A group of violent and highly psychotic mental patients are unintentionally released from lockdown due to a power outage at the institution where they reside. The escapees are convinced that their new doctor, Dr. Potter, killed their previous physician. Intent upon getting their pound of flesh, the escaped patients locate Dr. Potter’s home and trap him and his family inside. Dr. Potter will have to convince these violent criminals that he didn’t kill their doctor or they may just kill him.
The casting of this 1982 slasher film is highly irregular. It features a very talented ensemble cast, rather than actors who had yet to make a name for themselves at the time the picture was made. Jack Palance and Martin Landau (both of whom play escaped mental patients) are not only decorated Hollywood veterans; they are also both Academy Award winners. Needless to say, the performances are much better than what one might expect from a slasher film.
It’s not just the Oscar winners that turn in great performances: Dwight Schultz (The A-Team) who plays Dr. Potter, is really relatable as a family man and physician that just wants to protect his family from the psychopaths he treats. Elizabeth Ward is also really great as Dr. Potter’s ‘no nonsense’ daughter. She has some hilarious dialogue.
In addition to boasting a great cast, Alone in the Dark is also noteworthy for having one of its killers don a hockey mask before Jason ever did so in a Friday the 13th film. It’s often been speculated that this picture served as inspiration for Jason’s iconic hockey mask and The Town that Dreaded Sundown provided inspiration for bag-head Jason. Whether or not there is a correlation, it’s an interesting bit of trivia, to say the least.
The biggest problem with Alone in the Dark is the pacing. Tension is established throughout the first act and then things really drop off in the second, only to pick up again in the third. The ups and downs make the film play out as a little bit uneven and off kilter. Fortunately, the last 30 minutes really reward the viewer’s patience. The finale is grand by design and will not disappoint.
The other problematic aspect to Alone in the Dark is that it appears to have a bit of an identity crisis. It wanders back and forth between attempting to be a slasher film and trying to be a thriller. In the process of trying to pander to both crowds, the film sometimes misses out on pleasing either. A lot of the slasher film tropes are abandoned in an attempt to fall into the thriller sub-genre but the deaths are much too violent for Alone in the Dark not to be classified as a horror film. It finds its footing by the end but the tug of war that seems to be going on is distracting.
Jack Sholder (A Nightmare on Elm Street II: Freddy’s Revenge) is the cowriter of the film’s screenplay and also serves as the director. He shows proficiency at using lighting, camera angles, and audio cues to build tension but loses some of his momentum in the film’s second act. His script is a tad generic but with a very talented cast bringing the characters to life and a no holds barred kind of finale; the viewer almost forgets that a lot of things about the film are just average.
Alone in the Dark is a mostly solid horror film that has moments of greatness and moments of mediocrity. It is definitely worth a look for genre film fans. While it doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, it is entertaining and features a variety of great performances from all of its leads. The New Line DVD has plenty of special features, including an audio commentary with director and interviews with the cast, as well as the punk band that appears in the film.
Director(s): Jack Sholder
Writer(s): Jack Sholder, Robert Shaye, Michael Harrpster
Stars: Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Dwight Schultz,
Studio/ Production Co: New Line Cinema
Length: 92 Minutes