The Dark Backward (1991)


In a dystopian world full of garbage and stained walls, an unfunny comedian (Judd Nelson) starts growing a third arm out of his back. His super-annoying friend (Bill Paxton at his worst) sees the aberration as his ticket out of hell and exploits it for all its worth. A smarmy talent agent (Wayne Newton) decides to rep them, and an even bigger agent (Rob Lowe) decides to bring them to Hollywood. But then the arm disappears and the poor unfunny comedian learns who his true friends are. Spoiler alert: he hasn't any.

The Dark Backward is a tedious, ugly bore. I hate all the characters here, especially Paxton’s, and he’s on-screen nearly the whole damned time. Early in the film he finds a dead woman lying in a trash heap and licks her nipples. Later, he’s eating slop in the nude and frolicking with three gargantuan women. Films don’t come more unsavory or revolting than The Dark Backward. I kept expecting some counterpoint — that maybe this nasty, ugly world was something our characters would escape, and that their achievement would be all the greater in contrast. But, no. You’re wallowing in the filth for the duration of the movie. What’s worse, the characters are aspiring to even greater (lower?) levels of depravity — Hollywood. So I hated the characters, I hated what they were doing, and I hated where they were trying to go. There’s nothing for me to latch onto here. Every character, every motivation, every realization in this movie is dirty and depressing. After The Dark Backward, you have to watch Angela’s Ashes and a mini-series about the Great Depression just to find the will to live again. And the Casio-keyboard score made the whole thing feel even cheaper and more dirty.

If I had to find a silver lining, I’d say James Caan is fun as a crack doctor in two or three scenes. And by far the best scene in the movie (albeit brief) is one where the despondent comedian lies alone in bed and tries to find comfort by bringing his third arm around him. And while I admire writer/director Adam Rifkin’s (Detroit Rock City) ability to create a futuristic/alternate world as vile and disgusting as this one (on what was surely a low budget), it’s just too cruel of him to leave us there without any hope of rescue.

Share Button