Vinegar Syndrome‘s new releases include 4K UHDs of Michael Winner’s Death Wish II and Bill Hinzman’s FleshEaters along with the Blu-ray debut of Vik Rubenfeld’s Alien Private Eye. Keep reading for a look at all three releases.
Death Wish II (1982)
Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) has left the East coast behind in favor or California’s warm weather and lower crime rates. Unfortunately, only the weather has kept its part of the bargain as crime has instead chosen to skyrocket. A day out with his girlfriend Geri (Jill Ireland) and daughter Carol (Robin Sherwood) — the latter now mute due to the trauma she experienced in 1974’s Death Wish — ends in tragedy when street thugs steal Paul’s wallet, go to his house, gang rape his housekeeper, and kidnap his daughter. Carol’s found dead a short while later, and soon Paul is back doing what he does best… cleaning up the streets with a semi-automatic pistol.
Death Wish II has an incredibly rough first act, easily the meanest I’ve seen in a mainstream film, and it’s only exacerbated in director Michael Winner‘s uncut version. The housekeeper’s sexual assault is especially egregious as in addition to its length and ugliness, she’s never the reason for Paul’s revenge quest. Instead, it’s Carol’s death — a grim sequence that sees her jump to her death after being raped — that drives Paul’s fury. Happily, if that word’s even appropriate here, the bulk of what follows is focused almost exclusively on him tracking and killing the villains responsible. I say “almost” because there’s a third rape attempt that unfolds offscreen and is interrupted by Paul’s gun.
While the themes at play here are in line with the first, the conceit of a Liberal pushed towards violence are far less challenging in the sequel seeing as Paul’s essentially locked and loaded from the start. There’s no struggle on that front despite Geri’s brief argument for rehabilitation over punishment, and instead we just watch as Paul tracks and kills one bad guy after the next. The only interesting plot addition is the return of Det. Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) whose suspicion that Paul’s up to his old tricks leads the cop to a fatal choice.
Death Wish II is a solid piece of exploitation cinema for the masses as Bronson does what Bronson does, and he does it well. It can’t touch the weight of the first and isn’t among the best of Bronson’s collaborations with Winner — I’d put Chato’s Land (1972) and The Mechanic (1972) at the top of that list — but it’s an entertaining watch for fans of its star and of revenge in general. But yeah, be warned, it’s the meanest, ugliest film the pair ever made.
Vinegar Syndrome brings the film to UHD with a new 4K restoration from the original uncut 35mm negative, and the image is fantastic. Deep blacks, sharp contrasts, and the original grain combine to make it the best its looked since the original release. The extras are also well worth a listen and watch, and they include the following in addition to a theatrical trailer.
- Commentary with Paul Talbot – The Charles Bronson expert shares a lot of interesting observations and details from the production while also making silly comments like “in the first film, he [Kersey] wore a print bathrobe” and “we see Ireland here in a purple pantsuit.”
- Alternative TV version of Death Wish II [1:35:31] – Graphic nastiness and foul language are edited out in exchange for extended scenes and minor dialogue additions.
- Pass [5:28] – Screenwriter David Engelbach shares how he initially said no to the job offer before deciding to come aboard. He also details an entire subplot involving survivalists in the woods that was trimmed from the shooting script.
- Working with Bronson [7:24] – Actor Robert F. Lyons talks about working with the legend, and it’s as positive as you’d expect.
- Dark Parts [8:10] – Actor Robin Sherwood — who is somehow seventy years old while looking to be in her fifties — recalls working with Bronson and Winner, dealing with fans who thought she was actually mute, and coming to terms with the character’s rough scenes.
- Fire in the Theater [7:19] – Todd Roberts, son of producer Bobby Roberts, shares memories of his dad’s regarding the response to the films.
Alien Private Eye (1989)
Aliens are among us, and at least one of them has somehow passed the California licensing exam to become a private investigator. Lemro (Nicholas Hill) likes meeting new people, and his latest friend is a woman who he saves from a group of attackers. She’s grateful for the help, but when she discovers during sex that he’s a pointy eared alien, well, she waits until the boning has completed and then berates him and leaves. They soon reunite, though, as Lemro might just be her only hope at preventing a drug-induced apocalypse on planet Earth.
Vik Rubenfeld is almost a one-man crew bringing Alien Private Eye to life, and the result is something extraordinary. Not good, per se, but highly entertaining in everything it accomplishes despite the lack of both a worthwhile budget and capable actors. There’s no denying the film’s severe limitations, but focusing on the positives reveals a movie that delivers some fun action, wild dialogue/delivery, and an engaging premise.
The film’s conceit, that aliens are visiting from their own 30th century civilization, finds fun, and that’s even before our hero is pitted against some Hitler-loving gangbangers. Hill was a professional kickboxer by trade before turning towards acting, and while he’s much better at the former skillset he makes for an entertaining hero fighting the rise of drug use with his wrist lasers and mad kicks.
