Tuesday, April 3, 2007
#2: Alone in the Dark (Jack Sholder, 1982)
"Alone in the Dark" boasts a cast list unique in the annals of cinema history: Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Donald Pleasence, punk band The Sick Fucks, and Dwight Schultz (better known as "Howlin' Mad" Murdock on "The A-Team"). It is worth seeing for this reason alone. Fortunately, there are many other reasons to see it. I'm not one to particularly give a damn about plot, but "Alone in the Dark" has a great one that gives the actors a chance to go apeshit. Schultz plays a psychologist who has just been hired at a prestigious but highly unorthodox mental hospital run by Pleasence, a supreme hippie oddball who loves to bearhug everyone and smokes pot out of a pipe while at work. Pleasence is a proponent of the touchy-feely peacenik values of understanding the disturbed that may work in real life but certainly don't fly in horror films. Jack Palance is the ringleader of a murderous quartet of psychopaths, including Landau, who are locked up in the maximum security ward of the institution. When Pleasence introduces Schultz to the gang, the wheels start spinning in crazy Jack's head. He decides, pretty much out of the blue, that Schultz has murdered the beloved psychologist who previously held his job and hatches a plan to kill him. When a city-wide blackout shorts out the electric locks in the hospital and Palance, Landau, and the other two non-famous psychopaths escape, it is time for City Slickers 3: The Search for Murdock's Entrails. First, our lovable psychos break into a shopping center and take some crossbows, axes, etc., and proceed to knock the shit out of everyone in the parking lot. Then they surround Schultz's house. The mild-mannered, non-violent Schultz is forced to react to this "Rio Bravo"/"Straw Dogs"/"Assault on Precinct 13"/"Night of the Living Dead" scenario and protect his wife, daughter, and visiting sister (who is recovering from a mental breakdown of her own and, incidental to the plot, loves smoking pot and listening to punk and reggae) through extreme vigilante-ism. Don't miss the scene where Palance visits a punk club and fits right in because he's punker than punk (i.e., he laughs maniacally, beats the shit out of some people, and lets a punk rock chick fellate his gun). The two non-famous psychos' nicknames are "Bleeder" and "Fatty." The latter is an overweight pedophile and the former gets a bloody nose whenever he's about to go on a rampage. Yes, it just keeps getting more ridiculous, and thank god for that, but Sholder's film is also streamlined, lean, and effective. It's paced like a crime film or solid action movie, but finds time for plenty of black humor and a couple of visually impressive dream sequences. Some pretty sweet kills as well.
And one of the psychos occasionally wears a hockey mask, beating Jason's first appearance with a hockey mask by a few months. (Of course, that would be in "Friday the 13th: 3D." Before that, Jason wore a burlap sack, because nothing is more terrifying than burlap.) This movie is so much fun.
Coincidentally, we rented this film the week Palance died. It is a worthy tribute.
In another coincidence, it is the second film in a row on the list to be shot in New Jersey.