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Severin // R // March 11, 2014
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 2, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Don't call them "vampires"; that's so bourgeois. There's nothing the least bit supernatural about them. Hell, they don't even have fangs, at least not until they put in those razor-sharp dental appliances when
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the proper ceremonies call for them. This 75,000-member strong Brotherhood consists of the wealthiest and most powerful aristocrats the world over -- those with the money, influence, and inclination to pursue rejuvenation through the consumption of life-giving blood.

Most everyone in the Brotherhood signed up willingly. Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri), though...? Not so much. As the last surviving descendent of the infamous Elizabeth Báthory -- the sixteenth century countess that slaughtered untold hundreds in the pursuit of prolonged youth and life -- Kate is desperately needed in the Brotherhood's rosters. This is far too critical a matter to just mail her an invitation and hope for the best. Instead, Kate is kidnapped and pushed towards the brink of madness, all as part of a ploy to bring her under their control. The upper echelons of the Brotherhood squabble about how to best handle Kate's indoctrination, be it plopping her unconscious body into a Hammer Films-style casket or letting her mill about a 'dairy farm' where borderline-mindless people are herded like cattle before being drained. Kate struggles to hold onto what tattered shreds remain of her sanity, increasingly uncertain of what's real and what's a psychotic delusion. No matter how far she runs or to whom she turns for help, there's no escape from the Brotherhood's all-encompassing influence.

I've gone back and forth on Thirst since I first stumbled upon it more than twenty years ago, and re-reading the review I wrote in 2002 when Elite Entertainment released their DVD makes me want to curl up in a ball and die. I guess my mind is finally in the right place to appreciate a movie this defiantly offbeat. Hardly any of the usual horror tropes are anywhere to be found in here. I mean, most genre movies have some unstoppable, unyielding force that spends the better part of ninety minutes chasing down its prey. The Brotherhood, meanwhile, has Kate in their clutches for just about the entirety of Thirst. There's
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no need to chase Kate because they already have her. The movie winks at classic vampiric imagery as it tries to shatter Kate's mind in a gothic lair complete with a coffin, but this is otherwise a very modern take. No garlic, no crosses, no stakes, no hiccups with mirrors, and not a vampire hunter anywhere on the bill. The juxtaposition between the mundane and horrific can be remarkably effective, with Kate on the brink of a breakdown as Muzak lilts in the background and bored techs in a sterile, industrial facility disinterestedly start draining a herd of people of their blood. It's unnerving that the 'cattle' move around so listlessly...that they know what fate awaits them but only sporadically can be bothered to care. I love that the central conflict is really between members of the Brotherhood bickering about protocol, sort of like The Cabin in the Woods where rats in a maze are batted around by white shirts with all the right resources. I can't help but cackle at how Kate's determination clashes with the Brotherhood's manipulation of everything she thinks she sees, hears, and has ever known. There's no shortage of horror movies that try to blur the line between reality and a waking nightmare, but few have executed it as skillfully as Thirst, especially with as surreal as the back half of the movie can get. Even though this is at least my fifth or sixth time through Thirst, there's still such a strong sense of not knowing what's lurking around the next bend. I also really like the bulk of the performances, especially the always-welcomed presence of David Hemmings and Henry Silva. Chantal Contouri fares well in the lead, although her facial expressions can get a little cartoonishly exaggerated at times.

Contouri's rubbery expressiveness is just about the beginning and end of my gripes about Thirst, one of the most distinctive spins on vampire lore ever committed to film, and it sure doesn't hurt that this Australian import continues to hold up so remarkably well even more than three decades later. Enthusiastically Recommended.

I don't know if Thirst has been guzzling cartons of pasteurized blood or what, but whoever fielded this remaster has done their damndest to keep the movie looking young and vital all these decades later. Unlike Elite Entertainment's DVD release from 2002 which was sourced from an archival low-con print, this new high definition presentation goes back to the original negative, and the end result is astonishingly crisp and overflowing with detail. A fine, filmic texture has also been faithfully retained, not compromised by any sputters or stutters in the AVC encode nor smeared away by overzealous noise reduction. There's also next to nothing in the way of wear or damage, looking considerably cleaner than Elite's DVD release. That earlier DVD marked the first time Thirst had ever been presented on home video in its theatrical aspect ratio, and this Blu-ray disc exposes more information still, especially on the left side of the frame. I've snapped a few screengrabs from each disc if you'd like to do a direct comparison.

