Robin’s Fourth Week #23 Recommendation: Alone in the Dark (1982)

No, this isn’t the recent stinker with Christian Slater, this is something much better. OK, marginally better.

On the surface, Alone in the Dark is a basic horror story about a group of psychopaths who break out of an asylum and wreak havoc on a small town. But this is a bit more interesting. The story centers on a young psychiatrist, Dan, who has just moved to a new town and taken a job in a very special asylum run by the free-wheeling, unconventional Dr. Bain. Dr. Bain has a very…open view of psychiatry and doesn’t like to lock up his patients, even the truly psychopathic ones who live on the third floor like it the Private Boys School Dorm of Evil. Included in the rogue gallery are Hawkes (a paranoid former Army colonel), “Preacher” (who likes to burn churches while occupied), “Fatty” (a gargantuan pedophile), and the infamous serial killer “The Bleeder.”

What happens is almost academic. Hawkes, thinking Dan has killed the well-liked doctor he replaced, rounds up the other nutjobs and arranges a breakout during a town blackout. This precipitates the gruesome death of every black character, the tormenting of a bike courier, the ruining of a dinner party, and some of the seriously worst police work in the history of law enforcement. Suffice to say, one of the big plot twists is both completely unbelievable and absolutely obvious at the same time. On the whole, a amusing little story.

But, as they say on the commercials, wait, there’s more! It’s the cast that really makes this little diamond of fear shine. Dan is played by Dwight Schultz, who would ironically go on to star as “Howling Mad” Murdock on The A-Team the following year and as “Pretty Screwed Up” Barkley on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Donald Pleasence, fresh of his second Halloween film as Dr. Sam Loomis, played, appropriately, nutty Dr. Bain. Joining him were two other great actors of their era as two of the psychopaths, Martin Landau as “Preacher” and Jack Palance burnin’ up celluloid as Hawkes (“Fatty,” though less known, will always be remembered from his less-than-star turn as “Dynamo” the singing gladiator in The Running Man). A young Brent Jennings, who has had a long and prolific career as a character actor, also has a minor role. Truly, one of the best B-movie casts ever.

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