Sunday, May 8, 2022

Into the Darkness (1986)

... aka: Der Mannequin Killer (The Mannequin Killer)
... aka: Pimeyden painajainen (A Nightmare of Darkness)
... aka: Suspense en las sombras (Suspense in the Shadows)
... aka: Vingança Mortal (Mortal Revenge)

Directed by:
David Kent-Watson

Donald Pleasence, in a top-billed supporting role, is clearly the big draw here, but one wonders what would make him sign on to do a shot-on-video slasher flick. It's not as if he was struggling for work in the 80s and, though he did act in quite a few terrible films around this same time, none were anywhere near this cheap! That automatically makes one assume he must have taken some kind of pay cut to appear. If they could afford his usual salary (he'd been paid 20,000 to appear in the 300,000 budgeted HALLOWEEN and that was nearly a decade earlier) then surely they also could have afforded to shoot this on film too, right? So I have a few other theories as to why he's even in this. Initially, I thought that since this was filmed on the Mediterranean island of Malta (which was a UK territory until 1964), he simply wanted a vacation there and this was as good an excuse as any. There's also the fact they would have needed something of a budget to take the mostly British cast and crew to Malta and film this in the first place, so there's that. However, once I saw the rest of the cast list, I had another idea...

A much more likely scenario is that he agreed to do this in exchange for them giving a role to his aspiring actress daughter, Polly Jo Pleasence. She curiously also receives star billing on the video box despite the fact she's only in two brief scenes, plus is given an "introducing" credit. The father-daughter casting has the feel of a two-for-one package deal if you catch my drift. That said, there's another fairly big name in the cast here: Ronald Lacey. Just a few years earlier, he had a major role in Raiders of the Lost Ark; the #1 global box office draw of 1981, and he was having no issue getting decent roles in other big budget films in the mid-80s, like Red Sonja (1985) and Sky Bandits (1986). Perhaps the filmmakers blew their budget load early on securing a couple of name stars and travel arrangements and were then forced to shoot on video? I'm not so sure but it's fun to hypothesize about.

In Malta, a young boy sees his parents arguing, decides to stalk the mother ("special guest" Karmen Azzopardi) around town and then catches her walking off with an older man. Once the boy finally tracks mum down, she informs him, "I'm a tart! A prostitute! Me, your loving mother, the whore!" and then stomps on a music box with her heel. "Some years later" in London, the now-grown kid goes home with a bleach blonde hooker and stabs her to death after she takes off her top. (Interesting bit of trivia here: Despite having just two titles on her IMDb filmography, Azzopardi was considered the top actress in Malta at the time, which makes it all the more unfortunate this is the best film offer she was getting in her homeland.)

We then meet a rather unsavory group of people working the London talent, acting and modeling circuit. Jeff Conti (John Saint Ryan) was once a popular and in-demand actor but is now having a hard time finding work due to being involved in a tragic incident that cost a woman her life. Though Jeff has always maintained it was an accident, and he's already been acquitted of any wrongdoing in court, not everyone is convinced of his innocence. As a result of that bad publicity, no one's wanting to touch him with a ten foot pole and he's not been able to secure so much as an audition for 9 months. Seeing how he's now desperate, strapped for cash and owes his agent, Andrew Sinclair (Lacey), a hefty commission, Jeff agrees to take on a male modeling assignment for a company called Aurora Swimwear, even though he feels it is beneath his talents.

Also going along on the shoot are arrogant photographer Steve Sutton (Brett Paul), who's majorly in debt to creditors and starting to feel the wrath of nasty modeling agency rep Jenny (Polly Jo), Steve's perverted assistant Jim (Paul Flanagan), make-up artist Liam (Paul Elsam) and a quartet of female models; Suzie (Heather Alexander), Angie (Julie Dennis), Rosie (Sara Hollamby) and the nubile and inexperienced Debbie ("Jadie Rivas" / Jeanette Driver). Not going along is buxom blonde Diana (Fiona Sloman). Despite sleeping with seemingly every man in a position of power who's involved with this upcoming shoot (she's also carrying on an affair with the married Andrew), Diana loses out on this particular booking. Even worse for her, she's strangled to death in the parking garage the night before everyone else flies out.

