Kino Cult: The Dark Power (1985) - Reviewed

Images courtesy of Kino Lorber

Kino Lorber recently announced a new sublabel entitled Kino Cult which specializes in smaller cult horror and/or science-fiction flicks too niche for their ordinary releasing label.  Among the first few entries in this new sublabel catering to grittier regional flicks with lovingly restored new 4K restorations are Clive Barker’s Underworld, Jeff Franco’s sleazy Sinner: The Secret Diary of a Nymphomaniac and not one but two Lash LaRue starring regional vehicles by Phil Smoot: Alien Outlaw and today’s Kino Cult entry The Dark Power from 1985.

Lensed on 16mm, shot and set in North Carolina where Southern Fried racism still abides, the film is another one of those weekend slumber party flicks that goes awry upon the arrival of whatever monsters the plotline cooks up to throw at us, The Dark Power concerns a group of Native American demons known as the Toltecs who have cursed the town by unleashing a horde of Indian zombies at a college coed dormitory.  Things seem dire for our cast of scantily clad characters fleeing in distress from deadly Native American zombies, that is until a grand showdown with the town sheriff Ranger Girard (40s-50s western whipcracking legend Lash LaRue) evens the playing field and presents a real threat to the undead entities.

The first of two features by writer-director Phil Smoot who peppers his characters with real palpable racism that is every bit as uncomfortable to hear now as it must’ve been for video renters in 1985, The Dark Power is a nifty little cult item that jump started the careers of many cast and crew members.  For instance, the film showcases some wild effects sequences from eventual Cold Storage effects wizard Tony Elwood and Emmy Award winner Dean Jones of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.  Though director Smoot himself admits he doesn’t like gory movies, there’s a face ripping scene that all but rivals the bathroom mirror scene in Poltergeist.  It also sports, for 16mm, pretty strong cinematography by eventual The Mandalorian DP Paul Hughen. 

The cast is mostly amateurish save for LaRue though the ensemble players who remember the production fondly for launching their careers but as we’re watching this overtly regional effort we kinda don’t mind the non-professional actors.  The soundtrack by Christopher Deane and Matt Kendrick is a tad overwrought and sounds at times like a score written for a 1950s western.  Still, once the effects kick in and the damsels in distress find themselves fleeing oversized goopy gloppy Native American zombies with an inexplicable fear of whips cracking, we forget about the rest.
Barely released on video before disappearing for a few years and reappearing on DVD, this new 4K restoration by Kino Cult featuring a newly filmed retrospective documentary on the making of the film with contributions from Phil Smoot and the cast is most certainly the definitive possible release of this otherwise forgotten and overlooked little exploitation horror flick.  

Newer viewers are forewarned about the racism of the time and setting though that shouldn’t deter film historians and horror fans from enjoying the film.  How many horror movies do you know of with distinctly Native American zombies or a whip cracker warding said zombies off?  Understandably this did get a RiffTrax commentary version making fun of the film, but on its own terms The Dark Power can be an irreverent slasher horror blast.

--Andrew Kotwicki