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Destroyer/Edge of Sanity Double-Feature

Destroyer

(1988)
When Ivan Moser (Lyle Alzado), a convicted serial killer, is set to be electrocuted, a devastating prison riot erupts on the day of the execution. In the wake of the destruction and mayhem, the prison is shut down and Moser becomes a legend. No proof of his death exists. Eighteen months later, a film director (Anthony Perkins), intrigued by the legend of Moser, decides to use the prison as a film set. On the last night of filming, the truth of Moser's fate is about to be revealed. The film crew, trapped inside the prison, begin to disappear one by one. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

Seeing that this Blu-ray double-feature is themed around actor Anthony Perkins, Robert Kirk’s Destroyer (aka: Shadow of Death) isn’t exactly the best place to start, since he plays such a small role. But it is a better-than-average B-thriller and the efforts of a keen cast, including a fantastic Deborah Foreman and Perkins himself (doing his best impression of all of the amazing directors he had worked with over the years), have a significant role in that success. While it does follow a mostly familiar story structure, producers Peter Garrity & Rex Hauck and editor Mark W. Rosenbaum’s screenplay has enough clever touches – such as Moser’s pre-electric chair obsession with a Wheel of Fortune-like gameshow or, more importantly, the film-within-a-film context – to set it apart from a surprisingly busy field. All of the funniest bits pertain to the behind-the-scenes struggles and social cliques of the exploitation movie Perkins’ character is making. First-time director Kirk (who stuck to historically-based TV movies, documentaries, and television series for the rest of his career), infuses what could’ve been a by-the-numbers throwaway with eerie, dreamlike visuals that stretch the limited budget and stark location setting. The murder sequences, which sometimes seem to be artefacts of a completely different movie, aren’t particularly frightening or even all that gory (the jackhammer kill that is teased on the poster pushes the limits a bit), but they’re certainly stylish – similar to pop music videos from the period.

In the grand scheme of late-80s horror, Destroyer is very similar to Wes Craven’s Shocker (1989), including a villain that gains supernatural powers after a botched electric chair execution. The connections don’t end there, though, because Sean S. Cunningham’s The Horror Show. The Horror Show also centers on an executed serial killer who wreaks havoc in the afterlife and was released in theaters around the same time. Destroyer is the cheapest-looking and least ambitious of the three movies, but it’s straight-forward charms and speedy pace make for a more entertaining overall experience. Additional haunted horror prison entries from the era included Renny Harlin’s superior Prison (1987), and Waldemar Korzeniowsky’s mostly unseen The Chair (1988). The fact that there were five competing horror movies about botched electric chair executions, spectral serial killers (or pseudo-spectral in the case of Destroyer), and spooky jailhouses within a three-year period probably has some kind of socio-political significance, but I’m just not sure what it is.

The title card that precedes the movie informs us that Destroyer was transferred from the only available vault materials, which explains why the movie is called Shadow of Death here. As far as I can tell, the film was never released on DVD, Blu-ray, or even broadcast on television in widescreen. There is, of course, no comparison between this new 1.78:1, 1080p transfer and its VHS counterparts, but, even with low, low expectations in check, the results are better than expected. Kirk and cinematographer Chuy Elizondo shot an awful lot of the movie in soft focus, so sharp details are at a premium and the diffused lighting schemes creates some noise issues. However, the overall on-screen detail is still relatively complex, grain is pretty natural, and dynamic range is strong enough to overcome the fuzzy contrast levels. The palette is purposefully limited to lots of pinks and blues – you know, the theme colours of 1988 – to the point that even the neutral hues are shaded by one or the other. The transfer could do with a slight punch-up to really make these colours pop, but I doubt they were too much brighter on the original print. There are examples of compression artefacts throughout the transfer, specifically the slight edge enhancement along the harder edges and occasional aliasing ‘bounce.’

The film’s original stereo soundtrack is presented in uncompressed 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. The results are a mixed affair, in large part due to bad choices made by the original sound mixers. The stereo effects are pretty impressive, especially the more obliquely stylistic choices (the villain’s point-of-view shots and electric chair noises), but the dialogue tracks are way too quiet. The ghost center channel also suffers from excessive echoing (the bare concrete walls of the prison don’t exactly insulate sound) and some off-kilter noise-reduction issues. Former Frank Zappa bass player Patrick O’Hearn’s music fairs pretty well, aside from an overabundance of reverb.

The only extra is a trailer.

