Six girls have been found murdered in the apartment of famed Russian occultist Karl Raymarseivich Raymar and the police cannot explain it. When Raymar’s body was lifted onto a stretcher, bolts of electricity shot out from his fingers. His estranged daughter Olivia McKenna (Melissa Newman) and her husband Allan (Adam West) are unaware of this until they meet Samuel Dockstader (Donald Hotton), a feature writer for The World of the Occult; as a friend of Raymar, Dockstader explains that Raymar was a psychic vampire who gained great powers of telekinesis by kidnapping young girls, terrorizing them, and feeding off the bioenergy they produced. Allan does not believe him, but Dockstader shows Olivia a set of photographs to demonstrate how bioenergy works and gives her an audiotape that outlines his findings, which convinces Olivia to believe him.
Meanwhile, High school student Julie Wells (Meg Tilly) wants to be part of a club entitled The Sisters, which consist of three snobby high school girls named Carol (Robin Evans), Leslie (E. G. Daily), and Kitty (Leslie Speights). Unfortunately, Carol is the ex-girlfriend of Julie’s new boyfriend Steve (David Mason Daniels), and is jealous. She intends to get back at Steve and Julie by making Julie spend a night alone in a mausoleum, unaware that Raymar’s body was just entombed there. That evening, Julie is dropped off by only Carol and Kitty, as Leslie had refused to accompany them on the plan. Julie explores the mausoleum and sets up her sleeping bag, unaware of the cracks that appear around Raymar’s vault.
Carol and Kitty, hoping to scare Julie, dress up in costumes and sneak back into the mausoleum. While they succeed in frightening Julie who locks herself in the chapel, they are unaware that Raymar is slowly reawakening by using his powers to make the walls shake, windows explode, and door slam shut. Before Carol and Kitty decide to leave, Raymar’s powers open up the vaults containing coffins inside and many rotting cadavers telekinetically float and surround the girls before they pile on top of them to suffocate them.
Meanwhile, Steve has gone over to Julie’s house to find her missing. He catches up with Leslie, who reluctantly tells Steve about Julie’s initiation, and Steve angrily heads over to the mausoleum. At the same time, Olivia dashes over after learning about her father’s powers and the possibility that she might also possess them. Back at the mausoleum, Raymar finally breaks out of his coffin and controls the rotting corpses and the doors with his psychic powers. Just when Steve breaks in and finds a hysterical Julie, they become surrounded by the cadavers that advance toward them. Steve tries to fight the corpses, but they knock him out. Raymar pulls a dazed Julie closer to him before Oliva arrives to save her. Ultimately, Olivia takes her compact and reflects the bolts from Raymar’s eyes back at him, causing Raymar and the cadavers to disintegrate, saving Julie and Steve.
The three, including a now traumatized Julie, begin slowly walking out of the mausoleum. The film ends with Kitty’s toothbrush seen near the mound of corpses inside the empty mausoleum before a corpse falls in front and emits a scream.
Not having much success with selling several comedy screenplays, McLoughlin and his friend Michael Hawes decided to make a gothic horror film similar to the works of Edgar Allan Poe. For inspiration McLoughlin drew upon his experience of exploring the catacombs in Paris, France when he was 19 years old, as McLoughlin recalled years later, “It was the first time that I ever felt psychological or supernatural fear. There was nothing there; there was nobody coming after me; but there was just something about knowing where I was and what I was surrounded by, that gave me a chill that was unforgettable”. McLoughlin and Hawes also came up with the idea of a group of people being trapped inside a mausoleum with a “psychic vampire” that fed on the life energy of the other members of the group.
After a period of four years failing to sell the script to various studios McLoughlin and Hawes found a group of investors. Tom Burman, told them about the Com World Group, the project finally took flight. Com World is a production company that had originally expressed interest in Burman’s own project, Footsteps, a motorcycle story, but the time and the weather were not optimum to begin the picture, so Tom suggested they do McLoughlin and Hawes’ story. “We came close to getting it off the ground awhile before Com World came along,” says McLoughlin, “but Friday the 13th hit and everybody kept asking for more blood and gore, and that’s not what the story’s about. It’s a fantasy story, not a murder story of ‘who gets it next?’ In fact,” smiles McLoughlin somewhat roguishly, “there’s no blood, no nudity, and no profanity in this film …just pus.”
“We finally did get the money, it actually came from a Mormon businessman who needed a tax shelter instantly,” recalls McLoughlin. “It was like, ‘Can you get this thing going in three weeks from right now? And then we have to show it in the Bahamas to qualify for the tax shelter before Christmas.’” Fortunately, McLoughlin had already storyboarded the entire film and knew exactly what he wanted the movie to be, should he ever get the chance to direct it.
