid enough release.

Rating

.
Movie – B-

Image Quality – B+

Sound – B

Supplements – B




Technical Info.
  • Running Time – 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English 2.0 Mono

Supplements
  • Audio commentary with John Cardos
  • Interview with John Cardos
  • Trailers

 


Last edited by Jeremy; 10-14-2010 at 10:46 PM..
 

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