Not the Stephen King one: “Dark Tower”

October 22, 2012

Yeah, just settle down there, big fella. This is not the much-spanked-over big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger novels, okay? Those may come down the pike someday, but until then you’ll just have to…um…engage in whatever fetishistic activity associated with those books (I haven’t read them, so I have no idea what that might be). No, this is a totally-unrelated film called The Dark Tower, and it’s about a haunted skyscraper in Barcelona—which is not what The Gunslinger novels are about (I don’t think). But, hey, we got Michael Moriarty before he became Ben Stone, went nuts, and expatriated himself, and that’s always cool. Plus we have young(ish) Jenny Agutter, and that’s not a bad thing, either. So you ready for this puppy? Okay, let’s go.

So, Dark Tower has a grabby enough beginning: No sooner has chilly, beautiful architect Carolyn Page (Agutter) shown some potential clients around the partially-completed office building than she decides to go up to her office and change into an ’80 power-suit (complete with Judge Dredd-style shoulder pads). I’m not sure why she would have to change her whole outfit, but it gives us the opportunity to see Agutter in a black, lace teddy, so, you know, gift-horse/mouth.  Ah, but ogling her along with us is a lusty Spaniard window washer. Page catches him and closes the blinds, and a few moments later he is thrown around the bucket and eventually plummets 29 floors to his death, killing another company executive who didn’t have sense enough to run when he heard a terrified scream getting louder and louder from the general vicinity of, well, up.

Jenny Agutter: Never not cute

That’s a hook, right? Got your attention now, I bet. Well, sent to observe the police investigation is Dennis Randall (Moriarty), who is…yeah, I’m not 100% on who he is or what he does. He’s some kind of an American security expert, but what he’s doing there is never quite explained. The movie makes clear he doesn’t work for the US Consulate in Barcelona, so he’s not a Diplomatic Security Special Agent. Well, it doesn’t matter; the bosses want him to get to the bottom of this matter, and so he shall.

Next some hinky stuff starts happening in the unfinished parts of the building. A fluorescent light fixture nearly falls on a security guard (except we saw that the fixture unscrewed itself from the wall by itself!)  And then a moment later, while he’s thanking his lucky stars, that same security guard gets smooshed by a malfunctioning elevator. Yeah, the building is kind of a dick.

This is Michael Moriarty acting sane. Yeah, think on that awhile…

There are some other low-key scares, but things hit kind of a boiling point when one of Randall’s colleagues goes nuts, steals a gun and shoots up the lobby of the building. Except his shooting spree isn’t quite random. He seems to be shooting through people in an effort to hit Carolyn.

Randall does some digging, and finds out that Carolyn was married to the chief architect on this project—an aging lion at the firm they work for. The husband apparently threw his first wife over for Carolyn, and the two of them became a power couple at the firm. They did a lot of work together, but Carlyn always gave him the credit. Unfortunately, the husband can’t shed any light on things, since he drown a couple months earlier. Funny thing, though, they never recovered the body. Okay, see where this is going? No one ever actually drowns when the body isn’t recovered. Reference The House at the End the Street for more on this.

Get used to this scenery. There’s a lot of it.

At the same time, Randall keeps having weird visions and flashbacks to events he never lived through. Grudgingly, he speaks to a parapsychologist named Max Gold (Theodore Bikel). In short order Max deduces that Randall has a little Shining going on, and that the building is probably haunted (admittedly, I’d probably come to the same conclusion at this point). Max agrees to inspect the building, and while he’s on one of the unfinished floors taking temperature readings and doing other useless stuff that parapsychologists do before the ghosts decide to clobber him, well, the building decides to throw some stuff at him.

Okay, this is hands-down one of the movie’s funniest scenes, as Max then chatters away at the ghost, telling him all about his work, his life-story, how other scientists have stolen his credit, and basically making the whole paranormal encounter about him. You can see why the building threw stuff at him.

“And then when I was twelve, my parents refused to buy me a Red Rider BB gun…”

Max tells Randall they can clear the building, but they need a heavy-hitter, which, in this case means, a boozy medium named Sergie (ever-reliable Kevin McCarthy).  So, the three of them go to the building to try and give the spirit its eternal rest. Problem is, it’s pretty clear by this point that the spirit is actually Carolyn’s late husband (it’s also revealed that the building was originally his idea, but due to be scrapped, but Carolyn sold the firm on her design and pocketed the moolah), and he’s now after her by blowing up a lot of windows. Well, they all meet up in the unfinished floor where Max bored the ghost to tears, and things go full-tilt boogie.

Oh look. The cavalry is here. Yay.

The spirit enters Sergie and laments about his drowning…in concrete! Yep, Carolyn killed him by knocking him out and dumping him in the foundation. Then the ghost electrocutes Max (we can only assume to shut him the hell up), and manifests as a moldering corpse. The corpse chases Carolyn down the hallway where she entombed him, and sucks her into the wall with him. The movie ends with Randall standing over Max’s memorial stone, wistfully musing that, “He finally got what he wanted…for all the good it did him.” Then he and the wife go on vacation. I haven’t a clue how he explained the electrocution, walking corpse, and disappearance of Carolyn. Communists, probably. It was the ‘80s.

Dark Tower is a bit of an enigma. The Internet has very little about it, and there’s some confusion as to whether it was made in 1987 or 1989 (maybe it was shelved). It also looks and feels like a movie made earlier in the ‘80s, with actual film stock and abrupt edits. The shoulder pads and Carolyn’s power-mullet do seem more late-‘80s, though.

Plus there was a lot of blow in the ’80s…I kid! Actually she’s really scared of that ghost behind her.

The acting is good across the board. Moriarity is always a treat—as he was in Q: The Winged Serpent and The Stuff (though less animated here). Agutter, Bikel, and McCarthy all put in solid performances, selling a fundamentally ridiculous concept.

Still, the movie really doesn’t work very well as a horror film. We’re pretty much clued in to what’s happening in the building from the first scene, and all that’s left is the why. Even that, though, isn’t very well explained. Just before her entombment, Carolyn screams that her husband was a monster, but we’re never really told whether she killed him for professional reasons or personal ones, and what those reasons might be.

Oh, well. It goes down easily enough. Just like that window-washer—HA! Badda-bing! That’s all folks, enjoy your evening!     

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