Back in the late 1970’s Tobe Hooper was set to direct a film titled The Mutilator, a simple tale concerning either the adventures of a zombie slasher or an escaped mongoloid, depending on which Hollywood Urban Legend you read. Hooper only lasted a day behind the camera and was replaced by Bud Cardos. The script by Stanford Whitmore remained the same until producers saw the box office returns for Star Wars and decided a Sci-Fi film would make more money than a slasher. So The Mutilator became The Dark and the zombie slasher/escaped mongoloid killer became an alien with the ability to shoot laser beams from his eyes.
Fortunately for slasher fans, the 1978 novelization of The Dark was written before the drastic changes to the film occurred. The main cast of characters are the same as the film but the killer is Harmon Quade, an ex-sailor who developed a taste for human flesh and was lynched for his crimes in 1878. One hundred years later, Quade comes back to town with his trusty scimitar. He strikes every night, decapitating his victims before munching on their still warm bodies.
Journeyman writer Richard Deming, using his Max Franklin pseudonym for The Dark, excels in developing the approaching darkness into a malignant threat. The actions and paranoia of minor characters faced with the looming nightfall creates a level of tension and atmosphere not found in the film. The main characters in the novel, however, are rather cartoonish and come across as bad 70’s cliches. You’ve got Roy Warner, the tough loner ready to go Death Wish all over the monster who killed his daughter. You’ve got the tough feminist reporter ready to prove she doesn’t need no stinking man to make it in the world. You’ve got the tough Dirty Harry style cop who likes to shoot suspects first and ask questions later. You’ve got the tough old psychic who develops a link with the killer. The only cliches missing are the tough biker and tough kung-fu master.
Another problem plaguing the novel is Deming doesn’t answer all of the questions the reader has by the end of the novel. We never really learn who Quade was in life, how he came back from the dead, how he found a scimitar, or where he was hiding between 1878 and 1978. A blind man appears at every killing but his true identity is never revealed. It’s obvious he’s involved in the killings somehow but his origin is left up to the imagination of the reader.
The novelization of The Dark, only 187 pages, offers slasher fans a glimpse at what might have been a decent slasher film if Hooper hadn’t self destructed and the producers hadn’t radically changed the story. It isn’t difficult to imagine Harmon Quade as an early version of zombie Jason Vorhees especially when you read Quade’s physical description. 8 pages of photos are included in the novel. Some of the photos are nothing more than publicity shots but a few show scenes that aren’t included in the book.