Against The Dark (2009, directed by Richard Crudo)

Legend has it that Steven Seagal’s film career was the result of a bet. The story goes that, in the late 80s, superagent Michael Ovitz, who was then the most powerful man in Hollywood, bet a studio exec that he could make the least appealing man he knew into a movie star. That man was Ovitz’s self-defense instructor, Steven Seagal.

I don’t know if that story is true but it’s as good an explanation as we’re going to get at to why Seagal was ever asked to star in a movie. Despite being a terrible actor who was universally disliked by everyone who worked with him, Steven Seagal was briefly a star in the 90s. Along with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, he was one three top B-action stars around. Lundgren’s appeal was that he could actually act. Van Damme’s appeal was that he was a true athlete and actually could do all of his own stunts. As for Seagal, he was packaged to be a star. He appeared in movie with actors who were talented enough to carry the drama while Seagal whispered his lines. He also worked with talented action director like Andrew Davis. For a while there, Seagal had it all.

It fell apart, of course. Seagal was his own worst enemy, fabricating details of his biography and acting like an ass whenever the cameras weren’t rolling. He was notorious for being difficult and every young actress trying to make it in the 90s had at least one horror story about Seagal harassing them at an audition. His appearance on Saturday Night Live was so bad that it’s still talked about as an example of what can happen when the show gets stuck with a terrible host.  According to the show’s then-cast members, Seagal insisted that the writers come up with a skit in which he would play a therapist who raped his patients. (Check out Tom Shales’s Live From New York for the details on Seagal’s time as host.) He directed two awful movies. Audiences cheered when his character was blown up in Executive Decision.  People stopped showing up for his movies and, for the past few years, Seagal has been better known as a tireless advocated for Vladimer Putin than for his work as a direct-to-video action star.

Against The Dark is one of Seagal’s many direct-to-video movies.  It’s also his first horror movie.  The movie takes place in the future, when vampire/zombie hybrids have taken over the city.  The film misses a major opportunity by not casting Steven Seagal as the head vampire.  When this film was made, Seagal was nearly 60, overweight, and out-of-shape.  He had the right look to play a decadent vampire king but instead, he was just plays his regular Seagal role.  He and his squad patrol the city with samurai swords, hacking up any vampires that they come across.  Seagal’s not actually in much of the film and his stunt double does most of the work.  When Seagal does appear, he looks like he’s trying to catch his breath.  It’s obvious that this film was just a paycheck for him.  There’s no speeches about protecting the environment.  He doesn’t even get out his guitar and sing.

Most of the movie deals with a separate group of survivors, who are stranded in a hospital and who are trying to find a way to escape before the military blows up the city.  Some of the fight scenes, especially the ones that don’t involve Seagal, are not terrible but the film itself is so badly lit that you usually can’t tell who is fighting whom.  There is one memorably weird scene of a female vampire filing down her fans so that she can pass as human but the movie doesn’t really follow up on it.  The movie doesn’t do much with any of it ideas.  Its obvious that vampires and zombies were used because they were hot and someone figured out that even Seagal’s fans were getting bored with him just fighting drug dealers and mercenaries.

Against the Dark is bad, even by the standards of late era Seagal.  Shortly after the movie was released, Seagal tried to reinvent himself as a reality TV star with Steven Seagal: Lawman.  When that and a subsequent threat to run for governor of Arizona didn’t do much for his career, Seagal went to Russia and, after receiving Russian citizenship, declared that he considered Vladimer Putin to be “like a brother” to him.  When asked about Seagal’s claim, Putin’s spokesman replied, “”I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s a huge fan, but he’s definitely seen some of his movies.”  Hopefully, the movie was Under Siege and not Against The Dark.


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