Color, 1986, 68m./74m. / Directed by Johann Vandewoestijne / Starring Nick Van Sant, Helga Vandevelde, Let Jotts, Marie Claes, Carry Van Middel, Martine Scherre / Synapse (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

Belgium isn't exactly a country known for its pioneering horror output apart from the occasional stylish one-off like Daughters of Darkness. However, in the mid-'80s, even the most impoverished European projects spattered with enough gore could find some willing fans around the world, even in pirated VHS editions. One of the first breakthrough shock indies was Jörg Buttgereit's Nekromantik, which proved an artsy foreign-language shocker about corpse-lovin' could become a big cult hit in America. Shortly afterwards, a Belgian straight-to-video outrage called Lucker the Necrophagus began making the rounds, and though it was actually shot a year ealier, it quickly found a following among the same fans. Though its production values are far less artistic, Lucker gets by on sheer verve alone, thanks mainly to the potency of its big mid-film setpiece... but more on that in a moment.

After a failed suicide attempt following an equally botched murder attempt, serial killer John Lucker (Van Suyt) spends three years languishing in a coma in a mental institution. Upon awakening, he conspires an escape and, adorning a sinister pair of sunglasses, cuts a bloody swath across the city as he hunts down the one girl who got away. Along the way he takes some time out to stash away some of his female victims' corpses, which he then revisits after an extended period for some romantic downtime.

Yeah, as you may have gathered, Lucker exists primarily for the unforgettable sequence in which the title character decides to play bumpy mattresses with a decayed corpse, and unlike Nekromantik, this one doesn't soften the blow with any soft focus shots, sweeping music or optical effects. It's just a long, extended, in-your-face "look at my chewed-up food" sequence, and no horror fan who stumbled across a tape of it has ever forgotten the impact. Van Sant is actually supririsingly good in the lead role, offering a menacing, middle-aged, pudgy psychopath who seems a bit too real for comfort, and the self-confessed horror fan director offers a few visual flourishes here and there, mainly an underground pursuit finale and some colorful, Argento-inspired lighting effects. This will still only appeal to very, very specific tastes, but for anyone hankering for the golden days of '80s extreme cinema, this should be just the ticket.

The backstory of Lucker is extremely complicated, but since it was destined straight for video and didn't offer much in the way of commercial prospects, the producer ditched the original negatives. Most viewers caught this via dupes of a 74-minute English edition with Dutch subtitles, which is also offered on Synapse's disc as an extra. However, the far more viewable option is the newly-assembled "director's cut," which uses the best surviving, non-subtitled video material to create a smoother, cleaner experience that actually clocks in six minutes shorter. Don't worry, all the nasty stuff is still here; the discarded footage basically amounts to some needless padding and awkward bits of, ahem, "Troma-tic" non-acting that inspired unintentional guffaws. The new cut does look better, relatively speaking, though it still basically looks sourced from a VHS tape. Don't expect this to come anywhere close to the usual Synapse gold standard of quality, but if you're in a very forgiving mood, it's watchable enough and, for better or worse, the best this title will ever look. The new cut is in English as well and also features newly-created end credits.

The other big extra here is the 36-minute "Lucker: The Story Behind the Film," which finds the director speaking in English (very softly) about the making of the film and the various permutations it underwent on the way to final cut, including a different and more ambitious story structure that got lost along the way. It's a fascinating story, in some respects more entertaining than the main feature itself, and well worth watching. If you've been waiting for a watchable version of Lucker, well, here ya go! If you've never seen it but always wondered what it was like, the opportunity's finally here... but don't eat at least two hours before popping in that DVD.

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