Blu-Ray Review: Alone In The Dark (1982)

SEPTEMBER 30, 2021


Scream Factory has been putting out Warner/New Line titles for over three years now, so I was starting to lose hope that they'd add Alone in the Dark to their library, as it seemed like a tailor-made option for the outfit. Unlike some of their WB releases (like Trick r' Treat, which already had a packed Blu-ray just a few years prior), Alone had never been released on Blu-ray, and was also the sort of under the radar title that could benefit from the exposure. A "get", if you will. But better late than never, as they say, and it's well timed to come out around the "spooky season" where its thrills will go over well with folks who have yet to bless their lives with this underloved gem.

The only flaw the movie has is its title; I suspect I'll spend the rest of my life feeling I need to clarify I do not mean the Uwe Boll film (for a total flop, it sure has left a permanent imprint on people's memories). Otherwise, it's a rock solid home invasion/slasher hybrid that focuses on its characters (most of them adults) and even finds some measure of sympathy for its quartet of killers. The plot is, on its surface, generic "escaped mental patient" kind of stuff, but there's so much more going on, not the least of which is that the main "villain", played by Jack Palance, is (spoiler for 40 year old movie ahead) allowed to walk away at the end, backing down from his previous intent to murder his new doctor. The ultimate point of the movie is that the people on the outside are no more dangerous or "crazy" than the ones who have been locked up, and thus Palance's Frank is apologetic when he realizes his whole "revenge" plan was based on a misconception (he thought his new doctor killed his old one, and learns he was wrong). You get the idea that if they had their proof their old doc was alive, they wouldn't have bothered to escape at all.

That said his partners are more bloodthirsty; Martin Landau's Byron is pretty chilling (it's he who eggs on the mailman attack, wanting the man's hat) and Erland van Lidth as "Fatty" fulfills the "hulking brute" quota, getting most of the kills himself. The fourth one is "The Bleeder", who hides his face and ultimately parts with the group after murdering someone during the riot that ensues from the blackout that allowed their escape in the first place. Watching as an adult I feel dumb for not catching the payoff for this character (who has a nosebleed when he kills someone, and yes, the similar tic in Valentine was an acknowledged homage), because I remember kid me being stunned, but it's still a pretty good little twist, presented with the same sort of misdirection that allowed My Bloody Valentine's surprise reveal to work as well as it did.

The highlight of the film is Donald Pleasence as Dr. Bain, who runs the facility and is unquestionably nuttier than any of the patients within it. This was one of the first non-Loomis performances I saw of the actor when I was a kid, cementing him as someone I loved to watch, and I was sad to learn on one of the bonus features that he didn't have a good experience making it and didn't think much of the film as a whole. Apparently the production was not pleasant; Palance could be a pain in the A, there were some very cold night shoots (one actor's fake blood froze on him), and director Jack Sholder was not only making his first feature, but was dealing with some uncooperative crew (including the DP and the FX guy, two very key roles on a horror film like this).

With that in mind it's not much of a surprise that the only actor they could rope in for an interview was Carol Levy, who plays ill-fated babysitter "Bunky", and in fact that was a pull from the mid-00's DVD, as is the commentary with Sholder and an interview with the Sic F*cks. The new features are a lengthy interview with Sholder where he tells a lot of the same stories he did on his older commentary, a tour of the shooting locations (the punk club is now a Wendy's!), and yet another interview with the Sic F*cks, both of which run longer than their appearance in the film (they mention/gripe about a deleted scene that saw them arrested during the riot, but it hasn't been reinstated). Granted the trio of veteran actors (as well as van Lidth) are all deceased, but the actors who made up the hero Potter family are all still around and some still working (the mom was in a few episodes of the buzzy Mare of Easttown), so it's a shame none of them are on board to offer their thoughts on what will likely be the last home video release of this film. I like Sholder's work, but the man himself is kind of prickly (and obnoxiously dismissive of the slasher genre), so hearing someone's own take on their experiences would have been nice, if only to balance out Sholder's snottiness.

The other new extra is a historian commentary, which curiously combines one guy from the Hysteria Lives podcast (there's typically three) and Amanda Reyes, who usually tackles made for TV horror (she literally wrote the book on it, in fact). It turns out to be a good idea though; as I've said before the HL commentaries can be very same-y as they often just rattle off every other slasher movie they can think of whenever something similar happens, but with just one of them that stuff is kept to a minimum. Reyes, meanwhile, brings in lots of historical context not just about the genre, but mental health practices of the era and what may have influenced Sholder's script. So it can sometimes feel like two tracks jammed together (she'll give a history lesson about a psychiatrist who may have inspired Pleasence's character, and then he'll be like "the stab through the bed idea was also in Friday the 13th" or something, but hey: best of both worlds?

At any rate, the movie itself is the main draw of course, and the transfer is terrific (perhaps a bit too good, as you can occasionally get a half-decent look at the Bleeder's face where it was previously either cropped out or too dark to see anything). Even if it was just the movie, it would be a reason to celebrate; there are horror fans who buy everything Scream Factory puts out even if it's a blind buy, which means it's a good chance this movie is about to finally be discovered by folks who will love it as much as I do. AND they'll finally know what that weird movie Jennifer sees on TV before settling on Dick Cavett in Dream Warriors!

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. Amanda Reyes has been a special guest on the Hysteria Continues podcast, mainly on the giallos episodes.


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