On the set of One Dark Night, the electricity metaphor becomes a reality as the effects crew sets up for the intense finale of the picture. A Tessla coil, a device that can turn 120 volts of household current into 300,000 volts of leaping lightning, is carefully placed and tested. Moments later the scene is shot, the second assistant director yells “Wrap!” and the unknown film crew strikes the set. The mood of the picture is very strange and other worldly. Extreme lighting effects are used to cast large shadows upon the walls of the mausoleum, giving a feeling of foreboding. “What we were trying to do here,” says director McLoughlin, “was to create an Edgar Allen Poe-ish feeling that progresses, getting eerier and eerier. When Julie first gets to the mausoleum there is still daylight, so everything is still fairly normal-looking; but as night comes, jagged pools of light begin to form and things begin to seem more and more bizarre.”
Designed and built by art director Craig Stearns and his amazing assistants, the interior mausoleum set, made of masonite, plywood and plastic, is a perfect replica of the Hollywood Mausoleum, where the story takes place. It took three weeks to construct, and one week to “marble-ize”. “Ordinarily,” says Stearns, “we would have just wallpapered it with a standard marble design, but we had to match the existing mausoleum,” which wasn’t all that easy, considering that they had to find a paint that would adhere to the masonite and also give the proper effect.
Apparently, Stearns and his group did a more than adequate job. Relates producer Mike Schroeder, “I was looking at the dailies with an acquaintance who said ‘This is great, but when are you going to show me the stuff done on the set?’ I explained to her that she had been watching it for nearly an hour.”
Part of the reason why One Dark Night worked out so inexpensively and so quickly is that the people who worked on it — cast and crew members all here are all professionals. Art director Stearns learned his lessons in dealing with small budgets from a true master of the low-budget thriller, John Carpenter. Stearns helped create sets for Halloween, The Fog, and Precinct 13. Hal Trussel’s experience in lighting design and as a student and protege of cinematographer Nestor Almendros lent a great deal to his debut as director of photography on RIP. Then there is producer/unit production manager Michael Schroeder, whose background is mainly in educational television and films in Utah. RIP is his first feature also, but his incredible efficiency gives absolutely no indication of that.
New faces and not-so-new faces make up the principal cast of RIP. Eighteen-year-old Meg Tilly, who has the role of the victimized Julie in the picture, has only been acting professionally for a little over a year, but her list of credits is already impressive. It includes Tex with Matt Dillon, and several television guest spots, as on the Jessica Novak series and After School Specials. Intelligent and very talented, Meg likes the idea of One Dark Night. “When I first read it,” she says, “I felt that there was more to it than just your usual gory horror movie. It’s more like an old-fashioned horror film.”
David Mason Daniels, who plays Julie’s boyfriend, has been a jack-of-all trades to keep his family afloat while he searched out acting jobs. “The worst times,” David recounts, “were when my wife was seven months pregnant and we were delivering phone books door to door at seven cents apiece.” The hard times seem to have paid off pretty well; David’s credits include Harry’s War, and a myriad of television commercials. “I was also saved by Wonder Woman once,” laughs the handsome young Daniels. As far as One Dark Night goes, he is quite pleased to be a part of “Demolition Bodies,” as he jokingly refers to it.
Raymar’s daughter, Olivia, is played by Melissa Newman, who greatly appreciates that there is little violence in the film, but will not dismiss the revolting corpses as being ineffective. “I’ve got a weak stomach,” she chuckles, “and there were times that I wasn’t sure if I could actually do some of the scenes because the effects were so gross!” she says, unwittingly testifying to the effectiveness of Tom Burman’s work. Melissa’s background in acting goes back about fifteen years or so to when she was first under contract at 20th Century Fox at the age of 16. She married quite early and was therefore retired for about 10 years, after which she decided to go back to acting. Her later credits include Robert Fuest’s Revenge of the Stepford Wives (TV Movie 1980), and other TV fare, She really enjoyed herself doing One Dark Night. “I had forgotten how fun acting can be,” she smiles.
But the film’s most familiar face belongs to Adam West. “If there’s any place to be in this business, it’s with a hot young director and a good property-and Tom McLoughlin is a hot director,” says West. Adam plays Olivia’s husband, a lawyer named Allan, and though it is a relatively small part, West’s professionalism and enthusiasm carry over to the other players and crew. “I’ve never done a horror picture before,” says Adam, who has recently finished two science-fiction features and two television pilots. “I wanted to do something different, and this is certainly it.” West goes on, “This is a different kind of a scare picture; very gothic and full of the things that really get to you. I’m very excited about it.”
None of the cast members wanted to be part of another “hack-em-to-pieces” feature. They all had felt that RIP was a worthwhile story and, just possibly, the beginning of a back-to-basics movement in the horror genre. “The thing! find intriguing about this picture,” says David Daniels, “is that they’ve done such a tremendous job with suspense and thrills without resorting to violent atrocities.”
