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The Dark
(a.k.a. The Mutilator)
(1979)
 

Director: John (Bud) Cardos           
Cast:
Cathy Lee Crosby, William Devane, Richard Jaeckel


The Daaaaaarkkkk....

The Dark is a 70s made-for-TV movie in disguise as a theatrical movie. It's interesting to use this movie as an example as to how movie going tastes have changed. If it were made today, there's no doubt that it would been made for video or TV - if it was lucky. But I doubt that even audiences in 1979 would have found anything of real interest here. Neither the horror or science fiction angle has been exploited enough to be considered effort, and the movie isn't scary or fascinating in any way. I think the most positive aspect of the movie is that it shows that the demands of audiences nowadays have increased, making it harder to make and market movies like this.

The Daaaaaarkkkk....

The movie was made by FVI (like Manson Pictures, they were a poor man's Crown International Pictures during the 70s), which might explain why a TV station in the movie has the call letters KFVI. That's the best wit in the movie, which is sorely lacking even bad attempts at wit. The Dark is so earnest and so serious, it becomes boring. Didn't anyone - the director, the screenwriter, or even the actors - see any amusement in the plot premise, being about a serial killing alien who decapitates people with laser beams from his eyes? I guess not; maybe producer Dick Clark thought that the casting of Devane, Jaeckel, and Crosby (that's incredible!) would be good enough. (The cast also includes Casey Casem, Philip Michael Thomas, and Keenan Wynn, all of whom have seen better days.)

The Daaaaaarkkkk....

L.A. is hit by another kind of night stalker, who likes to mutilate his victims before the aforementioned decapitations. The first victim is the daughter of Steve (Devane, who here has a striking resemblance to comedian Richard Belzer), a burned out author who was previously a disgraced cop. He decides to do something about it after recovering amazingly quickly from her death - this consists of driving around L.A., occasionally stopping to take a look at one of the three or four murder scenes (learning nothing) and/or to piss policeman Mooney (Jaeckel) off, who hates his guts for reasons never really specified. Meanwhile, TV reporter Zoe Owens (Crosby) is doing her own investigation on "The Mangler", as the killer has been dubbed by the press. This investigation consists of pretty much doing nothing except arguing with her boss Sherman (Wynn) about the responsibility of the press. It's odd to actually see a responsible TV station manager in a movie, though why he feels responsible and what his definition of "responsible" is is never brought up. In fact, his character only seems to be there so there can be a supposedly scary sequence where he is walking in a parking garage and all the lights start to go out.

The Daaaaaarkkkk....

It's amazing that almost nothing ever happens in this movie. Oh, after about a third of the movie, Zoe and Steve eventually meet. But the screenplay can't even make itself develop their relationship into friendship, love, or strong feelings to each other. Eventually they do exchange some kisses, and I was struck by how unsexy both the scene and the actors were. They spend most of the rest of the movie doing pretty much what they were doing before (except doing it together this time.) So it's more of the same ho-hum and murky night photography, with only the occasional diversion such as Casey Casem's cameo as a police coroner who makes a speech about epidermis and then makes the brilliant deduction that the killer has immense strength.

The Daaaaaarkkkk....

The movie would have never ended if the duo hadn't encountered a convenient psychic, who informs them that the killer is an alien and is killing to gain strength. Considering that this alien is physically mutilating bodies and shooting laser beams from his eyes, it would seem that his killing actually make him lose strength - but what the hell, we can't expect aliens to evolve like humans. The psychic also conveniently gives clues to who the next victim will be, leading the duo to catch the alien in the act. The alien then gets into a battle with what seems like half of the L.A.P.D., which is kind of a fun sequence but doesn't justify slogging through the previous 90 minutes or so. The alien is then killed, and the movie ends seconds afterwards - leaving unanswered questions like how did this alien from L.A. actually get to L.A., where it hid in the daytime, and why it could previously smash a cement pillar with one blow and shove aside a van, but then later taking three swats to smash down a wooden door. That's about all that the movie left me to think about (making me glad that I take down notes when watching a movie to be reviewed), because there was almost nothing else that stuck in my mind afterwards. Except for the cheesy device of using two certain words whispered on the soundtrack endlessly during a typical empty moment - notice even I had to use those two words to write a long enough review for this empty movie.
 



UPDATE: Here is some interesting information about the movie and FVI, provided by reader William Norton:

"The Dark isn't a TV film sold to FVI, it was actually shot in Panavision and opened wide in Los Angeles and the producers were really trying to get a big release on this flick.  Tobe Hooper was supposed to direct it, but couldn't get along with the producers, so he was replaced in day one.  It DOES look like a TV film, for viewing then, and viewing now, it does NOT deserve a R rating at all! There is absolutley NOTHING in the film to warrant one! (maybe it wasn't R. Montoro released Search And Destroy, a 1978 Canadian film with Perry King and George Kennedy, and it was rated PG, as it played on Showtime and HBO in the afternoons, yet when it played here in Seattle as Striking Back, the poster had a "tacked on" sticker with a R rating!)

