Blu-ray review: The Running Man (1987)

The Running Man.jpg

The Running Man (1987)
Fabulous Films, certificate 18 (out 24 June)
Originally written for Infinity magazine

Despite earning Arnie Schwarzenegger his first $5m paycheck, The Running Man is a film he still regards as a missed opportunity and a relative failure.

Based upon a pseudonymous novel by Stephen King (optioned before the secret came out, the real identity of book’s author “Richard Bachman” was well known by the movie’s release, although King blocked an on-screen credit), the main drama is set in a dystopian United States where the economy has collapsed, civil rights have been flushed down the toilet and the masses are kept subdued with a mix of reality television and the titular gladitorial contest. The unimaginable future of 2019.

Executive producer Rob Cohen initially wanted Miami Vice star Don Johnson to play the novel’s hero, Ben Richards, but the studio went for action hero Arnie, a choice which also disappointed King. Cohen also approached actor Paul Michael Glaser to direct, but the former Starsky and Hutch hearthrob considered he had insufficient time for pre-production, only changing his mind (unwisely in the opinion of many, particularly Schwarzenegger) when Andrew Davis (The Final Terror) reportedly ran four days behind schedule and $8m over-budget (of an estimated $27m) by the start of his second week behind the camera.

Davis’ replacement by Glaser both unsettled and angered the film’s star, who thought the latter ill-prepared and too fixed on a small screen aesthetic. The Running Man grossed $38m domestically, earning a small but tidy profit, but Arnie remained certain it could have hit $150m with more experienced handling.

That said, it’s a lot of undemanding fun. Richard Dawson (fresh off hosting the popular quiz show Family Feud) sleazes and snarls in equal measure as the contest’s ratings-hungry presenter and puppet master, and there’s solid support from Maria Conchita Alonso (Predator 2), Yaphet Kotto (Alien) and Marvin McIntyre (Short Circuit) as the other ‘runners’. Steven E Souza had worked with Schwarzenegger on Commando two years earlier, so knew how to balance the comic book violence and tongue-in-cheek dialogue, although the movie might have benefited from a larger injection of socio-political satire.

Print-wise, the Blu-ray retains the original grain and texture, whilst Fabulous is to be commended for encoding the DVD version without PAL speed-up.

Extras: Trailer; commentary track by director Paul Michael Glaser and producer Tim Zinnermann; commentary track by executive producer Rob Cohen; two short 2003 documentaries, Lockdown on Main Street (exploring the theme of US civil liberties post-9/11) and Game Theory (an examination of the growth of reality television).

Blu-ray review: Swamp Thing (1982)

Swamp Thing 3D Packshot Slipcase.jpg

Swamp Thing (1982)
88 Films, certificate 15 (out 25 March)
Originally written for Dark Side magazine

The opportunity to write and direct a screen adaptation of the Len Wein / Bernie Wrightson horror comic came at an interesting juncture in Wes Craven’s career. Having navigated his way out of hardcore pornography through exploitation cinema (The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes) into the horror mainstream (Deadly Blessing), Swamp Thing allowed Craven to demonstrate his ability to handle action scenes, location work, special effects and a relatively tight $2.5m budget. Unfortunately, despite bringing the project in on schedule and within Avco Embassy’s cost estimates, it would be nearly three years before A Nightmare on Elm Street earned him wider recognition (by which time any comics fans picking up Swamp Thing on VHS would probably wonder why it diverged so much from Alan Moore’s 1983 reboot).

The movie was clearly aimed at a family audience, although 88 Films has chosen to go with the ‘European cut’; this version features brief nudity excised from the original US theatrical release, most notably a sequence in which its well-endowed heroine Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape from New York) skinnydips under the no doubt sexually frustrated gaze of mutated biologist Alex Holland (stunt man Dick Durock, who stepped in to play the beast of the bayou after Ray Wise (Twin Peaks) found the costume too clumbersome). Heading the cast as the urbane mad scientist Anton Arcane is Hollywood veteran Louis Jourdan (1977’s Count Dracula), who was most likely fulfilling a contractural obligation when he reprised the role in Jim Wynoski’s decidedly less effective 1989 sequel The Return of Swamp Thing.

In the excellent commentary track hosted by Sean Clark (Horror’s Hallowed Grounds), Craven readily admits there were problems with the production values – Jourdan’s climatic transformation into some kind of sword-wielding werewolf is more comical than comicbook – but Swamp Thing remains a fun romp, much of its charm lying in its being produced in an era before computer graphics became a kneejerk panacea for lazy film-makers.

Extras: slipcase, 16pp photobook and A3 poster (limited edition only); commentary by Wes Craven, which drops out during the nude scenes; interviews with production designer Robb Wilson King, critic Kim Newman; original trailer. The HD restoration is very nicely handled and my only regret is that 88 Films weren’t able to import the additional commentary by makeup artist William Munns and interviews with Adrienne Barbeau and Len Wein which appeared on Shout Factory’s 2013 Blu-ray (although that release omits Ms Barbeau’s steamy ablutions).

Who’s Next

MythMakersLogo.jpg

Currently working on my inaugural feature for Infinity, sister magazine to The Dark Side. It’s a profile of Myth Makers, the long-running series of video interviews with key personnel in the Doctor Who universe. I’m currently liaising with founder and producer Keith Barnfather, as well as a number of writers and actors who’ve been involved in both the show and this series of fantastic archive conversations. More details soon.

Unscarred By Dracula

Jenny.jpg

The 190th issue of UK horror magazine The Dark Side is due out on 15 February, and features my interview with actress Jenny Hanley. We discuss her appearances in such films as Scars of Dracula, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Flesh and Blood Show and Soft Beds, Hard Battles, as well as her work as a presenter on Magpie.

Touch wood, the following issue will include my interview with Ashley Thorpe, director of the new ghost movie Borley Rectory. I’m also working on a profile of the late Brian W Aldiss for its sister magazine Infinity.