Color, 1988, 88 mins. 39 secs.
Directed by Dusty Nelson
Starring Elizabeth Kaitan, John Tyler, Rhonda Dorton, Stan Hurwitz, Waide Riddle, Lois Masten, Edward A. Wright, Shawn Eisner, Russ Tamblyn
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Image Entertainment, First Look (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

Mostly Versuslost in the shuffle during the late Versus'80s/early '90s flood of direct-to-video horror fare, the colorful and sometimes quite stylish Necromancer is yet another slice of popcorn amusement given a new lease on life by Vinegar Syndrome as part of its VSA limited edition line (in this case, 4,000 units and that's it). Largely shot around Malibu, the supernatural shocker was initially intended to be the follow-up film for writer-director Bill Naud after his idiosyncratic slasher film Whodunit (a.k.a. Island of Blood), but he ended up being replaced just after shooting started by director Dusty Nelson who had to come up with a somewhat reworked storyline to hammer it all into place.

While out for a afternoon stroll, college student Ernest (Riddle) hears an impassioned plea for a beautiful and impressively coiffed necromancer (Masten) to put a stop to her handiwork, which leads to a telekinetic axing in the sorceress' occult-decorated garage. Cut to the nearby university where three jerks in Halloween masks -- Paul (Hurwitz), Carl (Wright), and Allan (Eisner) -- are breaking into the auditorium after hours to steal some test answers. Unfortunately Julie (Friday the 13th Part VIII: The New Blood's Kaitan) is also on the premises and ends up being raped by Paul on the theater stage while the other two do nothing. A want ad offering revenge sends Julie off to see that same necromancer, who invokes a demon that aids her quest to get even at a very high price.

VersusTrashy and bloody but a bit craftier than it has any right to be, Necromancer gets a lot of mileage out of the contrasting performances from Kaitan and Masten while dispensing justice to a group of truly rotten evildoers, often with MTV-friendly lighting and some fun rock music interludes. It's not great art, of course, but there's plenty Versusof fun to be had here including a scene-stealing Russ Tamblyn (on the cusp of his comeback in Twin Peaks) as the quirky drama instructor (just credited as "The Professor"). The film also doesn't skimp on the nudity (and goes out of its way to make the early assault scene as mercifully non-titallating as humanly possible), with equal opportunity exposure for both genders in this case in a rarity for late '80s horror fare.

Initially released on VHS by Forum Home Video, Necromancer has made the rounds on various formats including laserdisc and a 2000 DVD from Image Entertainment taken from a drab full-frame master. Anyone left nonplussed by those presentations will probably be startled by the 2020 Blu-ray, featuring a fresh 4K scan from the 35mm original negative with very vibrant, period-appropriate colors on display that threaten to pop off the screen. The cheap production hasn't been prettied up here though with some thick film grain in evidence throughout, and the detail level is quite satisfying with every bit of teased hair looking crystal clear. DTS-HD MA 2.0 English mono and Dolby Digital mono tracks are included with optional English SDH subtitles; the default DTS option sounds fine given the limited nature of the source, Versuswhich features some occasional sibilance in the original recording but doesn't have any major issues.

As for extras, "Taking the Reins" (55m51s) is a very thorough video chat with director Dusty Nelson starting with his public television days in Pittsburgh and going through his work on this film including the departure of Naud early in the process, the reshoots required including the pivotal Versusassault scene, the political feminist undercurrents he wanted to add, the shooting at Pepperdine, and his eventual change of heart about the finished product. In "A Despicable Job" (15m16s), actor Lee Cole (aka “Stan Hurwitz”) explains the obvious (and very common) reason he had to use a pseudonym and shares his pleasant memories of his director and fellow actors, even when playing such a reprehensible character and going wild with a butterfly knife. Finally, "Conjuring the Past" (12m4s) features actor Waide Riddle conversing about his enthusiastic glee at being cast in the film, the meticulous storyboarding involved, his segue into writing, and the response his grandmother had when he gave her a VHS copy for a present. The limited edition also comes with a double-sided poster and reversible cover art options.

Reviewed on January 4, 2021.