Color, 1988, 90 mins. 14 secs.
Directed by Rubén Galindo Jr.
Starring Jon Michael Bischof, Gabriela Hassel, Helena Rojo, Jorge Luke, Eduardo Noriega
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), BCI/Eclipse (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
The history of Mexican horror films is twofold in the way its films either courted local audiences or aimed for a broader international market, with the latter usually shot in English. One director who hopped between the two late in the game was Rubén Galindo Jr., whose giddy trilogy of macabre labors of love have become treasured discoveries among home video hounds over the years. Two of these, Grave Robbers and Cemetery of Terror, are Spanish-language monster romps that were given a spotlight on Blu-ray by Vinegar Syndrome; in between them he made a bid for the U.S. market with Don't Panic, which was shot in English and also prepared in a Spanish-dubbed version. Unleashed by the same label as part of its 2020 Black Friday wave, this one's just as wild as its companion features and also boasts one of the most memorable fashion choices of any horror hero around.
To celebrate his birthday, American teen Michael (Bischof), now living in Mexico City, gets a Ouija board from one of his buddies, Tony (Aranda). One party game later that night, they've summoned a force from beyond named Virgil who escorts a demonic force into the rational world -- and soon Michael's eyes are turning a reddish brown while his friends die horrible, inexplicable deaths. Could Michael be responsible for these paranormal slayings that seem to happen in a kind of out of body state, or is there something else nefarious at work?
The kind of lunatic horror mishmash that plays even better today than when it came out, Don't Panic throws in a slew of delightful surprises including telenovela-worthy teen romance involving a mystical rose, bloody classroom hallucinations, outrageous Coke product placement, and best of all, Michael's sudden decision in the middle of the story to wear some super cute cartoon dinosaur adult pajamas. You can easily lose track of all the recent genre films being quoted here, right down to the Witchboard Ouija mayhem and a Demons 2-style face coming out of a static-filled TV set. However, this is most definitely its own beast with a quirky, innocent sensibility that characterizes all of Galindo's films around that time.
Don't Panic was first released on DVD by BCI Eclipse in 2006 as a double feature with The Demon Rat, presented on its own disc with the English version on one side and the Spanish on the other. The transfer of the English version looked terrible and also ran at the wrong speed, coming in at 86 minutes on the dot; the Spanish one was in somewhat better shape and ran the correct length, but there was still a vast amount of room for improvement. In the interim the film began to pick up a bit of a reputation among die-hard fans of weird cinema, even earning a screening at UCLA. In 2020, Vinegar Syndrome bowed the film on Blu-ray featuring a pristine 4K scan from the 35mm original negative that's just as impressive as the work on its two prior Galindo releases. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono audio option is the default and, well, pretty much sounds like this always has; it's a very flat track with some sibilance baked into some of the dialogue scenes, but that's the nature of the source. The Spanish dub is also included in lossy Dolby Digital, and yellow optional English subtitles are provided. Two audio commentaries are included, the first featuring Galindo speaking very sparsely about the film with a lot of dead air and narration about what's happening on screen. There are some decent nuggets of info scattered around here, but you're far better off just checking out his video interview here, "Possessed by Horror" (24m52s), in which he's far more energetic chatting about the Mexican horror scene, his love of the genre, the difference in how this film was aimed for English speakers, and the challenges of the visual effects. A second track with the quartet from The Hysteria Continues is, as you'd expect, a lighthearted and conversational look at the film including the VHS horror scene at the end of the decade, the appeal of Mexican horror, the various influences at play, and the joys of those dinosaur jammies. (One oversight though: Mexico is most definitely part of North America!) The alternate Spanish title sequence is also included.
Reviewed on November 26, 2020