Color, 1980, 90 mins. 16 secs.
Directed by Mario Azzopardi
Starring Stephen Young, Sharon Masters, Marvin Goldhar, Jeannie Elias, Cindy Hinds
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
One of those gems that really hearty VHS explorers stumbled on in the 1980s but didn't manage to turn into a cult favorite, Deadline was shot in Toronto at the height of the tax shelter heyday and even features young Cindy Hinds hot off of her unforgettable role in David Cronenberg's The Brood. The catchy artwork of bloody hands at a typewriter was enough to catch a few eyeballs when it turned up on the 1984 VHS release from Paragon, the same year it earned a few theatrical screenings in Canada. Since then it's mostly flown under the radar, with a few enthusiastic mentions later in the decade by the likes of Chas Balun earning it a few extra fans who managed to keep it a secret of sorts in the horror community. Now the film has gotten its most high-profile release to date as a Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome, which should be enough to win over many new converts and provide a few big jolts along the way.
Few will disagree that this film features one of the most jaw-dropping opening 15 minutes in genre history as it bounces between the routine of horror author and screenwriter Steven Lessey (Young), who has to defend his work in front of some very combative students, and depictions of his most incendiary scenes involving farm equipment mutilation, a pre-The Witch Satanic black goat, an unfortunate granny tethered to her bed and set alight by her evil grandkids, and a blood-gushing shower that outdoes the one in Death Ship. Meanwhile his marriage to Elizabeth (Masters) is started to unravel along with his sanity, which is also having a very negative effect on their three children. As he grapples with writer's block and tries to come up with the ultimate horror (by way of a crazed scenario involving a supernatural rock band and a grisly story right out of an Italian nunsploitation epic), it's clear that Steven's road to creative fulfillment probably won't be a happy one.
Exactly what this film is trying to say about horror (if anything at all) is up for debate, but the execution is highly rewarding if you're on the right wavelength and love that eerie, dour tone common to Canadian genre films around that time. Even the poppy score by Sam Bari (complete with a theme song) has a melancholic undercurrent to it, and director / co-writer Mario Azzopardi, a Malta native who became a regular name on the Canadian TV scene well into the current millennium, gives it all a surprising amount of dramatic weight that plays nicely off the regular injections of outlandish gore vignettes. In the end it's one of the most fascinating entries in the small company of genre films about writers going nuts, joining such company as The Shining, Seizure, and From Beyond the Grave even if its creators don't think of it as a strict horror film per se.
Making its disc debut in any format, the Blu-ray and DVD edition from Vinegar Syndrome (which comes with a 2,000-unit limited edition slipcover designed by Earl Kessler Jr.) is culled from the best surviving element, a 35mm film print. The results here are quite good though under the circumstances; it may not have the "wow" factor of a transfer off a camera negative, but they've managed to eke a lot of detail out of the source and gotten the color to look pretty solid as well. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is also in good shape for an optical track without any significant damage or noise issues, and optional English SDH subtitles are provided. In "Producing Something Horrific" (12m43s), producer Henry Less (who also provided the source print) chats about working with "deep thinker" Azzopardi, the personnel on this film who came right off projects like The Silent Partner, his own focus on "raising the money, doing drugs, and keeping the whole show on the rails" without noting the artistic intentions, and his pleased reaction to it all these years later. Then "Embracing the Horror" (14m11s) features cinematographer Manfred Guthe goes into his background in documentaries, learning his trade in the trenches of Canadian filmmaking without film school, his attraction to the "quirky" script, and the reason one shot in the film remains his favorite.
Reviewed on April 4, 2020.