As part of an initiation into a club called the Sisters, a young girl must spend the night in a mausoleum.
Nostalgia is a tricky beast to tame. Fond memories of the good old days of yesteryear can color perceptions and perhaps skew views of a particular film's quality. It's an easy trap to fall into - especially when a hazy memory becomes clearer. For 1982's low budget horror thriller One Dark Night from director Tom McLoughlin (Friday the 13th: Part VI Jason Lives) and starring Meg Tilly with a guest appearance by Adam West, faint childhood memories may ever so slightly be coloring my perceptions of the film, however, I figure horror fans would naturally get a kick out of this low budget gem. The plot may not make a whole lot of sense when you break things down, but it's a good ride and a lot of fun.
All young pretty high school student, Julie Wells (Meg Tilly), wants is to feel part of the group. The elite group of bitchy gal pals "The Sisters" is putting her through initiations. Lead by Carol (Robin Evans), Kitty (Leslie Speights), and Leslie (Elizabeth Daily), Julie only has one more test to complete before she's finally one of the gang. She has to spend the night at a creepy mausoleum. While certainly creepy, it should be easy. Unfortunately for Julie and The Sisters, they didn't know that a recently deceased telekinetic named Raymar was buried there and his power still lives to raise the dead from their final slumber. The only hope Julie has is Raymar's daughter Olivia (Melissa Newman) and her skeptic husband Allan (Adam West).
With the upcoming release of Rawhead Rex and after reviewing horror flicks like Carrie and Invaders From Mars, my childhood horror movie collection is very nearing completion. One Dark Night is one of those flicks where some vague memories remained for years, but I just couldn't quite pin a title to them. I could remember a girl and her boyfriend being terrorized by zombies in a mausoleum, but I figured that was a weirdly skewed memory of Return of the Living Dead Part II. I could remember a rotting corpse with lightning bolts flying around, but I just figured that was some distorted remembrance from the T.V. edit of Tobe Hooper's Lifeforce. After spending hours and hours of my childhood watching my favorite Detroit station, so many of these flicks have all blurred together to the point that separating them is nearly impossible. So when I discover one of these flicks and I'm finally able to put a name to the memories, I tend to get more than a little excited.
Admittedly, One Dark Night isn't the best horror flick to come out of the 80s, but even cutting through the excitement of nostalgia, it's still effective at what it does. You can tell that the film made the most of a small budget. The cast, aside from the late legend Adam West, was made up of a bunch of newcomers with next to no credits to their names. To spare the budget even further, most of the action takes place in a single location with few lights allowing most of the budget to be spent on some sticky, slimy zombie puppets. It's clearly a labor of love that made the most of what it had to work with.
After reconnecting with this flick and earnestly watching it all the way through, I have to single out the film's dark sense of humor. if you've seen Friday the 13th: Part VI Jason Lives, you should already be familiar with writer/director Tom McLoughlin's penchant for horror humor. While the jokes may not be as on the nose are they were for Jason stalking around a campground, One Dark Night relishes the ooey gooey gags this little army of the undead brings. Shots of terrified young women cowering in the corner as a zombie bursts out of its coffin in various stages of decay would be a creepy, terrifying prospect if it wasn't for the obvious gag quality to it. When these decaying creatures of the undead start dripping their goopy viscera on these ladies, you can't help but chuckle at the gag. There's a nice balance between the traditional horror elements and the show's off-color sense of humor.
Through it all, the cast does a fine job managing the material. Meg Tilly, in particular, is a standout. She plays well to the goopy creatures and works well with David Mason Daniels playing her boyfriend Steve who get stuck trying to save the day. Playing well as the bullies are Robin Evans, Leslie Speights, and Elizabeth Daily. From minute one you're supposed to hate these ladies and they manage that bitchy high school clique attitude making it all the more fun when they're attacked by Raymar's army of the undead. Melissa Newman is solid as Olivia as she tries to figure out her father's history and her own powers while Adam West does what he can as he's very clearly there to collect a paycheck during his lean years.
