The Dark Power (1985)

JULY 5, 2008


I’m actually surprised I don’t see more movies like The Dark Power. You only need to watch a few select scenes to know how the movie came about: the writer/director watched The Evil Dead (or at least the trailer for it), found out how cheaply it was made, and decided to try his own comedic horror film involving an isolated house, resurrected demons, and lots of POV camerawork in the woods. But he added a crucial ingredient that Sam Raimi somehow neglected: horrible racism.

I don’t usually get offended by off color remarks in movies, but here it’s just simply gratuitous. One character randomly complains that he is being "worked like a (N word)", and another has what seems like a five minute rant about how she doesn’t “like to be associated with black people” (the N word comes up again here). The Confederate flag also pops up with alarming frequency. And while the characters are both killed off, it doesn’t seem like payback for their ignorance – it’s just that the movie needed a kill scene (their deaths aren’t much different than the deaths of the non-racist characters either). Since the movie doesn’t seem to be poking fun at stereotypical southerners (nor is the film's sole black character allowed to defend herself), it really detracts from my enjoying of the film. I tend to try to LIKE the people in my horror movies, but that’s kind of hard when they are presented as racists, and even harder when those folks don’t even get their just desserts.

Then again, there’s not much else to like about the movie anyway. No one can act, the story doesn’t really make any goddamn sense, there is almost nothing horror-y until the final 25 minutes, and our hero is an old guy with a whip. Lash LaRue is his (hopefully fake) name, and he plays the sheriff. Apparently he’s some master whipsman. Good for him – doesn’t mean someone has to write a movie that has no real purpose other than to give him plenty of opportunities to show off his whip skill. Early on he whips for a good 3 minutes in order to scare some dogs off, he takes the damn thing out in just about every scene he’s in, and finally in the big finale, he and one of the monsters stand there, completely still, and whip (miss) each other over and over for what seems like 10 minutes. Finally he says “What would you look like without a nose?” and whips the monster’s nose off. Hey asshole, if you’re that good with your whip, why the fuck don’t you just kill him right from the start?

Speaking of the monsters, they are unsurprisingly the best thing about the movie. There are four, and they all sort of look like that Big Daddy Mars dude from Ghosts of Mars. One spends 2-3 minutes rummaging about a kitchen, breaking everything he sees before finally grabbing a beer and sitting at the dining room table like he needs to get a load off. They aren’t the most graceful horror villains ever to grace the screen; at one point two of their victims are able to run right by three of them as they stumble about. But the makeup is pretty good, as are a few of the gore effects (a man’s head is torn apart – sweet!).

For no real reason I want to point out that James Horner seemingly stole his Perfect Storm score from this movie. I guess that’s better than stealing from himself, like he usually does.

The DVD surprisingly has some extras, such as a commentary track with some choice moments. “This actor is related to the film’s producer”, director Phil Smoot says, as if that was a coincidence and not the result of one of the producers saying “Put my grandson in this movie!” Later, the director points out that the guy playing one of the monsters also was the dolly grip for the movie, even though he had never been a dolly grip before (I guess he got on the project because he was a skilled veteran of playing clumsy zombie Indians?). Sadly, they are proud of the film and thus don’t bother pointing out its numerous flaws, or why we have to watch 30 seconds of a house before the actor finally enters the shot (note the timecode):

There is also a 15+ minute recollection of LaRue. More non-sexual whip action for you! Actually Smoot sort of trails off on LaRue and starts showing us photos of other folks who may or may not have worked on the film (also, an inordinate amount of people involved with this movie are now dead - it's kind of upsetting).

With most of the movie destined to be used as an example for padding, there’s almost nothing to recommend here. There is some of that “bad low budget 80s horror” feel to enjoy in the final half hour, but as usual, it’s too little too late. It’d be one thing if the zombie Indians came back to life and sort of stalked our group for a while, but they don’t come in until moments before they finally begin killing people, which means that the first 45-50 minutes could be mistaken for... well, anything but a horror movie. If someone on Youtube can cut together the occasional gore scenes, they would be doing the entire horror movie community a huge service.

What say you?


  1. Wow. Nothing like a little casual racism to make a crappy C-grade exploitation movie feel really dirty. From the looks of the trailer I'm guessing the black girl calls someone a "honkey mo-fo!".

    "Okay, monster, let's take this outside." And the monster takes him up on it?

  2. I had a chance to meet Lash LaRue, who was a minor western star for PRC in the 40s, back in the late 80s, and he was a hoot. He also made one porno movie, although he didn't do any of the sex scenes.


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