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Hipster Holy Grail: The Dark (1979)

The Hipster Holy Grail is my ongoing quest to review an obscure movie before it becomes cool to talk about it. Good, bad, doesn't matter.  It just has to be at least 10 years old and have less than 1,000 ratings on IMDb. This week, I watched....

The Short Bit for People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

If it didn't have the involvement of Tobe Hooper (briefly), I suspect The Dark would have long ago vanished entirely from the world of B-movie horror.  There's precious little going on that's worth describing.

My Rating: 1.5 / 5

The Plot Summary

Sigh.

A fucking alien kills people at night sometimes, then it dies.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

...no, you're right, that's cheating.  Let's at least try.

A Slightly Better Plot Summary

The Dark opens with an aggravatingly dense text crawl, made worse by a Serling Lite narration that clumsily tells us that aliens exist and they might possibly come to Earth some time.  Then we cut to a fancy Hollywood party where a bunch of dipshits blather about something while a self-proclaimed psychic / mystic named De Renzy (Jacquelyn Hyde) spaces out and has ambiguous visions.

Little is done to explain how these visions happen, how much experience De Renzy has with them, or what their connection may be to everything else that follows.  But basically, De Renzy predicts doom and gloom and says it's going to be connected in some way to one of the dipshits at the party.


Later, a woman gets killed by an alien, in disguise as a person with bad makeup on, when she walks past a dark alley at night.  Or maybe that happened before the party.  I don't remember, it doesn't matter.

Eventually we catch up with the LAPD as they investigate the murder.  The detective on point, Dave Mooney (Richard Jaeckel), is a straight-and-narrow type who isn't fond of the media, but hates murderers slightly more.  He has a fat partner who serves as the bumbling comic relief, which usually translates to him dropping donuts or other fat guy food all over the place.  They have no leads on the murder and don't know what to make of it because they're great at their jobs.

Two other crucial characters get involved in the scene: Zoe Owens (Cathy Lee Crosby), an anchorwoman who wants to pursue a career as a more rugged journalist who asks tough questions like, "Was that lady murdered?" and "Are you going to find the murderer?", and Roy Warner (William Devane), our hero.  Warner is an ex-con who Detective Mooney put in jail a long time ago after he murdered his adulterous wife's lover in a jealous rage.  After being released on parole, Warner bettered himself by writing novels under the pseudonym "Steve Dupree," and now he's living a sweet, swanky life in LA.  But more importantly: the victim was his daughter, and he wants answers.

Cue the first of many scenes wherein everybody goes, "Gee, how did that person get murdered?  This murder is really unusual. Unlike any other murders that we normally see.  Too bad it's a mystery, I'd sure like to know who did it."  Whether they're pondering these questions to themselves, to their coworkers, or to the audience of their news station, it's all the same level of hard-hitting investigation without any resolution.


Warner decides to start snooping and tries to investigate his daughter's murder independently.  Mooney gets pissed off at him and tries to ward him off.  Mooney's boss yells at him for not keeping the public at bay better.  Zoe tries to do more reporting on the murder.  And then Zoe's boss yells at her for reporting too much, as he's in good with Mooney's boss and doesn't want to rattle the status quo.

Then the movie starts to loop in on itself.  Another murder happens, this time while a disembodied voice whispers, "The darkness!  The darkness!", and all the characters above go through the same motions again.  Somewhere along the way, De Renzy has more weird visions that amount to nothing.

And then another murder happens.  Possibly another.  Who knows how many, it doesn't matter.

Eventually Warner and Zoe meet and show a mutual attraction, so they start dating / investigating (investidating?) the case.  Somehow they make a connection to De Renzy, so they try to talk to her.  And through doing so, Warner gets a lead on that one dipshit from the beginning of the movie, and that somehow leads Warner tailing him, knowing that he may or may not be possessed by an alien spirit.  Warner and Zoe chase him to an abandoned factory of some sort, and Mooney chases them, and then there's a big dumb showdown fight where the alien kills a bunch of cops before Warner sets it on fire.  The end.


Oh, and there's also a tiny bit part from Casey Kasem as a forensics expert who keeps analyzing tissue found at the scene of each murder, and he's the first cop to suggest that the alien is an alien instead of some guy.  This comes to nothing since his conclusion isn't reached until like seventy minutes in and we've already seen the alien as an alien, so it's a surprise to nobody.

What I Liked / Didn't Like

There's exactly one thing in this movie to recommend: the alien kills people by shooting laser beams out of its eyes, which then explode upon impact.  This effect is pretty funny the first couple times, though even that gets worn out by the time the overlong climax happens.  It's made slightly funnier by the scenes in which the police describe other injuries the victims sustained, which couldn't possibly have happened because we already saw them blow up.

But I'll be honest.  I just don't have the energy to tear this movie apart.  It's so dull.  It sapped me of any desire to be snarky or mean.  It's just a big nothing movie.

I appreciated a lot of elements in it.  The whole thing has that funky, fuzzy, grimy vibe that '70s and '80s horror had, but with a '50s cornball mentality behind the horror and the murders.  A lot of the actors phone it in, but nobody's terrible.  And the movie at least functions as a movie on some basic level.  It's not a total clusterfuck like, say, The Third Society.


But "not the worst movie ever" is hardly glowing praise.  I would not recommend this to anybody and I'm disappointed that this is how I'm starting October this year.

How Much Hipster Cred Is It Worth?

I actually have to start by taking 20 points away.  The Dark has over 800 IMDb ratings, which means it's not terribly obscure at all.  It's practically on the verge of being well-known, and is almost certainly considered a "cult classic" among circles who care.

I can bring it back to zero cred for its pedigree: it was originally directed by Tobe Hooper and was one of his earliest movies, made just a few years after Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  But he left the production and was replaced by John Cardos, a B-movie regular who's been both in front of and behind the camera for many a cheese factory.

The movie gives you a taste of hipstery content.  Most of it is just drab dullness, but now and again you get special effects or dialogue or other crispy bits that scream "ironic viewing."  I think it's just enough to qualify for 10 cred.  Plus, there's some title-line-whispering when that disembodied voice goes, "The daaaaaaark...ness."


So, I'll give this a total of 15 hipster cred out of a possible 100.

Where You Can Watch

For whatever reason, society deemed The Dark worthy of preservation, so it's readily available in multiple formats.  You can buy it on DVD as part of a monster-themed multi-pack, you can stream it on Amazon Prime for free, and you can find it on Youtube for a modest price.