The Dark

From space? Some people are!
★★★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1979
Director: 
John ‘Bud’ Carlos
Starring: 
William Devane, Cathy Lee Crosby, Richard Jaeckel, Keenan Wynn
The Setup: 
Alien zombie goin’ around zapping people with his laser eyes.
Discussion: 

I was enjoying the notoriously nasty stalker film Don’t Answer the Phone! And looked to see what else John “Bud” Carlos directed, and this is about the only thing on DVD. And it sounded agreeably trashy, and it’s from the early 80s, so there we go.

We open with an opening crawl, narrated aloud for those who have trouble with reading, about how animals change color and use other techniques to protect themselves. Sure, they don’t shoot lasers out of their eyes, but you know, there’s no reason this ability might not evolve one day. The crawl continues that just as it is certain that just as there must be aliens out there, “it is also a certainty that not all alien encounters will be friendly.” Did you know that? And if not, WHY not? After all, it is A CERTAINTY. For God’s sake, WHAT are they teaching kids in school these days?

We then have a not-bad title sequence in which we see a blind man tapping along deserted city streets with a cane, and other visions of the cold, empty city. We see the blind bum so much I was sure that this was going to be revealed as the alien’s disguise, but no luck. In here we find out that this movie stars William Devane, who, sorry, I pretty much think is awesome for his aggressive manner and stoned panda-bear voice, but also Cathy Lee Crosby, soon to be one of the hosts of That’s Incredible! I swear, I’m going to find some Fran Tarkinton movie and have a “Stars of That’s Incredible!” film fest. It also stars Richard Jakael of The Dirty Dozen, Casey Kasem of America’s Top 40, and famed character actor Keenan Wynn.

So this woman is standing out in front of this theater as the marquee lights are turned off and the place shuts down—what is she doing there that long after the movie ended? Is she waiting for someone? Is she a prostitute?—and she walks down the street. She if followed by some menacing guy, and we get a lot of shots of their walking feet, ripped straight off of the original Cat People. I tell you, it’s amazing how influential that one little walking sequence was. Anyway, she escapes the guy—but is grabbed by this big green monster man! He apparently decapitates and mutilates her, as we’ll find out later.

Then this guy at this swinging nightclub sits down with this older woman. She is a psychic, Mrs. DeRenzy, and not long into her conversation she sees a vision of the guys’ death. She suddenly gets upset and tells him to go away—it’s kind of a good little scene. Then we meets Cathy Lee Crosby as Zooey Owen, ambitious television reporter. She is having lunch with Keenan Wynn, manager of her news show, sporting a handlebar mustache and beard. His name is Sherman, meaning that Zooey, throughout, calls him “Sherm.” We find out later that Zooey and Sherm used to have a May-December romance, which clearly means we must speculate on how Zooey really rose to her position. Anyway, she demands to cover the case of the “Mangler.”

But where’s Devane? Turns out he’s this biker-lookin’ dude with big, fluffy feathered hair parted down the middle, and a hot white Corvette. The maybe-prostitute at the beginning was his daughter. Turns out Roy [that’s his name] was recently in the joint for killing a man who was boffing his wife. Anyway, he identifies the body and gets all up in the face of Moony, the blond detective assigned to the case. Roy vows to follow Moony around and ensure that he’s working on the case.

We then join this black fellow and a prostitute he’s bringing back to his motel. She’s going to run around the corner for some smokes, and he goes inside. The lights go off, which he obviously assumes must be his little girl-for-hire “playing around.” He assumes that if she’s flicking the lights on and off, why, she must OBVIOUSLY be in the huge industrial basement below the motel [actually it does look a little huge and large-scale to be the basement of one little motel], and, obviously, if she’s going to flicker the lights, she must be at the VERY FURTHEST POINT at the back of said basement. So he keeps wandering way, way back in this nasty basement going “Baby? Is that you?” LONG past the point where it become obvious that it is not her, and I’m afraid he gets lasered. You see, this monster shoots laser bursts out of his eyes that look like left-over animation from first-incarnation Battlestar Galactica [like I truly think they were a left-over effect from something] because they are short little bursts, and they seem to travel 100 feet to their target—the whole thing just doesn’t add up. Anyway, the guy explodes. Not explodes like blood and guts, but explodes like a spaceship—a big fireball superimposed over his body. It makes even less sense when you’ve seeing it.

Because here’s the deal with this movie. This was originally supposed to be a zombie movie, but it was ready for release after Star Wars and Star Trek: The Motion Picture and various other things, so the releasing company took it and turned it into an alien movie. You can clearly see what was added: the opening crawl, the laser eyes, and the people exploding. I’ll bet you $10 that they originally shot deaths for these people, but ended up just superimposing an explosion over them. I mean—this movie wouldn’t have made sense as a zombie movie either, it’s just that it’s marginally stupider this way.

There’s one other thing about this movie that I’ve been keeping from you. From the start, and throughout the ENTIRE thing, there are these breathy male voices on the soundtrack going “The Daaaaahhhhhrrrrrrkkkk!” And not only that, but a lot of nonsense words as well, apparently meant to sound like some creepy ancient language. So you’ll have a picture of Devane driving down a creepy street and a voice saying “Zoobidaaahhhhhh!” or Crosby walking into her apartment while a voice goes “Geeshawaaaaayyyy!” It gets REALLY funny after a while.

