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Writer/director/actor Jean-Marie Pallardy is the man responsible for White Fire, an action picture of sorts made in 1984. It opens with a man (played the Pallardy himself) attempting to shepherd his wife and two kids to safety. Mom gets the brother and sister to the beach where she's shot by some guys in army fatigues, while poor dead finds himself on the wrong end of a man with a flamethrower. The kids are saved by a few men who get them away from the scene of the crime, with little explanation as to what's actually happened here or who they are.
With that out of the way, we cut to the present day of 1984 where we meet Bo Donnelly (Robert Ginty) and his sister, Ingrid (Belinda Mayne). They're a couple of diamond thieves who get captured by an Italian gangstress of sorts named Sophia (Mirella Banti) but who manage to escape thanks to Bo's quick fists and Ingrid's headbutting skills. It turns out they live with an older guy named Sam (Jess Hahn), one of the men who rescued them in the beginning, and his kindly wife Josafine. One night, when cooking, Bo is chastising Sam for his lack of salt when he's asked to go get Ingrid for dinner. He does, and she's skinny dipping. He notices this, watches her in the shower, then, after ogling her for a good long while, lets her have her towel only to pull her towel off again. He heads back up to the kitchen and shortly afterwards, hears her scream. He and Sam run down the stairs only to find she's been murdered, poor Josafine as well.
Bo is devastated by the loss of his sister and gets drunk at a bar where he meets Olga (Diana Goodman), who bears more than a slight resemblance to the dearly departed. She takes him back to Sam's place and they fall in love instantly, so instantly that before you know it she's been whisked off to a remote plastic surgery hospital run by beautiful scantily-clad lesbians to have her face turned into Ingrid's! This happens, she and Bo fall further in love, and Ingrid's boss, Olaf (Gordon Mitchell) discovers the legendary ‘white fire' diamond that he plans to steal. Complicating matters is the arrival of Noah Barclay (Fred 'The Hammer' Williamson), who has a hazy connection to Olga's past and wants to find her again, all of which leads to a finale that is simultaneously completely predictable and yet somehow still jawdroppingly weird.
White Fire doesn't always make a whole lot of sense but that doesn't stop it from entertaining. The incest angle is definitely weird. Bo is clearly horny for his sister, it's pretty impossible to deny that, and having his new girlfriend, who already looks like her, literally turned into her is just plain weird. On top of that, we get plenty of nudity to accompany all of this, with Ms. Mayne strutting about in her birthday suit in that prolonged pool scene and then dropping her top again later in the film so that Bo can get a look. It's all very trashy and dumb, but somehow endearing in the way that trashy, dumb movies are endearing. Not enough? Take a drink anytime someone rolls down a hill in this movie and you'll be pretty sloshed by the half way point. On top of that we get Ginty wielding a chainsaw, Maybe impaling some poor bastard with a spear, a diamond that literally melts a guy's face, and Fred ‘The Hammer' Williamson running about being Fred ‘The Hammer' Williamson. Oh, also a lot of the bad guys have matching red jumpsuits.
Shot on location in Turkey and clearly dubbed regardless of which language option you watch it in, the movie is reasonably well-shot. The cinematography might not be super gorgeous but it gets the job done and Pallardy does a decent job finding some nice locations to work with for the picture. The score, highlighted by a disco-infused ‘White Fire' theme song that absolutely will get stuck in your head once you hear it, isn't bad and some of the gore effects stand the test of time well enough. As to the acting? Ginty is fun to watch here, showing no range but enough enthusiasm to pull it off. Williamson basically plays the same character here that he always plays, but he does that well so if he isn't treading any new ground we don't mind so much. Mayne isn't going to light the world on fire with her acting abilities but she's decent enough and, well, she looks good naked. Jess Hahn is dubbed by someone who sounds like Tom Bosley on the English track, so that automatically makes him awesome, while Gordon Mitchell just sort of runs around and scowls at everyone.
Arrow Video debuts White Fire on Blu-ray on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen and with the feature given 32GBs of space on the disc. This is a decent representation of what was clearly taken from less than perfect elements. Mild print damage is noticeable throughout and some color fading can be noticed in a few spots. Still, detail isn't bad and sometimes it's actually pretty solid. There's a reasonable amount of depth to the image and skin tones look good. Watching this on Blu-ray is akin to watching a less than minty-fresh looking theatrical print, and for most fans of eighties exploitation and action pictures, that'll be fine. There are no issues with any noise reduction, edge enhancement of compression problems, this always looks like film.
The English language 24-bit LPCM 2.0 Mono audio, which comes with optional subtitles in English only, is clean, clear and easy to follow. The score sounds decent and there are no problems to note with any hiss or distortion related issues. It isn't a super complex track but it suits the movie fine and gets the job done with no problems. An optional French language 34-bit LPCM 1.0 track is also included.
Extras start off with an audio commentary track from Kat Ellinger, who seems to be having a good time dissecting all of the nonsense that's crammed into this movie. She offers up all of the expected info about the cast and crew that you'd expect, detailing Ginty's career and Williamson's too and also offering up some info on Pallardy's work here and elsewhere. Not surprisingly, the incest theme does come up here (how could it not?). A pretty decent track, overall.
The disc also includes a few featurettes/interviews, the first being Enter The Hammer where Fred ‘The Hammer' Williamson talks about creating his on-screen persona based on his football career, how he got into acting and what it was like working on this picture. Surviving The Fire spends twenty-two-minutes with director Jean-Marie Pallardy who speaks about his career making softcore and more explicit adult films in France before shifting over to more mainstream productions, including this one. He's a pretty quirky guy and, somewhat surprisingly, insistent that his film isn't about incest and that it isn't in his original script at all. Okay…. Moving right along, the twenty-one-minute Diamond Cutter let's editor Bruno Zicone speak about his training, how he landed the gig, working with Pallardy, why he used an alias on certain films and more.
Also included on the disc are a 2020 re-release trailer, menus and chapter selection.
Arrow includes, in the first pressing, an insert booklet that contains cast and crew credits for the feature, an essay on the film and its place in the eighties video boom by Julian Granger, and vague technical notes on the transfer that don't list a source and incorrectly state that the film is presented in 1.85.1. As to the packaging, this comes with a nice slipcover with some very cool metallic foil printing on its main ‘white fire diamond' image. This same image, sans the foil, is used on one side of the insert cover while the much more audacious (and awesome) one-sheet art, featuring a chainsaw-wilding Ginty, is thankfully included on the reverse.
White Fire is as ridiculous as it is enjoyable, a sleazy, violent and entertaining mix of action and intrigue with little regard for logic or sense. Arrow Video has done a nice job bringing this eighties exploitation oddity to Blu-ray, with a solid, if less than perfect, presentation and a decent amount of extras to document the film's history. Recommended!
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.