One sub-genre of film that plagues us is the one in which high-rise buildings try to kill people. The story has been done several times, but never quite to our satisfaction. Among the more infamous entries, you have The Tower, The Lift, and to a lesser extent, Poltergeist III. And then there's this late entry into the genre, Dark Tower.
The film opens with many shots of metropolitan Barcelona (a refreshing change from the usual L.A. or New York), until the camera finally settles on a modern office building. We know immediately that this building is going to be the subject of the film because a window washer is at work on it. In movies, there are few occupations more hazardous than being a window washer. They're always being snatched off the side of buildings by monsters, or killed by terrorists who want to take their places to assassinate someone, or just falling off buildings for a variety of reasons. As soon as we see the window washer we know he's going to die, and so he does. After peeping on the building's architect, Carolyn Page (Jenny Agutter), the washer is attacked by an invisible force and thrown to his death. He's also thrown to the death of some poor executive who just happens to be walking by on the street below.
"If I stay here, Logan 5 and the
other Sandmen will never find me!"
The company that owns the building, UniCo (is there anything so menacing as a faceless corporation with a name that means nothing?), brings in Randall (Michael Moriarty), an independent security consultant. Randall thinks that the window washer had a seizure, but after he meets Carolyn he begins to have what we later realized were psychic visions. At the time however, they looked like really bad editing.
Soon Randall must admit that something is going on. A security guard in the building dies mysteriously in an elevator, and the next day Randall's partner goes crazy and tries to kill Carolyn before being shot to death.
At this point, the movie slows down to a crawl. Randall, for reasons that are never clear, goes to a parapsychologist named Max Gold (thespian extraordinaire Theodore Bikel). Gold makes an investigation of the UniCo building and immediately decides that he has made contact with a ghost. Gold then brings in Sergie (Kevin McCarthy), another psychic. He also decides that Randall is psychic, and the three of them head to the building to do something, but we weren't quite sure what.
"But enough about me.
How about you? Getting enough air?"
Once at the building, Gold goes up to the unfinished 28th floor and has a long, one-sided conversation with the building's air conditioner. Then a mysterious force begins chasing Carolyn (who's in her office, working late) around the building until the movie's shocking conclusion.
Actually, the conclusion is not all that shocking. Despite the fact that the movie centers on a secret that we aren't supposed to know, we figured it out about a halfway through the film.
Dark Tower might have been a tight supernatural thriller, if not for the fact that its final forty minutes drag on like a cement block chained to a car muffler. Kevin McCarthy's character is brought into the film at the last minute, as if he wandered on to the set and the director decided to work around him. There are a few amusing moments during Gold's ramblings to the building about his pleasure at meeting a psychic phenomenon, but for the most part it stumbles forward, inch by inch, to the inevitable and not-so-shocking conclusion.
If Mulder and Scully stay together,
this is what we have to look forward to.
Gold's character was the only thing that we found at all remarkable about this movie. This was mostly because we were imagining what The X-Files might be like if Gold took Mulder's place.
Scully: So you seriously mean to tell me that this entire building is haunted?
Gold: No, just the ventilation ducts.
Scully: C'mon, you're pulling my leg.
Gold: Listen, missy, if you weren't so busy primping your hair and putting on your Max Factor lipstick, you might learn a thing or two from old Doctor Gold.
Scully: I'm putting in for a transfer.
Gold: Oh! Ow! My back just went out!
This is the scariest thing
in the movie, trust us.
We'd also like to point out that The X-Files had its own "killer building" episode during its first season.
This movie is so slow we were yelling at the screen for something to happen, only to be hurled a final insult in the form of an extremely minimal payoff for the time we invested watching the buildup. Without spoiling it too much, the whole thing boils down to a movie version of one of those old EC comics. That isn't all that surprising given that director Freddie Francis directed a couple of the better British horror anthologies that took their inspiration from those same comics (Dr. Terror's House of Horrors and Tales from the Crypt). If the events of Dark Tower had been condensed down to a twenty-minute segment, it might have been watchable.
Since that didn't happen, we rooted for the building.