All the Colors of the Dark
by Ben Beard
Confusion ain’t art: sometimes a bad movie is so bad it’s bad.
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Sometimes films undeservedly have a reputation for being interesting or noteworthy when they are in fact just plain bad. In All the Colors of the Dark, this is most definitely the case. A mish mash of precognition, elliptical logic, and plain bad storytelling, the film follows a tormented young woman named Jane unraveling at the seams. After about twenty minutes in, most viewers will either rush the unwatched movie back to the video store or stoicly accept the imported unentertainment, hoping for better luck next time.
Haunted and unsettled, Jane suffers from bad dreams (surrealist imagery of ugly pregnant women with bad makeup and teeth… remember the old Tom Petty music video Don’t Come Around Here No More and you’ve got it) struggling to come to terms with a failed pregnancy. She can’t sleep. She has strange visions of blood and death. And a blue-eyed stranger follows her, startling her at every turn. Now jumping out of an elevator. Now with a hatchet. Now with two wild dogs. And now with a stiletto. Who is he? What does he want? And what’s up with his hair?
Her husband is supportive but of little help. A psychiatrist thinks she is imagining things. Her minxy blonde neighbor offers up a different, Wilhelm Reich-type remedy: a satanic black mass to jolt her out of her emotional box. (And who wouldn’t think this was a good idea, that a mentally ill woman partake in dark pagan rituals?)
A predictable black-robed orgy ensues, replete with blood sacrifice, oddball chanting, and a healthy helping of breasts. (Imagine any of the hundreds of hackjob horror films involving Satanists, and you get the idea.)
Inducted into a clan of ‘Satanists, Jane’s visions grow worse (now isnt that a surprise?). The blue-eyed stranger haunts her every step. Her paranoia grows stronger. Her nude scenes run longer.
Detailing any more of the story is futile: the clarity issues of the film squash whatever cheap thrills a viewer might find. The storyline is convoluted and choppy, awash in strange leaps in time. The characters make little sense; the storyline is ridiculous; the motivations are incomprehensible. But worst of all, All the Colors of the Dark oftentimes is just plain boring, an unforgivable sin for a horror movie. The film isn’t just inane; it’s nonsensical, disjointed, and bizarre.
Let’s see: weird hair, terrible 1970s music, a horrible voice over. Bad acting. A weak script. Indistinguishable characters. The film may appear challenging or artsy, but it isn’t. It’s not even style over substance. In fact, it carefully balances its mediocrity between being reasonably worth watching and so bad its good.
The director Sergio Martino in an interview on the dvd claims that All the Colors of the Dark was ahead of its time. Utterly untrue. What we have here is not an esoteric art film. No, here we have sloppy self-indulgent drivel, a pointless exercise. He doesn’t even have the courage to admit exploitation, nor the sense to provide some laughs.
Does a movie have to make sense? Of course not. But a good film must lay the basis for its inconsistencies. Filmmakers of note challenge our notions of reality. David Lynch wholeheartedly attacks realistic filmmaking, offering a strange dream-like vision of the world. Fellini doesn’t follow any rules either, nor does Bergman. But director Sergio Martino ain’t Bergman or Fellini. He’s not even Roger Corman. No, he’s a high-minded blowhard who violates the cardinal sin of entertainment by wasting our time.
Perhaps I’m being too hard on poor Mister Martino, but there are too many good (and bad) movies out there to waste our time watching mediocre ones. There are some scares, sure, but All the Colors of the Dark is more useful as a period piece, reminding us that at times in the 1970s just like now, films were sometimes just really, really bad.
Ben Beard is a film and music critique living in Chicago.
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