Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter: THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976)
“Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter” Takes on
THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976)
By Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel
Pull up a chair, pass around some rations, and get comfortable. Here at Lady Anachronism’s Fallout Shelter, I’ll take you back into time, when Atomic Age cats and dolls fretted over the bomb and visions of alien invaders flickered on the big screen at the local drive-in. Technological or political developments may have made these films obsolete, but I hope you’ll join me in rediscovering forgotten Cold War-era cinema.
THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK (1976) is a rare treat, a mélange of science fiction and horror, all while blatantly ripping off George Romero. Directed by Argentinian director Leon Klimovsky (THE WEREWOLF VERSUS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN, 1971), the film opens to a bright bedroom. Lily (Maria Perschy) is awakened by her husband, Victor (Tomas Pico). They have to plan for a party they’ll be throwing later that night.
The scene cuts to the office of a Russian ambassador. We know he’s Russian because he calls someone “comrade,” and there’s a picture of Lenin proudly displayed in his office. He’s speaking with someone on the telephone about leaving the country. We discover something bad might happen, but maybe not, at least according to the ambassador.
We move on to the party at Lily and Victor’s mansion in the countryside. Lily and Victor discuss who will be attending. It becomes clearer that this is going to be a kinky party. Doctors and businessmen, who are instructed to wear these bizarre rubber masks, are there to have a decadent meal with plenty of wine and narcotics—and a lovely selection of prostitutes to satisfy their needs. (For the under-18 or nudity-sensitive crowd, there is no explicit sex and only a small amount of nudity.)
Before things can get really kinky, the basement room where the Marquis de Sade-inspired debauchery was to take place begins to shake violently. The ceiling cracks open. The servants come in screaming, their eyes completely white. A pigeon crashes into the house, also devoid of its eyesight.
Dr. Fulton (Alberto de Mendoza) tells everyone he believes Europe has been hit by a nuclear bomb. The cellar-level bordello is the perfect place to hide out until it becomes clearer what steps they should take.
The following day, the men venture out to the village to gather supplies in a scene that looks remarkably like something straight out of THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964). While there, they discover everyone in the village is blind, suffering from some strange disease brought on by the nuclear fallout. In one of the stranger scenes, the men break into a grocery store to get some food. They’re accosted by the storeowner, who is blind and doing his best to protect his store. Victor, who seemingly lacks all human decency, takes out his switchblade and jabs it into the guy.
The rest of the men attempt to deliver some of their ill-gotten food to the monastery, where the blinded masses are moaning and wandering around aimlessly. Victor wants nothing to do with their sappy, bleeding-heart charity, and he steps outside to smoke a cigarette. Some of the blind villagers find him and grab at him like zombies. He begins shooting them, but Dr. Robertson (Ricardo Palacios) strangles him to death before he can hurt anyone else.
No one tells Lily what has happened to her husband, beyond the fact that he is dead, out of respect for Dr. Robertson. Even so, murdering Victor takes a toll on Dr. Robertson. He wanders around in a catatonic state for a while, but then starts acting like an animal. The rotund doctor even takes to crawling around the mansion on all fours in the nude. Dr. Messier (Emiliano Redondo) tries to comfort the nutcase with a transistor radio. The radio has been silent since the bomb hit, but Messier tells Robertson that perhaps one day the radio will play music again.
Fulton and the lovely Clara (Nadiuska, who is perhaps best known for her portrayal of Conan’s mother in 1982’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN), find love despite the horrifying circumstances. It’s actually a believable, beautiful relationship, a bond that lasts throughout the film.
The film features Paul Naschy, Spain’s answer to Lon Chaney, who also starred in Klimovsky’s THE WEREWOLF VERSUS THE VAMPIRE WOMAN. He portrays Bourne, a man with flared nostrils who is ready and willing to shoot, punch, or kick anything in sight. Between Bourne and the blind zombie-like folks, the members of the party are in a dangerous spot.
Meanwhile, the blind zombies are being led around by a man who was blind before the bomb struck. He instructs them to attack the members of the party. One woman has her eyes gouged out by the horde. Another is shot in the mouth.
Suddenly, the transistor radio begins playing music. An announcer comes on to tell the survivors of the blast where they should report for further instructions. Between the blind people and the shotgun wielding Bourne, the remaining party members must fight for their lives. Few succeed.
Fulton and Clara make it after escaping into the woods while the others fight it out among themselves and the zombie horde. They flag down a bus driven by two men in radiation suits. Fulton gives them his identification. The two board the bus, which is occupied by other healthy people.
I won’t give away the ending to those who are eager to see this Spanish delight, but it left me feeling cold and frustrated. This was an exceptionally good film with an ending that fell flat for me.
It is obvious Klimovsky was heavily influenced by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and THE OMEGA MAN (1971), or its predecessor THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. He brought his own style and vision to the table, and it makes for a refreshing take on the theme. The film is not without its plot holes. Some of the characters’ reactions to a horrifying situation don’t make much sense, but perhaps Klimovsky intended to demonstrate that people act irrationally when faced with a crisis. Despite its flaws, I highly recommend it.
© Copyright 2012 by Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel