Saturday, January 9, 2016

THUNDERCRACK! 40th Anniversary 2-Disc Special Edition BD/DVD (Blu-ray Review)

40th Anniversary 2-Disc Special Edition BD/DVD

Label: Synapse Films

Region Code: Region-FREE
Duration: 160 minutes
Rating: Unrated 
Audio: English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 with Optional English SDH, French, German and Spanish Subtitles 
Aspect Ratio: 1080p HD Full-Frame (1.33:1) (The original filmed aspect ratio.)
Director: Curt McDowell
Cast: Marion Eaton, George Kuchar, Melinda McDowell, Mark Ellinger, Mookie Blodgett, Ken Scudder, Moira Benson

Synopsis: Witness if you dare… THUNDERCRACK!… the world’s only underground kinky art adult horror film, complete with four men, three women and rampaging circus animals. With the initial setup of an atmospheric Gothic tale — a dark and stormy night breakdown featuring a creepy old house on the hill — it quickly turns into an eerie orgy of graphic humor, horror and sex. A tour de force of underground filmmaking with a plot beyond description, this film fully exposes itself with amazing dialogue and trash-noir lighting through which to peer at the pickles, the puke and the polymorphs.

Now I've seen some weird stuff this past year, I just watched Roar (1981) for the first time, which was a trip. I saw the Canadian erotic/horror hybrid Sexcula (1974) ...wowsers, yet nothing could have quite prepared me for the hardcore arthouse madness of Curt McDowell's cult-classic Thundercrack! which begins on a dark and stormy nighy when six strangers show up on the doorstep to a spawling mansion owned by the wild-eyebrowed widow Gert Hammond (Marion Eaton). We have Toydy (Rick Johnson), Sash (Melinda McDowell), Roo (Moira Benson), Chandler (Mookie Blodgett), Bond (Ken Scudder) and Gert's neighbor Willene Cassidy (Maggie Pyle) who through a series of misadventures on the road end up at the mansion. The widow Gert is drunk off her rocker when they arrives, greeting her rain-drenched guests in a wig soaked with her own drunken vomit and the strangest penciled in eyebrows you have ever seen on a woman. 

The insanity begins straight away with neighbor Willene arriving first, giving Gert a erotic bath you won't soon forget, and it only gets odder and more erotic as the story unfolds. Gert gets her kicks peeping through a hole in the wall watching each of the guest as she diddles herself with a large-sized cucumber. As the guest pair off and begin to fornicate we have about every coupling you could imagine, from man on woman, to woman on woman, man on man, and with quite a selection of sex toys and so on. Horny old Gert tries to get in on the sex action when her well-worn skinned cucumber is eaten by one of the guests, who notes the peculiar taste. Gertie greases up her ass with bacon grease as her would-be lover commenting that every time she farts she gonna sound like a squealing pig, sweet Lord what am I watching?  

At over two and half hour in length this epic slice of absurdness does not only revolve around the strange fornication that happens on a dark and stormy night, but obviously that's a memorable part of it. These colorful characters spout off some of the most offbeat dialogue you will ever hear, and endlessly quotable menagerie of confessions and intrigue come to the forefront as we learn of the widows dead husband and why she keeps him in the cellar in a series of jars, of her missing son who seems to have just disappeared one day, the mystery of Sash's allegedly red-ass and about the sexual relationship that one of the guests seems to have had with an amorous circus gorilla which is now outside the mansion and refusing to allow anyone to leave the mansion on this dark and stormy night. 

This was quite a strange trip, and I would give a bit of warning to anyone coming into this blindly that they should expect the unexpected and a healthy dose of hardcore adult cinema. A strange oddity of '70s fringe cinema with all the wild excesses of hardcore adult movies, but this is a cut above just being a porn entry, there's an vein of art house weirdness at play and it is all wrapped up in one strange old dark house tale, one that you won't soon forget.

Audio/Video: Synapse Films have spent the better part of the last ten years making this release come to fruition, and it sounds like the road to restoration was arduous to say the least. The new restoration is sourced from the only know existing and uncut theatrical print of the movie, of which there were only ever five in existence to begin with, and two of those were cut by producers, the other was confiscated by the Canadian authorities and the last damaged print seems to have ended up in Europe where it was used for a dubious DVD release that is also cut by at least thirty minutes. Leave it to the team at Synapse to find the one uncut version, though it was no easy task and that print was well worn from years of exhibition and the usual road wear. What we have is a black and white full-frame presentation that has been wonderfully restored, the end product is not perfection, there's still some wear and tear evident, but the 16mm movie looks damn fine, with good contrast and some nice texture to it, with the grain left properly intact. 

