Color, 1991, 91 mins. 43 secs.
Directed by David A. Prior
Starring Ted Prior, Traci Lords, Glenn Ford, Sandahl Bergman, Jan-Michael Vincent, Randall "Tex" Cobb
Culture Shock Releasing (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
After blowing minds with his shot-on-video horror wonder Sledgehammer, Alabama filmmaker David A. Prior found a niche churning out a string of features for the video market like Killer Workout, Deadly Prey, Mankillers, and the underrated The Lost Platoon. Comfortably shooting in 35mm by the end of the '90s, he enjoyed the most star-studded and surprising cast of his career in 1991 with Raw Nerve, a thriller shot in Mobile, Alabama that ended up on video shelves everywhere thanks to an unusually aggressive campaign from Prior and producer David Winters' AIP (that's Action International Pictures, not the drive-in studio). As usual he enlisted his actor brother, Ted Prior, to handle leading man duties here with a crazed roster of guest stars keeping viewers on their toes.
After a young woman in a house of mirrors gets shot in the face, the crime is witnessed the following day as a vision by race car driver Jimmy Clayton (Prior) who shares a house with his younger sister, Gina (Lords). Believing he's witnessing the handiwork of the shotgun-toting Faceless Killer terrorizing the area, Jimmy goes to the police but gets rebuffed by Captain Gavin (Ford) and Lieutenant Ellis (Vincent). On the way out of the station, Jimmy is persuaded by reporter Gloria (Bergman), Ellis' ex-wife, to go out for lunch and talk about his experience. She believes him and the two start to fall for each other, while Jimmy's eccentric biker uncle, Blake (Cobb), does some investigating of his own. Red herrings and more murders pile up before the shocking truth finally comes to light.
One of the sweatiest thrillers of its era, Raw Nerve is a low-aiming but entertaining mystery that seems to draw on everything from made-for-TV whodunits to nuttier giallo-style twists. Fans of the Priors will enjoy this one a lot, while Lords fans got to see her in one of her most charismatic turns around that time just after John Waters' Cry-Baby. Both a tired-looking Ford and a visibly unhealthy Vincent don't get to do much here, while the always enjoyable Cobb (Raising Arizona) swipes all of his scenes as a glowering combination of amateur detective and suspect. It's also a bit more stylish than usual for a Prior production including vivid splashes of red all over the place from dresses to neon signs, and it moves along at a fast clip all the way to the adorably insane surprise ending.
Completely out of circulation for decades, Raw Nerve was revived for its global Blu-ray debut from Culture Shock Releasing with a fresh scan from the only surviving film element, a 35mm print. Luckily it's in really nice shape with excellent color and rich black levels, so it appears they did a really nice clean-up job on it. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds fine for a very undemanding mix, and optional English SDH subtitles are provided. An audio commentary with Ted Prior, cinematographer Andrew Parke, and editor Tony Malanowski is jammed with info about the film starting with an appraisal of its correct 1.85:1 framing here (versus the wonky, very open matte VHS release), the challenge of doing makeup for a very jaundiced Vincent, the way they shot non-union at the time with name actors, a funny bit about Cobb's cartilage-free nose, and lots more. Ted Prior returns in front of the camera for a new interview, "Touching a Nerve" (33m33s), in which he chats more about working with his late big brother, the surprising current cult status of Deadly Prey, and the development of this film from the scripting stage in which his character was originally a construction worker. Then producer Ruth Aras turns up for a video interview, "The Raw Materials" (13m11s), explaining how the film was mounted in Mobile for a somewhat larger budget than usual for Prior (but peanuts by Hollywood standards) as well as the process of determining where and how it would get released. Speaking of which, you get a remastered trailer from the film's one-week theatrical run in L.A. (likely the only time it ever saw a projector), a blooper reel (13m43s) in pristine condition, and bonus Culture Shock Releasing Trailers for Slashdance, The American Scream, Girlfriend from Hell, Video Murders, and Death Collector.
Reviewed on August 17, 2022