Review Date: October 6, 2010
Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: 5/20/2008
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes (Director’s Cut) and No (VHS Version)
We are conditioned to the idea that the majority of films from the silent era are lost to the ages, and that a number of obscure movies from the early sound era are also gone. It’s not uncommon to find reference books on early cinema that talk about films that are believed to be lost, even while reprinting tantalizing paraphernalia related to them. Oftentimes stills and posters survive, even when the movies don’t. Once or twice a year there is a predictable announcement that some thought-to-be lost silent film has just been rediscovered in a dusty film archive somewhere, and many notable works are now available to the public after just such a find. Even so, it appears that some long sought after movies, like Lon Chaney’s London After Midnight
, probably are gone for good.
It becomes harder for us to accept the destruction of a movie made within living memory, and of course advances in film technology and a better understanding of the need for preservation mean that the number of “lost” films from the past thirty years is much smaller. But in the case of independent movies, all it takes is a bankrupt producer who can’t or won’t pay the bill at the film vault and the original negatives can find themselves in the trash, and we hear occasionally of releases being cancelled because the company can’t find suitable elements, or maybe the film is only known to exist in the form of an old 3/4” tape master. Today’s review is of one such movie. It is younger than I am, but it was almost completely lost.
John Lucker (Nick Van Suyt
) is a serial killer with a terrible distinction: the most horrible thing he does to you comes long after your death. Three years earlier he was arrested for killing eight women and then having sex with their rotting bodies. He was committed to an asylum, but a decision was made to move him to a different facility, leading him to attempt suicide while in transit. Lucker now finds himself recovering in a small private clinic under heavy sedation. A hospital orderly attending to the patient assures his nurse girlfriend that he is too heavily tranquilized to be a threat, but she has her fears, especially when she claims to see him open his eyes. The orderly reassures her that there’s nothing to worry about, but as they leave the room we see Lucker open his eyes and get out of bed. He sneaks through the building, winding up in a men’s bathroom where he brutally kills the orderly and takes his clothes. Then he goes outside where the nurse has her car pulled up. He kills her and steals the vehicle and, once he is a safe distance away from the hospital, engages in sexual relations with her corpse.
Now that he is free again, Lucker has some unfinished business to deal with. His rampage three years earlier left one survivor, a woman named Cathy Jordan (Helga Vandevelde
) who had to spend a year recovering from the injuries that he inflicted on her. In order to get into her apartment complex Lucker goes to a bar and picks up a prostitute (Let Jotts
) who lives in the same building and she takes him home. Trying to get him into the mood, the hooker instead arouses him so much that he binds her arms to her bed and kills her. Lucker then lives in the apartment for the next four weeks as the body decomposes and gets rotted just to his perverse liking. After having his way with the body he turns his sights back to Cathy to finish what he couldn’t three years earlier...
In my life I have seen Lawrence of Arabia
theatrically projected in its original 70mm format. I have seen Avatar
in 3-D on a screen bigger than my apartment building. I have seen the silent Lon Chaney epic Phantom of the Opera
in a theater with live orchestral accompaniment. In each of these cases the experience of watching the movie in that specific manner was just as important, if not even more important than watching the film itself. Movies that successfully create that unforgettable experience for you as a viewer draw you in and take away to another time and place, whether it be the planet Pandora or the Middle Eastern theater of World War I. And now, with Lucker the Necrophagous
on DVD, I can announce that I have found another perfect matching of movie and medium - and I am not being facetious at all when I say that. I put this disc into my DVD player and I suddenly found myself whisked away to a world that I had almost forgotten. I was in another time and place all right. Suddenly I was fifteen years old again, it was 1998 and I was watching forbidden and grotesque horror movies on bootleg VHS tapes in my parent's living room, holding onto the remote so I could turn off the gorefest in case I heard them coming (around that time my mother had made an embarrassing spectacle of moral indignation when she walked into the room just in time to see an undead ghoul bite into Dakar's arm in Zombie
Since its original release in 1986 Lucker the Necrophagous
has had a run of misfortune, and the two cuts of it presented on this disc - a sixty-eight minute director's cut and a seventy-four minute cut of the original VHS version - are evidence towards that. Its distributor went into bankruptcy after acquiring the property, resulting in the destruction of the negative and all known film prints. When director James Desert (A.K.A. Johan Vandewoestijne) went to assemble his director's cut twenty years later he had to rebuild the movie using an English-dubbed video master with Dutch subtitles and a non-subtitled tape dubbed in French. Shooting a handful of new inserts on digital video and adding footage from original outtakes and dailies that the laboratory had never thrown away, Desert grafted the English audio from the Dutch master onto the video on the French tape, re-did the color timing on the image, added some sound effects and cut some scenes out while reworking others. The result is what we see here: a disturbing and shocking director's cut whose visual quality is essentially the same as a bootleg VHS tape, and a less shocking but still disturbing longer cut of similar visual quality with Dutch subtitles burned into the frame, another hallmark of the bootleg video market. It’s a case of aesthetic by accident; barring the unlikely discovery of an actual film copy of the movie, this is how Lucker the Necrophagous
is always going to look. The dupey, dark and pirated appearance of this presentation therefore becomes a permanent part of the movie, impossible to separate from any other aspect of the film.
