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Synapse Films presents

Dark Forces (Special Edition) (1980)

"Always remember the feel of death, Alex. And he'll never be able to take you by surprise."- Robert Powell (Gregory Wolfe)

Stars: Robert Powell, David Hemmings, Carmen Duncan
Other Stars: Gus Mercurio, Alan Cassell, Mark Spain, Alyson Best, Broderick Crawford
Director: Simon Wincer

MPAA Rating: PG for Violence and nudity
Run Time: 01h:35m:06s
Release Date: 2008-10-28
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AB+A- B+


DVD Review

The worst thing about Dark Forces is the title. Despite the fact that it’s been recommended to me more times over the past few years than I care to count, I couldn’t seem to muster any enthusiasm for it despite my affinity for Australian horror flicks. I suppose there’s just a bland flavor to the name that fails to muster much interest. Of course, a quick trip to the IMDb reveals the original title as Harlequin, the original Aussie label and a far more accurate representation of the film. Apparently the Dark Forces moniker (admittedly, a far more sinister and marketable heading) was slapped on the movie for US distribution, though much like the Mad Max 2 / The Road Warrior, the original title remains far superior.

At least The Road Warrior remains an accurate representation of the movie, though. Dark Forces does not. For starters, it’s debatable as to whether or not any dark forces are actually at play in the story. Harlequin, on the other hand, captures the plot and themes almost perfectly. But no matter the name, Dark Forces reminds us of a time in horror movie history where films were confidently made for adult audiences. Teenagers didn’t dominate the movie going market and there were no pressing needs to cast young and refreshing faces so to put asses in the seats. Maybe the film in question wouldn’t fly with today’s audiences (there isn’t a ‘shock’ every five minutes, after all), but rather than use that as a detriment against Dark Forces, I choose to think of it as an unfortunate sign of the attention deficit-ridden times we’re living in (thanks MTV!).

This one is light on scare factor but it’s heavy on substance and character – a far more satisfying and integral element for my money. In all honesty I would’ve preferred more edge to the proceedings, but I’m not certain where it could’ve gone as Dark Forces never feels like its holding back. Instead, director Simon Wincer crafts a subtle story that slowly creeps up on the viewer, offering a unique genre experience.

We open with a heartbreaking sequence: a Lukemia-sticken child sitting solitary at his birthday party while the healthy children play without him. The child is about to loose his battle with cancer when magician Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell) shows up and seemingly takes the sickness out of the boy. The child’s health quickly improves and Gregory quickly befriends him (along with his mother, Carmen Duncan). Tensions of all sorts arise when the father, Nicholas, a successful senator (played by the great David Hemmings), becomes suspicious of Gregory’s motivations. Beyond that he finds himself now at odds with his wife, Sandra, who’s taken to exploring her attraction to Gregory. Furthermore, Nick’s powerful friends disapprove of Gregory’s flamboyancy and seek to expose him as a fraud. It all culminates in a fascinating power struggle in which Nick’s ultimate faith is put to the test.

I love films where the answers don’t come easy and a lot of this is left open to interpretation. We’re never really sure of Gregory’s intentions. There’s resolution here, but also plenty to chew on. We’ve also got an assortment to complex characters supported by terrific performances. Hemmings is always reliable as the senator who begins the film as a smarmy politician but soon turns out to be a genuine family man. Carmen Duncan is incredible as Hemmings’ wife, a character caught in a sterile marriage and torn between lust and loyalty. Finally, Robert Powell walks a fine line between sinister and noble, an interesting character who I couldn't decide whether or not I liked.

This isn't for everybody and I can see some people growing tired of Dark Forces before it's finished. I found it to be a riveting and genuinely enthralling experience and a must see for horror buffs. It certainly ranks among the most curious genre efforts of the last thirty years.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 transfer is a nice anamorphic image that looks marvelous on the big screen. The print is ripe with occasional white specks, no doubt a sign of the film's age. That said, detail and colors are nice and vibrant while skintones are natural. This transfer shows the film's age, and there's a bit of edge enhancement on display, but it's still a solid image.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: Presented in an original mono track, there's little to complain about here. This is a dialogue-heavy film so it would benefit very little from a 5.1 surround track. Dialogue is clean and clear while Brian May's musical score brings an effective chill (love that isolated score track, as well).

Audio Transfer Grade: A- 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 29 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Syngenor, Strange Behavior, Thirst, Patrick
Isolated Music Score
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Simon Wincer and Producer Anthony Ginnane
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: The audio commentary by Simon Wincer and Anthony Ginnane is a delight to listen to. Wincer carries a lot of the conversation and covers a lot of material: from the inspiration of the film to the casting process this is an excellent commentary track.

Text filmographies

Behind-the-scenes gallery offers a look behind the production.

The isolated music score highlights Brian May's moody score and is well worth a listen.

Extras Grade: B+

Final Comments

A terrific film and a great disc to boot. Synapse have done their usual fine job on this release. If you're looking for something a little different, you simply can't go wrong with Dark Forces.

Matt Serafini 2009-01-16