Wow, two Oscar winners in one low-budget, 40-year-old slasher!
Jack Palance and Martin Landau are half a quartet of escaped lunatics paying a surprise visit to their new mental health practitioner in Alone in the Dark, a New Line Cinema oddity from writer-director Jack Sholder (The Hidden, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2).
Palance is underutilized as Frank Hawkes, a paranoid schizophrenic, but Landau chews the scenery like a great herbivorous swamp dinosaur as Byron Sutcliffe, a pyromaniac pastor with a permanently deranged countenance.
With the arrival of Doctor Dan Potter (Dwight Schultz, from The A-Team), the new shrink at the Haven Mental Hospital, Hawkes takes it into his head that Potter must have murdered their former doctor, and that he will soon kill all of them.
Donald Pleasance does the heavy lifting as stoner psychiatrist Leo Bain, the director of Haven Hospital. Bain’s ludicrous touchy-feely therapy encourages the patients to truly explore their various psychotic “trips.”
“Preacher likes to set fire to churches, that’s his trip. Unfortunately he does it when there are people inside,” Hawkes explains to Potter.
Along with monstrous pedophile Ronald “Fatty” Elster (Erland van Lidth, The Wanderers) and a vicious (but shy) maniac nicknamed “The Bleeder” (Phillip Clark), Hawkes and Preacher escape captivity during a power blackout caused by theatrical punk band The Sick Fucks, who are playing at a nearby bar.
The showdown, the siege of Dr. Potter’s house, ain’t exactly Straw Dogs, but Pleasance does his zany best confronting his runaway loonies with platitudes and mumbo jumbo.
Taken as a whole, Alone in the Dark isn’t a very good movie. It’s light on gore, characters appear and disappear randomly, and at least one subplot, involving Dr. Potter’s wife and sister going to a Nuclear Power protest, stretches credulity beyond all known limits.
Somehow, through the awkward combination of dormant star power, budget-constraint innovation, and tongue-in-cheek pseudoscience, it remains a kooky curio worthy of attention even 40 years later.
When Potter tells Bain that the escapees are armed and have killed several people, the latter shrugs, “Well, what do you expect? It’s a violent world out there.”
Right you are, doc.