STARRING: Jack Palance (Frank Hawkes), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Leo Bain), Martin Landau (Byron "Preacher" Sutcliff), Dwight Schultz (Dr. Dan Potter), Erland Van Lidth (Ronald "Fatty" Elster), Deborah Hedwall (Nell Potter), Lee Taylor-Allen (Tonie Potter), Phillip Clark (Tom Smith), Elizabeth Ward (Lyla Potter), and Brent Jennings (Ray Curtis)
DIRECTOR: Jack Sholder SCREENPLAY: Jack Sholder (based on a story by Jack Sholder, Robert Shaye, and Micheal Harpster) PRODUCER: Robert Shaye
'ALONE IN THE DARK' TAKES SUMMER HORROR DOWN SOME SURPRISING ALLEYS
A review by Howard Reich of THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE
(out of 4)
Great filmmaking pops up in the oddest places.
Consider Alone in the Dark, half of a summer spooks double bill in which the ads promise plenty of blood and corpses.
Unlike most films of the meat-ax variety, however, Alone in the Dark turns out to be a first-rate film in a class with such small-scale chillers as John Carpenter's Halloween and Brian DePalma's Sisters. As in those films, its terror is created not by lavish special effects but by relentless ingenuity of storytelling.
The offbeat plot concerns a mental institution in which the patients are given more freedom to roam than one would customarily expect. The Haven is a bold experiment in according the insane the same rights as the sane.
That experiment is put to a ghastly test during a blackout that leaves both the institution and its surrounding town without electrical power. Three inmates escape, free to wander the darkened streets.
What results is an ingenious and horrifying game that is played, essentially, between filmmaker and audience. The question is, who will get it, and when?
It's not giving anything away to say director-screenwriter Jack Sholder teases the viewer mercilessly. When the murders occur, the victim is never the one whom we expect. And there is madness to the killers' methods.
Beyond the goosebumps, though, Alone in the Dark continually asks questions about the nature of sanity.
When one of the Havenís escaped inmates slugs his way into a punk bar, the "normal" patrons cheer. And when looters begin plundering shops during the blackout, the escapees join in. Clearly, the line between sanity and insanity has been temporarily erased.
Visually, every camera position has been designed to maximize the terror of the moment. Bizarre angles, expressionistic distortions and strange tints all enhance the evening of crime.
The performances are nothing short of eloquent, particularly Jack Palance as a trembling killer and Donald Pleasence as a slightly crazed psychiatrist.
It must be said, however, that Alone in the Dark is extremely violent. The camera does not flinch when the blow is dealt.
But if one allows that even violence can be artfully presented, then Alone in the Dark is most effective art.