Starring Sal Landi, Andrew Divoff, Robert Culp, Karen Moncrieff
Directed by Harry Bromley Davenport
Distributed by Vinegar Syndrome
Although I was born in the early ‘80s the formative years when I did most of my VHS watching came in the ‘90s – you know, that period of time when horror wasn’t exactly at its peak and most of the icons were either reinvented or retired. The rental store landscape was littered with direct-to-video (DTV) titles that have long since been forgotten – many for good reason – but that doesn’t mean I have any less a soft spot for many of these little-seen low budget camp-fests. As I have said many times before, nostalgia is a helluva drug. This explains why Xtro 3: Watch the Skies (1995) – a objectively awful film – can be watchable for me, because I distinctly remember watching director Harry Bromley Davenport’s trilogy capper on a lazy Saturday afternoon in 1995. I have no such recollection of seeing any of the other films in this in-name-only series. I did find it to be a mildly pleasant surprise when Vinegar Syndrome announced this would be joining their ranks; if there’s one thing you can count on in regard to their releases, it is that an absurd amount of elbow grease goes into polishing up transfers and delivering a handsome home video package.
A blocky CGI prologue shows an alien craft crash landing on Earth, date unknown. The film then cuts to Lt. Martin Kirn (Sal Landi) recounting a story in which he was conscripted by the military to infiltrate a deserted island and recover munitions left there after WWII. The team, led by the duplicitous Cpt. Fetterman (Andrew Divoff), arrives on the tiny island and soon finds a small cache of weapons. They also find a man who has survived there all these years, living off the abundance of rabbits that also call this little place home. They also find a massive cement block in which one of the soldiers immediately blows a massive hole. What the soldier doesn’t know is that he has just unleashed an alien life form that has only one mission in mind: kill. Soon, this Predator-like visitor is hocking up acidic loogies and using a prehensile tongue to dismember and dissect the squad, cloaking itself with invisibility to better sneak up on this new prey.
In the special features director Davenport himself says this film isn’t very good – he isn’t wrong. The only actor in the bunch any good at their craft is Andrew Divoff, who always brings fierce intensity to his performances. I suppose Robert Culp is fine in a role that he clearly shot over the course of a single day, maybe two. As for the rest I can’t say a single actor in the bunch is capable of delivering a line with any sense of conviction. Not helping matters is the editing, which is so choppy – especially in the third act – that connective tissue to help scenes and character placement make sense is simply not there.
On the plus side, the alien design, though derivative, has a cool Fire in the Sky (1993) vibe to it and that little fucker is vicious. It cuts through humans with ease and any damage taken is quickly healed with one wave of its magic hand. The alien has more of a backstory than any of the characters and when that history is revealed it gives motivation and purpose to the cosmic traveler’s travails. The creature is brought to life via animatronic puppet, though I thought I spotted some stop-motion work in there.
Oh, and one small bit of trivia: keep an eye out for a young Martin Starr, as always sporting those trademark thick-lensed glasses.
It should come as no surprise the 1.85:1 1080p image is a revelation; Vinegar Syndrome has made a name for themselves as a company that puts incredible restorative effort into every film they release. Considering this film has lived its entire life on VHS or poor-quality DVD, this Blu-ray is stunning across the board and likely the best this mess has ever looked. The new 2K scan comes from the original camera negative, allowing for impressive detail, strong color saturation, and appreciable image depth to elevate this low-budget affair. If there is any fault to be found I’d say the contrast during nighttime scenes is a little shaky but overall this is astonishingly competent and a true testament to the hard work VS is known for.
The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track hasn’t aged quite as well. The levels sound a bit boosted, with dialogue and sound effects competing for dominance on this thin, muddy track. Voices sometimes have a hollow ring, which is more a fault of the on-set sound person and not so much the mix remastered by VS. Harry Bromley Davenport pulls triple duty here by also providing the score which is often generic but there are a handful of organ music cues that add a nice weight to some of the more tense moments. Subtitles are available in English.
- BRAND NEW 2K RESTORATION OF THE FILM FROM THE ORIGINAL CAMERA NEGATIVE
- Winning and Losing” – an interview with director Harry Bromley Davenport
- “Acting like a Writer” – an interview with writer/actor Daryl Haney
- Original trailer
- Reversible cover artwork
- English SDH subtitles
This is a film I would only recommend for fans of DTV ’90s cheese or those who love any kind of “killer alien” movie. Either way, I can confidently say Vinegar Syndrome provides a beautiful image, along with a small-but-worthwhile selection of bonus features.