“Alone in the Dark” (1982)

At the start of the film, “Alone in the Dark,” there is a surrealistic dream sequence. I won’t spoil it for those of you who might be interested in seeing the movie at a later date. After the sequence viewers are introduced to Dr. Dan Potter, played by Dwight Schultz (The A-Team). He has recently moved to New Jersey with his family: his wife Nell (Deborah Hedwall), and his daughter Lyla (Elizabeth Ward). Dr. Potter has been hired to work at The Haven, an experimental psychiatric hospital. The hospital is run by the eccentric, Dr. Leo Bain, portrayed by BAFTA winner Donald Pleasence (Halloween). Dr. Bain is not a proponent of conventional psychiatric therapy, a mindset that will come back later on in the film to haunt him. (As an aside: “Alone in the Dark” was the first feature film that was produced by New Line Cinema).  

Dr. Potter is replacing Dr. Harry Merton (Larry Pine). Potter’s replacement of, the trusted and liked, Merton doesn’t sit well with four men housed on the secure, third floor of the hospital. The floor is reserved for those who are considered criminally insane. The unofficial leader of the group is Frank Hawkes, a role acted by Oscar winner, Jack Palance (City Slickers). Hawkes, a former military prisoner of war, suffers from paranoia. He is convinced that Potter has killed Merton, in order to get his job. Hawkes riles up the other inmates, like former preacher Byron Sutcliff, played by Oscar winner Martin Landau (Ed Wood), to his way of thinking. Sutcliff has been institutionalized because he is a pyromaniac. He not only set fire to the church that he used to preach at, but did it with his parishioners locked inside. Child molester, Ronald Estler (Erland van Lidth), projects a dominant physical presence, but is easily swayed mentally, when it comes to believing in the validity of Hawkes outlandish claim. Lastly, there is The Bleeder (Phillip Clark). He is named such, because in the past, after he would claim a victim’s life, his nose would start to bleed.  

One evening, there is a blackout, and all of the electrical security measures and alarms, that are designed to keep the inmates on the third floor locked up, simultaneously short circuit. The outage offers the four men, the opportunity to leave their controlled captivity. Led by Hawkes, the men take a van to the nearby town, where, due to the blackout, mass looting of retail stores is taking place. The men ditch their hospital garb, and change into attire that allows them to blend in with everyone in the crowd.

When the men left The Haven, they seemingly, thanks to Hawkes, had an objective on their minds, and that was to kill Dr. Potter, as well as his family. In a surprising turn of events, however, The Bleeder leaves the other three during the looting, for reasons that will only become apparent later on. Dr. Potter and his family, which includes his younger sister Toni (Lee Taylor-Allan), who has come to visit for a while, due to troubles of her own, are in route back to the Potter’s house. They have no idea of the danger they are in, but they’ll soon find out. Will the Potter’s survive? (As an aside: The original idea for the film was to have the story take place in Manhattan. The same situation occurs, where a blackout frees dangerous mental patients. In the earlier story scenario, the inmates were not out to go after anyone specific. The mafia was utilized to help take care of those that escaped).

“Alone in the Dark” was directed by Emmy winner, Jack Sholder (The Hidden). Furthermore, Sholder wrote the screenplay based on a story co-written by Robert Shaye (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), and Michael Harrpster. The film premiered in France, on May 16, 1982 at the Cannes Film Market. Parts horror and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 92 minutes.   

The film is not often mentioned in the same conversation with its contemporaries of the time period. Part of the reason is that it didn’t lend itself to a sequel, or even a prequel, for that matter, at least not with the same cast. Perhaps Donald Pleasence would have agreed to be in a prequel, given his work in the Halloween franchise, but  I can’t really envision Palance and Landau returning for Parts II, III, and IV. If that was the filmmakers’ mindset, which it wasn’t.     


“Alone in the Dark”  was well made, and the unconventional story held my interest from start to finish. The movie has the right amount of horror and suspense, which should keep most viewers entertained, and at its runtime, does not overstay its welcome. Recommended for genre fans, as well as fans of the cast.




About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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