Review: The Dark

[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]

The Dark looks for all the world as if it had started life as a detective murder-mystery and was recut and redubbed to cash in on the science fiction vogue. The film’s continuity stresses the methodical work of the police in tracking down a killer, even after we’ve been told both visually and verbally that it’s really an alien creature out there. If The Dark were more sure of itself, it might seem a reworking of the Fifties horror movie convention in which we squirmed and tried to warn the characters in the film that they were onto something far bigger and more dangerous than they thought. But as it is, in reminding us of the variety of unknown things we might have to deal with, the film is excusing not its farfetchedness but its ineptness.

A spoken prologue about the various shapes an alien being might take, insisting that not all “encounters” can be friendly ones, is a ridiculous effort at an apology for a film that actually establishes no context for itself. How the alien came to earth, where he came from, and why he has nothing better to do than walk around Santa Monica killing no more and no fewer than one person per night—these are never explained. Neither is the failure of the police to notice a stone column the alien tore to pieces, while continuing to insist they are dealing with a human psychopath. One policeman, with no motivation whatever, declares that the creature grows stronger with each killing; but neither he nor we have evidence of this, any more than we have a justification for the flaming climax, patterned cheaply after the telekinetic pyrotechnics of De Palma’s Carrie and The Fury, with the creature hurling cop after cop against walls and frying them with photon beams from its eyes, then disappearing completely. Shots from no properly established point of view, and trite mysterioso music built around whispering voices reminding us when to be scared serve to underscore the film’s cheating approach to horror and suspense.

Even the couple of interesting scenes turn out to be red herrings; and a blind man who moves around a lot in the film never serves any purpose at all, though the finish tries grandly to confer on him the status of Symbol. The one thing that might have saved the film is the interplay pitting crime/occult pulp writer Steve Dupree (William Devane) and spiritualist DeRenzey (Jacqueline Hyde) against the methodical cops (Richard Jaeckel and Biff Elliott): those who have no evidence of the unearthliness of the creature, yet believe, against those who have all the evidence in the world and yet do not believe. But neither scenarist Stanford Whitman nor director Bud Cardos had the control or discipline to stress this aspect of the story to a point of meaningfulness. More’s the pity: if either of them had had that kind of discipline, he might also have had the good sense to scrap the whole project.

© 1979 Robert C. Cumbow

THE DARK
Direction: John “Bud” Cardoso. Screenplay: Stanford Whitman. Cinematography: John Morrill. Second-unit camera operation: Lee Frost. Editing: Martin Dreffke. Music: Roger Kellaway. Production: Dick Clark, Edward L Montoro.
The players: William Devane, Cathy Lee Crosby, Richard Jaeckel, Keenan Wynn, Warren Kemmerling, Biff Elliott, Jacqueline Hyde, Vivian Blaine, Casey Kasem, Robert Iglesias.

A pdf of the original issue can be found here.


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