Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century is a look back at the weirdest and most off center movies of the 20th century. From head turning horror to oddball science fiction this column examines the films that leave audiences not knowing what to think.
The 80’s was a decade that spawned so many fashion and societal trends. In a world of hairspray, neon bracelets, and New Wave music, it was important to preserve the ageless social norm of the mean girl/popular girl clique. While the popular girls were not necessarily always meant to be the mean girls, the popular girls were expected to uphold the general rules of coolness for their school. One Dark Night is a 1982 horror film directed by Tom McLoughlin (Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives). It is filled with 80’s fashion, a mean girl crew, and one naive nice girl who gives into the timeless pull of peer pressure.
One Dark Night begins with a chaotic opening sequence that flashes betweens a sleeping woman and the news. The news reveals that Karl Raymarseivich Raymar, a well known occultist has been found dead in an apartment along with a pile of young dead women. As police search the apartment, Raymar’s lifeless hand shoots out neon purple lightning. This is a very engaging beginning with some eye catching visuals. The dead women look like shells of themselves and there is no doubt Raymar’s purple magic hands are responsible.
In a less dead part of One Dark Night, we meet The Sisters, a trio of teenage fashionistas clad in matching purple satin jackets with the words Sisters emblazoned on the back. This is a particularly interesting group of girls. The queen bee is Carol (Robin Evans) who is very mean and extremely petty. She has recently been dumped by cool guy Steve who is now dating a nice girl named Julie. Carol is accompanied by Kitty (Leslie Speights) who carries a yellow toothbrush around in her mouth for no apparent reason.
(I love this odd detail. There is something very realistic about it as trends throughout time have always included some unconventional accessory.)
Then there is Leslie, played by Elizabeth Daily. Growing up in the 80’s, it was impossible not to know Elizabeth Daily. She was Dottie in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and had roles in Valley Girl and Better Off Dead. Daily always played fun, light characters, so it is a bit strange to see her as an accomplice to a cruel prank.
Carol, salty from her break up, has decided to let Julie into The Sisters, but first she must complete the initiation of spending the night in a mausoleum. Carol is openly rude to her, never puts on the pretense of false kindness, and mocks her naivety. A head mean girl always needs a crony, and she gets that in toothbrush toting Kitty. Leslie seems to be okay with this prank, until she finds out Carol intends to frighten Julie while keeping her locked in the mausoleum through the night. Leslie simply responds with “I don’t like it.” This act of defiance is pretty rare for a movie about bullying, but it is refreshing for a character to just state her discomfort with the situation.
The mausoleum is where the stories collide. Raymar has been entombed in the mausoleum and his powers are still very active despite his death. His daughter Olivia (Melissa Newman) has just learned her father killed all those women with psychic vampire powers. He drained them of their life force. The story line gets a little messy when it concerns Raymar’s story, but really it is all set up to have teenagers running around a mausoleum as reanimated corpses chase them.
It’s not quite clear why Raymar is not completely dead. An occult scholar arrives at Olivia’s house and explains telekinesis and psychic vampirism to her. Olivia’s husband, played by Adam West, is understandably dubious about the whole situation, but supports her desire to learn more. Olvia’s research leads her to her own dormant powers within.
Olivia arrives at the mausoleum to find her father wide awake even as he decomposes. He has destroyed Carol and Kitty and is about to devour Julie when Olivia shows up to reverse psychic energy with him. Resulting in some excellent visuals of face melting and skull crushing.
One Dark Night explores the damaging effects of bullying and the needs for sisterhood. While Julie loves Steve, the pull of the Sisters is more alluring. Steve warns her that The Sisters are not sincere about letting her into the group, but Julie throws a tantrum.
Julie is played by Meg Tilly, who went on to star in acclaimed films like The Big Chill and Agnes of God, however, her performance at the beginning of the film is pretty hilarious. While one can appreciate the torment of being a teen and wanting to belong to a group, Julie has a complete meltdown where she screams at Steve that she is “tired of being called a pansy.” As she runs down the boardwalks sobbing at full volume.
This is pretty over the top, but Tilly’s true acting skills come into play in the mausoleum. Reflecting only fear and uncertainty, Julie becomes less of a cartoon and more of a solid character the audience can root for.
Wanting to belong is an important theme in the film and it also carries into Olivia’s story. Olivia does not have a connection with her father and knows very little about him. His murder spree has finally allowed her a chance to take a glimpse into her life and learn about herself.
One Dark Night is a fun film with some great imagery. There are some excellent characters and it’s overall an enjoyable watch. I watched it as a distraction from the never-ending election. Watch it while teasing your hair and pretending you could be as oblivious to the world around you as you were when you were a kid.
Kung fu movies were another big trend of the 80s
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