With an opening scene that plays like some community theatre production of a horror stage play adaptation of Hooper’s “Nighthawks,” ALONE IN THE DARK establishes his campy-creepy fucked up worldview with a flourish.
Hard to imagine the film going any other way, with three dedicated scenery-chewers in the mix: Donald Pleasance, Martin Landau and Jack Palance.
Pleasance runs an asylum that’s holding Landau, Palance and a handful of other extremely dangerous men. They’re kept from the public by a security system (“all run by electricity,” as Pleasance says in an early scene), but when a blackout hits their town, the system is rendered useless, and the band of maniacs hits the street.
The backbone narrative doesn’t really matter here. It’s really just there to support the homicidal shenanigans of Landau and company. So much of it strains credibility — an institution doesn’t have a backup power source for the system holding in insane murderers? — but the creeps and the kills make up for those weaknesses.
What works here is the balance of campy excess and more restrained horror. A scene mid-film where one of the maniacs stumbles upon a house with a girl and her boyfriend plays like a perfectly contained short film in itself, tense and terrifying. It’s a sharp counterpoint to the cheesy bar band and Pleasance’s completely bonkers psychiatrist. The film is tonally all over the place, in the best possible way, and it’s a lot more fun than horror films that take their scares more seriously.
It’s a delicious little movie.