Alone in the Dark (1982 film)

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Alone in the Dark
Alone in the dark ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJack Sholder
Produced by
Written by
  • Jack Sholder
  • Robert Shaye
  • Michael Harrpster
Music byRenato Serio
CinematographyJoseph Mangine
Edited byArline Garson
Masada Productions
Distributed byNew Line Cinema
Release date
  • November 12, 1982 (1982-11-12)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited States

Alone in the Dark is a 1982 American slasher film co-written and directed by Jack Sholder in his directorial debut, and starring Jack Palance, Martin Landau, Donald Pleasence, Dwight Schultz, and Erland Van Lidth. The plot tells about a psychiatrist's family who are besieged by four escaped mental patients during a power blackout.


Dr. Dan Potter is the replacement for Dr. Harry Merton, a psychiatrist at Dr. Leo Bain's psychiatric haven. Dr. Merton has taken a position at a psychiatric hospital in the nearby city of Philadelphia. Dan, his wife Nell, and daughter Lyla, have recently moved into a house in the area. Dan's sister Toni arrives for a visit. Leo operates the haven through very lenient methods. The 3rd floor patients--paranoid former POW Frank Hawkes, pyromaniac preacher Byron "Preacher" Sutcliff, obese child molester Ronald Elster, and homicidal maniac John "The Bleeder" Skagg--initially treat Dan with mixed hostility. Dan learns from staff worker Ray Curtis that the 3rd floor patients believe he has killed Dr. Merton. Later, the four men on the 3rd floor talk of killing Dr Potter.

That evening, Dan, Nell, and Toni go to a punk rock club. Lyla and her babysitter, Bunky, remain home. A regional power blackout occurs. Frank realizes the security system keeping patients in check has failed. The four men begin to carry out their plan. Preacher and Robert kill Ray. The four escape in a doctor's car. They drive to a store in the middle of a looting raid to pick up weapons and new clothes. Skagg slashes an innocent bystander and runs away. The others take the murdered man's van and drive off. Dan arrives at the hospital to discuss the escaped patients and the people they killed, with Leo.

The next morning, with the blackout still in effect, Preacher arrives at the Potter residence to deliver a telegram, but Dan is at the hospital. Nell and Toni leave to participate in a demonstration at a nuclear power plant and are arrested. Lyla arrives home from school and discovers Ronald there, claiming to be the replacement babysitter for Bunky.

Nell calls Dan from jail to tell him she and Toni were arrested. Dan phones Bunky to have her go to the Potter residence to check in on and to stay with Lyla. Bunky arrives at the Potter residence and finds Lyla asleep. She invites her boyfriend Billy over to have sex. After hearing a noise, Billy is dragged and killed underneath the bed by Preacher, and Bunky is strangled by Ronald. Dan arrives home with Nell, Toni, and Tom Smith, a man who Nell and Toni met in jail, claiming he was arrested at the same demonstration they were at and allowed them to take his turn on the phone to call Dan. When they see police all over the house, they are concerned about the family's safety. Lyla wakes up unharmed, but she tells them about Ronald. The police haven't found out about the murdered Bunky and Billy, nor do they find anyone else in the house.

The police leave but Dan invites Detective Barnett to stay for dinner. Barnett investigates noises outside the home and is killed by Frank's crossbow. With the phone line out, the family barricades the windows from the crossbow bolts; meanwhile, Leo is told by the telephone operator that the phone line to the Potter residence is out of order, causing him to drive over to the house where he is slashed and axed by Preacher. Dan recalls Curtis telling him that the four men want to kill him because they believe he killed Harry. Dan screams at the men outside, telling them that he did not murder Dr. Merton, but he gets no reply. Barnett's dead body is thrown through a window by Ronald, and the group stacks furniture against it as Frank shoots his crossbow through the broken window. Preacher sets a fire in the basement, prompting Dan to the basement where he injures Preacher and extinguishes the fire. Ronald attacks the group before getting killed by a meat cleaver.

