Dark Power, The (1985)

An idyllic day in the swampy township of Belews Creek. We sweep across gray skies and brown grass. A flyer tacked to a dead tree reads:


The camera lingers here for a full minute, providing your introduction to the aesthetic priorities of North Carolina filmmaker Phil Smoot.

A round child is chased through the forest by rabid lapdogs and rescued by an elderly, whip-wielding forest ranger. The steel-nerved granddad is played by western film legend Lash LaRue, known in ‘40s and ‘50s Hollywood for his gleaming grin and his deafening whipcrack.

A Native American mystic dies as he utters the word “Toltec.” The Caucasoid townfolk wait far too long to check the local encyclopedia and learn that the Toltecs were ancient occultists who ate human flesh to gain eternal life.

A gaggle of college students have moved into the mystic’s former home. The fitness nut, the wise-cracking horndog, the token sassy black friend and the fuming bigot take turns chugging beers and showering with the door open. They post a NO SOLICITING sign in the living room. They eat unhealthy snacks and listen to rock music.

Inevitably, their excessive stereo volume reawakens the quartet of bloodthirsty Toltecs, who stomp around the house menacing, murdering and occasionally slapping each other. They look like a caramel-covered black metal group and talk like the teacher from Peanuts. Fortunately, Lash LaRue intervenes by the time only most of the locals have been savagely annihilated.

During his bizarre climactic whip-battle against a supremely uncoordinated Toltec death god, LaRue’s eyebrow arches with a painful moment of realization. Thirty years past the apex of his career, his relentless slurring indicates that he’d either had a stroke or inebriated himself against the ego-shock of appearing in regional horror films. He’d ridden the highest wave of cowboy stardom at the genre’s crest. Even just a few years before The Dark Power, he’d personally been hired to train Harrison Ford how to crack a whip on the set of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now, here he was, waving his tired arms at a confused goon in a wig on a back porch in the middle of North Carolina.

That being said, he and the rest of the cast are determined to give their all. The hatchet-wielding Toltec has the unbridled energy of ten bus-station meth enthusiasts. The majority of the townsfolk are relentlessly pissed off, constantly exercising their most toilet-flavored vocabulary. This is especially the case with the lumbering local plumber, who punctuates blustery racist rants with threats to his nine-year-old son: “If I ever catch you acting like one of them scrotum-heads, I’ll beat your ass with a weed-eater.” Later, the boy steals his truck.

Like Smoot’s only other directorial effort Alien Outlaw (which was also produced in 1985 and starred Lash LaRue), much of The Dark Power’s score was performed on a kazoo, a child’s xylophone and an overturned plastic bucket. While it’s a far cry from the lonesome ballads of the open range, Lash LaRue couldn’t have asked for a finer theme for his swan song.

All right. I guess he could.

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