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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

One Dark Night Tom McLoughlin 1983

...One Long, Dark, Booooring Night

Part Haunted Mansion, part Grease, part Agnes of God, One Dark Night (aka Mausoleum, aka Night in the Crypt, aka Rest in Peace, aka Entity Force, aka Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla) sets out to finish the job started by Phantasm years before: tell a thin story set in an above-ground crypt that makes no sense and features telekenisis and dwarves in matching costumes. The failure here is that instead of a killer silver ball terrorizing a girlish boy, we have a rubber hand terrorizing a boyish girl; and instead of actual dwarves in robes we have E.G. Daily in a sateen jacket and a cameltoe.

Meg Tilly is presumably the star here – although considering she is given about half the screen time of her bitchy nemeses and squanders most of that either stumbling through cheesy puppy-love montages with her admittedly hot boyfriend or crawling around on all fours in a Demerol-induced stupor (and that’s not a dig at Meg and her personal habits – that’s literally what her character goes through), it’s hard to really consider her the main character. This stunning showcase role calls for Meg to pull of the following acting challenges: become orgasmically excited over a carton of orange juice and a straw; wander around an empty mausoleum for hours without falling asleep; read a note from her mother that says “Don’t forget to clean the oven”; hide under a church pew sobbing like an early-model Margot Kidder; sleepwalk.

Sounds thrilling, I know. It’s actually fairly amazing that Tilly would go from this role to an Oscar nomination for Agnes of God (although considering how much time she spends in the crypt chapel, I really shouldn’t be surprised) – this part is as unflattering as they come (yes, even less flattering than a nun who gets pregnant, stuffs her baby in a garbage can, and pretends that it was a virgin birth – and then has to put up with Jane Fonda). Her role here could have been pulled off by any number of other messy genre brunettes of the time (yes, even Daphne Zuniga).

So where is all the attention going, if not to our trusty Final Girl? Well, we’ve got our garden-variety Blonde Bitch (see also: Carrie, Jennifer, The Initiation of Sarah), a fairly low-rent Snarky Sidekick (see also: The Craft, Carrie), and a horse of an altogether different color: in the personage of none other than Paul Newmanspawn Melissa Newman, we have a rare Gratuitous Psychic. Yes, in a parallel story that does absolutely nothing but spew exposition and kill time, Melissa literally has a few visions, attends a funeral, and listens to an audiotape that she finds under a pillow on a settee, effectively doubling the running-time of the film and granting us a much-needed breather from the breakneck pace of the rest of the film, which consists almost entirely of girls wandering around in well-lit marble hallways.

Yes, this film is a one-way ticket to dullsville – the kind of lazy, vapid storytelling that is so entirely disengaging that you are literally forced to count freckles on the actors’ faces in order to avoid swallowing your tongue out of boredom. Aside from having a cast of about 5, the least appealing clique of cool chicks I think I’ve ever seen, a boring Final Girl, and a Bitchy Blonde who looks like she’d be more at home in a Pearl Drops commercial, you’ve also got such a thin premise and redundant plot (count the number of times you see the shot of the psychic guy’s mortuary slab cracking) that you’ll likely find yourself thinking about how you could re-cut the scenes for comic effect rather than paying attention to the plot.

Thankfully, near the end of the film things do improve dramatically – almost too late, but just barely under the wire. With an impressive display of psychic power that literally blows away most of the set dressing (and forces the drug-addled Meg to do a military roll out of the path of a row of collapsing pews – no doubt great preparation for Agnes), the movie finally kicks into gear and things get fun. Dead bodies (and Meg Tilly) start floating around, the annoying Pearl Drops girl and her toothbrush-chewing sidekick get smothered under a pile of stinky corpses, and the heir to the salad dressing empire shuts off her fucking cassette player and actually does something to earn her paycheck. In a special-effects-laden finale that you would think comes from a different (good) movie entirely, Newman’s Own re-kills the dead evil guy with her compact (death by makeup!) and frees the still-tripping Tilly from his evil clutches.

Up until the finale the movie is so cheap-looking and boring that were you to go to the bathroom during the scene where the director’s ecstasy kicked in, you’d come back thinking that someone changed the channel. And while the drifting cadavers and low-rent telekinetic effects are fun in a Haunted Mansion sort of way, it’s still very difficult to recommend a film whose only other highpoint is a brief locker-room scene where one athlete makes an inappropriate overture to another regarding showering. Although the last 20 minutes offer some nice gothic shivers, skip the first 70 unless you enjoy watching boring, limp-haired women pretend to be fabulous and wander around in sepulchers.

Tidbit: Director Tom McLoughlin would go on to direct one of the best of the Friday the 13th series (Jason Lives), which would also feature a character who chews on a toothbrush.

Rating (out of 5):