August 26, 2012

Dark Places (1973)

"A scheming couple plot to conceal a hidden cache of stolen money from its rightful owner. The only problem is that the house they plan to hide it in is haunted."
(Please note that this IMDb synopsis is completely wrong.)

Directed by the late Don Sharp who, apart from having a host of TV credits under his belt, also made some very enjoyable non-horror movies such as "Callan" (1974) and "Rasputin: The Mad Monk" (1966), "Dark Places" was a very overlooked British horror from the '70s.

In fact, it was so overlooked that I hadn't ever seen it myself until I found it on YouTube earlier. Although seeing Christopher Lee's name attached to it was an instant attraction, he made some absolutely horrendous movies in his career and turned out to be horribly miscast in this too.

"I smell poopie!"

The first time Christopher Lee appeared fully on screen, the look on his face was as if he could smell a tray full of rotting cat excrement. Maybe he knew something I didn't about this film and was warning me, but I brushed it off as just being his standard, surly look.

I was even more intrigued with the idea of Robert Hardy playing a possibly romantic leading man in a horror movie. With the other big names being Joan Collins and Herbert Lom, there were only two ways this could go. Either "Dark Places" was going to be extremely good or extremely bad with no middle ground possible. I still tried hard to give it a chance to impress me though and was prepared to overlook the scenery-munching as far as possible.

Bombastic Robert Hardy was a bit shouty, but I could see that he was trying to rein himself in most of the time. I'm not a big fan of his work outside of "All Creatures Great and Small" although I watched nearly everything that he made when I was much younger (due to my mum once being an extra in an early film he made with John Schlesinger). He wasn't too bad really given that he was really playing two roles and his descent into madness was almost up there with anything Jack Nicholson could do.

"Here's Johnny!"

One scene where Robert Hardy was tapping the panelled walls with a coin and listening for something hollow amused me not only due to it going on for far too long, but also because, in reality, all wooden panelling has a gap behind it.

Hilarity ensued when he smashed through a wall and a load of rubber bats on wires came flying out. I wasn't expecting something that amateur to be in this movie at all, and I really did laugh out loud.

Christopher Lee turned in his usual routine performance with even less time on screen than Herbert Lom. Even Jean Marsh and the lovely Jean Birkin had little more than cameos. All four did really well and stayed serious, but I would have liked to have seen more from them.

Joan Collins stood out the most in a highly slutty and slightly bitchy role which, of course, she was typecast in throughout her later career. I thought she looked beautiful though and even made Jean Birkin look plain in comparison.

"After the pleasure, the pain, lover!"

Something which came across as quite original was the use of quasi-possessions instead of the more usual flashbacks to recount the story of the mostly bloodless murders in the house and tie them into the present. I can't say that every time it happened wasn't confusing, but it was inventive.

With no actual scares, absolutely no atmosphere, and a plot which wasn't much different to a least a dozen previous ghostie movies including its twist and the downbeat ending, I would say that "Dark Places" was entertaining but not particularly memorable. It pulled its punches on at least four occasions where it should have been great, but, given the time it was made, I will mark it up for even daring to suggest the things it did.

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