For me this increases the suspense. Watching those old bootlegs was a mind bending experience for someone who had more or less made the transition from watching old black and white monster movies directly to watching modern European horror. One thing quickly became certain while watching something like Cannibal Holocaust
or Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
, which was that anything could happen. The old rules you were used to didn’t apply to these and unexpected, horrible things could happen to anyone at any moment. The climax of this film, in which Lucker chases Cathy through a sprawling, dimly lit basement of long corridors held me in genuine suspense because the ghastliness of the movie, combined with the bootleg look, made me feel like anything could happen to this character. Nothing was too horrible or off limits.
But that also begs one question that has been troubling me since I watched it – would I be anywhere near as enamored with Lucker the Necrophagous
had Synapse unearthed the original negative and worked their usual magic with a beautifully restored image? The answer I realize is that I wouldn’t have tolerated the film nearly as well as I did. I would have probably used this forum to attack it with all of my writer’s acumen, for in truth it’s an absolutely terrible movie that is devoid of logic, character development and production value. James Desert manages to capture one or two nice images but overall this thing is a disaster. But it does do what he meant it to do, which is to disgust and horrify. If you are looking for well made horror this is definitely not a film to bother with. But if you are looking to recapture the feel of the bootleg VHS days, or have a compulsion to seek out the sickest movies ever made, this is definitely one to watch.
Well, what can I say? As I've already explained, the quality on both versions is akin to a 90's VHS bootleg. The director's cut is presented letterboxed at 1.85:1 in 16x9 mode, and although the transfer itself is progressive there's no hiding the fact that the source was interlaced video. Dark scenes are dark and murky, with terrible shadow detail and constant video noise. Colors bleed all over the place and levels of detail and sharpness are mediocre at best.
Director’s CutVHS Version
The extended VHS version is comparable in its presentation. Presented in 4x3 mode and letterboxed at 1.85:1, clarity and sharpness are about the same, although it is riddled with drop-outs and other artifacts of analog video. The tweaked colors in the director’s cut are a bit more pleasing than those of the VHS version, although I find the VHS version to have better flesh tones (see middle screen shot).
Both cuts of the film are presented in Dolby 2.0 Stereo. The director's cut sounds adequate. The dubbed dialogue is clearly understandable, if a bit flat, and there is only a minimal amount of hissing and popping on the soundtrack. There are however several audio drop-outs, surely deriving from the worn down nature of the materials used to compile the new version.
As the VHS version provided the soundtrack for the director’s cut, the quality is essentially the same.
The only other extra besides the inclusion of the original release version is a thirty-six minute interview with director James Desert. Although badly shot and edited, the interview is engaging and does provide some much needed explanation to the film's existence. Desert reveals that he embarked on the project to spite the Flemish Film Commission, which had refused to give him grants for other projects he had taken to them and talks about the travails of shooting the film and trying to get it released in some form. He also talks about his other film work (he was a producer on the Troma favorite Rabid Grannies
, among other things) and the creation of the Lucker the Necrophagous
director's cut. We also get some discussion of the locations used in the film, and some video shots of what they look like today. Overall the interview provides about as much information as I will ever need or desire to know about this movie.
I suppose there’s not much else to say about this movie or this DVD. Lucker the Necrophagous
fails to deliver on anything except gross-out thrills – yet I keep watching certain scenes and sequences, even now as I write this. It is so bizarre to think of it this way, but the fact that the movie looks now – and will probably always look in the future – like a bootleg VHS tape adds to its appeal, at least for me. Maybe it will for other viewers too. Consumers who value audio/visual presentation highly will not find this disc to be of much interest, and the film is probably too extreme for casual horror fans, but Synapse has done the best that probably could be done with this release, and the interview and inclusion of the alternate VHS cut add interest. I cannot give Lucker the Necrophagous
a conventional recommendation, but at least I can say it will always be there for me when I want to relive a very memorable part of my adolescence.
Movie – D+
Image Quality – C-
Sound – C
Image Quality – D+
Sound – C
Supplements – B-
- Running Time – 1 hour 8 minutes (Director’s Cut)
- Running Time – 1 hour 14 minutes (VHS Version)
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Dolby 2.0 Stereo
- Burned-in Dutch subtitles (VHS Version)
- Interview with director James Desert