Color, 1989, 96 mins. 11 secs.
Directed by Joel Bender
Starring Ron Ray, Chris Crone, Clarke Lindsley, Melody Patterson, Steve Jamieson, Greg Joujon-Roche
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
One of the many, many indie horror movies sent straight to video during the final days of the 1980s, The Immortalizer is a truly odd semi-comedic monster romp shot in downtown Los Angeles. Essentially another movie about a mad scientist performing nefarious experiments on unwitting youths, it's also another twist on the familiar idea of staying eternally young by swapping brains (and/or souls) into other bodies a la the earlier Monstrosity and the later Get Out and The Skeleton Key. The fact that this may be the weirdest of that batch is really saying something as this absolutely drips with late '80s atmosphere right down to the hazy, omnipresent sunlight that seems to flood almost every scene.
The mayhem starts right away in an operating room as Dr. Divine (Ray) and his sinister nurse (Blood and Lace's Patterson) perform a procedure on a screaming young woman next to a sedated senior citizen. From there we jump to a night out with Gregg (Crone) and his three friends who get jumped and kidnapped by two mutated hulks. Spirited away to Divine's clinic, they find themselves at the mercy of an insidious covert business that puts the brains of the wealthy into the bodies of the young and beautiful -- at a million dollars a pop. Gregg manages to barely escape with his life but has a hellish time convincing anyone else about what's really going on, so he has to take matters into his own hands to save his friends and stop the medical maniacs.
Thanks to its glowing lime green serum and zombified mutant monsters, this film has drawn frequent comparisons to Re-Animator-- though the similarities pretty much end there. The humor here is a broad, quirky ingredient that frequently upends the more traditional horror elements, with Patterson getting some of the best moments with a role that could have been tailor made for Cathy Moriarty. The whole thing feels off kilter, like the kind of thing you might stumble onto at 2 in the morning on HBO; it even works in a bizarre breaking of the fourth wall by our hero in the penultimate scene (don't be surprised if it becomes a meme thanks to to the Blu-ray) and a twist ending you'll probably call by the end of the first act.
Initially released on VHS and laserdisc by RCA/Columbia, The Immortalizer fell into the MGM library in the last decade and appeared on DVD-R as an MOD title from the studio in 2015. Taken from a mediocre old full frame master, that left a lot of room for improvement. Luckily that arrived in 2020 from Vinegar Syndrome with a Blu-ray featuring a 2K scan of an interpositive that wrings out a lot more from the film than we've ever seen before, particularly in terms of color saturation and fidelity. No more nasty smearing or murkiness here; it looks terrific and gives the film a glossy sheen that may convert a few viewers who wrote it off before. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 stereo track is modest but has some nice dual-channel activity for the score at times; as usual, optional English SDH subtitles are also provided. In "Just a Crazy Movie" (8m11s), director-editor Joel Bender (whose first feature was Gas Pump Girls) notes how he got his start working for Otto Preminger and approached this film as a comedy, which is only partially how it turned out. Then in "A Philosophy of Light" (10m20s), cinematographer Alan Caso discusses his aesthetic approach to capturing daylight horror, the upside of having a director who also edits, and the nature of shooting on film versus the very different nature of digital now. A promotional gallery is also included.
Reviewed on May 22, 2020