P: The People Who Own the Dark (1976/80)


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Incidentally, Sean S. Cunningham claims he knows nothing about this movie,

Incidentally, Sean S. Cunningham claims he knows nothing about this movie,

Whenever I bring up the subject of The People Who Own the Dark (which is an uncommon occurrence, I grant you), I am generally greeted by blank looks. Admittedly, this shouldn’t surprise me, though I am narcissistic enough to believe that my movie experience is everyone else’s. But my knowledge of this movie is due only to a couple of 15 second movie spots on local TV, and a later admonition to “not bother.” The lack of it in any home entertainment format seemed to bear that out, but as we know, often to my detriment, I have to find out for myself.

Code Red DVD is one of those boutique labels that champions some of the most obscure titles, and God bless them for it. They’ve allowed me to see some absolute garbage, but they’ve also allowed me to see some real gems. And their disc of People Who Own the Dark (with typical dark humor, proclaimed on the box to be a “Brand new telecine from an abused, scratched and beat-up 35mm print that went vinegar!”) manages to edge it’s way into the latter category. (The transfer, incidentally, is all those things, but it is also frequently gorgeous; the disc also has a full-frame 1-inch video transfer, if you need to know what’s missing from that 35mm print)

In an indeterminate area of Europe (oh, okay, it’s Spain) a group of high level statesmen, businessmen and rich doctors gather at a remote villa for what proves to be a weekend of debauchery with some lovely women who are, ahem, in it for the money. There is an opening ceremony name-checking the Marquis de Sade, held in an underground wine cellar, and just when we think we’re going to be treated to a low-budget Salo (hopefully lighter on the coprophagy), there is an earthquake that interrupts the salaciousness.

people-dark-32Returning to the mansion upstairs, our group finds out that every living thing above ground is now totally blind. The guy who is going to turn out to be our protagonist, Fulton (Alberto de Mendoza) figures out that there has been a nuclear war, and they have just days before the radiation comes. This is bad science at its baddest, but let’s just roll with it.

The men head into town to steal get supplies for their wine cellar/fall out shelter and the boytoy host of the debaucheries (Tomas Pico) first stabs the blind shopkeeper they’re ripping off, then freaks out and shoots some of the now-blind villagers before he is himself killed by one of the outraged doctors. The others return to the villa, and prepare to hunker down until the fallout passes. Their efforts are interrupted by a mob of vengeful blind people.

tumblr_ltsiu1js241qaun7do1_500What this is, obviously, is another version of Night of the Living Dead, except with blind people instead of zombies. The advantage to that is we are able to skip right over the “they’re learning to use tools!” phase right into cars being used as battering rams to get into the villa. The major disadvantage is the rather problematic conversion of blind people into bloodthirsty monsters.

But as a zombie siege picture, it works; all the necessary notes are hit, and hit well. Though what can be considered another flaw is the adherence to the Night of the Living Dead model, right up to the downbeat ending.

the-people-who-own-the-dark-1975The double year credit in the title of this post is due to the fact that (Surprise! Surprise!) this is actually a Spanish movie, Ultimo deseo. That would likely come as no surprise if I had told you the designated asshole (who is so mean that when he shoots skeet, he uses real pigeons) is Paul Naschy, and the mistress of the villa is the lovely Maria Perschy. Also, the director is Leon Klimovsky, who you’ll recognize from a ton of Naschy werewolf movies.

The original cut is 12 minutes longer than the English version; I suspect I’ll never know what’s in those 12 minutes, and given what I’ve seen, it probably doesn’t much matter. There are some character stories that aren’t fully exploited in this version, but there’s not a whole lot here to make me want to seek those moments out. It’s not a terrible movie by any means, but neither is it a great movie. It’s entertaining enough during its runtime, but alas! Does not cry out for a second viewing.

The People Who Own the Dark on Amazon