Released by: Twilight Time
Released on: November 15th, 2016.
Director: Noel Black
Cast: Tuesday Weld, Anthony Perkins, Beverly Garland, Clarice Blackburn, John Randolph, Dick O'Neill
Year: 1968 Purchase From Screen Archives
Dennis Pitt (Anthony Perkins) once spent time in an institution. Now a free man, he heads into a small town where, completely by chance, he meet a ridiculously attractive high school girl named Sue Ann Stepanak (Tuesday Weld). Laying on the charm pretty thick, Dennis tells Sue Ann that the reason he’s in town is because he’s actually a C.I.A. agent and that he’s working a very important case. This understandably piques the young woman’s interest and, almost like magic, she’s ‘in’ with him, wanting to help him crack the case and be a part of his exciting life. Never mind the fact that Dennis is actually working a day job at a nearby chemical plant.
The more Dennis is able to draw Sue Ann into his odd fantasy world, the more it becomes clear to everyone but Dennis (meaning the audience) that she’s maybe a little more than he can handle. On the surface this ‘All American’ girl is just that – a good student, she’s even on the cheerleading team – the perfect girl next door! But when Dennis is able to ever so easily coerce her into doing some things that she shouldn’t do, well, her craving to find adventure and excitement and leave behind her dull small town life soon turns from ambition to obsession. Birds of a feather and all that…
Noel Black feature length directorial debut is a good one, melding elements of film noir with quirky small town horror and bizarre but engrossing character development to make for cult movie nirvana. Perkins was, unfortunately, type cast in pretty much every role he was to earn after going on to make film history by playing Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s classic Psycho, but here he’s perfect. Dennis is a twitchy, awkward young man. We know from the start that he’s not quite right, that he’s telling stories and just running with it, but he’s likeable. Perkins, even when he was cast as Bates, was typically likeable and this script plays to his strengths. His fibbing almost seems innocent in comparison to what happens later in the film – his lies are white lies. Contrast and compare his work in front of the camera with Tuesday Weld. A truly beautiful young woman, she is Dennis’ femme fatale. Once he’s in with her, all bets are off and those white lies of his evolve into something darker, something far more dangerous than they were before. Weld is just as good as Perkins as the female lead. She is charming, she is seductive and while she seems innocent at first, we learn quite quickly that this is anything but true. She gets off on danger and while the danger Dennis can offer may be superficial, she’ll take it. Anything for kicks, right? This was 1968, after all.
Black directs the picture with the right mix of compelling character development and flashy style. The film might have fell into obscurity after its theatrical run but not because it was of poor quality. Rather, the film toys with genre conventions, blending film noir with psychological horror with romance with dark comedy. It’s easy to see why this didn’t set the box office on fire almost fifty years ago when it first played, but just as easy to see why it has rightly gone on to become a cult favorite. The film benefits from a great score, solid production values, nice cinematography and a strong supporting cast that offers up bit parts for Beverly Garland, Dick O’Neill and John Randolph.
Pretty Poison debuts on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 widescreen and it looks excellent. There’s virtually no print damage to note, just a normal amount of visible and natural looking film grain, while depth and detail are consistently impressive. The 50GB disc is free of any obvious compression artifacts while color reproduction is strong, as are black levels. There’s solid texture here and no issues with contrast – this is, to be blunt, a very film-like transfer taken from source materials that were clearly in excellent shape.
The only audio option for the feature is a DTS-HD Mono track, in English. There are no alternate language options provided but subtitles are offered up in English SDH format. The dialogue sounds fine and the score absolutely benefits from the lossless audio format. Hiss and distortion are never an issue and the single channel mix has fine range and depth to it.
Extras start off with an audio commentary featuring Executive Producer Lawrence Turman, and Film Historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman. This is an interesting track with Turman talking up the film’s appeal, offering up some insight into the performances and casting choices and more, with Dobbs and Redman keeping him on topic and interjecting with their own thoughts on the picture, the soundtrack, the story, the cinematography and many other topics. A second audio commentary pairs Director Noel Black and Film Historian Robert Fischer together. Black speaks quite candidly about directing the picture, working with Weld and Perkins on the picture, his thoughts on the finished product and quite a few other subjects. Between the two tracks, fans are given a pretty detailed history and analysis of the picture and its significance. Additionally the disc includes a Deleted Scene Script and commentary from Black and Fischer. It’s a short piece but it’s interesting to see it included here on this release.
Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, an isolate music and effects track (in DTS-HD format) menus and chapter selection. Inside the Blu-ray keepcase alongside the disc is an insert booklet of liner notes featuring an essay from regular Twilight Time scribe Julie Kirgo who offers up some interesting observations about the performances in the film and rightly makes the case that the picture is, at its core, essentially a film noir.
The Final Word:
Pretty Poison holds up really well thanks to some slick direction, some excellent performances from the leads and supporting players alike and a genuinely engaging storyline. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray release is a winner, offering up two really strong commentaries alongside a few other supplements and presenting the picture in gorgeous condition with really strong audio. A great release for a great movie – highly recommended.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!