Color, 1980, 97 mins. 20 secs. / 94 mins. 25 secs.
Directed by William Malone
Starring John Stinson, Diana Davidson, David Moses, Toni Jannotta, Mike Muscat, Pamela Bowman
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Retromedia (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Armed with a Scared to Deathkiller monster costume he designed himself, first-time filmmaker Scared to DeathWilliam Malone managed to scare up a lot of genre press and a little bit of a cult following with Scared to Death. Shot on the cheap in L.A., the scrappy little creature feature earned Malone enough attention to move on to more ambitious things with Creature, the remake of House on Haunted Hill, Fear.com, Parasomnia, and a lot of TV work including one of the very best episodes of Masters of Horror. Geared to please fans of recent slasher films and modern monster movies like Alligator, it made the rounds on VHS passing through the hands of many young horror fans and even spawned a sequel, Syngenor, which Malone did not direct.

Something huge and homicidal is loose on the streets at night: a silver-skinned beast that thrives on human spinal fluid. The police are having trouble cracking the case so one of them, Capell (Moses), brings in snarky private eye Ted Longergan (Stinson). The trail soon puts those he cares about in jeopardy and a key witness, Sherry (Jannotta), indicates that the culprit could be the Syngenor, a genetically engineered lab creation, and it could be impossible to stop.

Though it follows the basic classic monster movie beats including a deliberately slow opening hour with only brief shots of the creature in action, Scared to DeathScared to Death has a few surprises up its sleeve as well. In fact, it's difficult to predict by the end who the Scared to Deathactual hero(es) of the film will be as it switches focus drastically at least twice, with the climax paying off with some fun, atmospheric shenanigans in the Syngenor's lair.

Initially released on VHS by Media, Scared to Death has always looked pretty iffy on home video thanks to its 16mm origins and a very gritty, dark appearance. A 2008 DVD from Retromedia was okay for the time with only a quick Malone interview as an extra chatting about its low-budget origins and plans to cast Rick Springfield in the lead. Far more satisfying is the double-disc Blu-ray edition from Vinegar Syndrome issued in 2022, which features the complete theatrical edition on the first disc. A fresh 4K scan from the 16mm original camera negative means this looks much better than it has before, though you still have to keep the original technical limitations in mind. It still looks like a cheap, very grainy early '80s horror movie, but the detail here is much better and dark scenes are more legible. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track also sounds fine and comes with optional English SDH subtitles. All of the extras are housed on the first disc as well including an audio commentary by Malone, actress Diana Davidson (via tinny speakerphone), and Bryce "Kermit" Eller (who played the monster). It's very thorough and entertaining as they talk Scared to Deathabout the process of shopping the project around, getting it for peanuts, working with the various actors, and tons more. Scared to DeathThe new "Rise of the Syngenor" (75m3s) is a now documentary with Malone, Eller, Davidson, Moses, makeup supervisor James Suthers, effects artist Kevin Altieri, actor Mike Muscat and actress Toni Jannotta looking back at a very pleasant and harmonious working experience with topics including Malone's early job for Don Post (working on the original Michael Myers mask) and the process of bringing that memorable monster to life. "The Locations of Scared to Death" (8m34s) features Malone paying a lively return visit to the sites where the magic happened 42 years ago, followed by a fun "Scared to Death" music video by Dracula Party.

As with Creature, you get a choice here between the familiar theatrical version and a director's cut; however, in this case the latter (housed by itself on disc two) was created much later including revised editing and some significant tweaking with newly rendered credits and an opening text crawl that fixes a pretty big spelling flub. A preface to the director's cut calls it "the most faithful to my original intention" including color grading tweaks, 3 minutes' worth of pacing cuts, and sound effects additions. The overall appearance of the director's cut is much colder and bluer, a far cry from how we've seen it in the past; try both and see which you prefer, but to these eyes the theatrical is the winner.


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Reviewed on September 9, 2022.