The English DTS-HD MA Mono 2.0 audio seems a proper presentation of the source material which according to what I have read was always an issue, a crowded mono track with muffled dialogue and a cacophonous sound mix. There are notes of hiss and audio pops throughout the presentation which is not ideal but it seems this is the best we will ever have unless that original camera negative surfaces at some point, which seems doubtful. Thankfully Synapse have included subtitles which came in handy during my viewing, subtitle options include English, French, German and Spanish. As this is a region-free Blu-ray the variety of options may come in handy for international viewers. 

40th Anniversary 2-Disc Special Edition BD/DVD is stuffed with special features, in the absence of a commentary we have an archival interview with director Curt McDowell recorded in the early seventies, discussing his early short films and his own process. Recorded before he made Thunderclap! the track offers no insight into the movie but does feature the creator speaking about art, politics and his film school. This eighty-seven minute interview plays in place of a commentary over the first eighty-seven minutes of the movie and is then replaced by the audio track from the film. 

The second feature on the Blu-ray is Jennifer Kroot's 2009 documentary It Came from Kuchar about the twin underground filmmakers George and Mike Kuchar presented in 1080p HD. The doc features appreciations from Atom Egoyan, Guy Maddin, Buck Henry and John Waters among others, it also features archival clips and interviews. The doc is a Blu-ray exclusive, and is not available on the single-disc DVD version from Synapse, I highly recommend purchasing the 40th Anniversary 2-Disc Special Edition BD/DVD which is stuffed with additional bonus content. 

Onto the bonus DVD that is exclusive to the the 2-disc set there are nearly two hours of additional bonus content to be found, beginning with a theatrical trailer for the movie which does a pretty damn good job advertising what sexxed-up weirdness awaits viewers at the cinema - I cannot even begin to imagine how this went down with audiences in the seventies, I find it quite puzzling and shocking today, and I sort of new what to expect coming into it. 

There are interview from 2005 with star Marion Eaton and composer Mark Ellinger. There's also a strange ten-minute video interview with screenwriter/author George Kuchar that had been edited with some cheap psychedelic video effects. Both Eaton and director Curt McDowell appear in an 1976 episode of what would appear to be a San Francisco public access channel TV show

During the process of restoring the film Synapse Films came across some rare outtakes and audition footage for the movie, we have about thirty-minutes of outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage, another seventeen-minutes of hardcore sex scene outtakes, and none minutes of audition footage, with most of the cast disrobing for the process. some of this has sync sounds and some does not, playing with just the sound of a 16mm movie projector in the background, not unlike one of the the many 42nd Street Forever: The Peepshow Collection releases. Finishing up the extras have five of Kurt McDowell's short films which range in length from two-minute to nineteen-minutes in length. 

Special Features

- Rare archival interview segments with director Curt McDowell presented as audio commentary
- BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE Bonus Feature - IT CAME FROM KUCHAR (87 Mins) HD: Directed by Jennifer Kroot. Documentary about the twin underground filmmakers George and Mike Kuchar
- 4 Page Booklet with writing from Synapse Films President Don May Jr. detailing the years long process of creating the 40th Anniversary 2-Disc Collector's Edition. 
- BLU-RAY EXCLUSIVE: An additional BONUS DVD loaded with fun additional extras! 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (2 Mins) 
- Interview with Thundercrack! author, George Kuchar (10 Mins) 
- Marion Eaton Recalls "Gert Hammond" (2004) (6 Mins) 
- "Recalling Thundercrack!" with Mark Ellinger (2004) (8 Mins) 
- Curt McDowell and Marion Eaton Interview 1976 (San Francisco Bay Area Filmmakers) (23 Mins) 
- Outtakes and Behind-the-Scenes Footage (30 Mins) 
- Sex Scene Outtakes (17 Mins) 
- Original Cast Audition Footage (9 Mins) 
- Short Films Directed by Kurt McDowell: Confessions (11 Mins), Naughty Words (2 Mins), Loads (19 Mins), Boggy Depot (17 Mins), Siamese Twin Pinheads (4 Mins) 

Thunderstruck! is a truly deranged slice of hardcore porno with the trappings of an old dark house movie, making for an epic journey into the absurd filled with nutty and vibrant characters. Not a movie and can widely recommend, but I assure you that once you've seen it you will never forget the oddity of Curt McDowell's Thundercrack!. The restoration from Synapse Films is a testimony to their love of cult cinema, lovingly presented and loaded with mind-bending extras, a tour de force of '70s strangeness.