Alien Private Eye is played mostly serious, but that can’t stop the fun as the combination of Rubenfeld’s script, the actors’ line deliveries, and Rubenfeld’s editing choices that leave notable gaps between exchanges will have you smiling and laughing. Add in some competent action beats, intriguing world building, and atmospheric cinematography, and you have a movie that’s far more entertaining than you’re expecting.
Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray features a new 4K restoration from the original negative, and it brings the film’s hazy, colorful Los Angeles to attractive life. Go into this action/sci-fi/comedy with the understanding that it was made for $250k by a filmmaker whose only other credit in the business is as the creator of CBS’ Early Edition with Kyle Chandler, and the odds are good that you’ll have a damn good time.
- Commentary with writer/director/producer/editor/casting director Vik Rubenfeld
- Master of Suspense [28:55] – The filmmaker recalls his love of movies, how he found financing, that Ryan Reynolds designed the voice he acts with, how he wasn’t a good director for actors, that the lead is named after science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, how he compares himself to Stanley Kubrick, and more. He’s very confident in his abilities.
- Fashion Show Film Noir [9:53] – Cinematographer Jürg V. Walther talks about his start in the business and how he was brought on to finish this film after the first director of photography quit over creative differences.
- Mister Lemro Private Investigator, I Presume [15:08] – Actor Nicholas Hill shares that god had a plan, and that plan involved him living past thirty-five and landing the lead in this film.
A farmer removes a stump in his remote field, but instead of satisfaction for a job well done he finds only death at the hands and teeth of a zombie (Bill Hinzman, who also writes/directs). Soon the undead plague spreads starting with a Halloween gathering of “teens’ hoping for a night of booze and banging and continuing on through farmers, families, and more.
The intended draw behind FleshEater is the involvement of Hinzman both behind and in front of the camera. He plays the initial zombie in George Romero’s original 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead, and two decades later he decided to make his own nod towards genre history. Good intentions are no guarantee for success, of course, and the result here is a generic zombie movie that quickly grows fairly redundant on its way to a very familiar ending.
Spoilers, I guess, but FleshEater goes for the exact same finale that lands so powerfully in Romero’s film. The difference, though, is that while the older movie has social commentary to spare there’s nothing of the sort here. That means the downer ending falls flat, and it makes the journey getting there feel like even more of a drag as the “locals shooting the monsters” segment goes on for what feels like hours. We meet uninspired character fodder, they get bit, they rise back up as zombies, and repeat. The only break from the formula comes in the form of naked ladies, so plan accordingly.
FleshEater is the epitome of a movie that brings nothing new to the table or genre, but that’s not really a requirement if a film can entertain. Mileage will vary on this one, though, meaning that while it doesn’t work for me the film clearly has its fans. The expected beats are hit from start to end punctuated with some bloody gore, and then it ends. Enjoy!
Vinegar Syndrome offers up FleshEater in UHD from a new 4K scan and restoration of the original 16mm negative, and it looks far better than past editions have managed. It’s a reminder that this world, and Vinegar Syndrome in particular, is a constant source of the unexpected.
- Commentary with cinematographer Simon Manses, composer Erica Portnoy, and producer Andrew Sands
- Zombie Nosh LLC [19:35] – Producer Andrew Sands talks about the inspiration for the film being the imminent release of a colorized release of the original Night of the Living Dead.
- All Roads Lead Back to FleshEater [18:32] – Cinematographer Simon Manses recalls meeting Hinzman as his assistant on Romero’s The Amusement Park.
- The Family Continues [7:27] – Bonnie Hinzman shares memories of her husband including their friendship with Romero, a meeting with Orson Welles, and more. She also points out that the guy who shoots our protagonists in the end is the same one who kills Ben in the end of Night of the Living Dead.
- Carnage in Compositions [7:30] – Composer Erica Portnoy talks about her work before, during, and after the film.
- Family of Flesh Eaters [9:25] – Heidi Hinzman recalls her time working with her father on the film and the career that followed.
- Crushed Pink Grapefruit Brain [14:40] – Makeup effects artist Jerry Gergley talks about the practical effects he’s crafted over the years and mentions how Hinzman eventually threw away the script and just started making stuff up.
- To Live and Die in PA [8:57] – Actor John Mowod explores how his career kicked off with FleshEaters.
- Meatballs and Missing Actors [8:01] – Unit Manager Paul Giorgi details how he went from U2: Rattle & Hum to FleshEaters.
- Minor Budget Majorette [7:05] – Hair stylist Terrie Godfrey talks about her introduction to Hinzman, her work on The Majorettes and other projects with this team, and more.
- Behind-the-scenes still gallery [9:52]
Check out these releases and more at VinegarSyndrome.com!
Related Topics: Home Video