Just a few weeks ago we lost a big name in 70’s and 80’s horror movies…Tobe Hooper. He had a unique career, filled with great films, some stinkers, and some underrated gems. He also left a great mystery. No matter who comes forward to claim they know the truth, the question will always be out there as to who was really at the reigns of Poltergeist. Was it Hooper (as credited) or was it really Mr. Spielberg? We may never know. Our film today, though, is one that also had a bit of director’s chair controversy involving Hooper. This film began production under his direction, but he ended up leaving the project to be replaced by the less iconic John “Bud” Cardos. It’s not The Myst…it’s not The Fog…brace yourselves for 1979’s The Dark.
The film takes place in Los Angeles where a number of grizzly murders have been taking place. Bodies are being found with the head removed and the face ripped to shreds. It turns out that the most recent victim is the daughter of an author named Steve Dupree. Upon hearing the news, Dupree decides that he may have to take the law into his own hands and catch this killer. The cops are on the case, too, though, lead by stiff as a board detective Mooney (Richard Jaeckel). We jump back and forth between Dupree’s search and Mooney’s investigation, as well as the efforts of a young TV reporter, Zoe Owens (Cathy Lee Crosby), trying to get to the bottom of things. Oh, and there’s a weird gypsy woman who keeps popping up that seems to know all sorts of things about the killer.
Things begin to turn a bit strange, though, when the police’s forensics expert (played by Casey Kasem, of all people) reveals that his tests are showing that the perpetrator of the murders may not, in fact, be human. Or, for that matter, of this earth. Call it a spoiler if you like…but it turns out that the murderer is actually an alien whose weapon of choice is laser beams that shoot out of his eyes.
Details of the behind-the-scenes turmoil on The Dark are a bit sketchy. It seems, though, that Tobe Hooper was removed from the production when he fell a bit too far behind schedule. Now, it should be noted also that the actual plot of the film was much different when Hooper was the director. It originally had to do with a guy who was abused as a kid and spent his whole life locked in a house…until it burns down, that is. Once out in the real world, he has no idea how to deal with things and starts tearing people’s heads off. Somehow, when the director change was made, the killer was also changed to an alien. Honestly, I like that concept better. I mean let’s face it, messed up kid becomes murderous maniac movies are a dime a dozen. Giving us an slasher movie with an alien as the baddie is somewhat original, too bad the execution is the pits.
The film definitely lives up to it’s name, The Dark. It might’ve been the poor quality print I watched but this film features many lengthy nighttime sequences where it is almost impossible to discern what is going on because the screen is so dang dark. That aside, the story is muddled beyond belief. We spend the whole film following three different storylines which occasionally intersect and very rarely do anything to actually forward the story. Even the actual moments where the murderer attacks are pretty ho-hum and seem to be just thrown in randomly because somebody realized that something should actually happen at some point in the story.
The film is not helped by the fact that the characters are so uninteresting. Richard Jaeckel’s detective Mooney is the world’s most boring cop and looks like he literally has a wooden board up his back. William Devane’s character is even worse, since he seems to be playing at least three different personalities as the film progresses. When we’re introduced to him he looks like some guy desperately trying to hang on to the 60’s, but later in the film he comes off as somewhat of a 70’s lounge lizard, complete with a love nest he is more than willing to take Cathy Lee Crosby off to for the night. Devane also seems to be trying to channel Jack Nicholson at times, which is just plain embarrassing.
The flm’s soundtrack is one of the most grating I’ve ever heard. Whenever a suspenseful moment is approaching we hear this hissing style voice saying, “The Daaaaaaarrrrrrk.” Oh, but they do change it up occasionally. Sometimes it says, “The, the, the, the, the…..Daaaaaaaarrrrrrk.” I can deal with “chi chi chi chi, ah ah ah ah” in the Friday the 13th films, but this is enough to make you slam your head against the wall.
The film is not without a few entertaining moments. The final showdown with the alien exploding people left and right with its eye lasers was kind of fun. I think by that point I had finally shifted into enjoying this as a bad movie rather than trying to make any sense out of it. Speaking of things that don’t make sense, you’ll never believe who one of the producers of this film was. None other than Dick Clark. Yep, American Bandstand Dick Clark…drop the ball on New Year’s Eve Dick Clark…that guy! Clark did have hand in producing a few films, including Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, but this just doesn’t feel like his style.
When all the salutes to Tobe Hooper hit a few weeks back, The Dark was certainly not one of the films that entered the discussion. It’s probably a good thing it didn’t. It sounds like it was a mess behind the scenes, and it’s certifiable mess on the screen. We may never know the truth about who directed Poltergeist, but it looks like Hooper got the best part of the deal by being removed from this one.