Color, 1985, 88 mins. 36 secs. / 78 mins. 26 secs.
Directed by Allan Holzman
Starring Martin Hewitt, Betsy Russell, Claudia Udy, Andrew J. Lederer, Cindi Dietrich, Richard Kantor, Sherilyn Fenn, Jim Youngs
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Largely buried in the wave of ‘80s teen action films that flooded theaters with titles like Red Dawn and Fire with Fire, this low-budget survival film was the much-belated second feature for director Allan Holzman, whose first feature for Roger Corman, Forbidden World, had been radically altered by the time it hit the big screen. A very turbulent production shot in Yugoslavia, the film is mainly of interest today for its odd cast including Martin Hewitt (still sort of a hot item after Endless Love), up and comer Betsy Russell (fresh off of stealing Private School and star of two other ’85 films, Tomboy and Avenging Angel), and a very young Sherilyn Fenn (way before Twin Peaks), getting an “introducing” credit even though she’d had two other films released by the time this came out.
After celebrating with a ridiculously elaborate graduation party that also seems to double as a second prom, eight high school seniors head out on a private puddle jumper to one of the rich kids’ island getaway homes. Unfortunately, they’re caught up in nasty weather and end up crashing just off of a rocky, uninhabited small island, with their pilot killed in the process. The kids soon find themselves foraging for food and end up finding some vodka and Spam, which leads to a campfire party complete with a strip version of spin the bottle and a bloody fight between cool kid Keith (Hewitt) and adversary Cowboy (Youngs) over the affections of Chrissie (Russell). However, things get even worse when another plane lands soon after and turns out to be filled with drug smugglers using the island as their own secret rendezvous point, which soon leaves the teenagers running and fighting for their lives.
Released theatrically and on VHS by New World at an incredibly abbreviated running time of 78 minutes, Out of Control always felt like a film that had been tampered with extensively on its way to the theater. For one thing it features shoehorned narration bit bookending the film delivered by the film’s “outcast” character, Elliot (Lederer), and it features some incredibly dated, music video-style opticals including some very out-of-place closing credits. As it turns out, Holzman was locking horns with producer Fred Weintraub (Enter the Dragon) and his daughter, screenwriter Sandra Weintraub, throughout the production, though the young cast had little idea of the tension going on. Nevertheless, the film is still entertaining in a “late night on cable when there’s nothing else to do” sort of way; its modern Lord of the Flies-style premise is never taken in any particularly inventive directions, but the scenery is interesting and the cast pulls off a gallery of thinly-written characters about as well as possible. On the more ridiculous side, the soundtrack by “Hawk” is a kitschy collection of sonic wallpaper that already sounded absurd when this came out; however, chances are that theme song will still burrow into your cranium for a while anyway.
Code Red brought this film to Blu-ray (sold via Ronin Flix) for the first time in 2017, ended its decades-long stint in movie purgatory. The big news here is the default cut presented in HD runs a full ten minutes longer than the version previously available, with almost all of the additional footage confined to the first half of the film (which means the drug dealers now show up ten minutes earlier). An entire, protracted music video-style opener features lots of goofy ‘80s white kids acting up in front of the camera to that theme song, which was diced up into little snippets during the opening credits in the theatrical cut. The narration is now gone as well, and several editorial changes have been made throughout to tighten the pace; significantly, the film now has normal end credits that play a lot better than the released version. Image quality is much, much better than the VHS, obviously, though by current standards it has a somewhat dull and flat look that may be inherent in the film itself for all you can tell. Black levels are wildly inconsistent at times, which may have something to do with the rough shooting conditions; at times the image quality is dead on, and at others it gets rather pale and flat looking, which can be adjusted a bit with your monitor settings. The standard, short theatrical cut is also included in SD from what looks like the New World VHS in all its soft, fuzzy glory. Overall viewers may have mixed feelings about the differences between the cuts, with the tighter pacing of the theatrical one making it almost a draw compared to the goofier opening and much better closing of the extended one.
A fascinating new interview with Holzman (14m) is almost reason enough to snag this disc as he goes into detail about the film’s bumpy road to completion and even says he would have walked away during filming had he not had such a hard time getting his second feature gig in the first place. He also explains how his severe stuttering problem at the time led to some unfortunate behavior from others on the set, and most interestingly, explains how he was the one who edited the theatrical cut (after the first cut was done without his involvement) to speed up the pacing. He also chats a bit about cinematographer John Alonzo (Chinatown, Scarface), who was responsible for vetoing the original conception of using mostly hand-held photography to give the film a more modern, kinetic feel. Next up is a new interview with Russell (17m44s), who doesn’t remember a ton about this film but has positive memories of her co-stars and ends up spending more time chatting about Cheerleader Camp. She also goes into her current gig as a life coach, a line of work that several of her fellow actors from this film have also been exploring. (A brief, baffling video intro to the main feature has Russell adamantly refusing to appear with the label’s Banana Man, who gets digitally composited with her anyway.) The disc also features a dupey 30-second promo trailer and bonus trailers for The Funny Farm and and Highpoint.
Reviewed on October 24, 2017