Color, 1986, 113m.
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Starring Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith, Ray Liotta, Margaret Colin, Jack Gilpin
Criterion (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), MGM (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD2.0

Rarely has a film been more aptly titled than Something Wild (no relation to the gritty '61 Carroll Baker movie), a volatile mixture of screwball comedy, kinky sex farce, psychotic horror film, and occasional musical numbers. Still ascending as a star after memorably sleazy turns in Fear City and Body Double, Melane Griffith had one of her best roles here as Lulu, an anarchic free spirit with a black-haired Louise Brooks hairdo who catches married businessman Charlie Driggs (Daniels) slipped out of lunch without paying his bill. She confronts him and, though some smooth talking, gets him to a hotel room where she handcuffs him to the bed for an afternoon a bit different than he probably expected. Via a few well-timed phone calls, he manages to slip out of town with Lulu for a road trip where he finds out her real name is Audrey, and they're heading to her high school reunion where they'll pose as a married couple. However, the big event for the class of '76 takes a sinister turn when Audrey's unhinged ex, Ray (Liotta), shows up and their trip takes a very dark turn.

Though it came and went from theaters quickly, Something Wild is a significant film in retrospect as it marked a dramatic shift in the directorial career of Jonathan Demme, who was still recovering from the disastrous experience of making Swing Shift. The film was something of a cinematic palette cleanser as he brought back musician David Byrne, the former Talking Heads leadman whom he filmed in the groundbreaking Stop Making Sense, to write the catchy main song for the film, with experimental composer John Cale (who had earlier scored Demme's Caged Heat) provided the minimal orchestral score. The rest of the soundtrack reflects a startling array of international music that gives the film a unique pulse, including artists like The Feelies (playing during the great high school reunion sequence), X, New Order, The Go-Betweens, Jimmy Cliff, and several permutations of "Wild Thing" with Sister Carol doing a great rendition of it over the closing credits. The film also packs in a few fun cameos from fellow directors like John Sayles and John Waters, along with reliable Demme character actors like Charles Napier and Kenneth Utt. The visual and aural tone here set the pace for Demme's output for the next few years including Swimming to Cambodia, Married to the Mob, and most famously, The Silence of the Lambs, before Demme went completely mainstream and... well, that's a whole different story.

The violent tonal shifts in Something Wild are much of the fun here as the viewer never quite knows what sort of twists lie in store; even the apparently straitlaced Daniels (who's excellent here) has a few surprises in store, and the brutal finale feels more akin to something out of Manhunter than the frivolous social comedy of the opening third. Not surprisingly, Liotta (who had mostly been a TV actor apart from his memorable big screen debut assaulting Pia Zadora with a garden hose in The Lonely Lady) became a sudden star after this film, jumping off to films like Field of Dreams and Goodfellas. Unfortunatelyl first-time screenwriter E. Max Frye had the most erratic career out of everyone involved, moving on to flawed projects like writing and directing Amos & Andrew (seriously) and only TV work this decade. At least with this film he has one classic still under his belt.

Something Wild also marked an auspicious project during the fascinating middle period of Orion Pictures, a fusion of United Artists players who left during that studio's dying days, investment from HBO, and the Filmways and American-International libraries. This was Demme's first film with the company, with whom he would reteam for The Silence of the Lambs which was released as the studio was beginning to crumble. The rights for this film switched from HBO during the VHS era to MGM for its first DVD release, an adequate anamorphic transfer with the trailer thrown in as an extra. Surprisingly, Criterion snagged the film for a Blu-Ray release and a DVD reissue with the participation of Demme, who had worked with them before on Silence. The Blu-Ray looks excellent, fresher in fact than the theatrical prints that were cranked out, and does justice to the superb cinematraphy by Demme regular Tak Fujimoto; the nervous, handheld work during the climax is particularly effective and, along with Liotta's charismatic but psychotic performances, prefigures some of the techniques they used again in Silence. The 2.0 Dolby Surround soundtrack is presented lossless on the Blu-Ray and sounds as robust as it could; the music gets most of the focus here, with rear channel activity very sparing through most of the film. Overall it's a very attractive presentation and a good way for many viewers to be introduced to this often overlooked gem. The trailer is carried over here along with two new video interviews with Demme and Frye who discuss the creation of the script (inspired by Frye spying an odd couple at a diner during lunch), Demme's state of mind coming off of Swing Shift, the decision to go wtih a world music angle for the soundtrack, the casting of the major roles, and working for Orion during its healthiest period. Definitely recommended if you're feeling a little adventurous.