Bad films come in a variety of breeds. Some may suffer any number of symptoms — amateurish acting, weak dialogue, obvious plot twists, inept technique — but still warrant thoughtful analysis of their plusses and minuses; some gain respect for their “ambitions,” however modest they may be; and some can even spark a spirited, love-it-or-hate-it debate.
And then there’s Alone in the Dark, a would-be sci-fi-action-horror-romance-adventure flick — based on a forgotten video game, no less — that’s so stunningly awful, so colossally wrongheaded from the first frame, that it ends up inspiring a very special kind of awe. It’s so bad, it’s awesome. If Metro Times employed an inverse rating scale, it would merit a negative-five. There are circles of hell reserved for people who make movies like this, but perhaps more importantly, there’s a very select breed of moviegoer who will not only appreciate them, but treasure them. Somewhere, the makers of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are wishing they hadn’t gone into retirement. Ed Wood is smiling in his grave.
Of course, connoisseurs of craptastic cinema will lick their chops at the cast listing, a veritable who’s-who of washed-up former pubescent pinups now fallen on hard liquor and hard times. Mere mention of the names Christian Slater, Tara Reid and Stephen Dorff conjures up images of tabloid rumors, the Hollywood unemployment line, rehab, minimum-security prison or botched plastic surgery. When they all get together, sparks don’t fly — they’re extinguished.
Slater is the film’s ostensible lead: a troubled orphan on a quest for clichéd answers, on the run from big, bad, indestructible bald guys wearing Matrix shades, and out to save the world from some sort of alien monster alligator-bobcat things that move with all the swiftness of Gumby and his pals. It seems that an ancient tribe of extremely stupid people tried but failed to suppress these “evil spirits,” and it’s up to Slater, his rival Dorff and their pals in the X-Files-ish government agency known as “Bureau 713” — a collection of Express employees dressed in stylish, ab-enhancing flak jackets and riot gear — to save the world.
Perhaps a better recipe for describing the plot would go like this: combine one part each Dreamcatcher, Battlefield Earth and Species, and hit “puree.” It’s a bad omen when the film’s Star Wars-like opening scroll of text just keeps going and going — and going — attempting to fill us in on a convoluted backstory that exists only in the deepest recesses of director Uwe Boll’s fevered mind. Most of the cast seems dubbed, the score sounds like it belongs in Romancing the Stone, the combat sequences look like Lazer Tag (when you can actually make out what’s happening) and the military helicopters look like hobby-shop models filmed against a bed-sheet background. After a while, the mind wanders, and the film devolves into Battle of the Receding Hairlines. You start to wonder: How bald can Dorff get and still attempt to grow out his Richard Marx-style locks? Was this shot before or after Reid’s long-rumored botched boob job? How many drug binges, lawyer fees, and nips and tucks did the budget cover, anyway? Alone in the Dark is more than a bad B-movie; it’s a cry for help. Enjoy.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].