Thursday, 7 June 2012

Dark August (1976) Martin Goldman

Watching Dark August I was rather reminded of Stephen King's Thinner. Both have a city slicker type, a little arrogant, a little entitled, accidentally killing a female relative of an elderly conjure man. Both men are cursed, and both seek radical action after friends and loved ones are drawn into their circle of danger as the supernatural grips tighter. It's hardly an innovative or original set-up of course, but still nice to see that sometimes even those highly vaunted as imagineers draw deep at the wells of tradition. Dark August is it must be said the better of the two, a strange regional item that could never be mistaken for anything other than a late 70's piece, setting about its events with simplicity, a flair for the strange and unnerving talent for shocks, where Thinner was more a heavy handed mix of Twilight Zone karma, theatrical grotesquery and boorishness masquerading as depth.  Though not without flaws, perhaps most notably that an entire interesting potential plot strand is brought up and set down in the minute or so it takes for the main character to have a fractious phone conversation, Dark August is in fact one of the better obscure horrors I've seen for a while, the sort of film that really deserves a DVD release to unleash it upon audiences of today. Key to its power is direction, interesting angles and a skill with both stillness and hand held excitement, the latter deployed in short sharp bursts that tend to sneak up and jab you right in the guts so you near-most double up from the intensity. And the quieter moments layer up the atmosphere nicely in between the jolts, many meaningful stares, creepy figures seen or half seen, flashbacks and disorientations building upon each other with hot uneasy effect. Star J.J. Barry (who co wrote the interesting script with director Martin Goldman) is a decent everyman, he has a touch of the overdriven to him but is generally likeable, suggesting realistic depth to the character though the writing is generally plot driven. Carolyne Barry is quite lovely as his girlfriend, a warm and pleasant lady for whom one cannot but help wish safety. Highlight though is William Robertson as the silent staring villain of the film, a seething vicious menace rarely far from eruption. Kim Hunter is quality also as the white witch of sorts who lends her help, a kind and pragmatic lady mixing new age christianity with more arcane rites in the service of good. This is the second late 70's horror I've seen in a week or so with a dash of new age christianity helping against more esoteric evils, I guess people figured the great bearded dude in the sky was cooler back then. There are probobly complaints to be made about muddled theology and the normalisation of christianity as a cure all for evils, but I won't make them because I can't really be arsed, also the film delivered in the all important oddball freakout stakes so I was left pretty pleased, with the ending especially fine. Also there's a wee bit of blood and even brief nudity bolstering up the shock side of things, though the film was a PG in the States back in the day it's certainly harder hitting than the majority of PG13 fare of more recent times. I expect the audience for this will be limited to obscure horror junkies like myself even though it could easily score with wider audiences who can appreciate a well crafted spook show at any level. Well recommended from me then, and perfect for a summers night.

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