Color, 1982, 85 mins. 44 secs.
Directed by Peter Wittman
Starring Yvonne De Carlo, Stephanie Dunnam, David Cullinane, Glenn Kezer, Ron Jackson, David Elizey, Jo Livingston
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Troma (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)

Though Play Dead most regional horror films around Play Deadthe early '80s were slashers, there were still a few odd outliers that tried to do something different and often wound up paying the price at the box office. One such example is Play Dead, a Texas production that was shot in 1982 but didn't hit the U.S. until 1987 courtesy of Troma, with a nominal European run in 1982. Essentially a devilish spin on the animal attack subgenre with an eye on the Rottweiler movie craze that had dominated the '70s but mostly petered out by this point, it was a tough one to sell given that it only had one major draw, Yvonne De Carlo, a onetime Hollywood siren who went on to The Munsters and films like Satan's Cheerleaders and Silent Scream.

Apparently determined to earn the title of world's worst aunt, upper crust devil worshiper Hester Ramsey (De Carlo) is downright giddy when her sister passes away and clears the way to take control of the family including nephew Stephen (Elizey), niece Audrey (Dunnam), and her boyfriend, Jeff (Cullinane). Still seething over losing her beau Sam to her late sister, Hester has only one real friend, her loyal Rottweiler Greta, whom she temporarily gives to Audrey for Play Deadcompany -- but there's a catch. With a few utterances of "canis diabolus," it turns out Hester can use her dark powers to order Greta to get rid of anyone she wants, and the intelligent pup has a knack for pulling off elaborate murders complete with framing innocent people.Play Dead

Often playing like a particularly trashy sequel to The Amazing Dobermans, Play Dead has gotten a bad rep over the years thanks to the Troma association (which doesn't really fit it at all) and the truly lousy video editions it's suffered over the years. However, the 2019 Vinegar Syndrome dual-format Blu-ray and DVD edition (which comes in a limited slipcover edition) makes it much easier to enjoy, especially that deliciously juicy De Carlo performance as she flounces around in furs plotting to bump off everyone around her. The film seems to have at least a partial awareness of its utter absurdity, with plucky Greta finding ways to go after people in broad daylight and even in the bathroom. The rest of the actors culled from the acting scene are the Dallas area are actually just fine given the fairly stock nature of their characters, but it's really Greta who steals the show. Of course, as with other films of this type, the problem is that she's so cute and charismatic that you actually find yourself rooting for her far Play Deadmore than any of the human characters, which just adds to the entertainment value.

The Blu-ray in particular is a real beauty with nice saturated colors not even hinted at in the early Troma releases on DVD and VHS, which looked extremely Play Deadflat and, in darker scenes like Hester's conjuring rituals, tended to turn to mud. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is also in much better shape here with crystal clear music and dialogue, with optional English SDH subtitles provided. Extras include a video interview with director Peter Wittman (5m48s) about his love of dogs and the Dallas production hub, as well as an audio interview with Dunnam (25m27s) encompassing her entire acting career including Texas projects like Silent Rage and her current career in Atlanta. She also mentions the film's original title (Killer Poodle!) and the fact that Greta was played by both a thespian dog and her offspring. The very awkward theatrical trailer is also included.

Reviewed on August 3, 2019.