Color, 1982, 93 mins. 32 secs.
Directed by Tonino Ricci
Starring David Warbeck, Janet Agren, Roberto Ricci, José Lifante
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
As by-the-numbers as an '80s monster movie gets, the Italian-Spanish co-production Panic feels exactly like something designed to be rented on VHS by undiscriminating horror fans grabbing anything in an oversized box. The ploy worked, and a lot of consumers were confronted with an awkwardly dubbed, very ragged slice of drive-in nonsense witfh enough gore and T&A to pass a slow evening. Italian horror buffs were especially glad to see two familiar faces from Lucio Fulci films, David Warbeck (The Beyond, The Black Cat) and Janet Agren (City of the Living Dead) turning up as the leads, though the quality level here is a long way from Lucio in his prime.
In an English village straight out of Agatha Christie, a rogue scientist named Professor Adams (Ricci) is dabbling in experimental bacterial research that causes lab animals to go berserk and attack. Naturally it doesn't take long for the bacteria to infect the doctor himself, turning him into a lumpen-faced and shaggy-haired predator stalking the quiet streets in search of victims. At first he starts with innocent horny teen couples, but soon anyone can fall prey as he goes after random citizens including altar boys. Meanwhile the intrepid and amusingly named Captain Kirk (The Beyond's Warbeck) is hot on the monster's path and trying to stop the military from launching a preemptive strike against the entire village.
Lovably ludicrous in its insistence on passing this film off as British product (despite Warbeck sporting a firearm and a very non-U.K. military force entering in the third act), Panic is certainly entertaining if you're in a very, very forgiving mood. The English dub (even Warbeck doesn't get to use his own voice) is one of the crazier of the period, especially when it comes to the more sex-starved characters, and at least it's a bit of a change of pace from the slasher films and supernatural gore epics around the same year. Not necessarily a better change, mind you, but it is oddly endearing. Director Tonino Ricci never rose above standard gun for hire status, starting off well enough with the intriguing giallo Cross Current and spending much of his career with waterlogged action-horror hybrids like Night of the Sharks, Encounters in the Deep, and Cave of the Sharks. He doesn't show much artistic flair here, either, though he does toss in a few colorful lighting effects now and then (including a nicely shot showdown between Warbeck and the creature) and shows a mild knack for suspense when some of the townspeople end up being cornered.
Barely released in American theaters, Panic was given a very aggressive VHS release from Gorgon Video with a very, very muddy transfer that rendered all of the night scenes completely indecipherable. That same transfer was later yanked for one of Mill Creek's cheap horror multi-film packs, but adding crunchy, insufficient compression on top just made things worse. The 2018 release on Blu-ray from Code Red, available in the U.S. via Ronin Flix and overseas only until February 23 of the year by Diabolik, could only go up in terms of quality, and the results here are pretty good for a very low-budget Italian '80s horror film. It's not a slick-looking film by any means, but you can finally see what's going on in the numerous dark scenes and the colors have some nice punch during the scenes with more stylized lighting. It appears the film was shot at 1.66:1 as presented here and then slightly cropped for home video, though the compositions and soft matting of the end credits indicate it was protected to be shown at 1.85:1 without losing anything substantial. Both the usual English dub and the Italian track (also dubbed, of course) are included with optional English subtitles, created from the English track. (In this case having dubtitles doesn't seem to wreak much havoc as the dialogue sounds pretty much the same.) Not surprisingly, the tone of the Italian track is a bit more serious and professional, though whether that's a good thing is entirely up to you. Extras include bonus trailers for Fury of the Wolfman, The Mummy's Revenge, Seven Blood-Stained Orchids, and Black Cobra.
Reviewed on January 28, 2018.