Starring Bret Harrison, Laura Prepon, Ashley Laurence, Kevin Gage, Lucas Till
Directed by Rob Hall
Distributed by Image Entertainment
Though not a horror film per se, makeup effects wizard and Almost Human, Inc. founder Robert Hall’s semi-autobiographical 2004 directorial debut Lightning Bug will most certainly be of interest to genre fans for its grim subject matter, horror-friendly cast, and its lead character – a scary movie loving teen who dreams of leaving his Alabama hometown behind to one day sling makeup on the types of films that he loves so dearly. Hall, who later directed the fun slasher pics Laid to Rest and Chromeskull, obviously poured his heart and soul into his first film, which is only now getting a much-deserved re-release onto Blu-ray. And while the movie isn’t without its flaws, it remains a deeply engaging film that manages to be as humorous as it is heartbreaking.
The film concerns Green Graves (Harrison), the aforementioned fanboy who lives with his single mother Jenny (a great Laurence) and younger brother Jay (Till) in their tiny rural trailer. Green’s existence is a tough one, with poverty, misunderstanding adults, and an abusive stepfather (Gage) beating down his hopes and dreams at every turn. Things start to look up for our young hero when he wins the opportunity to design the annual Halloween spookhouse for a local eccentric. He also manages to find a friend in fellow misfit Angevine (Prepon), a would-be actress whose mean-spirited, evangelical mother despises Green and the type of films he adores. But even as Green’s life seems to be improving, his stepfather’s drinking and violent tendencies escalate, leading to a tragic chain of events which will alter Green’s life forever.
Though Lightning Bug occasionally suffers from its low budget and the occasional tonal misstep, it’s still a fantastic film, full of fine performances, good photography, and offbeat musical choices that perfectly complement the movie’s off-kilter atmosphere. The story itself is gripping, equally inspiring and gut-wrenching at turns while managing to balance its genuinely sweet love story against some truly hilarious moments sprinkled throughout. Green is a supremely likeable and relatable character, at least to this writer (and, I should imagine, will be to most horror fans who have yet to see the film). Protagonists of his sort are rarely glimpsed in most movies, and are usually relegated to “creepy/funny best friend” status if they do put in an appearance. That Green adores slasher and creature features and yet isn’t shown as some sort of kooky oddball is an appreciated and all too rare presentation of horror fandom. Appreciated all the more is Green’s arc throughout the film, as the character refuses to let his plans for his future be torn down by discouragement or abuse. It’s a great story – not a horror tale, mind, but a drama tailored by and for horror fans.
Helping Hall tell his tale is a fine cast, led by Harrison, who does a wonderful job as Bug’s hero. Also solid are Laura Prepon as the lovely, soulful Angevine, and Kevin Gage as Green’s despicable stepfather Earl. But the standout in the film is easily Hellraiser’s Ashley Laurence, giving a helluva performance as Green’s abused, always-hopeful mother Jenny. It’s a great role for the actress, who will break your heart more than once in the film, and makes one wish that she worked more often and with roles that demand this much of her.
Image Entertainment has given Lightning Bug an impressive release to Blu-ray, with solid audio and video, and a sizable amount of bonus features for fans to sift through. Image-wise, things are a bit of a mixed bag: sometimes the level of detail is impressive, sometimes the image is more than a little soft; at times the blacks are rich and inky, at times they are quite washed out. In any case, it’s still a handsome-looking film in spite of its low budget, and this Blu-ray is the best the film has ever looked on a home format. There are also three audio tracks to choose from: a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track; a 5.1 Dolby Surround track; and a 2.0 Dolby Surround track. Of course, if your home setup would benefit from it, you’ll most certainly want to listen to the DTS track.
And then, there are the bonus features. Most of them have been ported over from Anchor Bay’s now out-of-print 2005 DVD, though there are a few new items to entice collectors to upgrade. First up is Afterglow, a twenty-five minute look back at the film’s making, with new interviews with most of the film’s principals (and a few other surprise guests); a new trailer cut especially to promote this new Blu-ray’s release (it’s an improvement on the film’s original trailer, though it’s still not entirely successful at capturing what makes the film great); and, most impressively, an extended cut of the film running fifteen minutes longer than the original release. As a fan, it’s nice to have this alternate edit on disc alongside its counterpart. However, while it’s nice to see many of the deleted scenes in context, the leaner original cut is still my favorite version of the film. It’s also worth noting that both cuts of the film have had tiny digital alterations made throughout, to address some of the issues director Hall had with the film (in addition to a couple of fun easter eggs in the video store featured in the film). While I wish that the original cut had been left untouched, the changes are hardly Lucas-level, and shouldn’t be of much bother to most viewers.
Holdovers from the previous DVD release include: Luciferin, a solid making-of doc; a selection of deleted scenes with optional commentary by Hall; a set of outtakes; a music video for Kevn Kinney’s “Sun Tangled Angel Revival”, the film’s original trailer; and a photo gallery. Overall, a damned impressive set of special features.
If you’re already a fan of this film, trust me when I say that it’s time to trade in your DVD copy. You need this Blu-ray for your collection. But for those who haven’t yet experienced Lightning Bug? Do yourselves a favor and check out this definitive release for one of the better indie films of the last decade.
4 1/2 out of 5
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