Color, 1989, 91 mins. 1 sec.
Directed by Ken Barnett
Starring Michael Moriarty, Jenny Agutter, Carol Lynley, Theodore Bikel, Kevin McCarthy, Anne Lockhart, Patch Mackenzie
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Seemingly everywhere on VHS from the late '80s into the early '90s without anyone actually talking about it at all, Dark Tower was one of the most recognizable titles from indie label Forum Home Video, who also gave the rental world titles like Scarecrows and Edge of the Axe. A very troubled production shot in Barcelona, the film's British and American co-financing wrangled by veteran producer Sandy Howard resulted in an odd revolving door of talent on its way to completion with the pseudonymous director "Ken Barnett" camouflaging the involvement of original director and co-writer Ken Wiederhorn (Shock Waves) and his replacement in the middle of shooting, Freddie Francis. With its weirdly overqualified cast and late period Spanish horror vibe, it's certainly an odd one and marks another previously obscure genre film unearthed for a new generation from Vinegar Syndrome on Blu-ray.
One afternoon, architect Carolyn Page (Agutter) is alarmed when a window washer suddenly plunges 29 stories to his death while working outside the high rise she's helping usher to completion. An executive below is also killed in the process, so the corporation in charge enlists investigator Dennis Randall (Moriarty, still in his quirky Larry Cohen mode) to find out what went wrong. At first he's skeptical of Carolyn's claims that something uncanny was at work and writes it off as consultations, but creepy premonitions lead him to enlist the aid of paranormal investigators (Bikel and McCarthy) to find out what's really going on... and why Carolyn seems to be right at the center of it.
Perhaps aiming to cash in on the previous year's far more problem-plagued Poltergeist III but also reminiscent at times of The Lift with its cavalcade of elevator threats, this feels far more like cable TV fare than something designed for the big screen. The cast is obviously the main selling point here with Agutter carrying a lot of the weight and Carol Lynley popping up in a few scenes as her secretary, plus you get to see McCarthy rocking a crazy bright red scarf. The parts don't really add up to a whole in the end with the actual horror content coming across as pretty mild, though if you're in the mood for something very modest it could kill a slow evening and boasts an effectively jarring synth score by Stacy Widelitz (Return to Horror High).
Keeping its track record intact, Vinegar Syndrome has done a stellar job here of revitalizing a film that almost nobody ever got to see in decent condition before. The transfer looks infinitely better than that old tape, not surprisingly, with some truly eye-gouging shades of red in the wardrobe choices and a nice amount of visible detail now visible in the numerous dark scenes. Nothing to complain about here at all. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track (with optional English SDH subtitles) sounds about as good as possible considering the source, which isn't exactly a sonic powerhouse in the first place. The one substantial extra here is "Dark Inspirations" (11m16s) with special effects artist Steve Neill chatting about his gateway to genre cinema, his passion for rockets, his early work for Tom Burman and admiration for John Chambers, the Zoetrope internship that got him off the ground, and his experience on this film reuniting with Howard after Blue Monkey to handle the effects on the big(ish) finale. A brief 52s image gallery is also included, and the 4,000-unit limited edition also comes with a slipcase.
Reviewed on March 3, 2021.