Friday, April 4, 2014

Blu-ray Review: THIRST (1979)

THIRST (1979) 
Label: Severin Films
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated 
Duration: 93 Minutes
Audio: Englsih Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1)
Director: Rod Hardy 
Cast: Chantal Cantouri, David Hemmings, Henry Silva, Max Phipps

Thirst (1979) starts off with a deceptive bit of a Hammer-esque Gothic horror before revealing itself as post-modern vampire tale with a twist. An attractive young woman Kate (Chantal Contouri, Snapshot) is home with her cat one day and feeling a bit strange when she is suddenly abducted by a cult known as The Brotherhood. The Brotherhood are a cult of wealthy eccentrics who whisk her away to their secluded island colony and reveal that she is a descendant of the infamous mass murderer Elizabeth Bathory.

In a way that sort of brought to mind the cult-classic TV series The Prisoner (1967) the cult attempt to brainwash her into accepting her legacy and to acquire a taste for human blood neither of which she's very keen on accepting. The film strays from the traditional vamp mythos as the Brotherhood are presented not as supernatural entities but a superior race whom ritually drink human blood. They harvest blood from brainwashed donors known affectionately as "blood cows" which are routinely milked of their life essence not unlike a dairy farm,  complete with filtration and pasteurization to remove unwanted traces of drugs, antibiotics and disease. 

Young Kate proves
surprisingly resistant to the cult's conditioning process and the sinister Mrs. Barker (Shirley Cameron), with the super creepy Cheshire grin, resorts to a using an experimental psychotropic approach which sends Kate teetering on the brink of insanity. Her performance here brought to mind Catherine Deneuve's in Roman Polanski's Repulsion (1965) as she quickly descends into a nightmarish spiral of dreamlike encounters leading up to her partaking in a bizarre bloodsucking cult ritual.

The film has a top notch cast beginning with Chantal Contouri who is just fantastic as the emotionally distraught lead, such a convincing and sympathetic performance. The Brotherhood is embodied by the creepy Mrs. Baker (Cameron), the slightly more benign Dr. Gauss (Henry Silva, Ghost Dog) and Dr. Fraser played by Eurocult superstar David Hemmings (Dario Argento's Deep Red) who is a more compassionate character and seems to have a soft spot for Kate. In the background you might notice Robert Thompson who most remember from the Aussie shocker Patrick (1978) in a mostly silent performance. 

The look and aesthetic of the film could be described as slightly art house with a twist of the Aussie new wave featuring some cinematography by Vincent Morton (Long Weekend) who captures the gorgeous locations on film. Such an attractively shot and edited production which manages to sustain a creepy atmosphere without resorting to scene after scene of gore and cheap scares. It just creeps up on you and is peppered with just a few unnerving scenes that work exquisitely, the blood shower scene comes to immediately to mind.

Blu-ray: Severin have created a brand-new HD transfer of the film from the original camera negative framed in it's original scope aspect ratio and it's quite nice. Colors are vibrant and nicely saturated with a fair amount of detail, depth and clarity to the image. Notably there's a distinct amber hue to the color timing that drew my attention but that's a nitpick, overall the image is top notch. As with their Patrick Blu-ray Severin have opted for a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio track without benefit of subtitles. The track is decent but if only just to augment Brian May's fantastic score I wish we had an uncompressed audio option. 

The special features are ported over from the previous DVD edition including a decent audio commentary with Director Rod Hardy and legendary Aussie  producer Antony I. Ginnane plus an isolated score option that showcases Brian May's atmospheric soundtrack. We also have a few TV spots and the theatrical trailer. Definitely not a greatest selection of extras, and it's a bummer we have no new content, but the 1080p upgrade (at least the video) is very nice. 

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Director Rod Hardy and Producer Antony I. Ginnane
- Isolated music score by Brian May
- Theatrical Trailer (1:38)
- TV Spots (1:17) 

Verdict: Thirst (1979) is an underrated slice of post modern bloodsucking cinema infused with surreal weirdness and science fiction elements that should please fans of on non-traditional vamp tales such as George A. Romero's Martin (1977) and Guillermo del Toro's Cronos (1993). The Severin Blu-ray looks quite nice and should be an easy upgrade for fans of the Aussie classic. 3 Outta 5