(A.k.a. THE MUTILATOR)
A blonde woman walks home alone at night. Becoming aware of a man following her, her pace quickens. As she pulls into a turning to confront him, he scurries away - and a monstrous had grabs her unexpectedly from behind.
We soon learn that the woman's head was ripped off. California detectives Mooney (Richard Jaeckel) and his overeating partner Bresler (Biff Elliot) are baffled; their police chief Speer (Warren J Kemmerling) is adamant that they swiftly put a stop to what threatens to be a reign of terror.
Also keen to catch the killer is Roy (William Devane), the father of the murdered blonde. He did time previously for murdering his ex-wife's lover. Mooney, coincidentally, was the arresting officer. Now a successful author of violent pulp novels, Roy starts badgering the belligerent Mooney in a bid to hurry the investigation along.
Then we have television reporter Zoe (Cathy Lee Crosby). She is gripped by the case and sees it as her chance to further her career, should she be able to get a scoop on it.
But, as a middle-aged john is killed the following night in similar circumstances, all of the above are flummoxed when it comes to guessing who the killer may be or what their motives are. After all, there are no signs of robbery or sexual aggravation...
Help is potentially at hand in the form of psychic De Renzy (Jacquelyn Hyde), who approaches the cops trying to tell them that she'd met an aspiring actor at a yacht party and had a premonition that he was a future victim of the killer. Mooney and Bresler laugh her claims off; she's taken a little more seriously, following two more murders, when she passes the same information on to Zoe - who in turn shares it with her new love interest Roy.
So, Roy pays a visit to De Renzy and starts to build a clearer a picture of what's going on. Could it be that the killer isn't even human at all? Clue: there's a narrated introduction to the film which lets us viewers in on this "revelation" a full 80-or-so minutes before the protagonists twig.
Eventually these four entities - the grieving father, the intrepid reporter, the bungling cops and the psychic - converge to narrow down the hunt for a killer dubbed "the mangler" by the press and rumoured to be a "zombie" by the scared public.
THE DARK is utter crap. There's no denying it. It's a disjointed mess from the first scene onwards. Stanford Whitmore's screenplay exhibits no skill in linking one scene to another and has a terrible time with both proffering consistent characters and finding a way for the story to successfully link them to one another.
Perhaps in the hands of a more competent director, the film could've overcome such shortfalls. But John 'Bud' Cardos (KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS; MUTANT) is not that man. Rather, his direction is pedestrian and workmanlike: no effort is made to inject zest into largely lifeless performances from Devane and Crosby; he seems equally disinterested in maintaining any momentum, either in terms of pace or tone.
The action is anaemic. Tension is totally absent throughout. Special effects are kept to a bare minimum, save for a couple of laughable moments in which the serial-killing beast shoots lasers from its eyes.
Oh, and that brings us to the lapses in logic. If this creature - which has assumed human form (ish) - can shoot lasers from its eyes, why does it prefer for the most part to resort to hands-on methods of murder? And why is it killing? No explanation is given.
Clearly a troubled production, it's well-documented that this 1979 film changed its premise midway through its shoot: the killer was originally going to be an autistic kid who'd escaped from a lifetime of entrapment and gone on a politically incorrect, murderous rampage, until the producers saw the opportunity to exploit the success of ALIEN and ordered extra scenes to be shot. Tobe Hooper began directing but for whatever reason was replaced early-on by Cardos.
It's facts like these which may account for the end results being so horrible. This is an uneven, tonally schizophrenic, badly performed and shockingly written piece of claptrap. And yet, it's curiously enjoyable for being just that. With its clumsy car chases, cringe-inducing one-liners and hilarious murder set-pieces, THE DARK definitely falls into the "so bad it's good" school of filmmaking.
THE DARK is presented uncut - 90 minutes and 34 seconds - on this region-free DVD from Cheezy Flicks.
There's a text disclaimer at the film's start advising that, while the distributor strives to source the best materials for the films it releases, sometimes this isn't possible and some defects may be evident during playback. Now, if you're familiar with Cheezy Flicks and their output, you'll no doubt be aware that they are consistently unfortunate enough to "source" the worst transfers imaginable for their ever-growing range of cult titles (I DRINK YOUR BLOOD, MARK OF THE DEVIL etc).
THE DARK is no different. Although the film is correctly framed at 2.35:1, the picture is window-boxed on all four sides. The transfer is relatively clean but suffers from softness and, worst of all, a frequent vertical line effect which gives off the impression that it's been recorded off the television. This is most prominent during scenes with quick motion in them. Overly dark and never looking better than VHS quality, this is a poor show.
English mono audio is okay but there's quite a lot of dialogue which is out of synch with the actors' voices.
The disc opens to a static main menu. From there, an equally motionless scene selection menu affords access to THE DARK by way of 10 chapters.
In terms of bonus material, all we get is 4 minutes of previews for other titles in the Cheezy Flicks roster: custom-made trailers for PSYCHOMANIA (bearing the alternate title DEATH WHEELERS), LISA AND THE DEVIL and FRANKENSTEIN '80.
THE DARK is a bizarre film. It's shit, but it retains a geek show-type appeal. However, it's served really poorly on this terrible disc.
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Cheezy Flicks|