Thursday, April 19, 2018

BLUE VENGEANCE - BLU-RAY REVIEW

In the midst of the ’80s VHS boom, enterprising filmmakers and distributors were taking full advantage of the insatiable appetite of the home video rental market, which allowed them to produce and successfully promote a sizeable quantity of low-budget, straight-to-video product. Blending elements of horror and police procedural, J. Christian Ingvordsen’s BLUE VENGEANCE (1989) was produced at the tail-end of this period, and at the time, it kind of slipped through the cracks and remained unreleased in North America. However, thanks to Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-ray, which houses a brand-new 4K restoration, undiscriminating cinephiles should get a real kick out of this belated-if-not-entirely-forgotten blast from the past. 

Otherwise known as the “Mirror Man” killer, Mark Trex (John Wiener) escapes from the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in upstate New York. Making his way to New York City, he hopes to track down members of his favourite rock band, Warriors of the Inferno, whose out-there lyrics fueled his passion for death and murder as a youngster. Having parted ways some years before, most of the band’s ex-members have since moved on to ‘regular’ jobs. Trex seeks sworn oaths from these ex-band members that they haven’t (quote) “betrayed” him, but they usually shrug him off (“You know the lyrics to that shit song?”) before succumbing to his brutal, schizophrenic mind. Meanwhile, disgraced cop Mickey McCardle (director Ingvordsen, acting under the alias of “John Christian”) is haunted by the controversial murder of his ex-partner (Buzzy Danenfelser) at the hands of Trex some ten years earlier, and despite resistance from his superiors, he vows to stop Trex’s murder spree, no matter what the cost…

First seen as a scruffy, delusional self-talking psychotic, Wiener really plays Trex to the hilt. In the film’s opening moments, he even manages to engineer an audacious escape from prison by first hanging himself, then, in a supreme bit of self-confidence, is eventually resuscitated by the prison doctor, which leads into a bloody mess at the prison’s infirmary. In an interesting – and at first bewildering – bit of juxtaposition, Trex’s near-death experience is depicted as a subconscious battle between himself and some sort of sword-wielding, “Conan”-inspired barbarian in a mask (there is a reason for this, but not what you may think!), which only further substantiates the skewed state of Trex’s inner workings. Meanwhile, Ingvordsen as put-upon Detective McCardle, who may or may not have been partly responsible for his partner’s death, is convinced that Trex is responsible for a recent rash of brutal murders, even though his prime suspect had cunningly staged his own death (cue a previously-shot insert of a pickup truck exploding) after escaping from prison. Although at times each portraying their characters appropriately over-the-top, if coming from different ends of the moral spectrum, both Ingvordsen and Wiener manage to bring an earnestness to their rather thinly-written roles which is a testament to their dedication and belief in the project. Ingvordsen also has the good fortune to star alongside Garland Hunter, who plays a spunky, no-nonsense punkette named Tiffany, whom he first meets at NYC’s now-legendary punk venue CBGBs, which is only one of many (quote) “pre-Disneyfied” locations used in the film, including Times Square. 

Although released in the U.K. and Europe on VHS courtesy of RCA/Columbia Pictures, and later on DVD via Shock Video in the Netherlands, Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray/DVD combo is really the only way to go. Scanned and restored in 2K from (quote) “the original 35mm camera negative”, VS’s Blu is a real eye-opener, and it looks absolutely first-rate, with a perfectly-defined picture and a nice amount of natural film grain, which finally allows Michael Spiller’s photography to get some of the recognition it deserves. The DTS-HD MA mono audio sounds particularly full and robust, and doesn’t present any issues whatsoever. In short, VS’s restoration is quite outstanding.

Naturally, VS have also packed their release with a number of illuminating extra features, which shed plenty of light on the film itself, as well as the New York independent film scene. Starting-off with an audio commentary featuring director/star Ingvordsen, which is moderated by ex-Fangoria editor Michael Gingold, they discuss the (quote) “last great gasp of independent cinema” and guerilla filmmaking at the time; Ingvordsen’s time working as a key grip with Larry Cohen on such films as THE STUFF (1985); the re-development of NYC; the colourful locations, including the aforementioned CBGB’s and their graffiti-strewn bathrooms; the very uncharacteristic final battle in the film; plus his and John Wiener’s love for John Milius’ CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1981), elements of which they manage to put into their film in a decidedly bizarre albeit fascinating way. Actor John Wiener flies solo in the second audio commentary, and he actually fills the running time with plenty of similar facts and anecdotes, including the film’s genesis as a horror film about (quote) “people who eat people’s hearts”; his friend’s band Nevermore (seen playing live at CBGB’s in the film); his research on the film itself, which led him to some (quote) “creepy website” in Germany and the film’s German title ZWANG ZUM TÖTEN (trans: “Compulsion to Kill”); and BV’s many (quote) “great locations”. 

In the documentary Making Blue Vengeance (19m26s), Ingvordsen (as well as writer/actor Danny Kuchuck and assistant director Matthew Howe) discuss the high demand for product at the time, his desire to produce a (quote) “NYC cop drama”, his love for NY cop films from the ’70s in general, and how his distributor at the time wanted a horror title instead. He also talks very highly of Larry Cohen and the (quote) “art of the sneak”, his amazing ability to get some truly incredible shots without utilizing a permit, something which Ingvordsen himself also does quite admirably in BV. Next up is On Blue Vengeance (13m28s), an on-camera conversation between Ingvordsen and Gingold, which covers similar territory, but also touches on his association with Shapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment; some of his earlier projects and his (quote) “big ambitions [with BV], despite the low-budget”. In a surprise extra, VS have also included Danny Kuchuck’s THE FIRST MAN (1996), a previously-unreleased, feature-length film starring Lesley Ann Warren, Heather Graham, Ted Raimi, Lisa Zane and Paul Ben-Victor. Although not entirely successful, this unusual sci-fi film with arthouse pretensions is an interesting inclusion just the same, but it’s easy to see why it has remained unseen for so long. As per VS’ usual standards, the disc also features reversible cover art featuring both original artwork designed by Derek Gabryszak, as well as artwork from the film’s German video release. The first 1000 copies also include a thick slipcover featuring Gabryszak’s eye-catching art. 

On the surface, BLUE VENGEANCE may appear to be just another low-rent action film, but between the spirited self-confidence of everyone involved and many of the film’s quirkier moments, the film distinguishes itself from the norm and is definitely worth checking-out, especially via Vinegar Syndrome’s impressive new Blu-ray. Order it directly from Vinegar Syndrome or DiabolikDVD.

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