As I said, One Dark Night isn't the greatest thing to come down the 80s horror pipeline. It feels like two movies smashed together as the details about Raymar, his daughter, and telekinetic powers never really come together. The basic plotline of teenagers being terrorized at a mausoleum by zombies works well. It's a creepy and unsettling single location and the flick gets a lot of fun mileage out of that. I know a lot of my excitement and praise stems from old memories and the thrill of rediscovering an old childhood favorite, but I got a hunch most horror fans will get a kick out of this. It's a ride. A goopy, schlocky horror movie ride that aims to entertain its audience. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but what it does it does well. One Dark Night is a solid bit of horror fun that is a great way to spend a cold fall evening with the lights off.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
One Dark Night arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Code Red. Pressed onto a Region-Free BD-50 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case. The disc loads directly to an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
Those longtime fans of One Dark Night who were expecting some sort of meticulous restoration effort may want to temper expectations. Granted, I don't have the best viewing history with this film, but suffice to say this 1.78:1 1080p transfer looks like a reel of 35mm film would if it'd been spooled in 1982 and then had been stuck in a closet for the last 35 years. While that may sound harsh, I don't mean it to be. It's just rough around the edges with an appearance one would expect from a private collector's personal collection. Grain is a tad heavy at times, but nothing too intrusive or bothersome while allowing for a nice amount of appreciable detail to create a nicely filmic appearance. Colors, black levels, and contrast can get a little hot at times for my liking, but again, nothing terrible nor the worst I've ever seen. Primaries get plenty of punch, flesh tones are maybe a tad pale at times but otherwise healthy. Black levels can get a bit thick, but overall they're nice and inky giving the darker creepier scenes a nice sense of depth. Some speckling and scratches are apparent but again, nothing too intrusive. One Dark Night simply looks like a movie shot for under a million bucks decades ago and hasn't been touched since.
One Dark Night arrives with an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix that, for better or worse, gets the job done. As a whole, I would say this mix is a bit on the softer side. From the outset, I felt like I had to punch up the volume past where I would normally keep levels during a normal movie watching experience. While the dialogue was intelligible and I didn't struggle to hear what people said, sound effects and scoring could sound a bit crunchy and heavy. There isn't a lot of space around the elements making the mix just sound thick and flat. Things evened out in the mausoleum, there is a nice echo quality to give these sequences some depth, and the squishy zombie goopy effects came through well. Some hiss and pops are persistent but not too intrusive to distract from the entire venture. One Dark Night doesn't sound pristine, but the mix for its faults still works well enough.
I've steadily been picking up more and more Code Red releases and I gotta tell ya, I'm damned impressed when it comes to their special features. Not only do you get two audio commentaries here, but you also get the Workprint of the film as well as a ton of cast and crew interviews! Fans of this flick should be very happy - you've got hours of great stuff to watch!
Audio Commentary features writer/director Tom McLoughlin and co-writer Michael Hawes.
Audio Commentary features writer/director Tom McLoughlin and producer Michael Schroeder
Work Print Cut (SD 89:55) This is a very early cut of the film with some unfinished effects titled Night in the Crypt.
Behind the Scenes (SD 38:53) Beyond any EPK nonsense, this features a ton of on-set behind the scenes footage giving you a great look at the production.
Interview with Tom McLoughlin (HD 16:16)
Interview with E.G. Daily (HD 32:03)
Interview with Michael Schroeder (HD 14:42)
Interview with Cinematographer Hal Trussel (HD 18:15)
Interview with Actress Nancy McLoughlin (HD 10:53)
Interview with Production Designer Craig Stearns (HD 10:40)
Interview with Make-up Effects Artist Paul Clemens (HD 17:07)
Paul Clemens Scrapbook (HD 3:28)
Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:16)
While admittedly thick nostalgic memories may be swirling around my review for One Dark Night, I found this film to be an entertaining gas of a horror picture. It's simple, has a creepy premise, and moves along at a speedy clip and doesn't overstay its welcome. Meg Tilly is terrific as the damsel in distress, and the practical effects zombies are a lot of fun - especially when they start tormenting the bullies of the film. Code Red has done a pretty terrific job with this release considering all things. Without undergoing an exhaustive restoration effort, One Dark Night looks pretty terrific. The audio can be a tad thick at times but it's hardly a deal breaker. Where Code Red knocks this release out of the park is in the bonus features package. Fans will have their work cut out for them diving into multiple interviews, commentary tracks, as well as the film's Work Print cut. If you have a nostalgic love for 80s horror, One Dark Night is an easy one to recommend.