 Destroyer/Edge of Sanity Double-Feature

 Destroyer/Edge of Sanity Double-Feature

 Destroyer/Edge of Sanity Double-Feature

 Destroyer/Edge of Sanity Double-Feature

 Destroyer/Edge of Sanity Double-Feature


Destroyer/Edge of Sanity Double-Feature

Edge of Sanity

(1989)
After a lab experiment unleashes mysterious fumes, Dr. Henry Jekyll (Anthony Perkins) undergoes a terrifying transformation into a savage alter ego who calls himself "Jack Hyde." Meanwhile, the depraved killer Jack the Ripper is slicing his way through the alleys of Whitechapel, leaving mutilated streetwalkers in his wake. Is there a connection between Jekyll/Hyde and Jack the Ripper? And can anyone stop his reign of terror? (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

Anyone buying this double-feature Blu-ray specifically as an Anthony Perkins fan will probably find Gerard Kikoine’s Edge of Sanity a more satisfying experience, because the actor isn’t relegated to a cameo appearance. This is a front and center performance – one in line with Perkins’ appearances in the Psycho sequels, Ken Russell’s Crimes of Passion (1984), Tobe Hooper’s I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990), and Petra Haffter’s A Demon in My View (1992). The veteran actor was clearly having fun hamming it up in the dual role of Jekyll, who grows from a meek doctor into an angry social anarchist, and Hyde, whose mean swagger and bursts of anger give Perkins the excuse to pull manic faces and contort his body into wild shapes. I am unaware of Kikoine’s career outside of this film and a 1990 Edgar Allan Poe adaptation called Buried Alive, which I accidentally rented once when I meant to rent Joe D’Amato’s Italian horror shocker Buio Omega (a 1979 movie that was called Buried Alive on US VHS). His work here is borderline avant-garde, dripping with even more neon, smoke, and Dutch angles than the already MTV-infused Destroyer (the late-’80sness of it all extends to the fact that Jekyll now smokes his concoction like crack, instead of drinking it). Kikoine attempts to blend this more lurid style, which normally represents Hyde’s murderous shenanigans, with the costume drama trappings of Dr. Jekyll’s mundane daylight activities. The mix does not always succeed (getting through the Jekyll scenes becomes a chore), but his efforts pay off in the long run, because the stagey, neo-gothic, ‘Victorian era meets Duran Duran music video’ look helps differentiate the film in a very busy field of Jekyll and Hyde adaptations.

Edge of Sanity was a semi-rarity in that it was released on VHS in both R-rated and unrated tapes. According to my completely unscientific, anecdotal research, the unrated version was actually more common and the R-rated version was made exclusively for Blockbuster Video rental. In the digital age, the R-rated cut has basically been erased, because every available DVD (all of which have been released via MGM), as well as this Blu-ray debut, have been uncut. I assume that the ratings issues sprung less from the actual gore content and more from the kinky and cruel tone of the film’s sexual violence (sure enough, this [url=http://www.movie-censorship.com/report.php?ID=9...]breakdown of the cuts seem to lean towards censoring sex over violence). The gory moments mostly pertain to the aftereffects of Hyde’s throat-slashing attacks, along with a squirm-inducing cataract removal (the second I’ve seen this week, following Death Walks in High Heels!).

The fact that this hasn’t been designated as a new transfer by Scream’s press release makes me assume that it is a less-compressed version of the HD transfer that, if memory serves, made the rounds on Netflix pretty recently. The good news is that there doesn’t seem to have been any need for a remaster, because this 1.85:1, 1080p transfer looks just fine. It appears that cramming two films onto a single disc caused a bit of compression, but grain appears mostly accurate (aside from occasional CRT noise), details are tight, and gradations don’t feature posterization problems. Most importantly, Kikoine and cinematographer Tony Spratling’s lurid colours are quite vivid. The blazing pinks and reds pop beautifully off of the electric blue and purple backgrounds. Black levels are deep without a lot of crush and the occasionally natural hue (usually a skin tone) appears relatively neutral, if not a hair plasticy due to the shine of the heavier highlights used during darker shots. Edge of Sanity also comes fitted with a stereo 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Again, the ghost center channel’s dialogue and incidental effects are too quiet compared to the stereo-infused music and more stylized sound design. Frédéric Talgorn, who made his debut as a film composer for this film, supplies a rich and evocative symphonic score that gives the production a nice, dramatic edge.

Again, the only extra is a trailer.

 Destroyer/Edge of Sanity Double-Feature

 Destroyer/Edge of Sanity Double-Feature

 Destroyer/Edge of Sanity Double-Feature

 Destroyer/Edge of Sanity Double-Feature

 Destroyer/Edge of Sanity Double-Feature

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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