Have you ever started watching a movie only to quickly realize it is entirely different than what you expected? For reasons unknown, I started watching Christopher Lee’s 1973 horror/thriller Dark Places expecting it to be an anthology when, in fact, it is really a ghost story of sorts. Or is it? As my tribute to the late horror legend begins to wind down, let’s take a look at this forgotten flick and see if there is a reason it’s hardly ever mentioned.
By 1973, Hammer Films was nearly at an end with only a handful of movies and two TV series left to be released. Amicus was ready to end its’ anthology run and was just four years away before shutting down. Horror was changing, thanks in large part to The Exorcist, and audiences would soon be demanding more blood and guts. The slow burn ghost stories would be overshadowed in favor of slashers. This may explain why Dark Places is seldom mentioned today, getting lost in the cracks of other must better films. Or maybe it’s because the movie seems to be lacking something.
The story begins with the death of an old man we would learn to be Andrew Marr. His estate is left to Edward Foster (Robert Hardy), which seems to be the object of interest for Dr. Mandeville (Christopher Lee) and Sarah (Joan Collins). There is also Mr. Prescott (Herbert Lom), the estate administrator, who is confused as to why Marr would leave the estate to Foster. As the plot slowly moves along, we discover that there is money hidden in the house, which everyone seems to want. Foster seems to know nothing about it at first but then he begins to act strangely as we see flashbacks to Andrew Marr (also played by Hardy). It turns out Marr had an affair with his children’s nanny, a situation amplified by the fact that his wife (Jean Marsh in an effective cameo role) and children were quite insane. But, as we would later discover, Marr wasn’t necessarily sane himself.
The biggest problems with Dark Places are the slow, plodding script and lackluster direction. Don Sharp had helmed such classics as Kiss of the Vampire (1963) and Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1966). But by the 1970s he was left with secondary films and some television work. Dark Places has a great cast but they are left with very little to do. Lee is miscast as the greedy doctor while Lom is merely window dressing and horribly wasted. Collins turns in a nice performance as the slutty Sarah, clearly having fun with some scenes including one with Lee where we discover the true nature of their relationship (and a hint at some possible incestuous activity). Hardy does as good a job as he can as a man slowly coming undone. Despite a few twists to keep our interest, there just isn’t enough here. And I’m not even sure this is really a ghost story as certain revelations indicate this could simply be a film about a mad man rather than one who is possessed.
Dark Places is a forgotten film for good reason. It’s not bad but it just simply is a movie and nothing more. It’s worth watching if you have the extra 85 minutes in your day but you’ll likely forget it as soon as you watch it. My copy of the film is a double feature DVD from East West Entertainment and is long out-of-print. It came with Horror Express (1972) and both film prints are washed out. Your best way to see it may be on YouTube but that appears to be a VHS dub, which is of slightly lesser quality than mine. I wouldn’t waste a lot of time tracking this one down but you may enjoy it more than I did. Remember, I went in expecting an anthology flick.
Next time, my tribute to Sir Christopher Lee comes to an end and we invite Vincent Price and Peter Cushing along for the ride as I take a look at House of the Long Shadows (1983).