Color, 1983, 88 mins. 32 secs.
Directed by Tom McLoughlin
Starring Meg Tilly, Melissa Newman, Robin Evans, Leslie Speights, Donald Hotton, E.G. Daily, Adam West
Kino Lorber / Code Red (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Shriek Show (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Young horror fans who weren’t old enough to see R-rated movies in the early '80s actually had a pretty good deal going with the PG rating, which still allowed titles like Poltergeist, the Jaws series, and some pretty twisted Disney films providing some good traumatic thrills before the PG-13 rating came into existence. One of the strongest of this cycle was One Dark Night, one of the biggest titles released by short-lived indie outfit Comworld Pictures (who also handled Night Warning and The Final Terror). The film also featured the first major role for Meg Tilly, who would go on to bigger things as the female lead in Psycho II later the same year.
Authorities are baffled by the mysterious death of "famed Russian psychic" Raymar, who turns up dead at home with the bodies of multiple women. His daughter, Olivia (Newman), is informed that Raymar had powerful telekinetic powers that could sap the energy from other organisms, including humans, an ability that will prove to be just as strong from the afterlife. At a nearby high school, young Julie (Tilly) is invited under false pretenses to join an exclusive girls’ clique called the Sisters (basically a smaller version of the Pink Ladies), led by Carol (Evans) and also including Leslie (Daily) and Kitty (Speights). To become a member, she must spend the night in the mausoleum where Raymar has been recently interred, which will prove to be a very bad call when his occult gifts end up awakening the dead and turning the Sisters’ pranks into a real-life nightmare.
Though clearly imperfect due to post-production tinkering and reshoots, One Dark Night is a lot of fun if you’re looking for a non-slasher ‘80s horror title – and it’s a great Halloween viewing choice, too, thanks to the plenty of zombies and a lot of rubbery monster pranks pulled by the Sisters inside the crypt. Adding to the fun is an unexpected appearance by the late Adam West (TV’s Batman) as an authoritative exposition machine working with Newman, and it’s always a treat to see the appealing Daily (billed here as Elizabeth Daily), a singer and busy voiceover artist (Rugrats), before she went on to appear in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Valley Girl, Streets of Fire, Bad Dreams, and the high school dance scene in Better Off Dead. Much of the credit must go to first-time director Tom McLoughlin, who showed enough skill here (especially in the terrific final fifteen minutes or so) to parlay this film into a gig directing one of the best-loved slasher films of the decade, Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, as well as Sometimes They Come Back and, oddly enough, Date with an Angel. He mostly stuck with generic made-for-TV fare after that, but at least he shone brightly for a few years.
One Dark Night first appeared on DVD in 2005 from Shriek Show in a two-disc set (with an extraordinarily awkward Photoshopped cover), featuring a visibly ragged interlaced transfer (windowboxed at 1.78:1) from less than optimal film materials littered with specks and dust. Extras on that release include an audio commentary with McLaughlin and co-writer Michael Hawes, a selection of making-of VHS footage called “R.I.P.” (38m53s), and a workprint version (under the title A Night in the Crypt) touted as an “Alternate Director’s Cut Version” (89m55s) which seems a bit misleading as it isn’t a completed version with visibly in-progress visual effects shots. It’s a fascinating alternate cut though as it features far less of Newman’s character (thankfully the tape listening sessions are drastically reduced, the major problem with the final cut), and some other little variations pop up here and there as well. Also included are bonus trailers for The Being, Frankenstein's Bloody Terror, Just Before Dawn, Devil Dog, Anthropophagus, Love Bites, The Dark, and The High School Horrors Collection.
