One Dark Night (1983)

Also known as: Mausoleum

The Eighties. Big hair. Leg warmers. Drum machines. It's an era that's been curiously neglected in these pages but as I get older, I seem to be warming to this era of cinema more and more. One Dark Night is a nice little example of the eighties look at least, without wading into the excesses of gore and sex that some films of this time explore. And let's face it, any film that has telekinetically-levitated rotting corpses, Batman's Adam West and Pee Wee's Big Adventure's Dottie (Elizabeth Daily) on the same screen has to be worth a view. It also has one of the earliest appearances of Meg Tilly, if there are any Tilly fans still out there.

Six girls have been murdered and crammed into a closet in famous occultist Karl Raymarseivich Raymar's apartment. Knives and utensils pierce the walls and Raymar, as he was known, is dead, his death mystifying the police as they carry the corpse away, sparks shooting from his fingers. Meanwhile back at high school, Julie Wells (Tilly) wants to join an elite club called 'The Sisters', comprised of blonde Carol (Robin Evans) Leslie (Daily) and Kitty (Leslie Speights). These girls are a group of snobs and Julie wants to prove herself to them, sick of being considered a goody-two-shoes 'good girl'. To make matters even more complicated, her boyfriend Steve (David Mason Daniels) used to go out with the bitchy Carol. Carol wants to teach Julie a lesson, and convinces her to stay the night in the local mausoleum as an initiation into the club.

In a side-plot we meet Raymar's estranged daughter Olivia (Melissa Newman) who just happens to be married to Adam West! Well, he's playing a down-to-earth character called Allan. At the same mausoleum where Julie's going to spend the night, Olivia mourns her father Raymar, even though she never met him. Some time later she's visited, against Allan's wishes, by a friend of her father's, a weird white-haired man called Samuel Dockstader (Donald Hotton) who explains that they worked together on occult experiments in the past. However, Raymar delved into darker and darker territory and became a psychic 'vampire', gaining powers of telekinesis by kidnapping young girls, terrorizing them, and feeding off the bioenergy they produced. Allan is skeptical but Olivia believes him.

'The sisters' drop Julie off at the mausoleum and give her a torch without a globe and and a couple of Demerols in case she cannot fall asleep. Leslie thinks they're going too far when she hears they're going to go back and scare the pants off Julie. Carol banishes Leslie from the group and eventually Steve runs into Leslie and hears about their heinous plan. He drives off to intercept Carol and Kitty. The other two girls are donning fright masks, throwing around disembodied hands and beginning their campaign of terror against Julie. Agitated by the demerols, Julie freaks out and hides under some pews. Raymar's still-sentient corpse is beginning it's own mission of horror, though. Psychic vampire that he was, Raymar's undying soul telekinetically levitates the cadavers of the mausoleum and begins terrorising Julie's two persecutors. Coffins slowly slide out of their chambers, and rotting figures float out of their chambers and towards the two girls. Eventually the screaming girls are surrounded by the hideous things and buried under a mound of decaying bodies, seemingly suffocating.

Olivia, seemingly on some kind of psychic instinct about the mayhem her late father's creating, arrives at the mausoulem. She finds Steve, who in turn is trying to find his girlfriend. They enter the chamber where Raymar resides, to find the sparking, glowing-eyed corpse has levitated itself out of it's coffin, and is draining the motionless Julie of her life essence. Can Raymar's long-lost daughter save the day, or while this remaining trio suffer the same fate as 'The sisters' and be squashed by a horde of floating cadavers?

If you're looking for sex and gore, you won't find it in One Dark Night. This is a subtle(ish) work as directed by Tom McLoughlin. The lighting and menacing music both add creepiness and the floating corpses are an effective, different touch. We're not talking zombies here. There's no life in these dead things, and they all represent different stages of decay. They're just the puppets of Raymar's vampiric spirit, which still seems to live on in it's shell in the mausoleum. The performances are all pretty stilted, but I didn't have high expectations in that area and that was fine. Elizabeth Daily doesn't convey any charm as she did in her "Dottie" days, and even Adam West is pretty nondescript in his skeptical husband role. There's no Batman to the rescue this one dark night! In the end I just wanted atmosphere which was delivered by the shadow-filled mausoleum and nicely-done makeup effects. Tom Burman and company have a nice sense of what an animated corpse would really look like and I was even slightly disturbed by a few closeup scenes, which is saying something. Raymar's fate at the hands of his daughter - I'd better not say much more - is quite startling and probably the closest the film comes to a gore scene. I didn't know makeup mirrors could have so many uses!

As the years pass the films of the eighties form a more nostalgic glow to me, and will probably feature more often in these pages. One Dark Night's a nice example of the era and I can quite recommend it for those who enjoy mood and shadow as much as splatter and exploitation.

© Boris Lugosi, 2010.

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