Color, 1979, 92 mins. 40 secs. / 100 mins. 25 secs.
Directed by Simon Wincer
Starring Chantal Contouri, Robert Bruning, Sigrid Thornton, Hugh Keays-Byrne
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Scorpion Releasing (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) (2.35:1) (16:9), Platinum, Elite (US R1 NTSC), Umbrella (Australia R4 PAL) / (1.78:1) (16:9)
An oddball woman-in-peril thriller with soap opera overtones, this Australian exploitation outing marked the directorial debut of Simon Wincer, a talented filmmaker who went on to helm Dark Forces and The Lighthorsemen in his native country and later, more prestigious fare like Lonesome Dove, Quigley Down Under, and of course, D.A.R.Y.L. Gifted with an innate sense for scope composition and fleet-footed storytelling, he isn't the sort of guy you'd expect to get his start with a psycho-shocker about a fashion model stalked by a malevolent ice cream van.
Following a deliberately cryptic opening sequence involving a fire at night on a city street, beauty salon worker Angela (The Man from Snowy River's Thornton) gets tossed out of her house and, after some sage advice at a nightclub, decides to try out some modeling with the encouragement of super-bitchy buddy Madeleine (familiar Ozploitation vet Contouri from Thirst and Metal Skin). She gets distracted when her psycho ex-boyfriend starts following her around in an ice cream truck, photographers keep asking her to pull her top off, and terrible pop songs get blasting on the soundtrack. Is someone really out to get Angela, and why?
Let's clear things up first by noting that this is not a slasher movie in any shape, form, or fashion. This film was originally made under the title Snapshot (which it also bears on its first two American DVD releases as well as the Australian one), running a bit over 100 minutes. A streamlined 92-minute cut was prepared for international audiences with U.S. viewers getting it under the title The Day after Halloween to cash in on a certain holiday-themed horror hit from 1978. Okay, the tinkly music score by Brian May (the film composer, not the Queen member) has a certain Carpenter-esque quality to it, but that's about where the connection ends. It's not really "good," lord knows, but there's a certain perverse fascination in watching the film wobble on a tightrope between glossy respectability and completely bonkers trash with the latter finally winning out during the "twist"-filled finale. Actually, divorced from its blatant scam origins, the international cut is a little bit more enjoyable as it trims down some of the pointless chit chat and wandering scenes; nine minutes really does make a pretty substantial difference here.
That American cut is the default option on the Scorpion DVD from 2012, which still retains the Snapshot title card on both cuts on the actual print. This apparently marked the first genuine scope presentation of the film on home video; previous versions on DVD were cropped to 1.78:1 and looked pretty lousy, while the less said about the older VHS versions the better. This one actually appeared as a solo budget release from Platinum and then from Elite as part of a four-film Aussie horror set. The Scorpion release easily blows them all away in terms of quality, as the extra width allows the compositions far more breathing room and reveals a few nifty compositions completely lost in the earlier editions. Not surprisingly, this one's packaged as part of Katarina's Nightmare Theater with the mischievous horror hostess kicking things off with an optional video intro in which she gets a nasty frozen dessert treat, gets her head smashed by a runaway ice cream truck, and proffers a few facts and figures about the film ranging from its distributor history to the Aussie cult figures involved with the production. Speaking of which, Waters makes a return appearance moderating an audio commentary with busy producer Antony Ginnane, with whom she previously chatted on the DVD of The Survivor. Included only on a bonus presentation of the longer Australian cut (from the same compromised 1.78:1 master), it's basically a companion piece to that other film's commentary as he goes into detail about commissioning the original script, the process of casting the two leading ladies including the difficulty of implementing a certain late-film twist, discovering Wincer fresh off of some TV work, and exactly who the heck the target audience for this film was supposed to be. Also included is the American title sequence with the Halloween title pulled off a VHS tape, which is at least nice to have for comparison as well as a reminder of how unwatchable this was back in the '80s.
In 2017, Vinegar Syndrome dipped its toes into the waters of '70s Aussie exploitation with a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD release of this film, highlighted by a fresh 2K scan of the original negative (the 92-minute export version). The transfer looks gorgeous and really can't be faulted at all; color, black levels, detail, compression... you name it, it's all satisfying, with a bit more info visible on the edges to boot. The LPCM English audio sounds excellent as well, with optional English SDH subtitles provided. Also included is a new audio commentary with Wincer, Ginnane, Thornton, and cinematographer Vincent Monton (plus an unnamed moderator) covering the film from a very detailed production perspective including its status as the first of Ginnane's many anamorphic productions, Thornton's career state in transition from child actor to major dramatic name, the impact of previous Australian hits like Patrick, the state of Melbourne at the time, and much more. The new "Producing Snapshot" (27m56s) covers some of the commentary material in more detail here from his perspective, picking up on the success of Patrick as he became a regular source of internationally commercial productions like this and had to scramble to put this together after Richard Franklin went off to greener pastures. More info can be found in a selection of raw interview sessions from the Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! (36m30s), apparently a requirement for any Australian cult title these days, with Thornton, Ginnane, Wincer, Monton, actress Lynda Stoner, and screenwriter Everett DeRoche cheerfully recalling this "rush job" project that turned out to be an enjoyable experience for everyone involved, not to mention the random origin of that sinister Mr. Whippy van. For the sake of completeness the alternate cut is tossed in here as well, and though it's also cropped to 1.78:1 like prior releases, it doesn't look the same with much hotter whites, vertical squeezing, and severe interlacing ensuring you probably won't want to sit through more than once. (Frame grabs in the body of this review are from the Blu-ray, with samples from the other versions seen below.) A production still gallery (4m4s) is amusingly scored with a choice rock selection from the film, rounded off with a selection of TV spots and a reversible sleeve including a new cover design by Speed Blur and a limited slipcase if you order directly from the label.
Vinegar Syndrome Alternate Cut
Scorpion Releasing DVD
Scorpion Releasing Alternate Cut
Reviewed on August 18, 2017.