Dark August (1976) Let There Be Light(ning Bug)
What I have seen is today’s film, Dark August. I had been saving this one for a while ile ] to review in August, and I’m quite glad that I am finally getting to do so. I was attracted to the movie mostly because of the title as August is not only The Lair’s birthday but mine as well. As that makes us both Leos, anything having to do with that month is automatically interesting on a narcissistic level. Add in the fact that it was released the same year I was born, and you've got yourself a movie I would pick out time and again. Turns out, the plot wasn't too shabby either.
J.J. Barry plays Sal Devito, a man looking to escape “The City” for the quieter climes of a Vermont artist
community. Unfortunately for him, he’s a terrible driver, which is revealed in a series of flashbacks culminating in him running down a young girl. Her grandfather (William Robertson) takes it a bit personal, and lacking the physical strength to exact revenge, he does what any grieving elder would do and calls upon a demon using a dark ceremony of black magic. Soon Sal finds himself followed by a mysterious dark figure, plagued by sudden mysterious ailments, and driven to the brink by paranoia. It is only when he enlists the help of a psychic medium (Kim Hunter) that Sal discovers that his fate may not be something he can divert.
Dark August is a film about two facets of human nature, both of which I alluded to in my opening paragraph. It is easy to tell by Barry’s character’s interactions with his girlfriend and his pottery spinning pal (who looks like a caricature of John Oates) that he has already been a man plagued with guilt. Several times, he notes behaviors he thought he had quit after leaving the city and “stress“ behind, but here they are manifesting again under the strain of the accident he caused. He wakes in [ change “wake sin” to wakes in ] the night from fright, and even before he gets any answers, Barry’s performance is deft enough to convey that Sal already feels the specter of retribution on him.
Director Martin Goldman, who also helmed the uncomfortably titled Fred Williamson vehicle The Legend of Nigger Charley, and cinematographer Richard E. Brooks (whose last job had been lensing George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh) wisely play out the first two acts of the film utilizing light, shadow, and camera movement to build tension. Unfortunately, when it comes time for the climatic spiritualist ceremony and Kim Hunter’s big moment, the camera comes to rest, and the bag of tricks employed in the films opening half has seemingly gone empty. The climax is easily the most boring part of the film with a double false ending doing little to pick up the slack. Hunter, a veteran of the Planet of the Apes, is suitably spooky herself as the medium, but her scenes are so static that little interesting happens. Fortunately the noisy, synth driven score by William Fischer (who also wrote music for 80s trash Tenement) jars the nerves enough to keep some suspense going.
Stacking Dark August up against other exorcism or haunting movies of the 1970s, it surely falls to the low middle portions of the list, but, if you're like me and you’ve seemingly seen all the high profile supernatural Seventies offerings, then Dark August is not a bad way to spend 90 minutes. The first two acts move briskly, and Barry, who also co-wrote the film, (and got his start on Laugh-In) makes for an unlikely but sympathetic character who is a far cry from the mobster roles he often landed or his part as Rack Jobber in This is Spinal Tap.
Yours in Buggitude,
Zachary “The Bugg” Kelley