Regional horror and sci-fi fans celebrate the arrival of low-budget genre filmmaker Phil Smoot to Kino Cult status with The Dark Power starring Western icon Lash LaRue. Locked and loaded with his bullwhip, LaRue faces off against ancient Toltec sorcerer zombies in order to protect a house of busty coeds in this wildly entertaining jaunt. Featuring a new restoration and tons of great bonus features, fans won’t want to miss it. Recommended
When reviewing deep-cut cult classics like Phil Smoot’s The Dark Power, you must go in with your brain checked at the door and ready to have fun. You wouldn’t grade a movie like this against a major-budgeted classic like The Exorcist, that’s just an exercise in futility and inanity. Possibly the closest comparison one could pull for this film would be a wild horror comedy like Sam Rami’s Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn only not as scary or purposefully funny. It’s not scary. It’s passably made with some competent writing and direction, and the amateurish acting gets the job done. You can say that about hundreds of cult classics, but the draw here is to see legendary Western icon Lash LaRue crack his whip one more time.
Our hero Lash LaRue is Ranger Girard. When a local tribal medicine man dies, Girard works to honor his friend’s memory. But when the man’s house is sold off and rented to a gaggle of busty college coeds, Girard has his work cut out for him. You see, the land was actually the burial site of powerful Toltec sorcerers and without someone to keep their evil forces at bay, they’re now free to rise from their graves. Only these ancient sorcerers weren’t expecting to meet the most fearless lawman armed with a bullwhip!
The Dark Power is just a fun flick. The film’s tongue is held firmly in cheek throughout. Lash is in excellent form living up to his status as an aging iconic Western star of film, television, and comic books. Some heroes wore white. Some heroes wore black. Lash used a whip instead of a gun. His weapon of choice was so unique several stars of the era tried to ape it but failed miserably. It’s one thing to see a quick-draw gunfight, it’s quite another to see someone outdraw a bandit with a whip! And in his aged years that whip crack may come a little slower, but Lash was in great form for The Dark Power and a real sport. He never looked above the material and seemed like he was having a great time. His whip fight with one of the Toltec zombies is one of the craziest things you can ever expect to see - and it’s glorious!
Phil Smoot’s films - in particular, his directing efforts The Dark Power and Alien Outlaw (also starring Lash LaRue) move in and out of my orbit of cinematic consumption at odd intervals. Between movie rentals with college friends or diving into the hilarious Rifftrax runs, Phil Smoot contributed to some damned entertaining flicks. You’ll be enjoying Pinhead unleashing hell in Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth and then see Smoot’s name as a production manager in the credits. Likewise, his name crops up in Adam Robitel’s creepy The Taking of Deborah Logan and even Kevin Smith’s daffy horror flick Tusk. The guy got around!
As for his two directorial efforts, you gotta give the man credit for catering to a very niche audience. His films are perfect midnight-movie double-feature fodder. If you’re not at a drive-in or local independent theater that actually knows how to program a slate of features, The Dark Power and Alien Outlaw are great pieces for group viewing at home. Stack some beers, order the pizzas, and get ready to have a wild night!
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Kino Cult continues its growing catalog with the third entry - The Dark Power on Blu-ray. Pressed on a Region Free BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads to a static image main menu playing the goofy military-march style music.
Suffering through the grueling process of a 4K restoration, Phil Smoot’s 16mm feature The Dark Power arrives on Blu-ray looking better than ever! I’ve rented this on VHS, I believe at least once on DVD, and my last viewing was the Rifftrax hit from a few years ago and The Dark Power never really looked very good. Part of that certainly can be chalked up to the film stock but all the same it never made much of a visual impact. Either too bright or too dark (partly by how the film was shot) the film just had a tough life on home video. This restoration goes a long way toward improving past releases with much cleaner and clearer details. It was shot on 16mm so film grain is quite naturally heavy but that’s all part of the appeal of a flick like this. Colors are healthier than past releases, the strong natural primaries especially look better. Black levels for the film’s big final act are a notable improvement simply because you can now actually see what’s happening! Past viewings were so dark it was almost impossible to see any of the action. So kudos to Kino Cult for another welcome upgrade.
On the audio side, we have a solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 track to rock out with. Dialog is pretty front-loaded and it’s always easy to tell when a line had to be dubbed in. But it’s at least clear and audible. Some past discs really suffered in that category and there are some amazing speeches and long-winded plot explanations. Some conversations just never end and it’s a hoot to be able to hear everything now. Sound effects, especially LaRue’s whipcracks are right on point. Music cues help expand the simple soundscape of the film and even lean into the absurdity and humor of the whole venture.
Perhaps not the biggest or most robust assortment of extras ever assembled but it’s all quality. Honestly never thought we’d be getting a quality release of The Dark Power on Blu-ray let alone anything with good extras, but there’s a lot of good stuff to pick through here. Between two commentary tracks, a new featurette and cast interviews, there’s some great material here. The Cast and crew featurette is particularly fun seeing everyone talk about making the film. The Cast and crew commentary is especially cool as editor Sherwood Jones holds court with a parade of various actors and crewmembers weaving in and out to share their experiences on the film. A very interesting and unique commentary experience.
When you sit down for The Dark Power, you know pretty much instantly what you’re getting yourself into. I mean, the cover art isn’t exactly subtle on that point. Read the plot description and you’ll know you’re in for a hell of a show. Phil Smoot and Lash LaRue made two very fun small-budget genre features together. Not great films in the traditional sense, but really fun, really entertaining, and if you have a group of friends that love deep-cut cult flicks it’s perfect material. Now in a genuine shocker, I never thought I’d see an outfit like Kino deliver an excellent Blu-ray presentation but here we are! The film looks and sounds great but then it’s stacked with worthwhile and informative bonus features fans will love to dig into. If you have Alien Outlaw you need The Dark Power to complete the perfect Double Feature - Recommended
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.