Image Entertainment presents
Alone in the Dark (1982)
"We'll get out when the time is right."- Hawkes (Jack Palance)
Stars: Martin Landau, Jack Palance, Donald Pleasence, Dwight Schultz
Other Stars: Erland van Lidth, Carol Levy, Deborah Hedwall, Lee Taylor-Allan, Elizabeth Ward, Phillip Clark, Gordon Watkins, Brent Jennings
Director: Jack Sholder
MPAA Rating: R for (nudity, violence)
Run Time: 01h:33m:24s
Release Date: 2005-09-13
Genre: suspense thriller
DVD ReviewFour mental patients, all extremely dangerous and unhinged in their own special ways, escape from an institution during a blackout, and proceed to torment and stalk a doctor and his family. Made during the heyday of the slasher genre, that's the short version of writer/director Jack (The Hidden) Sholder's 1982 feature debut Alone In The Dark, a generally forgotten film that is far better than most of the films it's lumped in with. It's not really a slasher pic, not necessarily a horror film, but instead a surprisingly tense thriller that waffles between humor and tension fairly well.
The casting is spot on, with Martin Landau and Jack Palance getting to go way over the top as two of the escaped crazies, while Donald Pleasence—always a scene stealer—takes on the role of the liberal, pot-smoking head of the mental institution, and before we even meet him a character has informed us "his methods may seem a little bizarre." That goes without saying in a film like this, and when the maniacally giggling Landau and stone-faced Palance get free from Pleasance and his low-fi security system, it's time for the exaggerated acting meter to go off the charts for all three, in a really good way.
A pre-A-Team Dwight Schultz plays the new doctor in town, and he and his family are targeted for elimination because the escaped patients (Pleasence calls them "voyagers") believe that the new doc is responsible for the death of his predecessor. With the power out all over town, Schultz, his wife, young daughter, his visiting "punk" sister and her hunky new boyfriend eventually end up trapped in a house, not quite realizing the danger they're in until it is too late. Sholder takes this potentially ham-fisted premise and dresses it up with some real menace, such as the brooding Erland van Lidth (Grossberger from Stir Crazy) playing a large, hulking pedophile, who gets one of the film's genuinely creepiest scenes as he pretends to be the babysitter for Schultz's daughter. It's a chilling sequence in a film that sometimes spends its time wandering into areas of dark comedy, and it helps keep things threatening.
Alone In The Dark sort of fell under the popular culture radar over the years, which is unfortunate because it is really one of those B-movies that doesn't take itself too seriously, and one that makes the most of the intentionally manic performances by Landau, Palance and Pleasence. It's nice to see that Image has taken a shot at helping this one find an audience after all those years, because it merits another look now that the slasher genre has subsided somewhat.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer exhibits quite a bit of specking and debris, as well as some steady grain issues throughout. Colors are a bit soft and on the muted side, but things like Donald Pleasence's bright red sweater seem to really stand out amidst the early 1980s drab. Black levels are not as completely rock solid, but I've seen far worse and, shadow detail is decent, with very little loss in image clarity during the frequent shadowy moments.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Image steps up with a pair of new audio mixes, available in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and DTS, as well as the original 2.0 track. The two new tracks are a bit redundant, but appreciated, despite the general flatness of the dialogue that, while clear and audible, lacks fullness. Music elements fare substantially better, sounding noticeably deeper across the board.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Jack Sholder
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
Extras Review: Director Jack Sholder provides a commentary track, and though it's not the most electric track I've ever heard, it is a fair collection of memories on his first feature, covering the usual topics like locations, casting or snagging Tom Savini at the last minute to do some of the makeup effects. He gets in a strange story about Jack Palance and his problem memorizing dialogue, to say nothing of his reluctance to kill onscreen or do night shoots (a problem with a film called Alone In The Dark). There is an unnamed moderator that chimes in periodically to keep the flow going, but the track is mostly Sholder.
Next up are a pair of interview segments, the first being Interview With New York Punk Band The Sick F*cks (16m:29s), in which three members of the band look back on their fine performance in Sholder's film. Then there's Interview With Actress Carol Levy: Bunky Lives! (16m:28s), where the film's "nekkid babysitter" talks about her career, including the rigors of shooting a tampon commercial in Puerto Rico. Also included are a theatrical trailer and a Poster Art and Lobby Card Gallery (02m:24s) showcasing some of the great international promotional artwork for the film.
A two-page insert carries an interview with Sholder by Fangoria's Michael Gingold, and a short review by Adam Rockoff. The disc is cut into 16 chapters.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsHere's one of those overlooked little gems, not a perfect film, but an effectively engaging genre thriller that rose out of the general retread abyss of the early slasher days. Three scene-gnawing turns by Donald Pleasence, Martin Landau and Jack Palance make this a campy joy to behold, and writer/director Jack Sholder neatly blends dark comedy and suspense.
Rich Rosell 2005-10-04