By 1967, young ingénue Audrey Hepburn had matured into one of the most-loved women in Hollywood, adored by audiences and her co-workers alike. Who would have suspected an Academy-award winning actress (ROMAN HOLIDAY) and regular of countless romantic comedies (SABRINA, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S) and poignant dramas (THE CHILDREN'S HOUR, THE UNFORGIVEN) would appear in a horror film? And not just any horror film, but her last film role for almost 10 years? That film was WAIT UNTIL DARK, a claustrophobic suspense thriller playing on the audience's darkest fear of being alone in a dark room with a murderous maniac.
Audrey Hepburn is Susy Hendrix, a young blind woman living in a New York brownstone with herphotographer husband, Sam (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., in a borderline detestable character). Pushed by Sam and herself to be "the world's champion blind lady," Susy is thrown a challenge when a trio of criminals discovers a child's doll filled with heroin has mysteriously found itself inside her apartment. Through multiple disguises and characters, the three baddies (led by sinister murderer Roat, played to the hilt by Alan Arkin) move in for the kill...until Susy, with the aid of young neighbor Gloria (Julie Herrod), discover their plot and are left on their own to fend for themselves...
I think some viewers may not realize how truly innovative WAIT UNTIL DARK really was. Very few horror films of that time were making great use of lighting or the lack thereof and a limited set, almost like a stage play (as the project originated, with Lee Remick as Susy), reeking of claustrophobic terror. In fact, following PSYCHO, Young's film could be considered the first modern horror film by some, playing on real-life emotions felt in the heart of the audience. The picture is anchored by two really brilliant performances: the never disappointing Audrey Hepburn and the psychotic edge of Alan Arkin. In every film I've seen starring Ms. Hepburn, whenever she is in peril or has suffered a tremendous blow to her happiness, I have been moved to tears because of her warm personality and downright cute persona. Here, she is shown as aching to live a normal life despite the loss of her eyesight, and her determination in spite of all odds is what makes Suzy a superb heroine, a character of great fragility that we care for, and I can't see anyone but Audrey Hepburn playing her. She was nominated for an Academy Award for the film, but lost out to "the other Hepburn" for GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER?. Alan Arkin has really never received his props for being a superb actor, and here he plays the villain for all he's worth, wielding a switchblade, taunting Susy with licking flames, and double-crossing his partners to take part in one of the most suspenseful showdowns in film history. Able support is given by veteran character actors Richard Crenna, Jack Weston, a brief appearance by lovely Samantha Jones, and surprisingly apt child actress Julie Herrod. Two knocks against the film: the cheesy vocal theme song "Wait Until Dark" playing over the end credits should have been ditched. And in today's political climate, and actually the political climate of one year after shooting (1968), Audrey's determination to please her husband, regardless of how shabbily he treats her, leaves a sour taste in one's mouth. But both moments are so brief they are forgotten in the sheer terror of the surrounding thriller.
After a long wait for this flick to hit DVD, those familiar with the print of the VHS will see some familiar territory here. Letterboxed at 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced, colors are strong in certain areas, but there are plenty of instances of dirt, white lines, and an INCREDIBLE amount of grain on hand in this transfer. The mono audio is nothing to cheer about, either, but it works well, especially in the final 20 minutes. Thankfully, the film's so good one can live with the flaws in the a/v department, but unfortunately the time for a pristine digital presentation of WAIT UNTIL DARK isn't now.
Extras are not as extensive as some fans of the film would hope, but Warners has put together quite a nice little package here. The theatrical trailer is incredibly effective, with the narrator correctly spouting "The film you will remember when you are alone....". Great use of a heartbeat and the editing is superb! A second trailer features the proclamation that the finale will be shown in the lowest light legally possible! I can't imagine the intensity of seeing WAIT UNTIL DARK in a dark theater, it would magnify the experience by at least triplefold. The featurette "A Look in the Dark" features interviews with star Alan Arkin and producer Mel Ferrer, who was also Audrey Hepburn's husband at the time. Both praise Hepburn's performance highly, and since it is a performance-driven film confined to one location for the majority of the running time, discussion of the interaction between actors is appreciated, but there isn't much more information gleaned on the actual making of the film. It's still great to see both actors appear on-camera (for Ferrer, it's an incredibly rare treat to see him!). "Stage Frantics" are brief liner notes discussing the originations of WAIT UNTIL DARK as a stage play and its successful theater and film incarnations. Surprisingly, the play was revived in 1998 starring Marisa Tomei and Quentin Tarantino (what?!?!?!) and failed miserably. "Cast and Crew" is merely a page of cast and credits, with no further bios or filmographies.
Fans of WAIT UNTIL DARK should be glad that Warner Brothers unearthed this classic out of mothballs and pressed it onto DVD, even though the final results are less than stellar. For what it's worth, this is a must-have disc, a superb thriller that still works in today's guts-n-grue horror climate and cheers to Warners for giving us this baby in time for a handy Halloween viewing! (Casey Scott)
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