Alone in the Dark: Forgotten Home Invasion Thriller Worth a Few Scares

Before New Line Cinemas struck gold with the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, it was largely an independent film distribution company. By the 1980s, New Line was slowly breaking into producing its own original movies. Not surprisingly, one of its early successes was a small horror movie – Alone in the Dark. And no, not Uwe Boll’s dreadful adaptation of the video game by the same name. Part slasher movie, part home invasion thriller, Alone in the Dark boasted a better-than-expected cast alongside a simple yet effective premise. Though not head-over-heels for the movie, critics didn’t hate it. And now Scream Factory has finally given the movie a Blu-ray upgrade.

Synopsis

Psychiatrist Dr Dan Potter has upended his family for a new position at the unconventional psychiatric facility, The Haven. Despite his initial excitement at the opportunity, The Haven’s most difficult – and dangerous – patients resent Dr Potter. The fourmen believe Potter murdered and replaced their favourite psychiatrist, Dr Merton. When a citywide blackout disrupts The Haven’s security system, the patients escape and launch a brutal assault against Dr. Potter’s family.

Alone in the Dark Drops Off More Then a Few Scares At Your Doorstep

Four escaped maniacs terrorizing a family during a blackout sounds like a perfect, lean formula for a horror movie. By and large, director Jack Sholder exploits the concepts to almost maximum effect. Like many older horror movies, Alone in the Dark takes its time getting to where you know it’s going. As a result, for its first 30 minutes or so, the thriller leans on some dark humor as it introduces its killers. However, once its escaped mental patients are on the loose Alone in the Dark embraces its more morbid side. Following a gruesome killing amidst a riot Sholder wrings out quite a bit of suspense when he puts one of his killers- a child predator – alone in a house with Potter’s daughter. Moments later Alone in the Dark turns up the scares again with a bedroom fright scene that ends in unsettling fashion.

Does the big reveal technically make sense? No.

Still the three writers it took to pen Alone in the Dark’s screenplay occasionally overburden their simple premise. That is, Alone in the Dark sometimes thinks it has something interesting to say about our world and just who is crazy. And then it remembers that its big surprise revolves around a serial killer with nosebleeds nicknamed, “The Bleeder”. In fact, The Bleeder’s identity – he’s shy and refuses to show his face – does manage to deliver quite the surprise. Does the big reveal technically make sense? No. Nonetheless, it works and fits well with the third act’s macabre home invasion arc.

Alone in the Dark Benefits from a Better-Than-Expected Cast

Looking back now, for a low-budget thriller, Alone in the Dark packs an impressive cast. Not one, but two, eventual Oscar Best Actors are present – Jack Palance and Martin Landau. In fact, Alone in the Dark’s big surprise – the identity of ‘The Bleeder'” – is the least interesting member of the movie’s escaped maniacs. And if Sholder errs it’s the decision to spend more time with the dull Potter family instead of the far more interesting killers. This is no knock on Dwight Schultz’s (The A-Team) performance, which is quite good for this sort of movie. But Schultz’s role was to play it straight while Palance et al chewed the scenery. Schultz does well with what he’s given, but a little scene-chewing wouldn’t have hurt.

And if Sholder errs it’s the decision to spend more time with the dull Potter family instead of the far more interesting killers.

Unfortunately, even when Alone in the Dark focuses on its killers it spends more time with the far less interesting Ronald ‘Fatty’ Elster. Though Erland van Lidth makes for a physically imposing villain, he lacks either Palance’s or Landau’s screen presence. Any time Palance’s ‘Frank Hawkes’ or Landau’s ‘Preacher’ are on screen, Alone in the Dark feels like an exploitation flick worthy of cult status. Anyone familiar with Palance or Landau’s work knows they can ham it up with the best. Throw in a wonderfully eccentric performance from Donald Pleasence (Halloween) and one can’t help but wonder how good Alone in the Dark could have been if it spent a little more time with these actors.

Alone in the Dark Effectively Mixes Slasher and Home Invasion Stories

No one’s likely to confuse Alone in the Dark for a classic horror movie. Yet in spite of a few pacing problems, it’s a pretty effective little mix of slasher and home invasion movie. There’s a handful of decent shocks and, even if the third act surprise doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, it’s a still a good WTF moment. Besides, if the biggest complaint about Alone in the Dark is that it needed more Landau, Palance, and Pleasance, then the movie did something right. Horror fans might one to consider adding this one to their Blu-ray collection.

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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