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Released in 1987, directed by Pat Bishow and shot entirely on location in his native Long Island, The Soultangler tells the sordid tale of one Dr. Anton Lupesky (Pierre Devaux), a surprisingly young and greasy mad scientist in the vein of Dr. Herbert West. Like his Lovecraftian counterpart, Lupesky has created a serum with special properties. It doesn't quite re-animate the dead, but rather it allows him to transfer his soul into another body. There's a problem though: two souls can't live inside the same body at the same time, so he can really only transfer his soul into a corpse.
As you'd guess, this makes things a little trickier for Lupseky, but thankfully for him he's got an assistant named Jessica (Louise Millmann) and a hammer-wielding smack addict named Carl (Bob Cederberg) around to help him out. Why does he need their help? Because the side effects of the drug he's come up are serious hallucinations, and in order to get completely overwhelmed by them, he needs to basically top up his own soul using those that belong to the young women that his henchmen abduct for him. Mad scientisting ain't easy, after all.
Complicating matters for Lupesky is Dr. Janet Simpson (Ginny Dunlevy), the woman in charge of The Whitewood Institute where he was once employed, and a nosy reporter in a fancy blue dress named Kim Castle (Jamie Kinser) who wants to know how the good doctor's story ties into that of her dearly departed father.
Or something like that. Details get a little fuzzy in spots.
Clearly made with little money and a lot of heart, The Soultangler is frequently and accurately referred to as a sort of ‘poor man's Re-Animator but if there are some obvious similarities, the film there's enough to set them apart that it never feels like a rip-off of Stuart Gordon's 1985 classic. Bishow's film has some oddly spiritual elements to Lupseky's egregious acts of scientific necromancy that gives the character his own distinct vibe. He's also a longhaired, unshaven beatnik looking type, quite the opposite of the ultra-clean-cut West. Deveaux plays this part with no small amount of scenery chewing enthusiasm. He's quite fun to watch here and while it's hard to say his performance is ‘good' in the traditional sense of the word, he's got slippery sort of charisma that is, if nothing else, entertaining. He's the best part of the cast by quite a margin (Kinser and Dunlevy, who become quite important in the second half of the movie, are fairly dry).
The whole thing has a wonderfully weird vibe to it, particularly when you take into account just how damn gory this thing gets in the last twenty-minutes or so. There's a whole lot of pretty serious splatter on display as the film moves towards its conclusion, showcasing everything from typical zombie movie style gore to a ventriloquist's dummy full of liver to a weird brain/eyeball thing that is actually pretty cool. It looks like most of the budget went to these effects as they're of a much higher quality than the writing, acting or directing.
The Soultangler is a deliriously cheap and messy affair, and it's not really a film that will appeal to those with more conventional tastes who can't look past the picture's meager production values. But if local flavor, wacky gore, weird characters and nonsensical storytelling are you bag, then jump right in. Others need not apply.The Blu-ray
The Soultangler was shot on film but edited on 1-inch tape. As the film elements appear to be lost in the sands of time, the 1-inch tape master was what was used for this transfer. Presented fullframe, the 1.33.1 image shows some softness and there are occasional tape rolls present here and there, but it is certainly watchable enough so long as you know what you're getting into. Colors are a bit funky looking in spots but if you're at all familiar with how films that are edited on and then mastered from tape tend to look on DVD (and if you're reading this and considering it for a purchase, odds are pretty good that you are) then you'll have no issue with the transfer.Sound:
The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is a bit uneven, with some scenes clearly shot with live sound and others dubbed, resulting in some scenes sounding cleaner than others. For the most part though, the dialogue is easy enough to follow and the fairly awesome synth score sounds good. Keep your expectations in check here and you should be fine. No alternate language or subtitle options are provided.Extras:
Extras for this release start off with an audio commentary featuring director Pat Bishow, who is quite humble about the picture and very aware of what worked and what didn't. He's quick to sing the praises of those who pitched in on the project and give credit where credit is due in regards to the film's effects work and locations. He also owns more than a few of the mistakes that are evident on screen and give us a rundown of who did what, where various friends and relatives chipped in on the feature, and where a lot of the ideas for the picture came from. There's also a lot of talk here about the two versions of the movie that were made, getting the D.C. location footage to insert into the film and various other subjects related to the production and its quirky history. It's a fun track, and quite interesting (particularly if you have an affinity for low budget features).
Speaking of that alternate version, AGFA/Bleeding Skull also includes a recreation of the sixty-two-minute original cut that Bishow created. In order to meet his contractually obligated feature length ninety-minute running time (which is the main version included on the DVD), he had to pad it out quite a bit, which explains why the middle section drags a bit as it does. This shorter version isn't as ‘plot heavy' but it definitely moves faster and sacrifices none of the splatter. A lot of the trims are made to the opening (we lose the newscaster footage for example) but a lot of the early footage with Lupseky is gone as are some of the scenes with the victims being kidnapped. This cut plays faster, but there's something to be said for the odd pacing and inserted scenes of the longer cut. Thankfully,
Additionally, the disc includes thirteen minutes of behind the scenes footage shot on set with a camcorder back in the late eighties, a video trailer for the feature, two music videos, animated menus and chapter selection. Inside the keepcase alongside the DVD is an insert booklet containing an essay/interview on the film by Bleeding Skull's Zach Carlson as well as credits for the disc and for the release.Final Thoughts:
The Soultangler is an unlikely candidate for a special edition DVD release, but thankfully the good people at AGFA and Bleeding Skull have seen fit to take a risk on creating one. The movie itself is both impressive and terrible, crafting some awesome and creative gore set pieces while telling a completely nonsensical story. The end result is a lot of fun, and while the audio/video presentation is what it is, there's clearly been a lot of effort put into the impressive selection of extra features for this release. Recommended for those with an affinity for micro-budget cinematic oddities.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.