The Dark (1979)

Given that John “Bud” Cardos took over directorial chores three or four days into shooting after original director Tobe Hooper proved woefully out of his league handling a full-scale production crew, “The Dark” definitely isn’t the wretched, foul-smelling unmitigated stinker it’s often derisively written off as being. Granted, this modest sci-fi/horror tale of a pernicious extraterrestrial decapitating several Los Angeles residents (the first victim is played by none other than Paris Hilton’s real life mom Kathy Richards!) does suffer from a rather slow, meandering pace, a few dreary lulls in the action, choppy editing which frequently borders on confounding, and a muddled script (the alien angle was tossed in at the last minute; the beast was originally supposed to be a flesh-eating zombie), but otherwise it’s technically sound. Cardos manages to create a reasonable amount of tension, stages the kill scenes with laudable restraint, and really delivers with the excitingly over-the-top grand payoff ending, a fiery, all-hell’s-broken-loose, packs one hell of a bunch final face-off in which the rot-faced intergalactic ghoul turns many of L.A.’s finest pigs into smoking strips of crisp bacon by shooting laser beams from its eyes. John Morrill’s cinematography gives the film a slick, attractive look which successfully bellies the movie’s low budget (Lee Frost was an assistant cameraman), making especially impressive use of dissolves and super-impositions. Roger Kellaway’s first-rate freaky score also warrants appraisal, boasting an odd, eerie, unintelligible ghostly whispering vocal (“the daaa-rrk!”) that takes on a truly unnerving black mass-like incantatory quality.

The superior B-movie cast rates as another significant plus. The always strong and commanding William (“Rolling Thunder,” “Red Alert”) Devane as an ex-con turned best-selling crime novelist who’s obsessed with catching the alien after it butchers his only daughter, Richard Jaeckel as the rugged, hard-nosed cop on the case, Jacqueline Hyde as an eccentric old gypsy fortune teller, and Keenan Wynn as a gruff, but fair television station manager all contribute excellent performances. Appearing in nifty bits are Vivian (“Parasite”) Blaine as a haughty jet-setter, biker film vet Gary Littlejohn cunningly cast against type as a police officer, and a pre-“Miami Vice” Phillip Michael Thomas as a belligerent gang leader. The massive, shambling John Bloom, a bulky, imposing hulk of man who played the monster in Al Adamson’s “Dracula Vs. Frakenstein” and the retarded guy in “The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant,” makes for a marvelously menacing murderous fiend. Even the novel casting of pint-sized Top 40 disc jockey Casey Kasem as a pathologist works surprisingly well, mainly because Kasem himself plays his minor part commendably straight. Only Cathy Lee Crosby as a crusading up-and-coming female TV reporter who wants to prove herself to her skeptical sexist pig male colleagues disappoints, proving once and for all that she’s more of a pretty face than a genuine actress. Overall, this unjustly maligned movie ain’t half bad.