Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Blu-ray Review: RED SCORPION (1989)

Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Label: Synapse Films
Region: All Regions
Duration: 106 minutes
Rating: Unrated
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1,  DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Widescreen (1.78:1)
Director: Joseph Zito
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, M. Emmet Walsh, Brion James

Synopsis: International action star Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV, The Expendables) is Lt. Nikolai Rachenko, a Soviet Special Forces “killing machine” assigned to infiltrate an African rebel uprising and assassinate their anti-Communist leader. Taken into custody and tortured after the mission fails, he stages a harrowing prison escape. Befriended by an African bushman while on the run, Nikolai discovers he was fighting on the wrong side of this violent conflict all along. Nikolai finds the rebel army once more but, this time, he’s on their side and wages bloody war against his former comrades!

Going into this I was only familiar with director Joseph Zito's 80's slasher classics The Prowler (1981) and Friday the 13: The Final Chapter (1984) and not so much for his later Chuck Norris actioners Missing In Action (1984) and Invasion USA (1985) mostly because I just can't stand Norris and I don't really count myself as an action-film fan. That said I've always been really curious about Zito's body of work once he exited the horror genre after Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and this sweet Blu-ray/DVD from Synapse was a great reason to finally jump in.

Fresh off his iconic turn as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV (1985) Dolph Lundgren stars in Red Scorpion as Russian killing machine Lt. Nikolai Rachennko, a Spetsnaz in the Soviet Special Forces, assigned to infiltrate and assasinate an anti-communist African leader during the Cold War. Towards that end a bar fight is staged by Lundgren as he clears out an entire bar of Soviet soldiers single-handedly which lands him in prison where he forms an alliance with a anti-Communist resistance fighter Kallunda Kintash (Al White) and an untrusting American war correspondent named Dewey Ferguson played by character actor M. Emmet Walsh (Blood Simple).

This is definitely a late-80's actioner that never fails to deliver what the action genre promises with the tons of blood-soaked action, gigantic fiery explosions, an unceasing spray of gunfire, fun set-pieces plus the African backdrop is a stunner. Tom Savini whom worked with Zito on both The Prowler and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter has some decent effects work on display including a severed arm and long needles being pushed through Lundgren's bicep during a torture scene. The appearance of M. Emmet Walsh as the untrusting American journalist was pretty great and it was a brief appearance of Brion James (Bladerunner, The Fifth Element) as a brutal Soviet soldier.

Lundgren is a man of few words on-screen here and that's probably for the best. The man's got an engineering degree, he's no dummy for sure, but he's not exactly the most articulate action-hero the 80's had to offer. On-screen he's pretty much everything you want when it comes to ass-kicking and brutalizing commies. His hero's journey is maybe a bit harder to swallow but there's more than enough shit blowing up real nice to distract you from any acting shortcomings, this is afterall an 80's actioner.  

Alternate Artwork
Video: Synapse Films Blu-ray/DVD combo sports a brand-new 2K high-definition transfer of the uncensored version, containing footage never before seen in the U.S. I've seen the Arrow Video Blu-ray and it's pretty great but this is just on another level - when it comes to 1080p transfers Synapse are definitely on a Criterion level of perfection, few can touch 'em and Red Scorpion benefits greatly from there tender love and restoration affections.

The English DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound mix is stunning, there's no shortage of explosions, gunfire and sounds of the battle field here and the surrounds get a nice workout, the low-end rumble was really rattling the walls. Also included us the DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track for the purists but trust me the 5.1 is the way to go here, it's a great presentation.

Special features are plentiful beginning with the Hell Hath No Fury featurette, an interview with Lundgren whom talks about his beginnings as a engineering student, working security detail for 80's icon Grace Jones which lead to a romance and then landing a bit part in the 007 film A View to a Kill through that connection which eventually brought him worldwide acclaim with Rocky IV  then into the Masters of the Universe film. When speaking of Red Scorpion Lundgren talks of producer turned politician Jack Abrahamoff and director Joseph Zito, the troubled production in South Africa and his stunt work which is just crazy by today's standards, dodging errant explosion, jumping from a motorcycle to a moving truck and being bit by a hyena and stung scorpions. It's a great interview and a treat for fans of the film.

We also get a dry but informative interview with lobbyist cum producer Jack Abrahamoff and another with master special effects maestro Tom Savini who worked on the film and speaks about the insane pace of the shooting, working with Lundgren and his effects work on the film. Savini  also has  a few interesting tales to tell of getting caught in a flood with his wife and then infant daughter and being rescued by rebel soldiers, there's also some really cool behind-the-scenes video footage he shot included too, great stuff. 

There's also a super-informative audio commentary with director Joseph Zito moderated by Mondo Digital's Nathaniel Thompson. Pretty much anything you could ever want to know about the film is discussed, it's an entertaining commentary and well-worth a listen. On top of that we get a still gallery of one-sheets, production stills, and behind-the-scenes pic, theatrical trailer and a collection of TV spots.

Special Features: 
- All-New 2K High-Definition Digital Restoration of the Uncensored Version
- Audio Commentary with Director Joseph Zito and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson
- All-New DTS-HD MA 5.1 Soundtrack Mixed Specifically for This Release
- ASSIGNMENT: AFRICA (12:41) 16:0 – Video Interview with Producer Jack Abramoff
- SCORPION TALES (10:05) 16:9 – Video Interview with Make-Up Effects Artist Tom Savini
- Rare Original On-Set Behind-the-Scenes Video Footage (9:11) 16:9
- Animated Still Gallery (6:57)
- Liner Notes on the Making of RED SCORPION by Jérémie Damoiseau
- Theatrical Trailer (1:55) 16:9
- TV Spots (3:06) 4:3
- Reversible Cover Design

Verdict: Synapse's Blu-ray of Red Scorpion is a muscular, sweaty and blood soaked 80's actioner that looks fantastic in 1080p. The gorgeous 2K transfer, sweet DTS-HD 5.1 surround mix and impressive array of extras make this an easy recommend. 
Red Scorpion definitely kicks some major ass on Blu-ray. 3.5 outta 5