The 2017 Blu-ray release from Code Red distributed through Kino Lorber ports over all the relevant extras from the Shriek Show (commentary, workprint, behind the scenes footage) while adding a truckload of new material as well. The new HD transfer adds a significant amount of image info on all four sides; the top is the most important as it no longer shaves against people's heads. (Compare the grab of Meg Tilly sitting down here with the one from the DVD below.) The element used here is imperfect (some telecine wobble is still visible as in past versions, and some fleeting brief scratches and bits of debris pop up), but it's in much, much cleaner shape overall and features a notable increase in detail. The color timing is also different in some sequences compared to the DVD; the opening has a blue tint compared to what looks like the raw version on the DVD, and in the early going some scenes and cooler, brighter skin tones and deeper blacks (compare the Sisters grabs, for example); however, in interior scenes and most of the second half the skin tones warm up and more earthy. The final stretch of the film with its vivid, stylized lighting is more of a sinister royal purple here compared to the pink and rose scheme on the DVD; based on memory from years ago this seems closer to the film's 35mm appearance, but others who have watched it may be able to chime in with their own thoughts. Just being able to watch this without all that damage and heavy interlaced tearing is a major relief. The DTS-HD MA English mono tracks is perfectly serviceable if nothing to go crazy about.
In addition to the old commentary, there's now a new one with McLoughlin and producer Michael Schroeder, in which the director bemoans his credit as "Thomas" ("They took it off my driver's license"), the reshoots on the film including all the Newman footage including the opening scene, the low budget (a bit less than the million they hoped for), the importance of the red Mustang, the connection to John Frankenheimer's Prophecy, and lots more. The volume of the film itself is way too loud during the track, but it's worth sifting through for a more recent, detailed perspective on the production. The theatrical trailer is included at last, but the real good stuff here is the barrage of new interviews starting off with McLoughlin (16m15s), credited here as "Tommy McLoughlin" just to confuse things further, who goes into his shock at the film getting a PG rating, more about the financing, the origin of that toothbrush business, and the film's reception in the horror community. He also reveals the celebrity source for Raymar's face, which is... kind of shocking, and chats a bit about his later projects. Up next is a new interview with Daily (32m3s), which touches on this film a bit but really encompasses her entire career with a focus on her '80s work, ranging from Street Music to Wacko to recording the big single for Summer School. Schroeder returns for a new interview (14m42s) inside the stage where they shot the mausoleum scenes, going into more detail about how it was all constructed on a limited budget with an ability to do some elaborate lighting and camera tilting effects. He also mentions some of his other projects including a stint at Cannon Films and ties in one of this film's award losses to Eating Raoul to later collaborations with Paul Bartel. As with some of the other featurettes on this disc, this one has the Damon Packard touch with the subject either close to smushing their nose in the camera or shot from down on the floor, so be prepared for some major visual disorientation. Cinematographer Hal Trussell appears for a featurette (18m15s) about the effect Nestor Almendros had on his career via Truffaut and the technical challenges imposed by the stop motion effects, after which he goes into his career path after deciding to get out of being a director of photography. Actress and current director's wife Nancy McLoughlin (Nancy Mott at the time) and her very photogenic lap dog show up for a 10m53s recollection of how she was cast as a "Druid-type" girl and almost got sabotaged by some rowdy teenagers, then shares tales of friends who popped up on the fun shoot, including a funny bit about who was stoned in one scene. That's followed by production designer Craig Stearns (10m40s), who's shot in front of the mausoleum exterior from the film as he notes his early work with John Carpenter and the mutual love of horror between himself and McLoughlin that fueled the look of the film. Finally makeup effects artist Paul Clemens (17m7s), better known to most horror fans as the star of The Beast Within, has a fun time chatting about creating the corpses with the legendary Tom Burman on this film which, like Poltergeist, used real human skeletons ("totally illegal now!"); also included is separate look at photos from Paul Clemens personal collection (3m28s) featuring horror memorabilia and shots from this film, including a glimpse of its early Famous Monsters coverage as Rest in Peace. A DVD version is also available, featuring the new commentary and Daily interview.
Shriek Show DVD Frame Grabs
Reviewed on June 21, 2017.