THE DARK (1979) Blu-ray
Director: John ‘Bud’ Cardos
Code Red Releasing

A stunt performer in a number of 1960s biker films, a production manager for cult director Al Adamson, and familiar character actor (mostly playing heavies), John 'Bud' Cardos is bonafide exploitation movie royalty. By the 1970s, he became a venerable director, helming the popular Bill Shatner vehicle KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS, one of the most enjoyable drive-in flicks ever released. From Film Ventures International’s Edward L. Montoro and co-producer Dick Clark (an old friend of Bud’s) came the opportunity to direct THE DARK, a project originally conceived as a mutant monster tale which quickly became a flashy sci-fi epic when space travel and aliens was all the rage at the box office. Interestingly enough, Cardos was a last minute replacement for Tobe Hooper who only worked a few days on the set. Now available on Blu-ray looking better than ever before, THE DARK is a film whose back-story is more interesting than the finished project.

In the Los Angeles area, a hulking creature with abnormal strength is murdering one random victim every night, with no apparent motif in sight. As the police are completely baffled by the crimes, ex-con horror novelist Steve Dupree (William Devane, fresh from Hitchcock's FAMILY PLOT and ROLLING THUNDER) — whose estranged daughter was the initial victim — teams up with beautiful TV news journalist Zoe Owens (Cathy Lee Crosby, COACH) to try and track down the killer. After an eccentric medium gives them a lead to the next victim, they come face to face with what turns out to be a ferocious, too-tall extra-terrestrial.

As stated, the lurking creature was originally not conceived as an alien, so in place of filmed scenes of him tearing off human heads (one such occurrence survives), laser beams shoot from his glowing eyes to set his victims ablaze. This actually makes for some lively special effects, and the monster (played by 7 foot-plus John Bloom of DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT and BRAIN OF BLOOD fame) actually looks better than what the poster art dictates. But the disappointment comes with the rice paper thin script. Devane and Crosby are surprising (and not at all bad) choices for the leads, but their characters ultimately fall flat before they’re properly developed. The promising team of character greats Richard Jaeckel (THE GREEN SLIME) and Biff Elliott (DESTINATION INNER SPACE) as the competent yet clueless detectives also fall short. This all results in THE DARK having some effective monster attacks and a remarkable climax for an independent B movie, but the long stretches of talky plotting in between is uninspired to say the least, making it all feel like an elongated episode of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.”

With THE DARK moving along lethargically, at least the cast keeps things very watchable, and most likely will make it a surefire purchase for the more forgiving drive-in film fan. Keenan Wynn (PIRANHA) is a geezer of a smart ass TV news producer, Jacqueline Hyde (SCREAM BLOODY MURDER) is the fortune teller who talks back to her television and foresees the slaughters, and Warren Kemmerling (CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND) is the crabby police captain, ever criticizing his force for not being able to come up with any leads. If that wasn’t enough, longtime “American Top 40” host Casey Kasem (who starred with Bloom years earlier in THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT) plays a police pathologist, future “Miami Vice” star Philip Michael Thomas is seen briefly as a street hood, 1940s starlet Vivian Blaine (JITTERBUGS) is a wealthy boat party host, an unbilled Angelo Rossitto is a street corner newspaper salesman and Kathy Richards (mother of Paris Hilton and sister of actresses Kim and Kyle Richards) is the monster’s first victim (and the daughter of Devane’s character).

Media Blasters released THE DARK on DVD back in 2005, which is the first time it was available on home video in its original aspect ratio, and now Code Red’s new Blu-ray is a vast improvement visually. Presented in 1080p HD in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the terrific transfer has been made from the original camera negative. Colors are well saturated, the image has excellent detail (including the many dark night-time scenes) and black levels are strong. Flesh tones are also impressive as is the grain structure. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track nicely mixes the dialogue, music and sound effects, which plays well with the film’s jump scares. No subtitle options are included on the disc.

Scorpion picks up the solid video interview with director John ‘Bud’ Cardos (13:32) from the Media Blasters DVD, and it has him discussing the original concept for the film, how he replaced Tobe Hooper, and what it was like working with the main cast members. Cardos also talks about other aspects of his career, revealing that as a child he was a stand-in in some of the “Our Gang” comedies, and tells an amusing yarn concerning Tiffany Bolling’s audition for KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS. There’s a new audio commentary with Cardos and associate producer/production manager Igo Kantor, moderated by Scorpion’s Bill Olsen and Damon Packard. Cardos and Kantor start off by mentioning original director Hooper getting behind on the shoot (and eventually getting let go) and that Devane signed on thinking he’d be working with him. They elaborate on the differences between the monster in the original script before he was transformed into an outer-space being in post production, as well as Dick Clark’s participation in the film, but they seem to imply that it wasn’t a significant box office success. The commentary tends to go all over the place, but considering Cardos’ and Kantor’s extensive film careers, this is certainly not a bad thing, and it's never boring. A new featurette with composer Roger Kellaway (25:29) has him discussing how he conceived the score for THE DARK and his fondness for composing for horror films (THE LEGEND OF HILLBILLY JOHN, THE SILENT SCREAM, EVILSPEAK and JAWS OF SATAN are also touched upon). The film’s original trailer (2:34) is included, and you have the option of playing the score as an isolated track (the cover is also reversible, with alternate artwork on the opposite side). Those wanting to purchase the Blu-ray of THE DARK can do so through Ronin Flix HERE. (George R. Reis)