We’re reviewing neither the horror videogame franchise nor the poorly-received twenty-first films based on it. No, this Alone in the Dark appeared in 19821, an initially-overlooked offering in the slasher genre. Its name cast, relative intelligence, and style gradually earned its reputation. If you like horror, it’s worth seeking out, probably the best of the Halloween-derived horrors, prior to A Nightmare on Elm Street, and certainly better than Friday the 13th.

It also features some very odd intertextuality with these movies.

Title: Alone in the Dark

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Director: Jack Sholder
Writers: Jack Sholder, Robert Shaye, Michael Harrpster

Jack Palance as Frank Hawkes
Dwight Schultz as Dr. Dan Potter
Donald Pleasence as Dr. Leo Bain
Martin Landau as Byron “Preacher” Sutcliff
Erland van Lidth as Ronald “Fatty” Elster
Deborah Hedwall as Nell Potter
Lee Taylor-Allan as Toni Potter
Phillip Clark as Tom Smith
Elizabeth Ward as Lyla Potter
Brent Jennings as Ray Curtis
Carol Levy as Bunky
Gordon Watkins as Detective Burnett
Keith Reddin as Billy
Spoiler as John “The Bleeder” Skagg
Lin Shaye as Receptionist at Haven
Jana Schneider as Spaced-out Girl
The Sick F_cks as Themselves

Available on DVD.

Premise:

A new psychiatrist joins the staff at Haven, where some truly dangerous patients receive treatment under the direction of man not quite playing with a full deck himself.

A power failure allows four of the most notorious to escape.

High Points:

We have a slasher film with real-world thematic concerns that swirl around Dr. Bain’s notion that insanity may be a rational response to an insane world. At times, the film verges on satire.2

Despite some loftier aspirations, no one ever forgot they were making a thriller about escaped, over-the-top lunatics.

Low Points:

The reveal of the fourth killer’s identity. In an otherwise thoughtful script, this development strains credibility to breaking.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 Alone in the Dark takes Halloween‘s premise, multiplies the number of killers, and gives them a personal reason to target a particular house and its occupants.

It’s not entirely clear if they borrowed the use of the goalie mask from Friday the 13, Part Two.

Effects: 4/6 The movie’s two best effects include an imaginary apparition and a dream sequence. Neither scene is really necessary, but they do look good.

Story: 4/6

Acting: 5/6 The cast combines established actors, obviously having a ball, with promising newcomers.

Perhaps the most interesting player is multi-talented Erland Van Lidth, Olympic wrestler, opera singer, MIT graduate, and occasional actor. Many recall him as “Terror” in the cult film, The Wanderers, and as “Dynamo” in the Stephen King-inspired Schwarzenegger flick, The Running Man. Sadly, Van Lidth died of heart failure in 1987.

Production: 5/6

Emotional Response: 5/6 Unlike Mike, Freddy, and Jason, these killers have no special immunity to weapons and, because the film features four killers, they’re as much in danger of dying as their prospective victims. That gives certain scenes an added level of suspense.

Overall: 5/6

Who influenced whom? Halloween is obvious enough: it really started the genre, Donald Pleasance appears in both, and we have a babysitter as one of the targets. Certain scenes and plot elements of Alone… clearly take their cue from John Carpenter.

Yet we also have a killer in a goalie mask, as in Friday the 13th. Jason did not don his until the second movie, but it’s not certain if the makers of Alone in the Dark knew that during production. Even more bizarre: A Nightmare on Elm Street would not appear until two years later; Alone… features a killer from Springwood (the town where Nightmare… takes place), a character named “Krueger” (I had to rewind—but that’s the name of the official mentioned on the TV news), and a scene that bears a strong resemblance to Freddy’s manifestation in the bath. New Line Cinema would eventually produce and distribute Nightmare… and Craven began shopping his script in 1981, so it’s likely New Line had already read Nightmare… before they began production on Alone in the Dark. Then again, maybe it’s just a really weird string of coincidences.3

In total, Alone in the Dark receives 30/42.

Notes

1. It is the 1980s, but viewers could be forgiven for being initially uncertain. Following a dream sequence that hearkens to the 1950s, Dr. Potter’s arrival at Haven creates a strange dislocation in time. His car is a 1972 Saab 96 V4, with a design that reflects an earlier era. Dr. Bain drives a 1951 Bentley Mk VI and a 40s Woodie (unsure of make and model), both of which appear in that sequence. The other cars in the opening scene are from the 40s and 50s. Potter himself dresses anachronistically for the era; he could be playing Brad in Rocky Horror.

2. Leo Bain’s ideas reflect and (arguably) parody those of R.D. Laing, an influential psychiatrist.

3. For that matter, two of the incidentally missing patients receive the names “David and Lisa.” Most likely this references the celebrated 1962 film of that title, which takes place in a mental institution. David and Lisa may not be so familiar now, but there is little-to-no chance the people making this film in the early 80s wouldn’t have known it.

September 30: Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural (JD)

October 6: Suspiria (Alex)
October 7: The Seventh Victim (JD)

October 13: Friday the 13th-a “Make Me Watch It” Podcast (Blaine)
October 14: Hereditary (JD)

October 20: Hausu (Alex)
October 21: Eye of the Devil (JD)

October 27: A Quiet Place (JD)
October 28: Alone in the Dark (JD)

October 31: Halloween 2018 (JD)
Return of the Living Dead (JD)