One can’t question the consistency of Earl Owensby’s earliest cinematic efforts. After scoring hits on the drive-in circuit by playing a righteous avenger in Challenge and its sequel The Brass Ring (both released in 1974), actor-producer Owensby went back to the well for Dark Sunday, in which he portrays a preacher who seeks vengeance after drug dealers assault his family. All three flicks are shameless rip-offs of Walking Tall (1973), so those seeking depth, nuance, or originality should look elsewhere. However, if the red meat of an aggrieved everyman wiping out scumbags stimulates your appetite, then consider Dark Sunday the equivalent of a fast-food meal—if you know it’s bad for you but you eat it anyway, then you have no one to blame but yourself for the indigestion you experience afterward. Crudely made in Owensby’s home base of North Carolina, Dark Sunday was nominally directed by Jimmy Huston, who helmed several projects for the actor-producer, and it was nominally written by Thom McIntyre, another E.O. Studios veteran, but every frame bears the crass fingerprints of the project’s main man, who built a fortune by peddling cinematic junk.
Lest we forget, Owensby is among the most unlikely screen personas of the ’70s—despite regularly casting himself as a fierce man of action, Owensby was at the time of his box-office success doughy and middle-aged. To quote Mel Brooks, it’s good to be the king!
In Dark Sunday, Owensby plays Reverend James Lowery, whose flock includes young people mired in drugs. When one of these youths dies of an overdose, Lowery vows to clean up the streets. This puts him in the crosshairs of drug lord Herbert Trexler (Martin Beck), who sends thugs to take out Lowery and his family. The reverend’s wife and one of his sons are killed, another son is paralyzed, and Lowery is rendered mute with a bum leg. Upon leaving the hospital, Lowery cruises a grungy downtown area until he finds drug dealers, then starts killing them until he discovers the identity of the man pulling the strings. And so on. Name a cliché you might imagine fitting this framework and you’ll find it in Dark Sunday. Lowery befriends a noble hooker and a blind street preacher. He beats up a black drug dealer named “Candyman.” Lowery exhibits superhuman stamina, enjoys absurd good luck, and somehow also manages to inconvenience a corrupt cop. All of this leads to a laugh-out-loud climax that won’t be spoiled here; suffice to say that Owensby and co. took a big swing and missed spectacularly. This unintentionally hilarious misstep is a perfect capper for 99 minutes of grindhouse sludge.
Dark Sunday: FUNKY