Director: Jack Sholder
Image Entertainment

Not to be confused with its recent Hollywood namesake, ALONE IN THE DARK is one of those films released during the early 80s slasher heyday that has just been dieing for a DVD release. One of the first titles actually produced for, rather than just distributed by New Line Cinema, this first-feature from director Jack Sholder (A NIGHTMATE ON ELM STREET 2, THE HIDDEN), is best remembered today by its all-star cast of B movie legends.

Ppsychologist Dr. Dan Potter (Dwight Schulz, "Howling Mad" Murdock from “The A-Team) moves his family to a new home and accepts a job at the Haven asylum, run by the seemingly loony Dr. Leo Bain (Donald Pleasance). At the asylum, four dangerous inmates get their own private floor: Colonel Hawks (Jack Palance), a violent war veteran; Byron Sutcliff (Martin Landau), a preacher who likes to set fire to churches; Frank ‘Fatty’ Eldridge (Erland Van Lidth, THE WANDERERS), a massive child molester, and; “The Bleeder,” a strangler who gets nosebleeds during his murderous acts and now hides his face from sight.

Since the quartet is kept behind electronic doors, they make a quick escape from the asylum during a blackout, snapping the orderly’s body and killing a doctor in the process. During all the panic and looting, they are able to gather enough weapons and the necessary transportation to end up at Dr. Potter’s house. Hawks and the gang believe that Potter has killed his predecessor at the Haven, so they surround the family in the house during the night whilst the blackout is still on. More murders ensue as Potter and his wife (Deborah Hedwall), his young daughter (Elizabeth Ward) and his younger sister (Lee Taylor-Allan) fight for their lives from the crazies as they barricade themselves inside the large old house ala NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD!

ALONE IN THE DARK casts screen greats Jack Palance and Martin Landau (both during a low point in their careers and years before they picked up Oscars), as well as Donald Pleasance (at this point, booming in American terror films), and this is much to its advantage. These guys are colorful actors that can be very hammy, and when playing nutty, insane characters, they’re at their memorable best – a real treat for the audiences that dig this kind of cinema. As a horror/slasher film, the story is pretty unconventional, with some of the usual expected traits thrown in (like the attractive babysitter getting killed after having sex) making it far from exemplary, but easy to enjoy. Sometimes predicable, the convenient plot situations set up one dangerous scenario after the other, and a good amount of shocks are on hand, with significant doses of gore (even Tom Savini contributes a nasty looking zombie during a brief hallucination sequence). Though the story can be uneven, Sholder’s direction is evenly paced, and the rest of the acting is very good, especially Schulz – ironically the most rational character in the film, right before he became well known for playing a kook on television.

Image has done an excellent job with the transfer of ALONE IN THE DARK. In its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, the colors truly look bold and vivid, with nice fleshtones. Picture detail is very sharp, with the darker scenes (and there a lot of them here) being very easy to make out. This is a far cry from previous video versions, with the only (minor) flaw being some speckling in the source print. The audio track gives you DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 options, both which sound great.

A running commentary with director Sholder is on hand, and includes questions from time to time by a moderator. Lots of cool information is shared, as Sholder expresses that this wasn’t the easiest picture to shoot – from difficulties with Jack Palance (who complied and was professional in the end) to how the crew practically trashed the house that was used as Dr. Potter’s home. You’ll hear lots of good stories about the production, including that a young Matthew Broderick auditioned for a part but Shoulder turned him down because he thought he was too good for the film, and how Sholder blanked out in awe of Donald Pleasance when rehearsing lines with him.

Two featurettes are included, each running over 15 minutes. The first one interviews three members of the New York underground punk group, The Sic F*cks who performed two songs in the film, seen in a club when the blackout occurs. They share some amusing anecdotes about their career, appearing in the film and what they are doing today: lead singer Russell Wolinsky is now a Technical Services Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and backup singers Tish and Snooky Bellomo founded the first American punk rock boutique, Manic Panic, now a big mail-order business. The second featurette interviews actress Carol Levy, who played Bunky, the pretty blonde babysitter terrorized by a machete that pops up from under a bed mattress. Levy discusses her audition for the role, as well as how she did her own stunt when Erland Van Lidth picks her up by the throat. She also talks about several other films and commercials she was in, shows off her dexterity on camera, and she now owns her own real estate business in NYC. Other extras include New Line’s original R-rated theatrical trailer, a still gallery with a lot of foreign advertising art, and liner notes by Fangoria’s Michael Gingold. (George R. Reis)