Color, 2016, 102 mins. 21 secs.
Directed by Mark Savage
Starring Armand Assante, Bill Oberst Jr., Lance Tafelski, Sonia Curtis, Marshal Hilton, Tamara Austin
SGL Entertainment (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Though Stressed to Killthe action-oriented Stressed to Killcover art might not tip you off, this offbeat tale about modern murderous irritation and catharsis is just as much a black comedy as a thriller. That shouldn't be surprising given the unique cast pairing above the title and the fact that it comes from cult Australian director Mark Savage, who's built a career out of finding unexpected flavors by mixing together elements of horror, pathos, action, and quirky humor.

After suffering a stress-induced heart attack in his car, Bill (low-budget horror workhorse Oberst Jr.) is advised to explore new ways of keeping his blood pressure under control. Since his health issues are caused by obnoxious people, he decides to remedy the problem by simply removing them from the planet. Thanks to the aid of his best friend Stan (Hilton), he cooks up some poisoned blow darts he can fire at inconsiderate drivers, moviegoers, and diners wherever they rear their heads. However, his path to serenity is complicated by his wife's extramarital activities and a dogged police detective, Paul (Assante), who's closing in on his self-medicating murder spree.

Anyone familiar with the career of Savage knows he tries to surprise with each project, and while this one definitely springs from the same creative well that produced the enjoyable Sensitive New Age Killer, it's a Stressed to Killhighly unique experience with the sweltering Florida setting giving a unique backdrop for what amounts to a mordant 21st-century take on the "driven to kill" vigilante trend that's been on Stressed to Killand off since Death Wish. The domestic tension gives the film an unorthodox spin all its own, with Assante's unpredictable and not exactly morally upstanding cop adding yet another oddball angle to the proceedings. From a certain perspective it's also a more lethal take on the long defunct male menopause subgenre that flourished in the late '70s and '80s with men trying to get their mojo back halfway through their lives, with Bill aiming for it like a homicidal Miss Manners rather than chasing nubile women.

First given a limited theatrical run with simultaneous VOD availability, Stressed to Kill came to DVD in 2016 from SGL Entertainment in a no-frills edition. Far more respectable is the 2017 Blu-ray release, which packs in a welcome array of special features and looks quite a bit better as well. The film's night scenes are shot in an intentionally dense, murky style, but daylight scenes are colorful and crisp befitting the recent digital lensing. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track gets the job done well enough, though a lossless option might have given a bit more punch to the evocative music score. (Some of Assante's more guttural line Stressed to Killreadings are a little tough to make out, but that's inherent in the original mix.) Two new audio commentaries are also included, the first featuring Savage and co-writer Tom Stressed to KillParnell (who also appears in a small role and served as an executive producer). It's a brisk track and quite amusing at times as they talk about the process of coming up with the script (some of it inspired by real-life irritating behavior), shooting in very hot weather, and finding the right personas for the roles, some completely by pure chance. They also mention that the original rough cut of the film was much, much longer, noting some scenes that were shot but abandoned along the way. A second commentary with director of photography David Richardson is extremely technical and mainly focuses on aspects of lenses and lighting in the various locations, which is handy if you're curious about how to mount a low-budget production together with solid photography but not chock full of anecdotes. A lot of the material from that aforementioned rough cut turns up in a reel of deleted scenes (23m41s), some of it quite funny including an extended hospital visit, a dart mishap, and some pretty unsexy pillow talk. The original trailer is also included.

Reviewed on January 23, 2018.