Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dark August (1976): or, Warlock with a Shotgun

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 14!

Gruff,  no-nonsense Noo Yawker Sal Devito (J.J. Barry), reeling from a messy separation and mid-life crisis, has relocated to rural Vermont to start a new life. Things are going pretty well for him--he's set up as a photographer, started building a studio, and fallen in with anorexic blonde artist Jackie (Carolyne Barry), who cares about neither his still-married status nor his chronic shortage of shirt-buttons. However, when Sal accidently runs over the granddaughter of local occultist Old Man McDermitt, the grieving grandfather hexes Sal with all the powers of Hell!

Dark August starts out extremely well, setting up Sal as man tormented by guilt, not only for the accident, but his failed marriage. Director Martin Goldman does a good job getting Sal's story out visually, dropping hints about his paranoia (he's taken up smoking again, let the housework go, left his loaded shotgun on the bed, that sort of thing) and normal conversations to let the viewer work things out. J.J. Barry is believable and engaging as Sal, and for a while I was really interested in his plight and worried for him.

Unfortunately, it seems all the old man's hex has the power to do is give Sal periodic panic attacks and cause minor hallucinations that don't do anything. (Though I guess being interrupted by hyperventilation while banging a skinny Vermont artist is pretty evil.) The movie drags as Sal gets more and more upset about this mostly harmless curse, leading to some cool 70s occultism/spiritualism from his friend Theo's girlfriend. But it goes nowhere, even when he visits local witch Adrianna Putnam (Kim Hunter, famous round these parts for being Bad Ronald's mom, around others for being Dr. Zira in the Planet of the Apes series), who munches pumpkin seeds while talking about hexes and evil forces and has a surprising exit in the film's otherwise in-name-only climax.

The first half of Dark August was pretty great, I though--artfully filmed, well-scripted and paced, believably acted, giving us some cool creepy occult curse action in dribs and drabs. But unfortunately the film never really delivers on its promise of Eeevil Wizardry and demonic dispensation, leaving the audience wishing something--ANYTHING--would happen. And if there's one thing a Mad Movie should never be, it's boring. 1.25 thumbs.

"Don't mind me. I'm just going to stand here and do nothing for the next 87 minutes."


Jose said...

Ha! I had to laugh at the caption you had there. Have you ever seen HELLBOUND with Chuck Norris? There's a mysterious figure who does that exact same thing and I similarly joked about it when I wrote about it on the FBD blog. Brainwaves and all that. ;)

Richard of DM said...

Oh yes, I know Dark August very well. It's a complicated film. On the one hand, it's a forgotten gem but on the other, it's friggin' cubic zirconia! I enjoyed it but with massive caveats on the pacing and the douchebag main character.

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