Like a great heel wrestling character, the career paths taken by Gregory Dark defy all the established rules of his industry. Dark began his directorial career with a “heel turn”, at least from the mainstream entertainment industry’s point of view, moving into adult films from documentaries. It’s a role that Dark certainly relished, with the creation of the “Dark Bros” promotional tag-team with producer Walter Dark (Walter Gernert), appearing in character with Dark for the marketing of the films. Like José Bénazéraf years before him in France, Dark was convinced that he could make a better film than any of the directors he was surrounded by. The confidence (and arrogance) was quickly earned, however, with early Dark titles such as Let Me Tell Ya ’bout White Chicks (1984), New Wave Hookers (1985), and The Devil and Miss Jones 3 (1986) revolutionizing the way adult films looked and sounded, shattering prior content taboos with some fairly incendiary material for the time. While the occasional adult to a mainstream crossover does happen, Dark was also a pioneer in his ability to bounce back-and-forth between hardcore adult films and more mainstream work, an extreme rarity at the time. While Dark first branched out of adult films with the Wings Hauser led sci-fi/action vehicles Dead Man Walking (1988) and Street Asylum (1990), his first major mark on the mainstream came with Carnal Crimes (1991). One of the earliest direct-to-video erotic thrillers, Carnal Crimes established Dark as the champion of the DTV erotic thriller with the following Secret Games (1992-1994) and Animal Instincts (1992-1996) trilogies, Mirror Images (1992-1993) films, and standalone titles like Night Rhythms (1992) and Body of Influence (1993) being pinnacles of the genre.
After eliminating himself from the softcore arena following the radical Animal Instincts: The Seductress (1996), Dark’s career took another surprising turn. Beginning with the Melvins’ “Bar X-the Rocking M” in 1996, Dark found himself a new guise, that of a music video director while still continuing to direct experimental hardcore under his own Darkworks production line such as Snake Pit (1996) and the Shocking Truth (1996-1997) videos. Dark bowed out of hardcore completely in 1998 and almost immediately became one of, if not the biggest director in music videos from the late ’90s until the mid-2000s, working with a roster of bands and artists ranging from hip-hop like Onyx to the biggest pop stars of the time like Britney Spears, Mandy Moore and Vitamin C. Dark’s infamous hardcore past sometimes hindered certain jobs coming his way (1), though this period also gave Dark perhaps the most media exposure of his career due to the gimmick of a former director of challenging hardcore working with squeaky clean pop stars like Mandy Moore. Mainstream outlets like Esquire and Entertainment Weekly ran profiles on Dark with clever titles like “The Devil in Greg Dark”(2), working the marks with further embellishments of Dark’s kayfabe personality, though Dark himself has stated that at times perhaps the “Gregory Dark” personality that he established in the media became a bit too strong (3). For marketing purposes throughout the ’90s however, Dark did have to differentiate. Using the “Gregory Dark” moniker for his hardcore films, the erotic thrillers were signed with “Gregory Hippolyte” or some variation of it (Alexander Gregory Hippolyte, A. Gregory Hippolyte, Gregory H. Brown), however, beginning with the music videos onward the iconic “Gregory Dark” became the preferred directorial credit.
Surprising as Dark’s career trajectory was, one of the biggest surprises was that it took a good 22 years into his career for Dark to direct a full-blown horror film. Dark had essentially been a horror-adjacent filmmaker from the beginning with a specialty for horror imagery. While never violent or “extreme”, especially compared with modern content, Dark’s adult films were surreal, potentially unsettling, and decidedly un-erotic with Dark often dressing his performers in grotesque masks, costumes, and clown make-up. Dark’s trilogy of Devil in Miss Jones sequels (1986-1995) could be viewed as experimental adult/horror hybrids while later adult titles like Flesh (1996), Snake Pit (1996), and Shocking Truth (1996) feature heavy voodoo imagery, the latter two specifically designed by Dark to trigger the horrors of the mind. Voodoo was also the dominant visual theme in Dark’s debut music video for the Melvins. Dark’s love of distressing masks also found its way into Mirror Images (1992), one of the finest of Dark’s erotic thrillers that wears a bit of a Giallo influence as well. Again though, it was a good surprising decade into Dark’s third guise as a music video did Dark become a contender to direct a horror film. Even more surprising, though perhaps it was perfectly booked from the start given all the aforementioned parallels, was the source behind the project would be professional wrestling. More specifically Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment, whose debut feature film from WWE Films was to be a horror film starring WWE superstar Glenn Jacobs, best known to wrestling fans as Kane.
