Sunday, November 5, 2017

REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Poisoned milk, corporate espionage, naked girls, and the living dead are the principal elements that attempt to coalesce themselves into a cohesive, coherent narrative in Peter B. Harsone (a.k.a. Pierre B. Reinhard)’s REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1986), a completely bonkers zombie film, which, despite the subject matter, has more in common with a French skin-flick than with the unique filmic output of director Harsone’s countryman Jean Rollin (despite the fact that REVENGE seemingly took the odd rudimentary pointer from Rollin’s pseudo-zombie splatter fest THE GRAPES OF DEATH [1978]).

In the present film, when an employee at O.K.F., a powerful German-owned chemical company who have set up shop in a small French town, poisons the local milk supply, a trio of young women (including a bride-to-be) expire after drinking said poisoned moo-juice. But when the same company also dumps toxic waste at the local cemetery, these three girls rise from the grave to exact their ‘vengeance’ on those responsible for their deaths…

Although usually referred to as THE REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD GIRLS (a direct translation of the film’s French title), the film’s slightly shorter English-language export title is a blander, more generic title, although Harsone’s film itself is anything but. While principally marketed as a horror film, it showcases just as much – if not more – nudity as it does violence and gore. It begins much like some third-rate, clichéd porno, when a truck-driver transporting a shipment of milk picks-up a pig-tailed hitchhiker; who, as it turns out, is merely a diversionary tactic that enables a leather-clad motorcyclist to contaminate the milk with some mysterious toxin.  When the female decoy shortly sprains her ankle, the horny trucker takes full advantage of the situation (“Let’s make you comfortable. That’s what a doctor would do!”). In yet another scene, one of the resident old-timers spots two of the soon-to-be-zombified-girls and casually remarks, “I’ve never looked up their skirts, but they don’t look polluted to me!” Amidst all the subterfuge, deception and corruption at this aforesaid French branch of OKF, big boss man Jacques Alphan (Patrick Guillemin) is secretly blackmailed after his opportunistic secretary Brigitte (Anthea Wyler) videotapes him with an eager prostitute who is more than willing to (quote) “refine her technique” and is hilariously told to perform something called a (quote) “Cambodian wheelbarrow”! Needless to say, the film also features plenty of surprisingly nasty gore, which occurs with regular frequency and culminates with our undead trio having a lesbian tryst with one of their victims before viciously finishing her off with the pointy end of a sword.

Becoming increasingly concerned with all the dubious goings-on in France, O.K.F. headquarters decide to send Ingrid Schwartz (Cornelia Wilms) to investigate and hopefully try to squelch any potential scandals by locating the prostitute from the aforementioned covert video (“There must be 100,000 prostitutes in France!”). Instead she finds the dead rising from their graves (“They’re dead!” I’ve seen them leaving their tomb!”) and a company chemist whose putrescent hand has been infected by toxic sludge; which, in a bizarre and wholly unexpected twist, causes gory havoc with his very-pregnant wife. Further from-out-of-left-field, head-scratching twists ensue before the film’s finale, which definitely makes this minor zombie outing a tad bit more memorable than it has any right to be.

Never released on VHS in the U.S., REVENGE did find a video release on French-Canadian Beta/VHS cassette in Québec courtesy of Groupe Prolusion, who released it in a snazzy, oversized gate-fold box highlighting the three girls in both their human and zombie personas. Throughout the late ’80s and on into the early ’90s, the film was also a late-night staple on Super Écran, Canada’s erstwhile French-language premium Pay-TV service, where it played to no-doubt-astonished audiences.

Issued a number of times on German DVD, including a 2002 Hardbox Edition from X-rated Kult under the German translated title of DIE RACHE DER LEBENDEN TOTEN, the 2006 DVD from CMV-Laservision was a far-more pleasing edition, which presented the film with German, French and English audio options. This barely-letterboxed (1.50:1) disc also included the longer “erotic version”; German and French theatrical and video trailers; missing scenes; an alternate ending; plus trailers for some of the company’s other product. At around the same time, Neo Publishing in France also released the film on DVD, which included less extras, but an interesting on-camera interview (in French only) with writer Jean-Claude Roy (who penned the film as “John King”) and late SFX makeup artist Benoît Lestang. Meanwhile, stateside, Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia outfit released the film under its aforementioned title, THE REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD GIRLS in a 1.66:1 non-anamorphic widescreen version, which also included the alternate ending, a trailer and some solid production notes from Mirek Lipinski.

Earlier this year, Germany’s Wicked Vision was the first to release it on Blu-ray in a lavish, 3-disc set (including one Blu and a pair of DVDs), and although listed as Region B, it is in fact Region Free. Presented in its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio with much-improved picture quality, which is very sharp with solid detail and what appears to be, judging from all the naked flesh onscreen, quite accurate colours. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 also sounds clean and free of any distortion and, in an interesting bit of minutiae, this version includes Christopher Reid’s synth-driven “Phantasia” cue over the film’s opening credits, as opposed to the customary “Terror Shout” cue, which certainly set the tone for this very peculiar film. As a bonus, Wicked Vision have also included – in what seems to be its entirety – Reid’s full score (42m04s), consisting of 19 tracks. An audio commentary courtesy of Lars-Dreyer Winkelmann is also included, but it’s in German only.

As with the earlier German DVD edition, Wicked Vision have also included both the ‘erotic’ and ‘horror’ versions of the film, which run 81m54s and 77m11s, respectively. The main difference between the two versions are the former’s extended scenes of softcore nudity, and although the picture quality is superb on both versions, these extended scenes are presented in German with English subtitles; it’s a nice gesture on behalf on Wicked Vision to includes both versions, but the longer version is definitely the better option. Ported over from Neo Publishing’s DVD, the on-camera interview “Retour Sur la Revanche / Return to Revenge” (18m06s) with Roy and Lestang is also included, this time with English subtitles. In it, they discuss the beginnings of the project, which at that time, was (quote) “unusual in France” and a “fringe of the genre”; the start of their collaboration, which was initiated by Jean Rollin with whom Lestang worked on his THE LIVING DEAD GIRL (1982). They also talk about the Théâtre du Grand Guignol; Lestang’s SFX contributions, which in the end he wasn’t too happy about, and he jokingly condescends to Roy’s frugality. Further topics of discussion include casting, censorship and distribution. Other extras include numerous German and French trailers; the alternate ending, which isn’t really all that different; a brief censored scene, which only appeared on German videocassette; and a decent gallery of promotional artwork and lobby cards (2m30s) courtesy of Creepy Images’ Thorsten Benzel and Wicked Vision’s Daniel Pereé. All of this comes packaged in a thick Mediabook, which also includes a slick and well-illustrated, 24-page booklet with liner notes (in German only) from Lars-Dreyer Winkelman, Christian Kessler and Wicked Vision’s Matthias Paul.


While REVENGE is shameless trash indeed, there’s no denying that Wicked Vision’s attractively packaged Blu-ray is quite an impressive set, which goes far in proving that, despite the ongoing decline of physical media around the world, the niche home video market continues to thrive. Order it from Amazon Germany.

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