Monday, January 4, 2016


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

The most interesting thing about writer-director Phil Smoot's THE DARK POWER-- apart from its being one of the last films of B-western hero Lash LaRue-- is that though it cribs from Sam Raimi's 1981 cult success THE EVIL DEAD, it also anticipates the way that franchise would later develop.

Both films are set in isolated rural areas, and provide the audience with a group of irritating young protagonists who occupy a rural house and are promptly victimized by undead predators. However, though LaRue doesn't have as much screen time as the annoying teenagers, in real life he served as one of the film's producers. Thus, while the sixty-something actor certainly knew he wasn't likely to make any significant comeback by whirling the whip he wielded in old B-westerns, the storyline places more emphasis on the victory of his character Ranger Girard over the horrific menaces.

At least Smoot's concept for the horrors isn't a rip-off of Raimi's Sumerian demons. According to the script's heavy exposition-scenes, one of the small-town locals, name of Cody, has for years been guarding against the return of "the Toltecs"-- a quartet of Mexican sorcerers who migrated to the United States back in pre-Columbian times, in order to bury themselves in the ground and someday rise as super-powerful zombies. The exposition doesn't tell us why they wanted to do this, but it's a suitably creepy idea-- unfortunately not pulled off by the sub-par makeup and outfits of the Indian sorcerers.

Girard has a few scenes at the beginning, wielding his whip against malicious dogs, and later telling one of the teens that the deceased Cody gave him the whip, which may have magical efficacy since it was made from materials taken from "the four corners of the world." Again, there's a little metaphysical potential in this, since American Indians made much of the potency of the number four, but the script doesn't exploit this.

There are no surprises after that: the zombie-like Toltecs rise from the earth, wielding weapons like tomahawks, knives, and even a bow-and-arrow. (Would a bowstring, buried under earth for centuries, still hold together?) They make their way to the cabin and attack the obnoxious teens amid a lot of Raimi-imitating zoom-shots, none of which are effective.  Ranger Girard shows up at the climax and whales the hell out of the undead Toltecs, and even engages one in a whip-vs. whip battle before snapping off the zombie's head. That said, some of the teen girls kill at least two of the zombies with artifacts in their cabin, so Girard doesn't get all the fun.

I doubt that Raimi saw this film. However, it's an interesting coincidence that two years later, when he brought forth a higher-budgeted sequel to his first film, he took the emphasis off of the "evil dead" and placed it squarely upon the ballsy character of Ash Williams, who has generally dominated the franchise ever since. For what it's worth, Ranger Girard got there first.

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