Before directing Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI – a divisive film in the series due to its humor but also one of the better Friday films — Tom McLoughlin wrote for Dick Van Dyke, worked with Woody Allen on his science fiction comedy Sleeper, appeared as the robot S.T.A.R. in The Black Hole and played the Katahdin in Prophecy. This is the first film he directed and it’s been somewhat forgotten over the years.
Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and a vacation that took him Paris’ catacombs, McLoughlin and writer Michael Hawes spent four years trying to sell this movie to studios before finding a group of Mormon investors who demanded that the movie start production within three weeks. Unfortunately, the film was also taken out of McLoughlin’s hand and his original ending was nixed. What remains is still pretty good, however.
Karl Raymarseivich Raymar has killed at least six women — all found within his apartment — but the Russian occultist is now dead. As he’s taken away, electricity comes out of his body. Samuel Dockstader (Donald Hotton, The Hearse) tells Raymar’s daughter Olivia and husband Allan (Adam West) that her father had become a psychic vampire that fed off the bioelectricity of the young women that he had kidnapped.
Then there’s a snobby clique of mean girls called The Sisters — Carol, Kitty and Leslie (teenage crush E.G. Daily, who was Dottie in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Baby Doll in Streets of Fire, as well as being part of the band in Better Off Dead and providing the voice for the pig Babe and Tommy Pickles for Nickelodeon’s Rugrats). Julie Wells (Meg Tilly, Psycho II) wants to be part of the cub, but she’s also dating Carol’s ex-boyfriend Steve. To get revenge, The Sisters send her to spend one night alone in a mausoleum before she can be part of their group.
Carol and Kitty dress up and chase Julie, who hides in the chapel as Raymar awakens, opening coffins and vaults filled with the dead. Soon those reanimated corpses surround the popular twosome and murder them.
Everyone converges on the mausoleum — Steve wants to rescue Julie and Olivia wants her father’s powers. Can our young lovers survive? Will Olivia gain the vampiric energies of her father? Will lots of shambling corpses make scary noises and stagger all about?
One Dark Night was actually finished long before Poltergeist, a film that its special effects were often compared to. In fact, they both use real skeletons for some of their corpses. But production issues kept the film out of theaters long enough that it seemed to come off as a copycat.
I’d been looking for this film for some time, so I was happy to be able to finally get to see it thanks to Amazon Prime. It’s fun, quick and filled with jump scares — everything a decent horror film should be. You can also get the Code Red DVD at Ronin Flix.