Feeling like fish out of water, Jeff and Debbie find themselves drawn to one another, which leads to a long tour of the country and some of what it has to offer, including endless picturesque scenery and ancient ruins, fancy hotels, luxurious swimming pools, rocky cliffs, romantic beach sunsets, fireworks shows, wild nightlife and parades including Roman gladiators, marching bands and guys dressed in what look like KKK hoods (?!) This even makes sure to crop shots to specifically to plug various tourist destinations, like St. Paul's Catacombs, the (still open) Jerma Palace Hotel and the (now defunct) Styx II Discotheque.

All of that enticing travelogue footage makes one suspect that the Maltese government may have chipped in some money and / or resources to help the filmmakers in order to boost tourism. The fatal mistake was shooting this on video. Had this been shot in a proper widescreen aspect ratio, the scenery would have looked a hell of a lot better than the murky full-screen video presentation. Also, shooting this on film would have been a better long-term investment as it could now be remastered, put on Blu-ray and continue to draw attention to the island instead of being a long-ago-forgotten 80s shelf filler that now never stands a chance of looking all that good.

In addition to that, there appears to have been some kind of agreement with Magnet Records to help promote the career of singer Chris Rea. There's a good fifteen minute block in here where we get to hear not one, not two, but three, but four Rea songs almost in their entirety. These aren't original songs made for the movie but instead are mostly taken from his 1983 album Water Sign. Even though some of the lyrics are a bit hokey, Rea has a great, gritty, bluesy voice so the music is at least pleasant to listen to throughout.

While on location, Rosie goes off sightseeing and gets her throat cut by an unseen assailant, who then hides her body under some rocks. Driving around in a Rolls Royce and usually wearing sunglasses, Pleasence plays a mysterious man named David Beckett, who's been stalking the group around the island since they first arrived and introduces himself to the guys by saying "I am your nemesis!" He talks about ghosts, virgin sacrifices, Christian persecution and other such nonsense to muddy up the plot, cracks a gay joke and finally claims to be there as a representative of the swimwear company who has flown in to make sure they don't screw things up. There's also a second mystery man wearing a suit and sunglasses lurking around.

During all of the horror and action-oriented scenes, the director has a tendency to use and abuse slow motion, out of focus shots and freeze frames; all techniques utilized to try to camouflage how bad these scenes would have looked otherwise. Someone is smothered to death with a pillow, there's a throat slashing and even a shower slice-up, but you don't really ever get to see much of any of it because of all the video distortion. That makes the box claim this was shot "In Blood-Curdling Color" quite funny when it has zero gore and almost no blood! The fact it centers around models, has no nudity and very conservative-looking swimsuits means this isn't going to sit too well with the exploitation crowd either.

Of course, a film doesn't need R-rated levels of sex and violence to be good, but it certainly wouldn't have hurt THIS particular film any. All we're left with is a middling mystery (though the killer reveal did take me a bit by surprise) and all of the travelogue footage, which is admittedly enjoyable though not really the reason most people are going to be seeking this out. It was co-scripted by the director and male stars Saint Ryan and Paul; all using pseudonyms. The three would team up for numerous other DTV efforts, including The Eye of Satan, which was filmed in 1988 but not released to home video (limited to the UK and a few other European countries) until 1992.

The U.S. distributor was World Video Pictures (a division of Western World Video), who are best known for being the only ones brave enough to release Ted V. Mikels and Nick Millard movies. They did occasionally put out some interesting stuff, like the acclaimed anti-nuke film Threads (1984), the rare R-rated cut of the porno Champagne for Breakfast (1982) and several early Rutger Hauer movies.

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