Color, 1981, 82m.
Directed by Bryan Quisenberry
Starring Pepper Martin, Hank Worden, Ethan Wayne, Ann Bronston
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Media Blasters (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
For reasons never quite explained, a handful of river rafters decides to head downstream to an isolated Texas ghost town for some rest and relaxation. Soon their rafts have been sabotaged, and one by one they’re being picked off by an unseen predator. Could it be the pair of helpful dirt bikers who show up out of nowhere? Or what about Woody Strode popping up on a horse to tell a weird story about sea captains? Or perhaps it’s one of the rafters themselves? Your guess is as good as the filmmaker’s.
Made at the height of the theatrical slasher boom, this confounding attempt at a stalk-and-slash film (also known as The Outing) somehow became a VHS mainstay despite the absence of any notable gore or, more importantly, a compelling or even coherent storyline. The creators quite obviously fling their hands in the air and give up by the time the film limps to its conclusion, and aside from some mildly atmospheric location shots and a vaguely creepy opening, one-shot director Quisenberry shows little affinity for the horror genre, choosing to let his camera wander around at will while the murders happen mostly off-camera. That said, the ghost town location itself is incredibly atmospheric and gives off a strong spooky vibe, which may account for why this one has lodged in people's memories over the years. It also features a couple of mildly interesting kills, with one axe to the neck bit executed in an unusual way guaranteed to get your attention. The major point of interest here is the odd cast of character actors including Pepper Martin (Walking Tall, Superman II, Return to Horror High), Hank Worden (The Ice Pirates, Chisum), a young Ethan Wayne (son of John), and most surprisingly, bit parts for Alvy Moore (A Boy and His Dog, The Witchmaker) and action/western favorite Strode. In short, this isn't one for the casual horror fan, but there’s a certain homegrown charm at work here if you’re willing to coast along with the soporific pacing and oddball tangents.
Media Blasters’ DVD release from early 2010 retains the eye-catching sickle artwork from the tape release and might provoke a minor nostalgia rush among horror buffs. Not surprisingly, the transfer is a big improvement over the Vestron’s typically washed-out, sludgy presentation on tape, with the 16mm photography coming across adequately enough with lots of speckles and damage on display. Former stunt man Quisenberry pops up for the most notable extra here, an audio commentary moderated by Marc Edward Hueck (who can also be heard on Cheerleaders’ Wild Weekend). It’s a fun listen that goes some way to explaining the intentions behind the film, which was intended to be a more suggestive alternative to the boobs-and-blood offerings at the box office. The stories about the director’s other careers are much more interesting, though he has a few worthwhile anecdotes about how he roped in some familiar faces for the shoot on such short notice. Other extras include the theatrical trailer and TV spot, a stills gallery, and additional trailers for Just Before Dawn, Killing Birds, Cop Killers, and Evils of the Night.
In 2017, Code Red revived the title long after the DVD went out of print with a new Blu-ray edition sporting a fresh scan from the original negative. It's an improvement in every possible way; detail increases considerably, colors look more natural, and a significant amount of image info is added on the sides. (Click here for a frame grab from the DVD compared to the one at the top left.) All the flecks and specks are now gone, too; in short, it looks a couple of generations better than the prior release and makes for quite the upgrade. The DTS-HD MA English mono audi1o sounds okay given that the original sound mix is nothing special in the first place. Note that the running times don't match with the Blu-ray clocking in at 81 mins. 57 secs. compared to the DVD, which is 82 mins. 46 secs. and tacks on a lot of Media Blasters production credits at the end. (So the movie itself runs the same either way; the displayed running times are misleading.) The audio commentary and trailer are carried over here, while new intro host segment has been added with Maria Kanellis fondling a plastic sickle as she chats about Strode, Wayne, and the attention you'll have to pay if you want to have any idea what's going on.