Color, 1989, 103 mins. 16 secs.
Directed by J. Christian Ingvordsen
Starring John Christian, John Weiner, Garland Hunter, Tony Kruk, Craig Eisner, Paul Borghese, Deborah Clifford
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Dragon (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL)
A serial killer film that definitely doesn't feel like anything else out there, Blue Vengeance is another of those wild indies that's been floating around out there in search of a midnight movie following that hasn't materialized yet. Mixing very quotable dialogue, rock music, gore, stunts, sword-wielding knights, and enough strobe lighting to make you cry uncle, it's definitely something special for anyone who thought they'd seen it all.
The action starts off with a bang as long-haired weirdo Mark Trex (Weiner) escapes from an upstate New York "state hospital for the criminally insane" after ten years (never mind that he looks maybe 25) and hitches a ride from a kindly truck driver who ends up getting his teeth bashed out and staged as the criminal's corpse for his trouble. Now presumed dead and claiming he's "on a quest" thanks to visions of medieval warriors, Trex is heading into Manhattan where he's determined to make contact with a punk/metal band called Warriors of the Inferno. Meanwhile bespectacled Mickey McCardle (played by director Ingvordsen under the name "John Christian") is having strobe-light flashbacks about his role as the arresting officer at Trex's last rampage (with McCardle's partner as one of the casualties) and, even at the cost of losing his badge, determines to reel him in for good.
A distinctly odd viewing experience, Blue Vengeance feels like some mad effort to cash in on the appetite for both horror and action genres with a dash of Highlander for about 5% of the budget. Ingvordsen, who made this soon after the VHS sex comedy staple Firehouse, managed to create a little cottage industry of DTV action films well into the '00s, and this one definitely has its charms with Weiner hamming it up like crazy and Garland Hunter (who later went upper class indie with Tiny Furniture and The Tao of Steve) giving the best performance as Tiffany, a rock photographer who becomes McCardle's sidekick and a valuable guide to the NYC music scene. It doesn't quite qualify as part of the heavy metal horror wave around this time (despite a great peek at CBGB), but that shouldn't stop you from doing some fun programming pairing it up with some of those titles anyway.
Though it seems tailor made for the late '80s direct-to-VHS market and had the involvement of exploitation stalwart Shaprio Glickenhaus, Blue Vengeance bypassed North American distribution entirely and only ended up being released in Europe. A blatantly defective German DVD didn't win over any new fans, while input from European viewers bemoaning the lack of gore indicate it was censored in at least some countries as there's more than enough grue on display here including a beating heart torn out in gory close up and a Brooklyn Bridge finale that will have your jaw on the floor. The 2018 Vinegar Syndrome dual-format release is going to be a fresh experience for most viewers and looks superb, with the new 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative up there with some of their finest work on '80s titles. The more stylized sequences involving bright '80s colors fare best, with the grittier medieval fantasies looking much rougher by design. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio sounds fine and accurate to the film, which is flatly mixed at best and has some appallingly sloppy sound editing at worst. (Check out the dialogue scene around the 75-minute mark or the subway confrontation soon after, with ambient noise violently shifting and dipping from shot to shot.)
The film can also be played with two commentaries, the first with Ingvordsen and moderator Michael Gingold and the second with actor / co-writer / co-producer Weiner. Combined they paint a lively portrait of a threadbare production where everyone on the set had to appear on camera at some point, the "seat of the pants" New York exteriors were done without permits ("We were a cop film avoiding the cops at all costs"), and '80s rock culture at the time. Ingvordsen also provides a brief optional intro (34s) to the film and appears on camera again for “Making Blue Vengeance” (19m26s) with a focus on the demand for video product at the time, the lack of name actors for this film, and the New York filmmaking community at the time, with other participants including Weiner, actor / co-writer Danny Kuchuck, and actors/sound men Whitney Ransick and Bob Gosse. In a nice touch, their captions also reveal what they're doing today. Ingvordsen and Gingold team up again for “On Blue Vengeance" (13m28s), a more general overview of the film's genesis as a spin on the slasher craze and a cockeyed statement about the idea of selling out. Last up is an entire second feature film tucked away at the end of the special features: The First Man (83m13s), an unreleased 1996 film directed by Kuchuck and featuring an unexpected cast including Heather Graham, Ted Raimi, Lesley Ann Warren, Lisa Zane, and even Roxana Zal (star of the groundbreaking Something About Amelia). It's an intriguing one to be sure as it takes a fragmented indie approach to the story of a bald guy who turns out to be an alien being held by a government scientific research facility -- where he turns out to be an irresistible magnet for the women on the research team vetting him. It isn't hard to see why this one was left on the shelf as it's very talky and slow, with a really overbearing music score and a grab bag of stylistic affectations making it more of a curiosity than an enjoyable viewing experience. That said, it's a pretty ambitious choice for a bonus feature and worth watching for its groggy mid-'90s ambiance.
Updated review on April 30, 2018.