He'll take you to the brink of reality
On October 28, 2008, Synapse Films released several cult titles on DVD that had been previously made available by Elite Entertainment. One such title was Thirst, an unusual pseudo-vampire flick made in Australia back in 1978. If you haven't caught this movie before, and you're a horror and / or vampire fan, then Thirst is definitely a title you'll want to check out. You can read my review of it here.
Another Australian curiosity concurrently released on that date by Synapse was Dark Forces, a 1980 production that feels more than a bit like a mishmash of The Omen and Rasputin. I was completely unaware of this movie before receiving it to review, but I was pleasantly surprised with the intelligence of the script and the performances of the lead characters. Dark Forces is a slow and methodical movie, but fans of older horror movies would do well to track this release down.
In the film, Nick Rast is a politician whose fortunes are on the rise; however, his home life is abysmal. His wife, Sandra, is desperately unhappy. Not only is her young son Alex dying from leukemia, but her arranged marriage to Nick is a farce. They sleep in separate rooms, and she's aware of an affair he's having with a member of his staff.
Into this situation walks the mysterious Gregory Wolfe. He's a clown that performs at Alex's birthday party (a party Nick doesn't make). However, Wolfe is much darker than what his first role in the film would suggest. He ingratiates himself with Sandra and Alex after apparently performing a miracle cure upon the child. Nick is, of course, dubious and suspicious of the stranger. However, other "dark forces" are at work in his life - the kind that involves political machinations.
Dark Forces has elements of the horror and fantasy genres, but it's also a political thriller as well. It has a lot of clear antecedents, and yet the movie seems fresh and original. Credit should go to Everette De Roche, who wrote the screenplay. The movie is slow going at first, but the plot takes a number of interesting twists in the second half. The cast, too, deserves some applause. Robert Powell headlines Dark Forces as the mysterious Wolfe. Powell is really good at being both sinister and sympathetic, as the storyline warrants. Industry veteran David Hemmings (who played the lead in Dario Argento's cult classic Deep Red and also appeared in the aforementioned Thirst) is also good as the brooding Nick.
The film, however, had two drawbacks. First, Sandra's relationship with Wolfe seemed a little forced. It was necessary for the plot, and actress Carmen Duncan is fine in the role, but the character's sudden devotion to Gregory - even with the miracle cure of her son and her unhappy marriage - doesn't ring true. Second, the movie becomes more action-heavy in the second half, which is fine, but some of Wolfe's magic acts / power are let down by disappointing special effects work. Yes, it's 1980 and that has to be kept in mind. Still, there were some dramatic magic fireworks at a formal party that not only looked fake but were probably unnecessary for the development of the plot.
Still, Dark Forces is an entertaining thriller that I'd definitely recommend to older horror fans. It's clever and intelligently written. This and Thirst (which also featured David Hemmings) would pair together as a good Australian horror double feature.
Two notes about Dark Forces before I turn to the technical portion of this review. First, Synapse Films' menu system shows the final scene of the movie before you can press play for the feature. It's mildly spoiler-ish, so be wary when you pop the disc into your player. Second, the DVD cover art says Dark Forces is rated PG - a little surprising. The PG-13 rating didn't exist in 1980, and that's the rating I'd imagine it would receive today. The movie has some minor nudity and several adult themes (including marital infidelity and a discussion of an offscreen rape) that's along the same level of the recent Keira Knightley period piece The Duchess, which was a PG-13.
Synapse Films presents Dark Forces in anamorphic widescreen with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The opening sequence has some dirt noticeable, but otherwise the film looks clean and crisp, with strong details and nice colors.
Dark Forces has no less than four audio tracks to choose from. Three are Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono in different languages: English, Spanish, and French. The English language track is the default and sounded quite good, with the dialogue and score mixed together efficiently. An Audio Setup menu also has an isolated music score track, if you're interested in hearing Brian May's understated work unencumbered with dialogue. This too, unsurprisingly, is in Dolby Digital 2.0.
There didn't seem to be any subtitle options present.
The special features are fairly plentiful for a movie of this vintage. The most significant extra is a feature-length commentary track with director Simon Wincer and producer Antony I. Ginnane. The commentary is informative and provides a lot of insight into the making of Dark Forces.
A Filmographies section lists the other films that the various cast and crew participated in.
A Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery provides a navigable archive of photographs from Dark Forces's production. The number of photos is generous, but they're sized rather small, with a large portion of the screen dedicated to a generic Photo Gallery background upon which the photos are laid.
Finally, a Trailer Gallery offers trailers for Dark Forces, Syngenor, Strange Behavior, Thirst, and Patrick. They can be played individually or collectively through a Play All option.
Intelligently written, Dark Forces is an interesting 1980 Australian production that has elements of horror, fantasy, and political intrigue. Recommended for the vintage horror crowd.