Color, 1987, 108 mins. 20 secs. / 98 mins. 54 secs.
Directed by Nathan J. White
Starring Gregory Fortescue, Stevie Lee, Steve Dixon, Paul Silverman, Paul Urbanski
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)

The Carrier This movie is insane! The CarrierShot in Michigan at the height of the direct-to-VHS horror boom in the late '80s, The Carrier slipped onto VHS with a nondescript cover courtesy of Magnum but managed to astonish the lucky few adventurous souls who bothered to rent it out for an evening. In a small town called Sleepy Rock apparently stuck in some sort of alternate universe of the 1950s, young man Jake Spear (Fortescue) escapes an attack from a strange beast from the woods. Though he seems unharmed, Jake is horrified to discover that he has acquired a highly unusual contagion that infects any object he touches and dissolves anyone else who makes contact with it. Soon the entire town is in a panic, unaware that Jake is the source of their problem as these "red objects" become a source of terror that can only be exposed by using cats(!) as weapons to identify them. Clad in plastic and heavy cloth, the townspeople soon divide into two warring factions that threaten to destroy the entire community forever.

Considering the era of its release, you don't have to look too hard to find an AIDS allegory here; the weird plot turn that covers almost everyone in trash bags for the duration of the films only lacks a glove-wearing dental hygienist to drive the full message home here. On top of that you also get plenty of blatant The Carrierreligious symbolism (just check out the final shots), but all that's easy to miss when everyone's running around yelling about red objects and demanding "cats or death!" It's definitely unique though, and one-shot direct Nathan J. White The Carriercertainly knows how to generate a resonant moment or two out of daylight horrors. No one in the main cast went on to much else, but Fortescue makes for an engaging, sympathetic lead; more interestingly, as this was shot around the same stomping grounds from The Evil Dead, it features some of the same names behind the camera including composer Joseph LoDuca, cinematographer Peter Deming, and even some funky sound work from Bruce Campbell! If you approach this as a surreal, David Lynch-style satire with strong horrific elements, it's quite a rewarding film hiding out there behind the dull cover art.

After its first round on home video, The Carrier went out of circulation for many years but remained a minor cult item among avid tape swappers. Code Red's 2010 DVD release offers a moderate step up in picture quality; the full frame, interlaced transfer still has that gauzy '80s patina about it but at least bumps up the clarity a few notches without any nasty VHS distortion. The biggest extra here is an amusing audio commentary with director White and frequent Code Red commentator Scott Spiegel, who knows a thing or two about the Michigan '80s horror scene thanks to co-writing Evil Dead 2 and directing Intruder. The interpretive aspects of the film aren't really touched on much here, with a focus instead on how the financing and production came about, which Raimi vets came aboard and why, and how all the actors and extras were rounded up to swath themselves in outfits you normally don't see outside of Twin Peaks' Laura Palmer. Also included are the theatrical trailer and the usual The Carrierhost of Code Red bonus previews like The Redeemer, Nightmare, and The CarrierSlithis.

In 2018, Code Red brought the film to Blu-ray with a pleasant surprise: a director's cut running quite a bit longer, with the theatrical cut included as well. The longer version is definitely better paced and flows more organically, so for anyone who owns the disc, that's likely to be the go-to version from now on. The ten-minute discrepancy doesn't tell the whole story as the director's cut doesn't have the four-minute end credits from the theatrical, instead wrapping up with a very different epilogue that makes more sense of that wraparound narration. Image quality greatly improves on the DVD (which wouldn't be difficult), with more aesthetically pleasing framing, far better detail, and, well, just a big improvement all across the board. That said, the two cuts do look markedly different with the director's cut appearing substantially darker and with more cropping on the edges than the theatrical. On the other hand, the theatrical cut goes very out of sync by several seconds just after the 45-minute mark and stays that way for the rest of the film, so be warned. The disc will apparently be sold through with no further inventory made (whether a corrected edition may come down the road at some point remains to be seen), so it's worth grabbing now if you're on the fence just to have the director's cut. The commentary is ported over from the DVD along with the choppy, YouTube-looking trailer and bonus trailers for Spasms, The Dark, The Boneyard, The Being, and Terror Circus.




Updated review on April 22, 2018