Tom McLoughlin has nothing but praise for his actors. “They really make the film,” he says. “This movie is not so much what the gross things are that are chasing after them, it’s the characters’ reactions to them.” Tom cites the performances of Robin Evans and Leslie Speights, both newcomers to feature films who play the instigators of the hazing that helps start all the trouble, as being very, very good. “Especially,” Tom goes on, because they had been around the effects crew and had time to get used to the corpses. They know it’s rubber and that the pus isn’t real, but when they cross over that line and get into the reality of it, it’s so scary to them that it comes through the acting-and that’s terrifying to watch.” Tom admits that after having directed the girls and then seeing the shots on the screen-without seeing the cutaways to the disgusting corpses – he gets very tense just watching the terror of the girls’ response.
One Dark Night is a visual film. Approximately 80 percent of it is without dialogue. The main reason for this is McLoughlin’s extensive mime background. His uncanny knack for non-verbal communication is what propels the film. Co-writer Mike Hawes is also quite learned in the area of mime. Together they have written a visual treat that brims with detail. “As director,” says Tom, “I tried to infuse slightly magnified bits of reality into non-real situations, such as the neighbors coming to their windows to see what’s going on. Yet, by the same token, I wanted to convey a very strange and macabre feeling all through it.” An example of this is the opening sequence of the film – the teaser-showing the exterior of Raymar’s skid row abode after seven bodies had been discovered there. For this scene Tom requested seven coroner’s vans. He was informed that there are only three in the whole of Los Angeles County, so he had his art department make them up. Says Tom, “One coroner’s van, which could probably handle the seven bodies if they piled them, is not very cinematic. On the other hand, seven coroner’s vans, while they may be a bit much if you think about it, are cinematic. But in the movie you don’t get time to think about it.”
In their research for the screenplay, McLoughlin and Hawes talked with psychics and read all the books and papers they could find on psychic phenomena-especially those written on discoveries made behind the iron curtain. “Everything we’ve touched upon in the story that has to do with psychic phenomena has been documented and is real. It actually occurs. We just took it to its fantasy extreme,” Tom says. “I think the maniac-with the-knife theme has pretty much exhausted whatever it has to offer, which is basically new and imaginative ways of doing someone in.” By combining psychic horror with gothic horror, Tom McLoughlin and Mike Hawes have attempted to start a new trend in horror filmmaking: finding new and imaginative ways to scare people.
During the film’s post production the film was taken out of McLoughlin’s hands and re-cut with the original ending removed. As McLoughlin recalled, “There was a version of the movie that wasn’t shown in theaters, where there was this passing of Ramar’s energies to the Meg Tilly character… check out the end when Meg is walking out and walks down the hall. The close-up of her eyes are the contacts of Nastassja Kinski’s from the Cat People remake, courtesy of make-up man Tom Burman. “[Tom] put those into Meg’s eyes so there’s this thing where she doesn’t look overly possessed, but it definitely looks like something’s wrong She got whatever Ramar had in her now”.
A throwback to the gothic horror movies of yesteryear, the frights in R.I.P. are less a product of maniacal human misbehavior than of our own basic fears of the unknown and claustrophobia; and though the special effects are among the best that Burman has yet to come up with, they are not relied upon to mask a poorly written screenplay. To the contrary, the effects enhance and augment a fine piece of storytelling.
The Burman Studio and Cosmekinetics put together some wonderful representations of Raymar’s bioenergy-gone-awry-in-the-mausoleum. Though Raymar is dead, his spirit lives, by feeding on fear. Raymar’s spirit wants more power, and to gain it, he must frighten the three girls that have come to the mausoleum. To do this, he levitates coffins out of their tombs and sends their occupants floating after the misfortunate trio; and, as the girls become more frightened, Raymar becomes more powerful.
Burman and his gang built, out of latex rubber, 14 corpses; some that have been long dead, and some of more recent vintage. Ellis Burman devised the manner by which they move through the air. “The corpses don’t come to life,” says Tom Burman. “They are manipulated by Raymar, like puppets.” There are no opticals to create the effect of dead things dragging through the air. It is done completely manually with dolly like contraptions that Ellis and his partner came up with.
McLoughlin’s project started out with a budget of a million dollars, but both Burman and McLoughlin know they could do it for quite a bit less than that, and cut it down substantially. With a 28-day shooting schedule, the picture was brought in for something like $22,000 under the second budget.
The film was conceived and filmed under the title Rest in Peace before Poltergeist, but due to post-production problems, the film was delayed and was released in theaters in 1983 by Comworld Pictures. “The film did so well everyone thought I had the midas touch,” he notes. “I was immediately bombarded with every splatter script in town. A couple weren’t too bad, and I considered doing them, but I had my own project that I was taking around at the time that I was really hot to do.”
One Dark Night (1983) Bob Summers
Meg Tilly as Julie Wells
Melissa Newman as Olivia McKenna
Robin Evans as Carol Mason
Leslie Speights as Kitty
Donald Hotton as Dockstader
E.G. Daily as Leslie Winslow
David Mason Daniels as Steve
Adam West as Allan McKenna
Rhio H. Blair as Coroner
A STRANGE IDEA OF ENTERTAINMENT: CONVERSATIONS WITH TOM MCLOUGHLIN