Monday, October 9, 2017

One Dark Night (1983) review


Meg Tilly (Julie Wells), Melissa Newman (Olivia McKenna), Robin Evans (Carol Mason), Leslie Speights (Kitty), Donald Hotton (Dockstader), E.G. Daily (Leslie Winslow), David Mason Daniels (Steve), Adam West (Allan McKenna)

Directed by Tom McLoughlin

The Short Version: Smack in the middle of slasher country came this intriguing telekinetic ghost flick that, while ambitious in its wacky storytelling, ends up a dull experience in paranormal horror. Totally out of place among the burgeoning popularity of 80s blood and gore, McLoughlin's movie feels more like a TV production till the last fifteen minutes when the payoff finally rises from its tomb. Prior to that, his picture has that British Gothic horror vibe going for it among some other qualities, if only it moved faster than a Romero zombie at high noon. Even at 90 minutes, this is ONE long DARK NIGHT.

The bodies of half a dozen young girls are found in the skid row apartment of a famous, and dead Russian occultist named Raymar. His alienated daughter learns from one of his colleagues that her father had become a sort of psychic vampire who fed off the bioenergy of his victims. Meantime, Julie, a young high school girl wishes to become a member of a sorority known as The Sisters. Her initiation requires she spend the night alone in a spooky mausoleum where Raymar has recently been interred. The few members of the sorority decide to terrorize Julie throughout the night; but what they don't realize is Raymar is slowly reviving himself from the fear of the women trapped inside... and soon to feed off of their lifeforce.

The slasher boom of the 80s had hit its peak by 1983 and it took director McLoughlin a few more before doing his own interpretation with JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI (1986). Not having a liking for that sort of thing, he co-wrote this peculiar paranormal tale that has become a minor cult item over the years.

McLoughlin's skills were also a writer and even a mime. The latter came in handy prior to his becoming a director when he got inside Tom Burman's mutant bear suit in John Frankenheimer's eco-horror PROPHECY (1979). 

McLoughlin's first feature as a director initially came to life as 'Rest In Peace', but was eventually changed to ONE DARK NIGHT when it hit theaters in 1983. The director and his co-writer Mike Hawes (a gravestone in the opening credits bears his name) were really high on this story; it's not like anything else that was done at the time. The nearest comparison could be PHANTASM (1979) or POLTERGEIST (1982). It has that same otherworldly vibe about it. Unfortunately, there's not enough sustainable metaphysical elements to keep the film's stamina up.

Unfolding like a throwback to the type of horror the British used to make, the film feels more like a glossier Made For TV horror picture than a theatrical one. Interestingly, McLoughlin would go on to a vibrant career directing television pictures. As for ONE DARK NIGHT, its PG rating might repel some viewers, but reward them with some corpse gore during the finale--brief that it is. By comparison, TOURIST TRAP (1979) is PG, but far more frightening than anything in ONE DARK NIGHT. That's really the biggest fault found here is that the pace is as slow as a recently risen corpse. It simply doesn't move. Very little happens till the last 15 minutes. That's not to say McLoughlin's movie isn't free of merit, it's just that the leisurely pace wrecks havoc with what little suspense is derived. At just 90 minutes, it feels more like two hours.

Even though most everyone involved in the picture was relieved to not be doing a slasher-type thriller, McLoughlin's movie isn't bereft of ideas customary to that genre. The plot device of Julie having to spend the night in a creepy mausoleum only for her sorority sisters to torment her was similar to HELL NIGHT (1981) from a couple years earlier. The bad girl trope is also accounted for in the form of Robin Evans in her first movie role. Her last was as Sho Kosugi's wife in RAGE OF HONOR (1987).

The work of Tom Burman and company (Ellis Burman, Bob Williams) offer up 14 ghoulish cadavers that float after the fleeing females during the finale. Melting dead-people flesh is another highlight for those looking for something to push the PG rating to its limit. Sadly, there's not enough of these moments; the few on hand are reserved for the ending. If your attention is held for 75 minutes, you do get a good payoff.

Some other things the picture has going for it are some suitably atmospheric photography, lighting, and a good score--particularly strong cues during the last half when the focus shifts to the mausoleum. Burial chambers were centerpieces in some other horror films around this time such as MAUSOLEUM (1982) and FRIGHTMARE (1983). In opposition to ONE DARK NIGHT, both those movies took advantage of their exploitation potential going for the gore and overall outrageous scripting ideas.

Meg Tilly hadn't been acting for very long prior to starring in ONE DARK NIGHT. It was her first major role, and a few other genre roles followed including a co-starring turn in PSYCHO II (1983). Her character is well served by the script--spending just enough time for some audience identification. Meg is the younger sister of Jennifer Tilly who horror fans will know from the Chucky series of killer doll movies.

Batman himself, Adam West, has a supporting role playing the husband to Raymar's daughter, Olivia. He doesn't have much impact on the movie and nearly all his scenes are inside his house. This was his first horror film and, according to a Fangoria article from the time, he seemed pleased with the film and working under McLoughlin's direction.

If you're a fan of this movie the new Code Red bluray is an essential purchase for the extras alone (see below). Among these is a work print version of the film that runs a little over a minute longer than the theatrical release. As for the film itself, it has some recommendable qualities such as its unusual storyline; only the telling of it is done in a lackadaisical fashion. Akin to its antagonist that subsists on the life force of his victims, there's simply not enough energy to sustain interest for many beyond the cult film crowd that has kept it alive all these years. Those with a taste for 80s horror will be the best audience to undertake the horror found during this Dark Night.

This review is representative of the Code Red bluray. Specs and Extras: New 2016 HD master; 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen; work print version of the movie; behind the scenes (40 minutes); audio commentary with director McLoughlin and writer Hawes; new audio commentary with director McLoughlin and producer Schroeder; interviews (7 in total); Paul Clemens Scrapbook; original trailer. running time:01:28:32

You can purchase the bluray HERE.

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