Color, 1995, 95m.
Directed by Joe Gayton
Starring Lance Henriksen, Claire Stansfield, John Diehl, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Gregory Sporleder, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Solomon, Dan Blom
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Tango (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Anchor Bay (DVD) (UK R0 PAL), Laser Paradise (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Released on Blu-ray under the title The Hills Have Eyes III (which begs the question of whether it's the third in the series started by Wes Craven or Alexandre Aja), this very typical mid-'90s horror outing geared for the VHS market first appeared under the truly awful title Mind Ripper and was originally shot as The Outpost. There's actually a little bit of legitimacy for the new title switch here as the film did begin life as a sequel to the 1977 horror classic by Wes Craven (and its less-than-classic but highly amusing 1984 Craven-directed sequel), co-written by Craven's son Jonathan and with a "Wes Craven Presents" label slapped on the final product. The production itself ended up in the odd directorial hands of Joe Gayton, who had written the Vietnam war film Uncommon Valor and directed the peculiar VHS erotic drama, Warm Summer Rain. The end result isn't really a good horror movie by any stretch, but as far as Bill Clinton-era shockers go, it's definitely an odd one with a very unexpected cast.
Out in the middle of the desert, an injured guy (Blom) gets rescued by a secret research group called Gentec working out of a remote facility. The leader, Alex (Miami Vice's Diehl, looking really ragged here), decides to go to any lengths possible to use the new arrival, now named Thor, as a guinea pig in their development of a super virus that can regenerate human tissue and possibly create a turbo soldier for the government. Soon after the virus's creator, Jim Stockton (Henriksen), is brought in to help when it looks like Thor is dying; unwisely along for the ride are Jim's son, Scott (Ribisi), and daughter, Wendy (Wagner), along with Wendy's boyfriend, Mark (Solmon). Of course they all turn out to be potential dead meat when things go very wrong upon their arrival, Alex turns out to be an incompetent lunatic who locks everyone inside, and Thor goes on the loose killing anyone in sight.
If that premise sounds incredibly generic, well, it is. The whole "trap people in a dark confined space with a monster" routine gets a thorough workout here with every trope in the book getting trotted out at some point, though in a welcome move, the strong female hero here, scientist Joanne (Stansfield), really is the most capable and interesting person in the film. The running time is pretty epic by B-movie standards and padded out with lots of running and walking up and down long, dark corridors, but Henriksen is incapable of giving a dull performance and manages to sell his often ludicrous dialogue about as well as he can. When all's said and done, it's a serviceable popcorn junk movie you can easily put on when you want a monster on the loose movie with a few future indie darlings like Ribisi and Wagner thrown in to keep things interesting.
The Blu-ray release from Code Red (which features the Mind Ripper title on the menu screen) sports a new HD transfer that wrings about as much color and detail as possible out of the original cinematography, which veers to the drab and dark side for the most part but looks much more intelligible here than past DVD releases. It won't be a home theater demo piece by any means, but for what it is, this is probably about as good as the film is going to look. The DTS-HD MA English stereo audio sounds pleasing considering the soundtrack is mainly a mixture of chit chat, screaming, and a synth score by J. Peter Robinson, who also scored Wes Craven's New Nightmare. A theatrical trailer is the sole extra.