Okay! So then Moony is interrogating Roy about his daughter and says one of my favorite lines: “Did she say anything about problems or kinky friends?” Which had me walking around my apartment that night and the whole next day asking myself things like “Did she say anything about potato chips or kinky friends?” Then Zooey her co-anchor on the mangler case that “Violence is my angle.” Then we observe that there is some racial tension between the black populous and the police, and first the blacks tell Moony that he’s an asshole, then Roy comes on and tells Mooney he’s an asshole. I believe someone else soon tells him the same thing. Then Roy talks to a scantily-clad waitress while sitting in his white Corvette with red interior. Then Zooey and Sherm gets menaced in a parking garage [on the soundtrack: “Hoobaskaaaahhhh!”]. Soon after the monster meets some guy out walking, and rips his head off. It’s kind of a brutal effect; the headless guy walks a few feet before collapsing. Zabadoooohhh!

Okay, so finally Roy and Zooey meet up at a nightclub, and decide to team up to catch this killer. You will notice a fuckin’ hot bear at the bar [above], who leapt to the lead of 2008’s CdM Random Movie Hunk of the year competition. You will note that, similar to the wonderful Kingdom of the Spiders which I recently had the pleasure of watching [been some pretty good B-grade entertainment in my DVD-player lately], Roy just ASSUMES that OF COURSE he and Zooey are going to go out. I mean, he’s a guy, she’s a girl—what else is left to figure out? By the way, I don’t know if I mentioned that the psychic, Mrs. DeRenzy, went to the police to tell them she had a vision of this guy who would be a victim, but of course they didn’t believe her. She then contacts Zooey, who vows to act on her lead. Mrs. DeRenzy, however, cannot enjoy a simple night of peace at home, since she sees a vision of the monster in a mirror, then the mirror explodes and everything blows around her apartment like something out of Poltergeist. This is why I say this movie would have been no better if they had left it as a zombie movie—I mean, how does this whole scene with the psychic make sense in either scenario?

And now, one for the annals that document just fuckin’ WEIRD things you might see in bad movies [if there were such annals]. In this one, we suddenly cut to a midget standing next to a newsstand, holding a paper up and saying, in a helium-sounding voice: “Mangler is a zombie. Read all about it in the evening papers.”

SPOILERS, I SUPPOSE > > >
So then Roy takes Zooey back to his bachelor pad [see above], which she describes as “the perfect place.” She then takes a little walk around and then says “It really is the perfect place.” I think we have a love match! Then we are with Moony and the cops as they wake up to the hard reality that the mangler is of extraterrestrial origin. One AMAZING piece of dialogue that passes without comment is a cop saying “Are you saying this thing is from outer space?” and another rebuking him: “Well some people ARE!” Huh, you know, SOME PEOPLE. Anyway, back to Roy and Zooey, who have decided to scour the nightclubs of L.A. looking for the guy the psychic saw. The thing that is elided smoothly over, however, is that the ONLY description the psychic offered is that he’s a “young man.” Okay, MAYBE she said he had brown hair or something, but that is really it. So I’m sure you can see how they’ll have very little problem identifying the one or two “young men” out at L.A. nightclubs. And amazingly—they know him instantly on sight! They know for sure it’s him when he’s incinerated right before his eyes.

So the mangler is walking freely around this massive monastery-type thing, but nevertheless, Mooney says he is “cornered” there when he calls his cop pals. There was some other movie in which the cops said someone was “cornered” when in fact he was roaming freely about—OH, it was It’s Alive.

Anyway, all of this leads to this blowout climax where the cops are shooting the mangler with guns, while he blasts at them with his laser eyes. It is kind of something to see. At one point his lasers make a cop fly up into the air, hit a wall, and them explode. Roy comes up to him with a torch, and, well, as we learned from previous bad movies, zombies can be HIGHLY flammable. Please do NOT operate zombies around an open flame. The mangler goes up like so much dried tinder, then explodes! Well, THAT sure was easy. And clean-up’s a breeze!

Then the voice-over comes on again to intone some more pure claptrap, including the conclusion: “In the darkness of the universe, MAN is the alien.” Sir, may I see your supporting evidence for these statements? As a copywriter, I also have to wonder who comes up with this writing, and takes it to their boss, who says “It’s GREAT! Run with it!”
< < < SPOILERS END

So yeah, it’s agreeably awful. I enjoyed it all the way through. It keeps generating new and ridiculous things from beginning to end, has lovely late-70s décor and hairstyles and types of people, you have barking cops and hot intrepid reporters and louche dads in white Corvettes and tough but dumb cops that everyone calls an asshole. I wouldn’t mind owning this.

So I told you that this was originally supposed to be kind of a zombie movie, and director John “Bud” Carlos comes on in a special feature to say that originally, the killer was supposed to have been a retarded baby that was locked up in an attic for years, and finally escaped as an adult. WHY these warped killers engage in comprehensive bodybuilding programs while locked away [see the Halloween remake] is never explained. It doesn’t look like much effort was made to turn it into an alien story—in fact, I don’t think a single new piece of footage was shot, it looks like they just superimposed lasers and explosions over what they had. Again, it’s impossible to see how the movie would have been any better or make any more sense as a straight stalker movie. And though of course it’s not nice to comment on personal appearance, I can’t help but notice that the director has a little labia in his neck.

Anyway, all kinds of bad movie fun, with new depths of ludicrousness at every turn. Zubateeehhhh!

Should you watch it: 

You bet!