Color, 1978, 91 mins. 50 secs.
Directed by Eddy Matalon
Starring Jim Mitchum, Robert Carradine, Belinda J. Montgomery, Ray Milland, June Allyson, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Don Granbery, Terry Haig, Victor B. Tyler
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Somerville House (DVD) (Canada R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Hot on the heels of the crazed cult classic Cathy's Curse, French director Eddy Matalon stuck around in Canada for a particularly ambitious, all-star Cinepix production inspired by the recent 1977 two -day blackout that paralyzed New York. With the swagger of a mainstream disaster movie but a heart of pure '70s crime junk food, it's an entertaining and rather eccentric film (imagine a tax shelter hybrid of The Anderson Tapes, Alone in the Dark, and Die Hard) that ended up being trimmed down by New World for its U.S. release but has since been seen more widely in its complete, far more coherent form.
When a nocturnal lightning storm ends up taking out the power grid running much of Manhattan (city doubled by Montreal outside of establishing shots), a prison van crash provides the perfect opportunity for radical criminal Christie (Carradine) and three of his cohorts (Granbery, Haig and Tyler) to hit the streets looking for trouble. They find it in a nearby high-rise apartment building where, tailed by dogged cop Dan Evans (Mitchum, son of Robert), they embark on a crusade of robbery, harassment, and assault.
That's about it for the plot, with the film offering an episodic account of the residents' traumas including future Doogie Howser, M.D. mother Belinda Montgomery (sister of Ben star Lee Montgomery), Ray Milland basically reprising his Frogs role as a wealthy jackass, June Allyson as a senior citizen with an ailing husband, and oddest of all, Day for Night's Jean-Pierre Aumont as a magician with a scene-stealing puppy dog. It's all very dark and Canadian with a few cheap thrills along the way including a lively parking garage finale, though it never crosses the line of good taste (even with Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS scribe John Saxton aboard) in what was apparently a bid for mainstream U.S. respectability. That didn't happen as the film was barely seen and ended up going to VHS from Charter with cover art that made it look like a generic cop thriller, but it still managed to populate video store shelves enough to get a little bit of attention and earn a DVD release in 2005 from Canadian label Somerville House. Sporting an uncut anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, it was the best option at the time despite meager extras including talent bios and a photo gallery.
Sold via Diabolik and Ronin Flix, the film's Blu-ray debut from Code Red looks quite different by comparison with a darker, moodier look more befitting the blackout premise. Framing shifts a bit both horizontally and vertically but doesn't seem to impact the compositions much one way or another, while colors look ruddier with less of a yellow cast than the DVD. The DTS-HD MA English is pretty far from demo material with some obvious degradation and hiss, but this seems like a case of "it is what it is." The main new extra here is an audio commentary with Montgomery moderated by Bill Olsen and Damon Packard, who seem to be completely winging it in what amounts to one of the strangest tracks released in a very long time. Montgomery manages to stay focused and knows her stuff, so fans of her extensive body of work will at least enjoy hearing her chat about her late '70s career and the Canadian location shooting. Carradine also pops up for a brief video intro with the label's Banana Man and a new video interview (11m13s) about this early role (only the third film into his career) and his awareness (or lack thereof) of his fellow cast members, with other digressions including his memories of other actors like Rainbeaux Smith. The French-Canadian theatrical trailer is included along with a New World TV spot and bonus trailers for Maniac, Street Law, The Fifth Floor, and Devilfish.
Code Red (Blu-ray)
Somerville House (DVD)
New 2018 HD master of the uncut version, New interview with star Robert Carradine, New Audio Commentary with star Belinda J. Montgomery, Theatrical Trailer
Reviewed on May 11, 2019.