Color, 1993, 98 mins. 59 secs.
Directed by John De Hart, James Paradise
Starring John De Hart, Wings Hauser, William Smith, Pamela Jean Bryant
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
The action genre has long been fertile ground for indie filmmakers to indulge some of their wilder impulses on camera, something that's kept devoted prospectors digging through countless titles in hopes of finding a title with that extra something special. On very rare occasions, you'll even discover a film so utterly out there that it stretches the definition of the genre and even the nature of conventional narrative filmmaking itself, as seen in brain-boiling concoctions like Dangerous Men, Samurai Cop, and L.A. Streetfighters. Another one worthy of that company is the only feature film by quadruple threat John De Hart (now a retired attorney) who starred, directed, wrote, and produced a 1993 film that was first shot and edited as Champagne & Bullets with action movie staples William Smith and Wings Hauser getting billed behind him. (He also sings a lot in this, so perhaps that would be a quintuple threat.) When the end product failed to have any takers, De Hart went back and overhauled the film in shortened form as Road to Revenge, lopping down one soliloquy and toning down both the songs and one lingering love scene. However, the project's real claim to infamy came when De Hart retooled it again in 2006 as GetEven, doing another new pass on the whole thing and adding new footage of Hollywood Boulevard including what was then the fairly recent Hollywood & Highland shopping center. De Hart himself cited this last version (which, like Road, was completed only on video) as his personal favorite, and it's since become something of a cult favorite including a standing room only screening a few years later in L.A. At last, all three cuts have been brought together by Vinegar Syndrome in its VSA line, a limited edition of 6,000 units including the usual insert double-sided poster.
The plot for all three versions is more or less the same with cop Rick Bode (De Hart) and his partner, Huck (Hauser), framed for drug trafficking by one of their peers, Normad (Smith). In between lingering bar sessions, musical performances, and Hamlet recitations, they meet up again later only to find that Rick's old flame, Cindy (Don't Answer the Phone's Bryant), has witnessed the baby-killing activities of a nasty Satanic cult operating in the heart of the city. When they aren't busy having sex in any vacant room around, Rick decides to track down Cindy's claim and falls afoul of his old nemesis, Normad, who's now an influential judge... and the cult leader. Of course, it's just a matter of time before Rick has to take justice into his hands once and for all when his past and the occult present collide.
Mere words can't quite describe the experience of actually watching any of the three versions of this one, so just know that this is one of those distinctive, personal, wildly idiosyncratic cinematic rides that make you grateful everything isn't engineered to play at a multiplex. The action content is quite low until the last ten minutes (a firearms and Satanism melee you have to see to believe), but you won't notice at all thanks to highlights like an indelible performance of "Shimmy Slide" and some insane ad-libbed dialogue from Hauser, doing what he does best here.
The original, essentially unseen Champagne & Bullets version is the main feature here on the Blu-ray, featuring a new 2K scan from the 16mm original camera negative. It's obviously still a very grainy, cheap-looking film, but it's leagues better than anything we've had before and likely as good as this could possibly look. Anyone who's a fan should be quite delighted. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 English track sounds so good you'll be tearing your hair out that there isn't a complete soundtrack release out there. (Or maybe not.) Optional English SDH subtitles are provided as usual. De Hart participates here with both a new audio commentary in conversation with Douglas Hosdale and new separate audio interview (25m25s). Between them you get to find out pretty much anything you could possibly want to know about the film including his directing (or lack thereof) with Hauser, the process of revisiting it for those two subsequent versions which look and feel so different from each other, the themes he wanted to tackle ranging from police corruption to domestic violence, the spooky real-life Satanic incident with his limo driver that inspired the story, and the various found locations that came in handy throughout the shoot. Tucked away in the extras are Road to Revenge (74m57s) and GetEven (89m30s), both taken from the tape masters and looking fine for what they are in native standard def. Yes, you absolutely have to watch all three cuts, with GetEven in particular extrapolating on the whole martial arts concept to a delirious degree. (Fortunately they all end with the same music choice.) A video trailer for GetEven is also included.
Reviewed on May 27, 2021