Alone in the Dark [1982, dir. Jack Sholder]

by Jake Tishler

Jack Sholder first came to my attention about two years ago with his magnificent sci-fi cop drama ‘The Hidden.’  Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent from space who tracks a body hopping alien to earth, where he teams up with a hardened LA cop.   Sholder truly displays a cunning hand behind the camera pushing grandiose Hollywood style to its most expressive, comparable to other better known Hollywood/cult directors like Paul Verhoven.  An earlier film, ‘Alone in the Dark’ is not nearly as polished, but equally as inventive and bizarre.

The film begins with an amazing hook, placing the audience inside the surreal dream of a mentally ill patient locked in the asylum where our protagonist  finds himself newly employed.  A pot smoking new-agey psychologist, played hilariously by Donald Pleasance, runs the facility and quickly proves to the new Doc that his methods are perhaps unsound.  A wonderful scene details the hospital’s electronic security system when lead crazy patient Jack Palance (wonderfully subdued) serenely stretches his hands toward the glowing moon outside his window and a metal shutter slams shut before he can touch the glass.  Palance, leading a crew of the most dangerous patients on the violent third floor, convinces them that the new doctor killed his predecessor and he must be disposed of.  Then naturally there’s a power outage and all hell breaks loose.

On paper the plot seems pretty boilerplate, but all the characters really make the story pop.  Sholder strongly develops the new doctor’s family and gives much desired time to some side characters to raise the stakes when their lives are threatened.  The doctor’s mentally unstable sister comes to visit just in time for the craziness, but drags the doctor and his wife to a wild punk-rock show just before the inmates break loose.  Truly bizarre yet sincerely odd moments give Alone in the Dark a life and character rarely seen in slasher films.

After an extremely intense final act reminiscent of ‘Straw Dogs,’ Sholder gives us a surprising ending that defies expectation and brought a smile to my face.  And then he tops it, adding a epilogue that may be one of the best and strangest moments on film I’ve seen in recent memory.  I can’t give it away, it’s just too good.

Check out this little seen gem and for the love of god don’t accidentally rent the Uwe Boll/Christian Slater film of the same name.  Or, fuck it, do a double feature.

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