Color, 1974, 90 mins. 45 secs.
Directed by Don Sharp
Starring Christopher Lee, Joan Collins, Herbert Lom, Robert Hardy, Jane Birkin, Jean Marsh
Nucleus Films (Blu-ray) (UK R0 HD), Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
This subdued old dark house chiller started turning up on VHS all over the place in the mid-'80s from Embassy when star Joan Collins made it big on TV's Dynasty. In fact, a completely unrelated glamour shot of her adorned the cover and led many to expect a splashy cosmopolitan thriller, something that definitely wasn't inside the package. Collins and Christopher Lee are top billed in Dark Places (as brother and sister no less), though the main character here is really played by Robert Hardy, a character actor familiar to horror fans for Hammer's Demons of the Mind, Psychomania, 10 Rillington Place, the "Ghosts of Venice" episode of Supernatural, and perhaps his best showcase, The Stalls of Barchester.
Here Hardy plays Edward Foster, a sanitarium pencil pusher who inherits a large country estate from the late Andrew Marr (also Hardy). As it turns out, Edward has a history of mental issues of his own which comes into play when his former doctor, Dr. Mandeville (Lee), and his sister Sarah (Collins) show up on the scene sniffing around for a supposedly large stash of money somewhere within the walls. The pair also enlist an attorney, Prescott (Lom), to pull it all off while Sarah cozies up to Edward in bed... but the ghosts of the past, whether literal or figurative, might have something else in mind. With an atmosphere similar to Amicus films of the period, this is a minor but atmospheric film that would probably be a lot more popular with someone besides Hardy in the lead; he's a good actor but doesn't have the jittery energy required for something that a name like Robert Powell could've pulled off in his sleep. The other three stars are all in fine form though, plus you get a small role in flashbacks by the always welcome Jane Birkin as well as the imposing Jean Marsh. Director Don Sharp was mostly on autopilot mode by this point (and just worked with Hardy on Psychomania), but he musters up some nice imagery at times including a reasonably violent, time-tripping finale.
While earlier VHS and TV broadcast presentations of Dark Places took the title a little too literally by looking impenetrable much of the time, the first Blu-ray released by Severin Films in 2022 as part of The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee Collection 2 improves matters considerably with a fresh 4K scan from the recently uncovered internegative. It looks excellent with no significant issues to report, and now even the darkest scenes are perfectly legible. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 tracks (with SDH subs) is also far clearer than before. A commentary by this writer and Howarth is also on this one, so no comments on that; Jonathan Rigby also turns up for "The Cadogan Conversations" (23m45s), chatting affectionately about his first exposure to Lee via a TV airing of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave and the time he spent with the actor over the years that eventually led to Rigby's book about him. Also included are the U.S. teaser and a Brazilian TV spot.
In 2023, Nucleus Films bowed the film on U.K. Blu-ray in an expanded special edition adding a French dub track to the usual English one, both DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono with optional English SDH subtitles. The prior commentary is ported over here and augmented with a new audio commentary featuring Jonathan Rigby and Kevin Lyons, who do their usual skillful job of covering the credentials of all involved, the ins and outs of British genre filmmaking around that time, and the odd overlapping of talents in one place on this production. The Lee-Rigby conversation is also here along with the U.S. and Brazilian trailers, while the new "Looking Into Dark Places" (60m47s) features Rigby on camera covering the genesis of this film and its screenwriters via a one-off production company that posed challenges for Nucleus' Marc Morris to trace its lineage, as well as the overall history of British horror in the first half of the 1970s with threads running through latter-day Amicus and Hammer as well as The Wicker Man, Horror Hospital, The Legend of Hell House, and more. An extensive and pretty wild 3m14s gallery showcases theatrical and video art from all over the world, some of it very misleading, and you get another of Nucleus' amazing, comprehensive trailer reels here, and a 5m36s reel of international credit sequences from Italy (as La scala della follia), France, and Germany. Of course, it wouldn't be a Nucleus release without one of those amazing, excellent-quality trailer reels, this time devoted to Don Sharp (37m24s) including It's All Happening, Kiss of the Vampire, Witchcraft, The Devil-Ship Pirates, The Curse of the Fly, The Face of Fu Manchu, Rasputin the Mad Monk, Our Man in Marrakesh, The Brides of Fu Manchu, Rocket to the Moon, Psychomania, The Four Feathers, The Thirty-Nine Steps, Bear Island, and What Waits Below (as Secrets of the Phantom Caverns).
Reviewed on December 20, 2023