Debuting the Kane character, the brother of The Undertaker (Mark Calaway), one of the wrestling industry’s most respected and legendary horror based characters in WWE, then the WWF (World Wrestling Federation), in October of 1997, Jacobs was over instantly with the crowd in the role as The Undertaker’s unstoppable, evil pyromaniac kin managed by Paul Bearer, former manager of The Undertaker. The Kane character has proven highly adaptable throughout Jacob’s WWE tenure as “The Big Red Machine”. Initially a fairly one-note, silent, and masked killer, Kane eventually began speaking, removing his trademark red and black mask in 2003. Jacob’s unique facial features and charisma have taken Kane through a variety of curious, if not always successful, and at times hilariously questionable (see Katie Vick) storylines in both heel and even face roles. In many ways “Jacob Goodnight”, the debut cinematic horror character written for Jacobs could be seen as an extension of the early, silent Kane character with the added gimmick of manual enucleation, hence the title of “See No Evil”.
Goodnight announces himself like any great heel, running interference on a police search of a house containing a missing girl with both her eyes removed, killing officer Frank Williams’ partner and maiming Williams’, severing one of his arms, before vanishing with one of Williams’ bullets in his head. Fast-forward four years and Williams, now a juvenile offenders officer is tasked with accompanying eight delinquents to the long-abandoned Blackwell Hotel for a weekend of clean-up work in exchange for time off their sentences. On the first night, the group split into factions running afoul of Williams’ and his partner Hannah’s orders, exploring off-limits areas of the hotel. Almost immediately it becomes apparent they’re not the only ones in the hotel as the group finds themselves hunted down and taken out one by one by a hulking maniac with a bullet hole in the back of his head, holding Kira, one of the group hostage in a lair hidden in the hotel, fixated on her religious tattoos.
“I wanted to make a horror film that was consistent with the late 70’s, early 80’s horror films.”(4) said Dark of his intentions going into See No Evil. While hardly the most original horror film, See No Evil is also certainly no retro or, shudder, “throwback” slasher. Content to say contained within its own mythos, the film is largely refreshingly free of the stench of post-modern smugness that usually follows similar director statements. Unlike his adult films or erotic thrillers, Dark obviously didn’t set out to subvert any formulas or reinvent the slasher wheel with See No Evil. Never really deviating from the fairly standard slasher structure, some of the booking of the action may be a tad predictable, though Dark does do some surprising things with select slasher tropes. Chiefly with the films victimology and the surviving characters following the film’s main event considering some of the drama within the story. Dark’s approach to the project somewhat recalls the attitude that led him to direct adult films, telling Fangoria during an on set report “My agent sent my the script-it was called Eye Scream Man then-and I read it and thought “There’s an opportunity to make an interesting movie if we change a number of things. Which I did…”(5) See No Evil certainly has attitude, a key term considering the WWE connection. In a sense, See No Evil may be somewhat consistent with some of the cynical and mean-spirited horror classics of the late ’70s and early 80’s. Even more consistent, however, with belligerent the obnoxious tone of some of Dark’s previous work, Dark’s personality is present throughout See No Evil despite it being more subtle than before in light of the film’s commercial prospects.
Although more focused on physicality than psychology, Jacob’s sheer presence more than living up to its horror heel potential, Dark’s psychological preoccupation, common in his erotic thrillers, and even his later adult work is also present in See No Evil. Dark telling Fangoria “What I was interested in doing was giving the Jacob character much more a subtext, a backstory, a reason for the way he’s acting. It then becomes more emotional for an audience, more a dramatic type of tension…”(6) Goodnight’s backstory, revealed throughout the film via flashback, is again working within common horror and serial killer tropes. Essentially a religious tweak on a Psycho (1960) type of mother/son relationship, the title “See No Evil” again stemming from the young Goodnight being taught to remove the eyes of his victims. “The eyes see sin” as his mother tells him, in between bouts of being locked in a cage with pornographic magazines, chastising him later for his arousal. This too may be a well traveled path to the backstory for such a character, though in this instance Dark’s adult industry past puts a fascinating spin on the trope. Undersold as an afterthought by opponents of the film, Dark’s thought process behind the psychology of the film was anything but, Dark explaining:
“There’s a background of religious frenzy and an evil mother who socialized him in the most wrong way you can imagine. It’s almost metaphorical for our society in the 60’s, ’70s and ’80s in the US, where we swept all that stuff under the rug, such as child abuse. I’ve read a number of books on serial killers who always seem to believe themselves to be victims-and they often are, victims of this sort of abuse. That’s not to say what they do is right, but they truly believe they’re right in what they’re doing in a sense cleansing society of one thing or another.”(7)
