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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

VHS Vednesday: The Dark

THE DARK (1979). Directed by John 'Bud' Cardos. Starring William Devane, Cathy Lee Crosby, and Richard Jaeckel.

A muddled horror/science-fiction movie more interesting for the behind-the-scenes story than for anything on the screen, The Dark presents us with a Los Angeles living in fear of a mysterious, unstoppable killer striking at random victims from all walks of life. Despite the efforts of the police (represented by Richard Jaeckel), an ambitious reporter (Cathy Lee Crosby), a victim's ex-cop father (William Devane), and a psychic (Jaqueline Hyde), the rampage continues unabated. It soon becomes clear that the killer is not human.
The Dark plays like an extended episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker...and indeed, it started out as a supernatural-themed urban horror tale, with a zombie running amok in the big city. However, partway through the filming, the producers decided that the supernatural element either wasn't working or wouldn't bring in the box-office, so the storyline was retooled to change the creature from an undead human to an alien life-form. Its preferred method of dispatching its victims went from straightforward mauling to firing laser beams from its eyes (cheesily added in post-production); however, all the dialogue concerning the victims still describes them as being mutilated and/or decapitated, with no reference to the more unusual laser-blast injuries. To justify his powers, a prologue was inserted, with a voice-over expounding on the various biological defenses and weapons possessed by Earth's own predators, and wondering about the possible abilities nature has granted on other worlds.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
The Dark presents us with a cornucopia of '70s B-list stars (Devane, Crosby, Jaeckel, Keenan Wynn, Casey Kasem), all of them bringing their best game to try to salvage the patchwork storyline. However, it's more interesting to note a couple of future well-known names at the humble beginnings of their careers. Miami Vice's Philip Michael Thomas puts in a brief appearance as a bystander at one of the crime scenes, angrily complaining about the police's ineffectual efforts. (His character isn't given a name, but is identified in the credits by his hairstyle: "Corn Rows.") And then there's the movie's first victim, played by a young actress named Kathy Richards. This was her first and only film acting role (after some television credits), but she later went on to achieve fame (or perhaps notoriety) through her family connections...she's now known by her married name, Kathy Hilton. That's right, Paris' mom. The mind boggles.



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