I MISS YOU, HUGS AND KISSES
Color, 1978, 87 mins. 15 secs.
Directed by Murray Markowitz
Starring Elke Sommer, Donald Pilon, Chuck Shamata, George Touliatos, Cindy Girling, Cec Linder
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
RECOMMENDATION FOR MERCY
Color, 1975, 84 mins. 4 secs.
Directed by Murray Markowitz
Starring Andrew Skidd, Robb Judd, Mike Upmalis, Karen Martin, Michelle Fansett
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
In its committed mission to release every single Video Nasty-affiliated title under the sun, Severin Films has given us some unusual curiosities over the years on Blu-ray and DVD that ended up on one list or another from the BBFC. Easily the least known and strangest choice to ever get branded as a verboten title in the U.K., this one is actually of more interest now as a very early effort for composer Howard Shore and art director Carol Spier before they went on to glory with many films directed by David Cronenberg. Also shuffled around on video as Left for Dead and Drop Dead, Dearest, it's not a horror movie by any stretch but does play rougher than your average Canuxploitation offering enough to merit a peek.
When she hears a noise in the garage and goes to investigate late at night, socialite Magdalene Kruschen (Sommer) is attacked by a masked stranger and killed with a very bloody blow to the head. Her wealthy husband, Charles (Pilon), is charged with murder due to the poor state of their marriage and his possible affair with a younger socialite. In flashbacks during the court trial we see how Charles became the toast of Toronto as an esteemed developer, plus flashbacks in flashbacks showing how his life was saved in 1954 Budapest by best friend Gershen (Shamata) who introduced him to Magdalene. From there it's lots of rah-rah Canadian conversations, affairs, melodrama, a convenient serial killer lurking around, and multiple possible scenarios for how Magdalene met her demise (and whether she was up to something less than honorable herself).
Issued in Canada by reliable Astral Films, I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses is extremely obscure in the U.S. but earned some notoriety in the U.K. when its VHS release from Intercity Video was branded a Video Nasty due to the repeated head trauma involving various implements and bloody mannequin noggins. (The film also throws in some gruesome chicken slaughterhouse footage and a young girl's stabbing that plays like a rape scene, but apparently that was no issue.) The fact that this is so openly Canadian and wears its true story basis like a badge of honor is an unusual wrinkle, and the cast is a real melting pot with Sommer obviously getting a lot of flashback coverage. It also has a notable supporting role for very busy Canadian actor Cec Linder, best known for playing Felix Leiter in Goldfinger and Dr. Keegee in Lolita, as well as turning up in '80s curios like Deadly Eyes and Heavenly Bodies. Among the few dogged enough to track this one down, its reputation hasn't been so hot thanks to all the Video Nasty baggage; after all, this basically boils down to a courtroom potboiler with some mild nudity and several hypothetical cranium crackings thrown in.
Luckily you won't have to dig too hard to find this one anymore thanks to the 2022 Blu-ray release from Severin, which is pulled from the only 35mm print at Canada's National Archive. It definitely looks like a 35mm print but makes for a pretty large upgrade over the fuzzy old VHS tapes; the element has been kept in good shape, and the heavy grain structure has been left intact here. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds good for what it is and comes with optional English SDH subtitles. Filmmaker and historian Stephen Broomer contributes a new audio commentary that takes a film analysis approach noting the portrayals of the media and public perception, the execution of the Hungary scenes, and the slippery nature of narrative reliability. "Directing I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses" (13m57s) with director Murray Markowitz explores how the project came together after a couple of previous films, the casting process, the recruiting of Howard Shore while he was working on Saturday Night Live, and the attempts by authorities to keep the controversial feature from coming out in Canada. In "The True Nature of Donald Pilon" (13m34s), Kier-La Janisse provides a framework about the lead actor's career including his prolific 1970s work as the man himself looks back at some of his more notable gigs in a very wide range of genres. "Crimes of Dispassion" (16m22s) has film programmer Eric Peretti provides an overview of the real Peter Demeter murder case and its relationship to this fictionalized version, as well as its Video Nasty background that accounts for most of its reputation today. The original trailer is also included, partially reconstructed in HD.
As mentioned above, this is actually a two-disc set with the second Blu-ray devoted to Recommendation for Mercy, Markowitz's previous film and also a murder-themed courtroom drama. This one is also based on a true story, in this case about a young man, Steven Truscott, sentenced to hang for the rape and murder of a 12-year-old girl. His attorneys believe he's innocent, which leads to an arduous and highly publicized court case. Here Truscott is fictionalized as John Robinson (Skidd), a teen growing up in a volatile atmosphere where sex seems to be on everyone's mind. He's attracted to classmate Fran (Fansett), who's a year younger, but in a shocking twist, he ends up being accused and arrested for her rape and murder based on circumstantial evidence. From there we follow him through the legal system, a process that exposes some major cracks leading to a public outcry.
An opening card notes this is taken from the only known 35mm element, a U.S. print entitled Teenage Passion (yikes!), which has understandably gone through a lot of wear and tear over the years. Also noted is the fact that this has the reworked U.S. ending versus the one seen originally on Canadian TV, which is included in SD as an extra and replaces a far more factually accurate text crawl with Skidd addressing the camera. (A rougher version was available for a while on VHS from Something Weird under the silly title, Teenage Psycho Killer.) Here you get two commentaries, the first with Broomer (focusing on Canadian true crime narratives, the selling of this as an exploitation film, the harrowing depiction of adolescence, and the facts of the real case) and the second with Markowitz and Janisse chatting in 2020 about the making of the film, the real-life crime, the public reception, his career background, and thoughts on the mid-'70s Canadian film industry. Finally a "Tainted Love" (12m10s) interview with Fansett about how she got cast while doing theater work, the heavy spontaneity on the set, her age (18) that made the nude scenes acceptable for some of the more shocking imagery in the film, and the similarity of the role she played I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses.
Reviewed on November 24, 2022.