Color, 1979, 90 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by John "Bud" Cardos
Starring William Devane, Cathy Lee Crosby, Richard Jaeckel, Keenan Wynn, Warren Kemmerling, Jacquelyn Hyde, Casey Kasem, Vivian Blaine
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Shriek Show (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

One The Darkof the more tortured productions The Darkfrom the horror boom of the late '70s, The Dark feels like it was always meant to play on late night '80s TV after reruns of Night Gallery or Kolchak: The Night Stalker had already pounded your brain into mush after midnight. The supernatural serial killer film was retooled at the behest of distributor Film Ventures International to turn its decapitating Los Angeles menace into an alien after previous iterations including a mentally disabled man raised in captivity to, according to the script itself at one point, a rampaging zombie. The alien angle was accomplished by slapping some tacky laser and explosion effects over the film (not unlike what happened to Fear No Evil soon after this), with the whole thing more or less held together by director/salvage operator John "Bud" Cardos (Kingdom of the Spiders, Mutant) after the late Tobe Hooper was canned after a few days on the set. (Hooper would go on to get thrown off of Venom right after this, but he finally managed to get through his first real studio film, The Funhouse, unscathed in 1981.

Something is prowling the dark streets of nocturnal L.A. and killing random citizens, either by ripping off their heads or blasting them with explosive laser beams from its eyes. The first victim we see The Dark(played by future Beverly Hills habitué Kathy Hilton) has a ticked-off father, writer Steve Dupree (Devane), hunting high and low for her killer. The DarkA quirky psychic (Hyde) claims to know the identity of the next victim, a development that sends Steve teaming up with intrepid news reporter Zoe (Crosby) to untangle the mystery behind the assailant known as the Mangler.

You're best off knowing from the outset that the attempts to change the villain's identity here don't work at all, so a lot of this film doesn't even remotely add up (including the obviously spackled-on opening and closing narration). That said, it's an amusing slice of violent sci-fi nonsense if you're in the right mood, complete with William Devane in disguise as what looks like a Manson cult member, Keenan Wynn as Crosby's manager and improbable ex-boyfriend, a bizarre role for flame-haired Hollywood actress Vivian Blane, and even a quick bit by future Miami Vice star Philip Michael Thomas as a "mouthy" gang member. You also get a nutso music score complete with whispering voices saying "the darrrrrk...nesssssssss" The Darkover and over, which is presumably meant to be terrifying.

The Dark received its first U.S. widescreen release on DVD in 2005 courtesy of Media Blasters' Shriek Show imprint, featuring a decent transfer of a somewhat orange-looking The Dark35mm print (with very crackly audio), the trailer, and a new Scorpion Releasing-produced featurette with Cardos (13m32s) about the project's genesis. The film also has an audio commentary with Cardos moderated by Scott Spiegel and Scorpion's Walt Olsen, recorded next to what sounds like a loud air conditioner.

Released by Code Red via Ronin Flix in the U.S. and Diabolik overseas, the inevitable Blu-ray release of The Dark looks far, far better than the DVD and really looks impressive in motion with far more information visible in the frame . Even the pivotal dark scenes in the final stretch look razor sharp and really give the film a classy sheen that was impossible to appreciate in past transfers. The DTS-HD MA English mono track also sounds pristine; The Darkno subtitles are provided. A new, completely different commentary track features Cardos and frequent producer Igo Kantor, moderated by Bill Olsen and Damon Packard. It's an informative chat that covers the film's "crazy" laser beam effects, the roles of producers Dick Clark (yes, that Dick Clark) and FVI's notorious Edward L. Montoro, and the transforming of the project on its way from conception to release, with comments about the actors including Devane's initial The Darkdesire to work with Hooper. They're also candid right off the bat about the reasons Hooper was let go, pretty much confirming what everyone assumed. Be warned: don't listen to this with headphones as the entire track is filled with loud slurping and crunching mouth noises, and it ain't pleasant. It also fades out abruptly at the end, so we're still waiting to hear how Packard worked footage of this into something of his own. Composer Roger Kellaway (Evilspeak, Silent Scream) appears for a new interview (25m29s) about his horror composing career and the surprising use of the Swingle Singers to perform the improvised whispering on the soundtrack. His score is also included as an optional isolated music and effects track, just the thing to make you feel really uneasy (or amused) late at night. The Cardos featurette and the trailer from the prior DVD are also included.


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Reviewed on September 16, 2017.