Elite DVD (2002)Severin BD (2014)
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Many of the differences in those screencaps can only be fully appreciated when opened to full size, but I'm sure you can tell from the thumbnails alone how radically different the color timing is. Even before doing any sort of comparison, interiors often seemed to be practically tinted sepia, and this remaster skews towards more of a gold rather than the heavily blue DVD from 2002. I'm not in any position to say which one more accurately reflects the way Thirst looked when it was first making the rounds in theaters, but I can say the colors really don't look natural or comfortable in some sequences, especially the stroll by the pool about twenty minutes in from that final set of comparisons. I don't know what the story is with the 'ruffled' sky in the second set of screencaps, but as it's present in the very different transfers across the DVD and Blu-ray disc, Thirst has presumably always looked that way. Although I'm skeptical about the accuracy of the color timing here, Severin has delivered what is otherwise a drop-dead gorgeous presentation of Thirst, and it's an essential upgrade for those of us who'd already picked up Elite's DVD.

As far as the rest of the technical specs go, Thirst arrives on a single layer Blu-ray disc. The aspect ratio is a bit wider than a traditional 'scope release, falling somewhere closer to 2.43:1 rather than the 2.35:1 that I'd expect for a film from the class of 1979.

After seeing all the care and attention that clearly went into polishing Thirst's visuals for this high-def release, it's kind of puzzling that the aural end of things wound up being shrugged off. It's not that the audio is bad, exactly, and there certainly aren't any showstopping flaws. This is a thoroughly listenable track, with some very modest hiss lurking in the background, expectedly limited dynamic range, and unremarkable clarity and fidelity all around. Even grading on a curve for its age and limited budget, though, it's just that Thirst sounds more like I've put on a DVD rather than a shiny, new Blu-ray disc. Of course, that makes sense when you consider that this is literally a DVD-quality soundtrack, limited to Dolby Digital mono (192kbps). I'm not going to argue that lossless audio would've necessarily made for some sort of night-and-day difference -- maybe it would've, maybe not -- but lossless is the standard for a reason, and it's not as if Severin ran out of space on the disc. Unless this lossy track is all the licensor down in Australia passed along, I really just don't get it.

A Spanish dub, also presented in Dolby Digital two-channel mono (192kbps), is along for the ride as well. There are no captions or subtitles. I'll touch on the rest of the audio options in just a moment.

  • Audio Commentary: There aren't any newly-conducted interviews or commentary tracks on this disc, but Severin has carried over the conversation between director Rod Hardy and producer Antony I. Ginnane
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    from Elite's 2002 DVD release. It's a worthy listen, especially for the peek it gives into the landscape of Australian filmmaking in the earliest days of its resurgence. Hardy and Ginnane also lob out no shortage of terrific stories, from David Hemmings flipping all the wrong switches in a parked helicopter all the way to bribing the cast/crew to dream up a new ending while production was underway.

  • Isolated Score: The isolated score from Elite's DVD has also found its way onto this Blu-ray disc, again in Dolby Digital 2.0 (192kbps).

  • Promotional Stuff (3 min.; SD): Rounding out the extras are a standard-def theatrical trailer and a handful of TV spots.

Thirst gets the combo pack treatment here, so you get an anamorphic widescreen DVD out of the deal too.

The Final Word
There wasn't much of anything like Thirst back in 1979, and three and a half decades later, it remains remarkably unique. Chucking most every genre convention out the driver's side window, Thirst could never be mistaken for a traditional horror movie. This vampiric mindfuck holds up astonishingly well all these years later, and bolstered further by a really compelling visual presentation, horror fanatics desperate for something different ought to have that craving slaked by Thirst. Recommended.
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