Friday, June 4, 2010

ALONE IN THE DARK (1982) - psychiatry is serious business, and business is good

Jack Palance never met a phallic symbol he didn't like

Opening with a dream sequence that has Donald Pleasence sticking a machete in Martin Landau’s crotch, one might get the impression that Alone in the Dark is a sad, exploitation last gasp for these respected actors (and this is before Jack Palance shows up). Truth be told, AITD uses these veteran actors extremely well. One gets the sense that they are relishing their license to ham it up unmercifully.

Donald Pleasence plays one of those “experimental” doctors who “has his detractors”. However, seeing how he runs his nutbag house, his methods seem to make sense to me. He allows his patients to live out their delusions and such, like letting a split personality yell at itself; “you promised me weekend custody of both legs! How am I going to run the charity marathon on Saturday without legs?!? Don’t you care about saving children who lack a third eye?!?”.

The lame white guy from the A-Team (so, definitely not Mr. T, that there is a brother) is a new doctor at the hospital. As it turns out, the hospital has electronically controlled doors and gates to keep the nutballs from escaping. Hmmmm, plot device? Well, Mr. A-Team, his wife and sister celebrate his new job by seeing The Sick Fucks in concert (playing their smash single “Chop Up Your Mother)”. A-Team, being lame and white, can’t stand this kind of music, as he frankly seems like a Steely Dan type of a guy.

Lo and behold, an entire power grid goes out, and the crazies escape from the asylum, destroying a local strip mall for no reason (although we’re probably better off). The fat one even dons a hockey mask and slashes someone, this being before Jason Voorhees thought to do so (although in fairness, Jason is a bit slow on the upkeep). Alone in the Dark never did properly cash in on America’s obsession with watching mongoloids murder people while dressed as a Canadian sports hero the way the Friday the 13th series did. Then again, maybe Americans don’t care about hockey as much as they love Jason and his no frills personality. Why not.

Meanwhile, A-Team’s wife and sister get busted for protesting a nuclear power plant (nukes are for pukes after all), but meet a nice fellow who may or may not be a factor in the final act. This leaves daughter Lyla at home by herself while the fat nutter decides to pay A-Team’s house a visit. It seems the escaped lunatics have some sort of vendetta against him that doesn’t make any sense, but they are crazy, after all (although my penchant for losing track of narratives may be a factor).

Don’t worry though. Although Lyla looks to be about 11 or so, she is bursting with precociousness and has the brains to match. She easily handles the 400 pound wacko that’s trying to molest her, rolling her eyes at his lame advances. Mom calls Bunky the babysitter from jail, the smoking hot security blanket with the saucer eyes, to check in on Lyla, who is fast asleep, with nary a plump Nambla retard in sight. Bunky promptly calls her “boyfriend”, a 140 lb weakling schmuck (yes I’m jealous), to come over and bunk her repeatedly. Unfortunately, one of the crazies is underneath the bed with a huge knife, and Bunky nearly gets her crotch serrated through the mattress. Either way, they both end up dead.

Well, nothing comes of this legally speaking (I guess the crazies are sane enough to be able to scrub away all the DNA evidence and hide the bodies), and the whole family gets together for dinner in the dark (along with a cop for protection and the mystery guy from the jail). They are soon under siege by the crazies, who must’ve seen Straw Dogs one too many times (or maybe Assault on Precinct 13). In a funny character reversal, Lyla, who earlier had warned her mom and aunt about the dangers of pot smoking, asks for a valium amidst the tense horrors of the situation. Go ahead and toss me one too while you're at it.

The incredible epilogue has Jack Palance, the surviving looney, walking into the club from earlier with a gun (this was when you could bring firearms into a punk show; before the whole thing went corporate). The Sick Fucks are playing again, and their awesome music just might make him wanna blow somebody away. Instead, he decides that these are his kind of folks...fucking nuts.

On the whole, the bulk of AITD can be described as a “black dramedy”, with a few horror/slasher/suspense sequences. Director Jack Sholder (known for the gay themed Nightmare on Elm Street 2, and that movie where an alien possesses a blonde chick in a Ferrari, and she blows away oink officers for no reason), if memory serves, claimed to be influenced by Jean Renoir, and, after a couple a viewings, I kinda see it. AITD relies on a mostly witty script and excellent performances across the board, instead of the usual titties and blood approach (although there’s a little bit of that).

While I normally only like children in horror films if they are dying or doing the killing, it is young Lyla, who, against all odds, is my favorite character in the film. She’s an innocent bystander amidst this adult world of insanity and feeble attempts to maintain order, frustrated that, despite being the brainiest of the bunch (she’s 10 or 11 and has a calculator watch; I rest my case), she is forced to tolerate these knuckleheads and their diseased social dynamic. At least until age 18 or so, when she goes off to MIT, or maybe becomes the smartest stripper in Hollywood. Until then, she is left with only her sardonic quips and “who ya goofin’ buddy!” shoulder shrugs to get her through her childhood.

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