• Pit Stop (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack)



    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: June 23rd, 2015.
    Director: Jack Hill
    Cast: Brian Donlevy, Richard Davalos, Ellen Burstyn, Sig Haig
    Year: 1969
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    The Movie:

    Jack Hill’s 1969 directorial offering for producer Roger Corman was made hot on the heels of his earlier Spider Baby, a bonafide cult horror classic if ever there was one. This time though? Race cars. Was Hill selling out or softening with this film? Was he losing his edge and pandering to the mainstream? Nope. While he may have been cashing in on a fad and delivering a ‘product’ to Corman, Pit Stop features a lot of the exploitative elements and strange artsy style that Hill fans have come to appreciate about his work.

    The story, on the surface at least, is a fairly simple one. Rick Bowman (Richard Davalos) is a street racer, a seriously tough and hard sonofabitch who will do whatever it takes to eliminate the competition and win that checkered flag. When one of his races goes disastrously wrong, Rick winds up in the slammer doing hard time. Shortly after, however, he’s approached by a race promoter named Grant Willard (Brian Donlevy) and before you know it, Rick’s a free man. Of course, there’s a catch. Grant runs some pretty dangerous racing, the kind in which cars travel on a figure 8 track. Rick’s going to have to get used to this style and go head to head against the reigning champion, Hawk Sideny (Sid Haig) to win not only the day, but to steal his girlfriend, Jolene (Beverly Washburn), as well!

    Before you know it, it’s Rick against the world until he befriends a more experience driver named Ed McLeod (George Washburn). But once Rick sets his eyes on Ed’s lovely wife Ellen (Ellen Burnstyn) loyalties will be not only tested but strained and Rick will have to figure out what he really wants out of all of this.

    Shot using a real figure 8 track long before CGI made things like this sterile and safe, there’s a very real element of danger to much of the driving that we see in Pit Stop. This helps immensely in adding tension and excitement to a fairly simple story of a man finding his conscience, as the crashes and moments where death seems almost inevitable for the drivers are surprisingly legitimate. Of course, this would only allow for fleeting, superficial kicks if there weren’t a decent story to back it all up, and we get that too. While it isn’t a particularly complex work, the script gives us enough to like and not like about Rick’s character to keep him interesting and therefore make his transformation relevant. The movie makes some interesting points, as it draws to a close, about the value of victory and the lengths to which some people will go to achieve it. This manifests itself most obviously in Rick’s character traits but we see it with Hawk too and then in many ways it reflects back at the two men by the ways in which the supporting characters respond to them.

    Davalos, who will be recognizable to many for his work opposite James Dean in East Of Eden does well with this part. He pulls off the tough guy aspect quite convincingly and has enough of a hardened edge to him that we have no trouble paying attention even if we don’t always find him sympathetic. Beverly Washburn and Sid Haig, both carried over from Spider Baby, are also great here with Haig really going for it a few times and delivering some memorable work. Brian Donlevy, instantly identifiable as Hammer’s Quatermass, makes his final appearance in this movie and he’s quite good as the older, seasoned promoter even if he’s showing his age in a few scenes. His character knows exactly what he’s asking of Rick and there’s an interesting dynamic that plays out there. Burnstyn is also very good here in this early role, showing an impressive confidence and very much owning the character she’s cast as.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Arrow presents Pit Stop on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Although the opening credits look a little rough, once we get past that the images stabilizes nicely and stays pretty crisp and clean throughout. Some mild print damage shows up but contrast is generally spot on and detail is frequently quite impressive. Black levels are nice and deep and the image is free of obvious compression artifacts or crush. Thankfully Arrow seems to have gone for the ‘film like’ option here, rather than try to hide any source related issues with overzealous DNR. The end result feels very true to the film’s low budget roots and it offers quite a nice upgrade over previous DVD versions of the movie.

    The only audio option is provided in English language LPCM Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English only. The levels are properly balanced and the dialogue stays clear throughout. The score and sounds effects have good presence and if things are understandably limited in range due to the source, the movie sounds very good for the most part.

    The supplements on the disc start off with an audio commentary with Jack Hill moderated by Calum Waddell. Hill typically delivers solid commentary tracks and is rarely at a loss for words. Here he covers some of the stunts in the film, the contributions of various cast and crew members he collaborated with on the picture and quite a bit more.

    Featurettes are interesting here as well, starting with Crash And Burn!, a fifteen minute interview with Hill that covers the making of the feature in which he puts a bit more emphasis on the stunts and driving showcased so well in the film. Drive Hard is a seventeen minute piece in which actor Sid Haig talks about working with Hill and his co-stars on Pit Stop while Life In The Fast Lane is an interesting eleven minute interview with the film’s producer, Roger Corman, who talks about the opportunity he saw with this picture and his thoughts on the finished product. The disc also includes an interesting segment called Restoring Pit Stop which is basically a restoration piece that runs four minutes and shows off what went into getting the film restored for this presentation.




    Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film’s original trailer, menus and chapter selection. This release also comes packaged with a reversible sleeve insert with the original poster art on one side and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw on the other side. Inside the case is an insert booklet featuring an essay on the picture by Glenn Kenny and some notes on the music in the film by musicologist and writer Gray Newell alongside a nice selection of original promotional stills and artwork.

    The Final Word:

    Pit Stop is lean, mean and way smarter than it probably seems on the surface. It’s a film that has aged surprisingly well and which feature some impressively stark black and white photography, some great stunt driving and a few memorable and well-crafted characters. Arrow’s Blu-ray looks and sounds very good and contains a pretty strong offering of supplements to compliment the excellent transfer.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!