"The film opened very wide in California, but FVI gave up after the poor box-office and gave a drive-in release in Seattle and many cities.  Film couldn't be cheap either, William Devane asking fee on First Blood in 1981 was 250,000 as a replacement for Kirk Douglas, which in turn he got replaced by Richard Crenna (they paid him, even though they didn't use him in the film).  Devane must have gotten a good 175,000 on this film, which is very outrageous.  Devane was also the first actor to get a million dollar contract on TV show also.

"Alien Predator isn't FVI, it's Trans World, and produced by owners of Trans World the Saluis.  I forgot the film companies name at the time, but it wasn't FVI. They produced it under their film company that made Monster Dog, Can't Shake The Beat, and others before creating Trans World Video. Sarui's and partner later split and the partners created Imperial Video, and produced Van Damme films.

"FVI went bankrupt in 1982 because Universal filed a lawsuit against the 1981 Jaws rip-off Great White, and Edward L. Montoro released 650 prints of that film and spend major money in advertisement. FVI was in trouble, and Montoro felt it was time to go, so he took out 1 million dollars out of the company's funds, and disappeared, never to be seen again.

"The company filed Chapter 11 and stopped running the company.  Several filmmakers complained that they were ripped off and never got paid the movies they sold to FVI and FVI couldn't pay anyone and didn't release anything. They changed their name breifly,to Artist releasing or something like that, released Vigilante, Incubus to the theatres, and also sat on, and release films like The Act, straight to video. FVI was sold to some small time operation in 1987, who picked up several South African action films to women wrestling shows called GLOW.  FVI officially disappeared in 1990, I think."

(Note: In my review, I was trying to give the idea that though The Dark was made for theaters, the look, feel, and unscary "horror" of the movie made it look exactly like a TV movie from the period. Before seeing the movie, I knew it was made for theaters -  I had seen the movie poster for it, and read a review of it in a back issue of Variety magazine. The reviewer at the time was sure it would "scare up some box office coin", but complained that the alien looked "like a werewolf in jeans.")


UPDATE 2: "Sandra" gave me the following information:

"Hi.  I just discovered your site.  I bet you don't know that there was a 'novelization' of the screenplay for The Dark, published in paperback.  In the book, the killer was not an Alien, but a zombie who had been a cannibal-killer back in the the 19th Century.  Hence the grey skin.  He (or it) decapitated people with a machete or something.  There were no laser beams, no victims bursting into flames.  The whole thing read like a script for the Night Stalker tv series.  My guess is that the half-assed Alien angle was added by the producers after the film was made, trying to capitalize on the popularity of sf films.  Too bad, because (while still pretty bad) the original was a lot better than what they wound up doing to it."

Interesting. Novelizations can be very interesting, because they frequently contain scenes that don't appear in the final cut of the movie. Sometimes scenes are completely different - the novelization for Die Hard With A Vengeance contained the movie's originally filmed ending, which was hastily reshot just before the theatrical release. However, this is the first time I've heard of a novelization with a central theme being completely different than the finished film. I did learn not long after writing the review that the original director of The Dark (Tobe Hooper) was replaced during filming. Perhaps the script was rewritten during this transition, and the writer of the novelization had already finished his book, and FVI was too cheap to have the book rewritten.


UPDATE 3: Todd Jaeger sent this in:

"To elaborate a little bit on what "Sandra" told you about the 1979 film The Dark ...

"I have the paperback novelization (a first printing from June 1978) by Max Franklin.  It's a Signet Paperback, ISBN # 0-451-08242-7.  The novel is only 187 pages long, but it's still a very interesting read.  It also contains 8 pages of photos from the film. The film might have been a lot more interesting if they had stuck with the original zombie angle, considering the obvious human appearance of the creature.  According to the SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review (the link is #4 on the external reviews on IMDb), the film already was done with the zombie storyline and was re-edited after poor screenings, freezing the frame and adding the laser opticals.   I for one would love to have seen the new DVD release from Media Blasters to have included the original version if it still exists.  To see how one film can turn out so differently (as Brazil was so tampered with) would be fascinating even if the original version of The Dark were still bad.  The DVD contains a commentary by the director and "fan" Scott Spiegel (Evil Dead 2).  I haven't listened to this commentary yet, but it might shed some more light on the whole situation!

"If you run across a copy of the paperback someday, give it a read, it's worth it.  Thought you might like to know! I enjoy reading your comments on the site, keep up the great work!"

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)

See also: Mutant, Rituals, Curse Of The Cannibal Confederates

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