Color, 1982, 94m.
Directed by Mike Cartel
Starring Mike Cartel, Al Valletta, Sijtske Vandenberg, Cindy Donland, Jody Lee Olhava, Cheryl Gamson, Georgia Durante
Vinegar Syndrome (DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Way down on the list of films anyone ever expected to make the leap to Blu-ray sits Runaway Nightmare, an unclassifiable oddity shot over a period of years well into the early '80s but essentially unseen until it crept out on VHS in 1987, complete with mysterious spliced-in nude shots created by the distributor with different actors to beef up its commercial prospects. The bid didn't really pay off, but fans of oddball cinema took note and made the film a bit of an underground favorite passed around among collectors. Jump forward to 2014, and the film has been deemed worthy of a full-fledged special edition from Vinegar Syndrome complete with a limited (1,000 unit) Blu-ray/DVD combo and a general release DVD version. The mind boggles.
While out in the Nevada desert hunting for worms and catching a few rays, Ralph (director Cartel) and Jason (Valletta) stumble upon a wooden box buried in the sand. Inside it is an unconscious blonde woman who's been buried alive by two unknown men, so they toss her in their van and end up being kidnapped by a sect of female cultists. They're itching for some payback against the mob guys who buried one of their own, with a valuable suitcase full of platinum (or perhaps something else) at the center of their deadly squabble. Both of the innocent men end up held captive and inducted into the candlelight and black robe society, even turning into the women's sexual playthings. Botched escape attempts, possibly supernatural visions, and nonsensical conversations collide to produce a film so peculiar you literally won't know what to think from one scene to the next.
Though you probably won't recognize too many names on the cast list, Runaway Nightmare sports a higher number of actual stunt people among its actors; that means you get a few unusually convincing violent gags along the way involving slugs and smashing glass. The two male leads both have other cracked drive-in titles to their credit, with Cartel appearing in Pets and Valletta helming Alley Cat, but nothing else really compares to this film; imagine a drunken mutation between The Candy Snatchers, Schalcken the Painter, and Kiss Me Deadly, and you're sort of in the right ballpark. Due to the fact that it was assembled over such a long period, it's also a crazy quilt in technical terms with some scenes looking surprisingly gorgeous (the film makes use of the color black in very effective ways at times) while others were seemingly constructed by asylum inmates. And we wouldn't have it any other ways. (P.S.: Be sure to watch through the end credits.)
For its debut on any home video format since VHS, Vinegar Syndrome has restored the film back to its original form without the jarring shot-on-video T&A shots, which are still included as a separate extra if you're feeling nostalgic. The transfer looks terrific, not surprisingly, and you can finally make out what the heck's going on in some of the darker scenes that were utterly indecipherable before. Colors look strong, almost blazing at times, and the DTS-HD mono track appears to be an accurate reflection of the source material (including a song played on a loop over the menu if the end credits aren't enough for you.) The seams in the original production are perhaps even easier to spot now, of course, but that's the price you pay in the modern era.
The other big extra here is an audio commentary with Mike Cartel, wife and production helper outer Mari Cartel, Vinegar Syndrome's Joe Ruben, and Destructible Man's Howard S. Berger, who cover the bumpy production process, the backgrounds of pretty much everyone who steps in front of the camera, and the creative intentions behind the funky fusion of movie genres. Be warned that some participants tend to move pretty far from the microphone, so be prepared to make some volume adjustments from time to time. If you've seen the film before, it's a stunning rehabilitation for a title lost in the tidal wave of '80s VHS insanity; if you've never even heard of it before, well... prepare for a very wild ride.