Color, 1989, 96 mins. 4 secs.
Directed by Bob Bralver
Starring Dean Hamilton, Pamela Ludwig, Courtney Gabhart, Gregg Allman, Roy Thinnes, Kathleen Kinmont
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Simitar (DVD (US R0 NTSC)
Though the slasher movie had petered out to virtually nothing by 1989 with only stragglers like Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers keeping the subgenre on life support, that didn't stop a few intrepid indies from trying to keep the flame alive. Of course, chances were slim you'd find any on the big screen with most of them finding life on home video a la Houseboat Horror, Intruder, and Darkroom. Taking a page from belated Italian cash-ins around the time, Rush Week offers another take on that old standby, the campus slasher film, with plenty of rowdy party hounds turning into potential fodder for a maniac stalking the corridors of a college. It's also a priceless time capsule of late '80s pop culture complete with music performances by The Dickies and The Addie Band as well as extra soundtrack cameos from the likes of Devo. Oh yeah, and it has none other than Gregg Allman as oddball comedy relief!
The wildest frat on campus, Beta Delta Beta, is driving the faculty and administration crazy with its raucous parties that spill over into hijinks during daylight hours. The madness of rush week proves to be catnip for journalism student Toni Daniels (Pale Blood's Ludwig), who's assigned to the topic by her mystical faculty advisor, Cosmo (Allman). In the process she realizes something's afoot with a string of female students who have missing, with the most recent being Julie McGuffin (Halloween 4's Kinmont) after a particularly icky nudie photo shoot in the science lab. The dean (Thinnes) doesn't seem all that alarmed, so Toni gets closer to the Greek crowd including frat president and computer science major Jeff (Hamilton), a potential love interest - and suspect. Meanwhile somebody in a creepy mask is on the loose with a double-bladed axe, and it's only a matter of time before Toni finds herself in grave danger.
Amusing and entertaining if you're in the right frame of mind, Rush Week essentially takes it cue from Final Exam by skimping on the graphic bloodshed here and focusing instead of frat life with lots of practical jokes, music performances, and pledge rituals, with the Toni and Jeff romance also getting much more focus than the axe killings that largely take place off screen. That said, it manages to work up some reasonable tension including a lively climax featuring an unmasking not unlike a certain much-loved Euro slasher movie earlier in the decade. What the film lacks in blood it more than makes up in nudity, with the virtually anonymous female victims losing their tops and pretty much all the frat guys baring their butts at some point. The hairstyles and fashions are also a real sight to behold now, and Ludwig makes for a resourceful, interesting final girl here with a bit more depth than you'd expect.
With its theatrical options severely limited after completion in 1989, Rush Week gradually rolled out over a couple of years and ended up being snagged for VHS and laserdisc by RCA/Columbia in 1991 (following a much earlier U.K. VHS from Guild Home Video). However, most people probably stumbled across it as part of the USA Network's much-loved USA Up All Night programming, with the lack of gore making it easier to program for cable with only the quick bits of nudity ending up being trimmed. A mediocre budget DVD eventually turned up from the dreaded Simitar, taken from a dated open matte video master that looked okay but unspectacular at the time with some slight image squeezing in evidence. In 20201, Vinegar Syndrome brought the film to Blu-ray (continuing its run of frat horrors after Pledge Night) featuring a new 2K scan and restoration from the 35mm interpositive (with the film somehow ending owned now by MGM under the umbrella of Orion). The Blu-ray looks significantly better with the scan bringing out detail and texture that was absent before, including natural film grain that retains the original gritty and sometimes rough appearance of the original film. Colors are bright and really pop at times, and any owners of the DVD should find this to be a significant upgrade. The restoration of the original matted compositions helps as well, bringing focus to a number of shots that seemed out of whack before. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 English track (with optional English SDH subtitles) sounds fine for the source, retaining the original Ultra Stereo mix which is essentially mono for the majority of the running time with some moderate channel separation turning up mainly during the music performances. The foursome from the long-running slasher movie podcast The Hysteria Continues! provide another fun audio commentary here chatting about campus slashers, late '80s horror, the comparative lack of gore, the sometimes puzzling home video release history, and much more. A new interview with actress Courtney Gebhart, "So 80's" (12m52s), is very upbeat and enthusiastic as she chats about her glee at getting to sing in the film, her early days as an actress, the process of shooting on 35mm on a low budget at the time, and her memories of her fellow actors as well as her director, veteran stunt man Bob Bralver. Then "Still Dean Hamilton" (12m58s) features the lead actor explaining how he came from Canada to L.A. and got started in soaps before plunging into this film, which was shot in a variety of locations around West Los Angeles (including a veterinary hospital) and allowed him and the rest of the cast to have a lot of fun during their party scenes.
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray)
Reviewed on April 26, 2021