Color, 1988, 91m.
Directed by Vittorio Rambaldi
Starring Patrick Lowe, Cheryl Arutt, Sarah Buxton, Mitch Watson, Bo Svenson
Code Red (US R0 NTSC), Millennium Storm (Italy R0 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD2.0

At an all-American college, intrepid school reporters Sam (Lowe, brother of Rob and Chad) and Frank (Watson) are looking for the next big story. Meanwhile Sam's girlfriend, Lauren (Arutt), is trying to set up Frank with her best friend and roomie, Debbie (Buxton), who's really chipper now that she just got an abortion. Unfortunately these romantic plans go south when Frank decides to investigate some shady experiments being conducted at the science lab on campus under the supervision of Ethridge (Svenson) and, while breaking in one night, releases a baboon that scratches him and promptly gets killed by a car. Frank's wound gets increasingly grisly as he exhibits increased signs of strength and aggressiveness, leading to a harrowing night in which he kills a police officer. The man-made contagion quickly spreads to Lauren who in turn scratches three meathead jocks who try to rape her in their strobelight-filled dorm room. Now the rage virus threatens to infect the entire campus, just in time for the big Halloween dance...

A very unlikely precursor to 28 Days Later made in the last stretch of major Italian horror filmmaking, Primal Rage reflects an increasing desire to appeal to the home video market with the most Americanized product possible. Fortunately first-time director Vittorio Rambaldi (son of FX legend Carlo who also did the monkey and gore effects here) has little idea how to pull that off, resulting in a truly bizarre chunk of '80s insanity. References to Geraldo Rivera, the funniest homoerotic male trio this side of Troll 2, an obnoxious theme song called "Say the Word" that gets played out three times in its entirety (once live onstage!), and a frisky, metal-inflected score by Claudio Simonetti all combine to create a rollicking good time. Throw in a hammy Bo Svenson as a mad scientist, and well, what else could you possibly want?

Also symptomatic of the waning commercial prospects of Italian horror, Primal Rage was swiftly cut by distributors for its general release in that country to earn their equivalent of a more commercial PG-13 rating, the same fate which befell Dario Argento's Opera the previous year. (Incidentally, the two Steel Grave heavy metal songs from Argento's film pop up here, too, in a much funnier context.) Unfortunately this hacked-down version was shorn of nearly almost all bloodshed, and in this case, that pretty much destroys the whole film. In its uncut form, this is easily one of the goriest post-Fulci Italian horrors, particularly the showstopping final half hour in which the three infected rapists terrorize the dance dressed in red-eyed skeleton outfits. A head gets smashed in some bleachers, a fat guy dressed in a baby outfit has his scalp torn off, a student dressed as Dracula has his throat gorily torn out, eyes are gouged, cops are relieved of their jaws... well, you get the idea. However, the only DVD version available for years was the English-friendly one from Italy's Millennium Storm, which was missing literally all of these highlights in their entirety. On the positive side, at least the hilariously grotesque shocker ending was left intact; it's a real doozy.

Fortunately Code Red's DVD finally presents the first complete, widescreen DVD anywhere in the world, and anyone who tossed this one aside after viewing the eviscerated previous version would definitely be wise to give it another shot. The picture quality looks quite a bit better as well, or at least as good as a cheap late-'80s horror film on questionable film stock could possibly look. Contrast levels and color saturation look fine, and the Dolby Stereo soundtrack allows you to appreciate the, uh, musical contributions. No extras (or menu screen) apart from the usual Code Red trailers for upcoming titles like Horror High, but the movie alone makes this a must for Euro-schlock enthusiasts.


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