The Dark Power (1985)

My father, grandfather and uncle used to play this game when we had cookouts, late into the night, where they would list the initials of a famous actor and they’d all have to guess. Tom Mix, Rex Allen, Tex Ritter…the list would go on and on. Then there would be “LL” — who of course ended up being Lash LaRue.

Lash started his career as the Cheyenne Kid, the sidekick of singing cowboy Eddie Dean, whose whip wasn’t just for show. Lash was an expert in using one, able to disarm villains and perform other tricks (he was also the trainer for Harrison Ford as he prepared to play Indiana Jones).  After appearing in all three of the Eddie Dean’s singing western films, Lash starred in eleven “Marshal Lash LaRue” strange western films for PRC, a Poverty Row (the name given for the lower than B-level studios that churned out films in the 1940’s) studio and Eagle-Lion. Unlike many cowboys, Lash spoke with a street patois, not unlike the actor he resembled, Humphrey Bogart (so much so that character actress Sarah Padden (Murder by Invitation) asked if they were related. When Lash said no, she looked him dead in the eye and asked,   “Did your mother ever meet Humphrey Bogart?”).

But unlike those big-time Hollywood stars, Lash would actually come to your town, showing off his whip skills and convincing young cowboys and cowgirls that there was at least one movie star hero who could actually do all of the things he did on screen.

Unbenowst to Lash, his role as a villain in 1972’s Hard on the Trail was actually in an adult film. While he had a non-sex role and had no idea that the film was X-rated, he spent the next ten years repenting as a missionary.

That brings us to 1985’s The Dark Power, a regional horror movie made by director Phil Smoot, who also directed Alien Outlaw, which also starred LaRue.

A North Carolina regional horror film, this one starts with a near full minute of a yard sign. Yep. It reads:

SAMMY & EARL
“THE FIX-IT BROTHERS”
IF WE CAN’T FIX-IT… THROW IT AWAY!
CALL 99 FIX-IT

What follows is a fat child messing around with a bow and arrow, juxtaposed with wild dogs chasing after him, POV-style. Once the four dogs catch up to him, he runs for about ten feet before falling down and crying. Luckily, he’s saved by Ranger Girard (Lash, of course) and his skills with the bullwhip, which never come near the dogs thanks to some, well, poor editing and sound dubbing.

Meanwhile, one of the Ranger’s friends, a Native American mystic, expires Citizen Kane-style after saying the word, “Toltec.” Turns out that the Toltecs were Aztec occult priests who liked to live inside the Earth and build great evil power. The bad news? They’re coming back, thanks to their eagle symbols that no one understands but the ranger. Luckily, a local news girl and her inept cameraman — everything he shoots turns green — are here to tell the tale.

The Native American mystics house is sold to some college kids, who take turns eating snacks, working out in leotards, being racist to one another,  drinking beer and taking baths and showers. It’s as if they demanded that some kind of inhuman force rise and kill them all, one by one. Good news — they’re gonna get what they asked for.

While all that’s going on, the reporter keeps flirting with Lash, who has gone from looking like Bogie to looking like a grandfatherly man with Q-Tip-esque hair. Imagine a more well-groomed Santa Claus, in a Scoutmaster outfit, with a whip. I guess I can see how some ladies — and bear lovers — could be into this. I mean, just check out this sexy dialogue:

Mary: Of course, some girls might be a little crazier about whips than others.

Ranger Girard: You know about my whip?

The Toltecs rise from their graves, accompanied by a soundtrack that is recorded on what can only be described as an xylophone and kazoo symphony. Also — they speak like the characters from a cartoon and slap one another often. Let the art below illustrated both their look and the cultural sensitivity of this movie:

The townspeople all suck. Let’s be honest. They’re all fat, mean and given to fits of pure stupidity. They even let their fat children steal their vehicles. Thank God Lash is there to defend them, beating on zombie Aztec priests with the power of his whip skills, slur yelling dialogue like, “All right, you demonic bastard, let’s take this outside!” and “Feel my whip, you son of a bitch!”

Man — at one point Lash was one of the biggest stars in the country. Yet here he is, in one of his last films, gamely swinging his whip at the undead. It’s not great. But it’s certainly entertaining.

You can see the Rifftrax version of this film on Amazon Prime.

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