Color, 1987, 90 mins. 2 secs.
Directed by Richard Gardner
Starring Anthony Holt, Richard Gardner, Laurie Tait Partridge, Candy Castillo, James Avery, Michael David
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
A bizarre drive-in curio released in 1987 but clearly shot in the '70s, this Orange County-lensed tale of madness, rape, and revenge was originally written as The Bigot and filmed as The Hunting Season but released to the public as a horror movie under the title Deadly Daphne's Revenge. With actors culled from a local co-op called the South Coast Actors Studio, it's a title that has long confounded viewers with its promise of knife-slashing horror thrills but delivery of something almost entirely different.
The fun begins with a radio announcer warning us about mental asylum escapee Daphne Wood (Castillo), who's been on the loose near Camarillo for three days and was last seen "eating out of garbage cans." Locked up for five years after beating her young son to death, she's easy to forget for the next hour as the action shifts to a quartet of racist, beer-swilling buddies heading south for a weekend camping trip. Their leader, RV driver Charlie (Holt), is the worst of the bunch and turns nasty that night when they bring Cindy (Partridge), a gum-chomping blonde hitchhiker making her way to San Diego, to their lodge (which features the most garish red shag carpeting you've ever seen). Charlie's "not a man to be kept waitin'" and instigates an assault on Cindy, who's been compromised after smoking a joint and instead shows a romantic interest in nice guy Steve (Gardner, the film's director). Back at work at their delivery service, Charlie and buddy Bobo are arrested when Cindy decides to press charges, setting off a scandal in the local news and leading to melodrama, suicide, a murder plot, mild legal intrigue, and a last minute appearance by crazy Daphne that doesn't go very well.
A crackpot feast of fluffy hair, loud outfits, and wonderfully overripe acting ("You horny worm" might be the best insult you'll hear this year), Deadly Daphne's Revenge is the conflation of post-Lipstick, no-budget legal drama and rape/revenge thriller the world never asked for but got anyway. Neither Cindy's incompetent attorney (David) nor Charlie has the slightest grasp of how the law actually works, which makes the proceedings even more amusing as the story zigs and zags all over the place. The film strangely pulls its punches when it comes to exploitation elements, be it sex or violence, at least until the final 15 minutes when it all goes completely berserk with a shaggy-haired hit man and the long-awaited Daphne converging in a random manner not duplicated until the insanity of Dangerous Men decades later. Basically just go into this one realizing you're getting a wacko indie would-be thriller rather than a horror film, and the entertainment value will be quite high.
First released on VHS in 1987 by A.I.P., Deadly Daphne's Revenge has been rearing its head on DVD multiple times including 2004's Toxie's Triple Terror Vol. 1 (with Demented Death Farm Massacre and Curse of the Cannibal Confederates) and a couple of standalone Troma editions including a DVD-R. That transfer was a fuzzy, dull, open matte mess that made the film a real chore to sit through, and thankfully the Vinegar Syndrome release (as part of its 2018 Halfway to Black Friday sale) as a limited (1,500 units) slipcover edition feels like a whole new film. The fresh transfer from the original negative is a real beauty, filled with vibrant colors and so much period-specific detail you can almost count the threads in all the flared pants. That doesn't mean the film itself is well shot (flares from lighting equipment are in abundance), but given the ramshackle nature of the production, it's a vast improvement. The LPCM English mono track (with optional English subtitles) is also a significant improvement and a far cry from the flat, muted audio we've had in the past. The restoration of the original The Hunting Season title sequence (which plays separately now instead of rolling over the opening scene) also means this runs longer now than the Troma cut, which was 87m58s long.
Extras include the more familiar Daphne's title sequence (1m), an isolated track for the (often wildly inappropriate) score by John Banningan, and an "Answering the Call" interview (11m33s) with actress Jody Jaress, who plays Charlie's secretary in the film. She hadn't seen the film at all until shortly before shooting the piece, and she cheerfully recalls Gardner's enthusiasm, the larger nature of her part before it was chiseled down, and her thoughts on the unpolished final product. A still gallery (2m14s) is pretty amazing all by itself, including newspaper clippings that give away the actual production year (1979, for those wondering) as well as an offer to get points in the film for $5,000 ("projected 12 million gross!"). Don't miss the wild casting call by Gardner for something called Wolf Rader requiring "Eastwood or Bronson or similar 'name' actor who has the COURAGE to play the very challenging role of a man who was CASTRATED when was 20 years old!!" The fact that the world was denied further Richard Gardner films is a crime.
Reviewed on May 25, 2018.