Thursday, 21 June 2012
Force of Darkness (1985) Alan Hauge
Well then. This is a curious little thing. On the one hand, Force of Darkness has a plot propped up on a bit of nonsense that goes echoes beyond fantasy and into dark waters of real life, making for a queasy twinge of offence in the head and bad taste in the belly. It has the whole madman is possessed by demon or demons set up, a psychiatrist character who appears briefly and seems intended as a wishy washy figure whose science is impotent. And a fundamentalist christian character who seems posed as the films pillar of spiritual strength and guidance. So there's the notion of fundamentalist religion having a more useful grasp on mental illness than the actual mental health profession, which would be funny were it not for the fact that even today some people still believe this, and such belief has fulled multitudes of abuses ranging from straightforward negligence right up to torture and homicide. So some aspects of Force of Darkness had me hating it. But then on the other hand the most interesting character in the film (and the only likeable or remotely nuanced one) is a New Age monk type standing against fundamentalist belief and instead drawing on various disciplines in his efforts against evil. And he happens to be the brother of the pyscho at large, so the film gets to bring in ideas of sibling opposition. Brothers, both afflicted by painful childhood, one killer who remains a victim cursed by the simplistic demons that he will not let go, and one a warrior of peace, leaving behind simplicity to embrace complex notions. The situation is mirrored by the other siblings of the film, these male and female. Gloria, made victim through her embrace of New Age solutions to a problem (hypnotherapy for smoking), and warrior Tom, an actual man of war and simple as they come. And instead of chequered past the reason for their opposition, plain old gender stereotyping. And the cap on this assemblage of characters is the first victim, Gloria's fiance and hypnotherapist, who appears within moments to not be the most principled of individuals, and goes by Ron Hubbard II. Now I suppose there's an outside chance that this wasn't intended as a jab at the pulp writer responsible for Scientology, everyones favorite science fiction based cult and pyramid scheme. But I don't think that's likely, really. What I get from all of this set up is that even though there's a great streak of bullshit in this film, there's a level of thought here that even if skeletal still raises interest a few notches beyond the average contempoary urban fright thriller. Setting all this aside, Force of Darkness really is an average mid 80's fright thriller. Neither plot, ideas, characters nor action are developed, there's no real gore and the violence is roughly TV movie level, maybe just a notch above in a scene or two. It works as fairly solid entertainment though, with a brisk pace, some effective jolts and rather creepy scenes filmed at Alcatraz. And Mel Novak does a quality job as bedevilled maniac Conrad, relentless, demented and rather chilling. The end is anti-climatic, but not ruinously so, and the overall effect is of a rather average late night time filler with a few bright spots. So I guess that's what my summation will be. Average late night time filler with a few bright spots. See it if you must, but don't strain yourself if you don't have to.