Director – Jack Sholder
Cast – Jack Palance, Dwight Schultz, Donald Pleasence, Martin Landau, Erland van Lidth, Deborah Hedwall, Lee Taylor-Allan, Phillip Clark, Elizabeth Ward, Brent Jennings
Release Year – 1982
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I was very much looking forward to Alone in the Dark after reading many positive remarks about this 1982 watch, and the fact that Donald Pleasance was in the cast only aided my interest. Going into this flick I was expecting the usual 80s slasher tale, but I was given much more than that thanks to an awesome story that came complimented with superb direction, resulting in an original horror experience in the often cliched 80s slasher scene.
After a power outage leaves Haven, a tranquil maximum security mental facility, without the ability to contain its patients, four supreme psychopaths break out of their cells and wage violent acts against the doctors and guards that subjected them to their bizarre methods of treatment.
Boy was this a surprise to me. The storyline was an awesome one that involved many unique characters, great kills, good pacing, and creative elements thrown in throughout the 92 minute runtime. I loved the idea of the film having to do with mental patients because normally in the slasher scene we are given a killer who most likely belongs in a mental hospital, but roams free, however in this watch we are given true mental patients who are finally able to roam free and therefore deliver the psychotic vengeance they have waited years to do. This was made very enjoyable to me thanks to our for main psychos, Frank Hawkes, Byron “Preacher” Sutcliff, Ronald “Fatty” Elster, and Skaggs, all of whom had their own unique personalitities and killing abilities. Frank is the calm and collective leader, Byron(my favorite) is a former preacher who kills based on his demented version of the word of God, “Fatty” is a giant brute with the ability to snap someone in half, and Skaggs is the quiet one who refuses to show his face. Each of these characters provided positively to the story, which I found astonishing given the film’s 92 minute runtime would not seem to contain enough time to employ each character, as well as the doctors, and develop the story, but this great writing job by the film’s three writers succeeded in every way.
I really enjoyed how the film moved from one location to another, beginning with the mental facility, Haven, to get things going, and then moving from one location to the next as our four psychos wage war on the society Dr. Leo Bain believes to be just as crazy as they are. At first they begin by taking out their most immediate foes, in awesome back-snapping fashion as well, then join the looting masses in the city and dispose of a few looters while stealing weapons, and soon make their way to the home of Dr. Dan Porter, where all hell really breaks loose. The majority of the latter half of the film takes place with Porter’s family holed up in their home as the psychos barrage them from outside, and with the power outage leaving them without light or a working phone, this would up a very enjoyable nowhere-to-run scenario for me. I loved how the psychos tormented the family, and not only killed off those unfortunate enough to try and join them but then used the bodies of those killed to further the torment against the Porters. Earlier I mentioned how this film was much more than just a slasher film, and that is due to the fact that we have four separate killers, all providing their own horror to the mix. I do have a few complaints with this film, with the most major being that that we get very little usage of Dr. Leo Bain. In fact, he simply disappears towards the end of the film, with no information leading to what happened to him. I guess given the situation he was in at the time we are left to assume what happened to him, but that is not good enough for me, especially with how well written and executed the rest of the film was. I found his character to be awesome, and his unique methods of treatment made him somewhat psychotic in his own right, and when you thrown in Donald Pleasance’s usual great performance it made this character all-the-more enjoyable. This complaint is not a major one, but it was one that stuck with me due to how much better things would have been had we been given more of his character. My other complaint involves the sister of Dr. Porter, Toni Porter, and her sudden delusions toward the end of the film. She was fine throughout the vast majority of the scenes she was used in, and towards the end of the film something involving the attack by the psychos triggered her to begin suffering an unexplained fear that eventually resulted in the best scare of the film. My problem with this was that this idea was not used to even mediocre potential, and in a sense seemed to be a cheap way to throw in a good scare. Now I am all for good scares, but the fact that this came out of nowhere, and lasted only a few minutes was not OK in my book, especially when it could have been developed into something great that would have resulted in more horror and not a cheap plot hole.
Director/co-writer Jack Sholder(A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, The Hidden) did a great job executing this film, providing awesome atmosphere and superb sets that aided exemplified the horror brought on by our awesome characters, which was definitely the case with the latter half of the film taking place in the Porter house. The acting performances from everyone involved were great, especially those of Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Erland van Lidth, and Phillip Clark as the four psychopaths AKA the true stars of the film. Each provided a solid performance unique to their character, which included delivering some awesome kills that were also unique to their character in regards to their killing method. Sholder provided great gore and awesome live-action FX for each of the kills, and surprisingly enough we also get some darn good scare sequences as well thanks to his superb execution. One of my favorite scares came during the poorly-used sequence involving Dr. Porter’s sister’s dilemma, which involved a truly horrific apparition created by none other than Tom Savini himself.
Overall, Alone in the Dark is an awesome early 80s horror film that delivers a great storyline aided by four superb killers, each executed to near-perfection and coming with their own unique blend of horror. Great direction leads to great horror that comes with awesome kills, good scares, and awesome atmsophere, and the story gives us much more than just the usual slasher film thanks to many unique elements thrown in. The story does come with a few faults that I am unable to forgive, but those faults were not enough to sway me from enjoying this one, and I recommend this to all fans of 80s horror.