Everything about 1981’s One Dark Night gave me the impression it would be an R-rated movie, so I was taken aback when I saw it was PG. Turns out the filmmakers were as well, as they thought the movie was gory enough to warrant the more restrictive rating.
Although made the year before Poltergeist, it had the misfortune of not being released until after that picture, so the MPAA was already jaded enough to give another supernatural horror film a PG. Also, the critics largely tore One Dark Night a new one, accusing it of ripping off a movie whose production started after Night’s finished.
This movie had a better chance at an R, and a broader audience, if it had any profanity or nudity. That’s what happens when your primary backer is a Mormon church. I learned this and many other interesting anecdotes in the bonus features on this special edition blu-ray.
What’s interesting is this movie is a fully-fledged and effective horror film without the usually trappings of the genre. Meg Tilly stars as an intelligent but unpopular high schooler who agrees to spend the night in a mausoleum as the final initiation rite to join a cool girl clique.
What she doesn’t know is the leader of the gang has it out for her because she can’t accept Tilly dating her jock ex-boyfriend. She also doesn’t know the most recently interred corpse is that of a man with supernatural powers he still possesses after death.
This is “Raymar”, and doesn’t that name just sound like a bad magician? Early on, we learn he was a “psychic vampire”. I remember laughing long and hard about that phrase before I finally saw Doctor Sleep, and even my affection for that film didn’t keep me from laughing out loud at that phrase here.
The movie opens with a team of coroners arriving at the crime scene where Raymar’s body is found, along with a closet with female corpses tossed haphazardly in it. It is a sure sign of sloth when somebody is too lazy to hang up their discarded corpses. Guess that’s why Raymar can’t have nice things. But he did apparently use his powers to embed dishes and utensils into the walls, which is a unique design aesthetic.
Anywho, something I found endearing and goofy is something like five or six coroner vans arrive. How many vehicles does this city’s coroner’s department have? And they all open their doors in sequence in a neat little bit of choreography. I imagine the coroners practicing this routine when the workload gets light.
The effects are pretty good in this. Inevitably, corpses start emerging from their vaults in the mausoleum walls. They levitate instead of walking, and there’s a nice touch where we keep seeing the very tips of their toes dragging on the floor as they slide across it.
Perhaps the best special effect is Adam West. He’s not in zombie makeup or anything, I just mean he always so stiff and lifeless that it’s amazing anybody could convince us he is a living being.
In addition to a large volume of bonus features, the blu-ray comes in a slipcover that gives it the appearance of being a rental VHS. Even the amount of restoration done on the movie is appropriate, as it looks just a bit better than a cleaned-up video image. There doesn’t appear to be color-correction, or at least it isn’t noticeable. There’s even some flecks left in the image. I prefer this to cleaning up a movie so thoroughly that it looks like it was made today.
One Dark Night is surprisingly effective for a PG horror movie. It feels like a Phantasm knock-off for those who were too young for that kind of intensity, and it is a good example for why PG-13 would come along in a couple of years.
Dir: Tom McLoughlin
Starring Meg Tilly, Melissa Newman, Robin Evans
Watched on MVD blu-ray