Dark, who would go on to achieve a post-filmmaking Ph.D. in psychology, even thought of the film’s sound design in a psychological manner, also telling Fangoria “I like sounds that are organic and exaggerated, for when you’re in a heightened emotional state. You hear things or you don’t. Things can be blocked out, or everything sounds accentuated. It vacillates between the two.”(8). Although designed by its studio to appeal to a wider horror fanbase already accustomed to the familiar franchise names, the aforementioned tone Dark brought to the film was also by design, Dark saying “I have gone away from the campier aspects… The first script was quite over-the-top… I believe that, for example, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and whatnot and campier than this. They’ve now become sort of pop-culture characters. That’s exactly what I’m not trying to do with See No Evil.”(9) Dark was of course also psychoanalytical in his approach to the film’s violence, See No Evil really being Dark’s first truly visceral film. As Dark noted to The Rialto Report in 2017 on the misleading reputation his work has for being violent “…because of the intensity of the scenes and how odd they were and how non-erotic in places they were and how, peculiar so to speak, you would think they were violent but they’re much less violent than anything, you know, that I’ve seen over the last few years.”(10). See No Evil, on the other hand, was planned more like a hardcore wrestling match, built around multiple, excessively violent “spots”, though again Dark’s mindset was working on multiple levels, Dark admitting:
“I prefer to see a film that has less actual violence. But if you portray it, it should be extraordinarily violent, because that express, in a sense, the animal behavior of a character like this-basically a psychotic who’s almost on angel dust and Valium; that’s the way I saw it Jacob’s character. He’s psychotic and always transitioning between those two worlds, so to speak. You want to see that kind of violence, and if you don’t see it, you feel cheated.”(11)
Certainly no slasher fan watching See No Evil strictly for the spots would feel cheated with Goodnight introducing a variety of foreign objects into the proceedings. Kane/Goodnight even delivers a few modified chokeslams. Dark’s sardonic humor also sneaks into some ironic Tales from the Crypt-esque death sequences. The two most memorable being a Beverly Hills type spoiled brat succumbing to a phone being shoved down her throat and a vegetarian hippie devoured alive by stray dogs. Equally excessive is the film’s visual design, one area where the film is most certainly not consistent with the late ’70s or early ’80s. As Dark noted in interviews leading up to the film’s release, he’d primarily been a music video for a decade before taking on See No Evil, a style bemoaned, justifiably so, by many horror fans due to its prevalence in the genre’s mainstream at the time. What sets See No Evil apart from the other crop of mainstream horrors of the film lensed in the music video style is once again Dark himself as it’s a style Dark had been pioneering long before he’d crossed over into music videos. Later adult works like New Wave Hookers 4 (1995), The Devil in Miss Jones 5: The Inferno (1995) and Snake Pit function more like experimental videos than typical adult films, edited in a fashion synonymous with music videos. See No Evil of course functions like a typical slasher. Dark’s thick layering of the music video abstractions however; flash cuts, distorted angles, some fairly innovative perspective shots, even utilizing a disorienting hand-crank camera for the flashback scenes, manually speeding up and slowing down the image, all lend a bit of an experimental flavor to an otherwise commercial property.
Collecting around ten million more than its eight million dollar budget, See No Evil delivered for WWE. Strangely, despite the success of See No Evil at the box office, no other horror opportunities came Dark’s way, Dark’s last narrative feature as of 2021 remains Little Fish, Strange Pond (2009). A strange black comedy/drama starring Matthew Modine with a supporting role from Zach Galifianakis, the film was retitled as “Frenemy” for its DVD release with Galifianakis placed front and center on the cover, selling the film as something its not. More strange however, is the changes that occurred to WWE programming two years following See No Evil in 2008. Commonly referred to as the “PG” era, the level of violence in was toned down considerably, bloodshed or “blading” in matches was forbidden, the company generally tripping over itself to be “family-friendly”. By contrast, See No Evil, a violent, profane horror film directed by a former hardcore adult filmmaker, feels more a product of “The Attitude Era” of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the era in which Jacob’s debuted as Kane. It’s Kane/Jacobs who perhaps had the strangest and most surprising post-See No Evil turn, elected as the Republican mayor of Knox County, Tennessee on August 18, 2018 while still making the occasional appearance in WWE as Kane. Like professional wrestling itself, See No Evil, a film produced by a wrestling company, starring a wrestler and directed by a former adult director is obviously going to be dismissed by the smarks, which it has been since its release. However, for all its slasher familiarity, the presence that is Kane along with Dark’s own ideas and genuine artistry have to See No Evil tombstoning its mid-2000’s mainstream American horror competition for the three count.
1, 3, 10. The Rialto Report. “Porn is Dead. Long Live the Dark Bros. Podcast 71”. 2017. https://www.therialtoreport.com/2017/08/13/greg-dark/
2. “The Devil in Greg Dark.” Esquire. February 1, 2001. https://classic.esquire.com/article/2001/2/1/the-devil-in-greg-dark
4. “Do You See the Sin? The Making of See No Evil (2006). Lionsgate.
5-9, 11. “See No Evil: Your Eyes Have Had It”. Fangoria 253. May, 2006.