Jack Sholder’s 1982 horror film “Alone in the Dark” suffers from undeserved obscurity; it’s a morbid and utterly mind bending little thriller that taps popular films, but still ends up a truly great little horror flick when all is said and done. “Alone in the Dark” is its own breed of the revenge film mixed with a Monster in the House film, ending with a mish mash of genre tropes audiences will appreciate when the dust has settled. Jack Sholder’s horror film has a surefire unique style of its own with some scenes that are just outright surreal.
Dan Potter has just moved into a new town and is now the resident psychiatrist for the local insane asylum. Interestingly enough, the current patients have garnered an attachment to the previous doctor, and Dan isn’t welcomed by them in the slightest. He’s shut out, alienated, threatened, and is intent on proving himself to the bizarre doctor Leo Bain. As explained, the four primarily dangerous patients that lurk in their rooms up on the third floor are convinced that Potter killed their favorite therapist who once resided in the asylum, and intends on avenging him once and for all. Doctor Potter is now their unofficial enemy they must kill. Thanks to a rolling black out one night, the electricity to the bars of the asylum go down and the patients break free, wreaking bloody havoc on the wardens and, in the midst of chaos in the town, find their way to Dr. Potter.
A shell shocked military veteran, a pyromaniac preacher, a large child molester, and an unseen maniac are the primary antagonists for Dr. Potter and his family, and the race against time ensues. Potter must hope the police track them down, but before he can find them, they begin to corrupt his personal life and his daughter’s safety. “Alone in the Dark” was unfairly advertised as a slasher film and forgotten for a long time, and for sensible reasons. Sholder and company seem intent on tapping the “Halloween” pool even including Donald Pleasance as a psychiatrist who involves himself with his psychotic patients, and feels he can talk to them more than anyone else can.
There’s even one in the group that never reveals his face, and is shrouded in a Jason mask. He also mysteriously bleeds from his nose after every murder he commits; a key plot device. Director Sholder borrows from many of Carpenter’s storytelling staples, even including the slaying of a sexy babysitter, but for all intents and purposes, those derivations are forgiven. Because, it all sums up as a harrowing glimpse into madness, that becomes a wonderful variation on “Straw Dogs.” Folks like Jack Palance and Martin Landau give utterly menacing performances, as they dive into the personalities of these pure animals, and we’re aware that like it or not, Dr. Potter will have to fight them off eventually.
What begins as a revenge film then transforms into a definite survival horror picture in the vein of “Night of the Living Dead” as Potter and his family must fend off the foursome of murderers and attempt to seek help from local police. As they’re shrouded in the darkness and solitude, Potter must keep his sister in law (a former mental patient), his wife, and daughter together while he and his sister in law’s boyfriend seek every chance to guard themselves as the threesome become more and more dangerous by the minute. Sholder succeeds in building the sense of isolation and dread in the climax, and sure, the plot twist with our characters is completely telegraphed minutes in advance, but it’s still a fantastic revelation nonetheless.
And the stand off, paired with the twisted ending is the icing on the cake. There’s an apparent sexual subtext, as a girl is nearly impaled in her vagina by a knife, one of our lunatics anxiously wants to molest the daughter of our couple, and Palance experiences a sheer sexual thrill in the climax with a girl he meets at a club, that is just out and out a fantastic closer, as he proves his therapist wrong. The confirmation? Yep, he’ll do just fine in this world that’s pretty much just as fucked up and insane as he is.