Alone in the Dark – USA, 1982 – overview and reviews


‘They’re out… for blood! Don’t let them find you’

Alone in the Dark is a 1982 American slasher horror feature film directed by Jack Sholder (editor of The Burning and future director of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, The Hidden, Wishmaster 2 and Arachnid) from a screenplay co-written with Robert Shaye. It was one the first movies to be produced by Shaye’s New Line Cinema and is notable for the presence of three veteran lead actors: Jack Palance, Donald Pleasence and Martin Landau and for a nightmare sequence with special effects by Tom Savini.


Doctor Dan Potter is the replacement for Doctor Harry Merton, a psychiatrist at Doctor Leo Bain’s psychiatric haven. Doctor Bain operates the haven through very lenient methods, referring to the patients as “voyagers” and keeping the most dangerous “voyagers” contained with electrically-activated security mechanisms instead of bars.

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The aforementioned third floor patients (paranoid former POW Frank Hawkes, pyromaniac preacher Byron Sutcliff, obese child molester Ronald Elster, and homicidal maniac John “Bleeder” Skaggs) initially treat Doctor Potter with mixed hostility. At their first meeting, Hawkes nearly explodes at Doctor Potter as he leaves, but calms down before giving a reason for his outburst.

At night, however, Hawkes states to the others that “the new doctor killed Harry Merton, and now he wants to kill us”. The others believe him (aside from Skaggs, who hides his face throughout the film, this time burying his head in his pillow), and agree to help him kill Doctor Potter. They plan to do this on the outside…

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Reviews [click links to read more]:

“There’s a moderate amount of gore […] What it does have, are some strikingly lunatic performances, some choice suspense and scares and a strong script. For a lot of people, that is more than enough. This 80’s horror entry is an unappreciated hidden gem and highly recommended.” Cool Ass Cinema

“Sometimes predicable, the convenient plot situations set up one dangerous scenario after the other, and a good amount of shocks are on hand, with significant doses of gore (even Tom Savini contributes a nasty looking zombie during a brief hallucination sequence). Though the story can be uneven, Sholder’s direction is evenly paced, and the rest of the acting is very good…” DVD Drive-In

” … well worth a look if you’re out to check out something a little different. It isn’t a very gory film, but it does feature some nice, visceral death scenes and mutilations. Furthermore, there are quite a few jump scares that will startle you from time to time.” Oh, the Horror!

alone in the dark 1982 (3)

“The lack of serious gore in Alone In The Dark is due to a “falling out” between Sholder and the special fx guy. One death is never really resolved due to this, but Sholder was able to bring in some guy named Savini for one of the better jump scares.” Retro Slashers

“The tone threatens towards the reactionary, with liberal views no match for the criminally insane, and anti-nuclear demonstrations leading to personal endangerment, but it’s really the old Straw Dogs or Hills Have Eyes message about supposedly civilised people easily descending into savagery that’s at work here. The twist is none too well concealed, either.”  The Spinning Image

“While there are those who undoubtedly have kinder thoughts on this one, the occasional touches of humor seemed awkward & ineffective, and undermine any tension director Sholder might have created. Of course, anything with screen veterans Palance and Landau as psychotic inmates on the loose isn’t without its own… strange and offbeat rewards.” The Terror Trap

Alone in the Dark may come disguised as a slasher movie but actually, it’s a pitch-black comedy, with a lot of the humor coming from the contrast between Dan’s rationality, Bain’s nonstop optimism, and the fact that everyone else in the film is literally batshit insane.  The final siege is a masterpiece of suspense and Palance, van Lidth, and especially Martin Landau are memorably frightening in their menacing roles.” Through the Shattered Lens

“It would seem as if Sholder was trying to avoid the standard conventions of other slasher films by concentrating more on the killers’ joint psyche while imitating moments from other movies and steering away from long, tedious stalking sequences. On the whole Alone In the Dark succeeds in creating a good diversion from the usual garb…” Vegan Voorhees

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“… an above average entry in the already crowded maniacs-on-the-loose sub-genre, thanks to its tight, crisp look, imaginative use of sound, excellent playing by its veteran cast, and a nice line in humour.” The Aurum Film Encyclopedia: Horror 

“What could’ve been a misfire actually rises above its occasional silliness and the odd chaotic scene to be a competently made effort that has enough decent twists and a name cast to carry it. There’s a good (if out of place) opening, a Friday the 13th in-joke, a nice throat-ripping with a garden tool and a cool scene involving a baseball bat and cleaver.” The Video Graveyard


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Cast and characters:

  • Jack Palance … Frank Hawkes
  • Donald Pleasence … Doctor Leo Bain
  • Martin Landau … Byron ‘Preacher’ Sutcliff
  • Dwight Schultz … Doctor Dan Potter
  • Erland van Lidth … Ronald ‘Fatty’ Elster
  • Deborah Hedwall … Nell Potter
  • Lee Taylor-Allan … Toni Potter
  • Phillip Clark … Tom Smith / Skaggs
  • Elizabeth Ward … Lyla Potter
  • Brent Jennings … Ray Curtis
  • Gordon Watkins … Detective Burnett
  • Carol Levy … Bunky
  • Keith Reddin … Billy
  • Annie Korzen … Marissa Hall
  • Lin Shaye … Receptionist at Haven
  • Dorothy Dorian James … Mom
  • John Weissman … Bicycle Messenger
  • Jana Schneider … Spaced-out Girl at Club
  • Robert Pastner … Customer in Diner
  • Larry Pine … Doctor Harry Merton
  • Frederick Coffin … Jim Gable
  • Mallory Millett … Anchorwoman (as Mallory Jones)
  • Laura Esterman … Woman Voyager
  • Michael Earl Reid … Cursing Voyager (as Earl Michael Reid)
  • Paula Raflo … Voyager
  • Steve Dash … Doctor Barkin (as Steven Daskawisz)
  • Michael Medeiros … Club Manager (as Michael Medieros)
  • E.D. Phillips … Jailer
  • Norman Beim … Cop at Haven
  • Ken Burns … Cop at House
  • Ralph Corrado Jr. … Looter
  • The Sic F*cks … Themselves

Filming locations:

Englewood, Hillsdale, Newark and Ridgewood, New Jersey

Technical details:

92 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85: 1
Audio: Dolby

Image credits: Wrong Side of the Art!

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