The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: ONE DARK NIGHT (1983)
After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. GATW’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!
Will teenagers ever learn?
Time and time again high school and college students put themselves in the worst situations from camping in the woods with alcohol and drugs to spending the night in supposed haunted houses, or anyplace closed for the night. Don’t they realize they are in a horror movie? OK, so maybe they don’t but the rules here are stacked against them and very few, if any, will make it out of the locale alive. The good news for the characters in ONE DARK NIGHT, though bad news for the audience, is there is a low body count. This is not to say that the ride will be all matching jackets and toothbrushes - or peaches and cream if you will.
Julie Wells (Meg Tilly) is desperate to fit in with the cool crowd at school. A few of the said girls have a group/sorority/gang known as the “Sisters” that they proudly promote with their swanky embroidered purple satin jackets. She’s very close to being in with the girls if she can only pass through the initiation phase where she will have to spend the night, alone, in a mausoleum. Usually harmless, but unknown to the girls there is a new resident named Raymar who had extreme telekinetic powers in life and may still possess that same thirst for energy in death.
Oh girls, girls, girls. These kids should know that any time there is some sort of initiation scheme it does not end well. I guess this might not be common knowledge and something I know because I’ve watched so many horror flicks over the years. If ever there’s a person, or persons, staying in a “haunted” place for the night and those forcing them to stay there are going to try to scare them in some way you can pretty much guarantee bad shit is going to happen. It didn’t work in HELL NIGHT (1981), it didn’t work in THE INITIATION (1984), and it doesn’t work here. All you accomplish is having most of the people die leaving a lonely pledge escaping. Why put everyone through that?
Going into this film all I knew is that it had to do with teens, a mausoleum and zombies. Well, that’s not exactly what I got, but I guess two out of three isn’t bad as they say. There is the whole other plot without the kids dealing with the recently deceased Raymar, and that’s how the film opens. At the magic man’s apartment he is found dead along with the bodies of six women. He’s referred to as a “psychic vampire” because he drains life energy from those around him to increase his powers in the way of telekinesis. The film bounces back and forth between Raymar’s daughter, Olivia, dealing with her somewhat estranged father’s death and Carol, Leslie, and Kitty getting ready to pull one over on Linda. Because of this it takes about a half an hour before the girls even arrive at the mausoleum and clue the poor girl in on her undertaking (ha!) for the evening. Even after that things don’t go so speedily and it continues to bounce back and forth between those stories and Linda’s boyfriend who’s worried about her trying so hard to fit in and searching for her. At times this can be a little boring. So much so that with the pacing and PG rating it feels pretty made-for-TV for a large part of the movie.
But things change.
The last twenty minutes of this film transcend to something quite awesome! After spending the last hour watching very little happen you get a taste of what Raymar could - scratch that - can really do. All fun and games go out the window for Kitty and Carol, who are pretending to be ghosts to scare Linda, when the recently deceased proves his talents are powerful even in death and he calls to his neighboring corpses to help harvest more living energy. This is where the zombie aspect comes into play, though let me make this clear - they are not zombies. People will claim that’s what they are but they are wrong. While they are dead bodies “attacking” these girls, they aren’t acting or moving of their own accord. Raymar is playing puppet master and using his abilities to move these stiffs around like avatars in some sort of game. They all float. When the hell did you ever hear of floating zombies? And don’t tell me zombies in space. Jeez!
The FX used in this end sequence are fairly dated and look quite fake most of the time. Our floating dead either appear to be skeletons in varying degrees of distress or they resemble mannequins and wax figures that have melted a bit in the sun. Even though they can be laughable at times there is still something kinda creepy about they way in which they glide along. Most of this is helped by a shot McLoughlin uses where you see the tips of their toes barely scrapping the ground as they hover. Very simple but effective.
One great thing this flick has is a wonderful assortment of supporting cast, whether they have 30 minutes or 30 seconds of screen time. Probably the most face time goes to the super cute Elizabeth Daily who you might know from VALLEY GIRL or her role as the infatuated Dottie in PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE. She’s just so damn adorable and I wish we got to see more of her. Adam West also has a part as Olivia’s husband. He’s unwilling to hear any rubbish about psychic powers, presumably because he’s got the Commissioner on his back. In one very brief scene we see a very tall basketball player in the locker room, played by none other than 7’2” actor Kevin Peter Hall - the man inside PREDATOR and HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS! I love Hall, even his work on the short lived TV show MISFITS OF SCIENCE in the mid-80's. All performances aside, the one I want to see more from was that of the cemetery’s caretaker, played by Martin Nosseck. His small role is just perfect. Cranky and comical. I wish that his character would have played a bigger part in the rest of the film. Sadly he passed away just two days after filming his part.
Leslie: “No way, I’m not going in that place. If you wanna go, you go, Hugo.”
Not everything about this movie is super serious, there is plenty to chuckle about. It is the early 80's after all. One of the girls, Kitty, constantly keeps a toothbrush in her mouth and it must throw off her balance because the girl falls from the lamest heights and injures herself each time. Of course the fashions are always something to laugh about from a film in this time period. Leslie wears boot/moccasin hybrid footwear that are even more ridiculous than Ugg boots and Oliva dons a robe that looks like someone skinned the Snuggle Fabric Softener bear and dyed his fur pink. And who can forget those satin Sisters jackets? Can you say sexy?
While this isn’t the blood-soaked craziness we love about 80's horror, it does have some redeeming qualities and decent performances. There is a double disc DVD out from Shriek Show with a whole bunch of behind-the-scenes goodies and extras. Not really the kind of film for everyone but fans of late-70's/early-80's horror will probably get a kick out of this. If nothing else you get to see a very lame death scene for the two “Sisters” as they’re crushed to death (I guess) by corpses that dog pile atop of them. That’s scary, right?
Until next week - don’t take part in any crazy initiation scheme or you’ll probably end up toe up.
Body Count: 2 (7 more if you count those already dead in Raymar’s apartment)
Best Death: Raymar’s Corpse Meltdown
Best Line of Cheesy 80s Slang:“Nerdle Brain”
Number of Times Camerawork in Mausoleum Made Me Think of PHANTASM: At least 6
Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-4/13/11: SCARED TO DEATH (1981)
-4/20/11: NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1980)
-4/27/11: TICKS (1993)
-5/4/11: DREAMANIAC (1986)