While Dan starts Leo's car, Tom's nose bleeds, revealing his identity as Skagg, the fourth patient in the group, and he attempts to strangle Toni. Dan runs back inside and grabs Tom away from his sister. Nell stabs Tom, killing him. Preacher comes out of the basement and Dan struggles with him, though Dan manages to stab Preacher and throw him back into the basement. As Dan, Nell, Lyla, and Toni gather together for comfort, Frank reappears standing in the kitchen doorway with his crossbow aimed at them and shouts "It's not just us crazy ones who kill!" Dan pleads with Frank to spare his family. Suddenly, the electricity comes back on and Frank sees Harry being interviewed in a news report on television. Upset, Frank breaks the TV, leaves the house, and escapes into the night. Frank then walks through the town and enters the club. While Frank watches the punk rock band perform, a drugged out girl walks up to him, and he pulls out his pistol and points it at her neck. She looks at it and laughs, and so does Frank.



Alone in the Dark was the first film produced by New Line Cinema, which had previously been exclusively a film distribution company. According to director Jack Sholder, he had listened to New Line founder Robert Shaye mull over the idea of getting into production of low-budget horror films, and pitched the idea of "a group of criminally insane guys escaping from a mental hospital during a blackout in NYC and creating mayhem and then getting rounded up by the mafia," citing a New York City blackout he had experienced several years prior as an inspiration. The script was considered too expensive to produce, so it was re-written as a home-invasion thriller (without the "mafia" angle).[1] While New Line raised money for the film, Sholder worked as the editor of the 1981 slasher The Burning, which he credits with helping him learn about "building scares and how to build suspense and tension."[2]

Sholder has said that the character of Dr. Leo Bain is based on Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing, who espoused a similar philosophy regarding the treatment of mentally ill patients.[2]


Alone in the Dark premiered in the United States on November 19, 1982.[3] It was later screened at the 16th Annual Sitges Film Festival in October 1983, where Elizabeth Ward received an award for Best Actress for her work in the film.[4][5]

Critical response[edit]

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Alone in the Dark holds a 78% approval rating based on 9 critic reviews, with an average rating of 5.5/10.[6]

Brett Gallman from Oh, the Horror gave the film a positive review, commending the film for its tense atmosphere, dark humor, and Pleasence's performance.[7] Felix Vasquez from Cinema Crazed offered similar praise, commending its unique style, gradual building of tension, performances, and twist ending. Vasquez concluded his review by writing, "Sholder succeeds in building the sense of isolation and dread in the climax, and sure, the plot twist with our characters is completely telegraphed minutes in advance, but it’s still a fantastic revelation nonetheless."[8] Dennis Schwartz from Ozus' World Movie Reviews rated the film a grade B, writing, "Though the plot is hokey and its message is crazy, the maniacs- on -the -loose thriller is chilling."[9] TV Guide awarded the film a negative 2/5 stars, calling it "a cut above the average maniacs-on-the-loose entry".[10]

Home media[edit]

Alone in the Dark was released on DVD by Image Entertainment on September 13, 2005. Image would later re-release the film on June 5, 2007; as a part of a two-disk four movie pack.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burnham, Jef (April 13, 2015). "INTERVIEW WITH JACK SHOLDER, DIRECTOR OF NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2". Retrieved November 8, 2019.
  2. ^ a b Edwards, Matthew (June 19, 2017). Twisted Visions: Interviews with Cult Horror Filmmakers. McFarland. p. 83. ISBN 1476663769.
  3. ^ "Catalog - Alone in the Dark". American Film Institute. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  4. ^ "FESTIVAL ARCHIVES - Sitges Film Festival - Festival Internacional de Cinema Fantàstic de Catalunya". (in Spanish). Sitges Film Festival. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  5. ^ "16 Festival Internacional de Cinema de Catalunya - Sitges 1983 - FilmAffinity". Film (in Spanish). Film Affinity. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  6. ^ "Alone in the Dark (1982)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 6, 2019.
  7. ^ Gallman, Brett. "Horror Reviews - Alone in the Dark (1982)". O the Brett Gallman. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  8. ^ Vasquez, Felix. "Alone in the Dark (1982)". Cinema Felix Vasquex. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  9. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. "aloneinthedark". Dennis Schwartz. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  10. ^ "Alone In The Dark - Movie Reviews and Movie Ratings". TV TV Guide. Retrieved 18 February 2019.
  11. ^ "Alone in the Dark (1982) - Jack Sholder". Allmovie. Retrieved 18 February 2019.

External links[edit]