• Freeway

    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Release date: July 18, 2017
    Directed by: Francis Delia
    Cast: Darlanne Fluegel, James Russo, Michael Callan, Richard Belzer, Billy Drago, Steve Franken, Kenneth Tobey
    Year: 1988

    The Movie:

    A murderer, Edward Heller (Billy Drago), is stalking the streets, using the freeway system as both his personal playground and a quick getaway. Obsessed with biblical scripture, the killer phones into a local jockey’s radio show to spout verse while announcing his actions to the world. That jockey is also a psychologist, Dr. David Lazarus (Richard Belzer), who uses his on-air persona to treat callers’ problems. At first, he doesn’t realize just how unstable his caller is, but as the murders mount, it becomes increasingly clear. Meanwhile, a young nurse named Sarah “Sunny” Harper (Darlanne Fluegel) is traumatized when she witnesses one of the killer’s victims being brought into the hospital. Forced to relive through nightmares her own husband’s murder at the hands of the spree killer, she decides to take matters into her own hands. Inquiring as to whether they’ve made any headway into the case at the police station, she’s told by the lieutenant, Boyle (Michael Callan), to leave or be escorted off the premises. Realizing she isn’t going to get any help from the police, she teams up with the psychologist to trap the murderer. She also encounters Frank Quinn (James Russ), a victim who likewise has lost loved ones to the killer. An ex-cop, he offers his help in solving the case and forever putting an end to Edward’s crimes.

    Released by New World Pictures in late summer 1988, Freeway has long been viewed as an exploitative take on a real-life incident. Just the year before, a sniper had taken to the freeways of Los Angeles, shooting into cars at random. The city remained in a state of terror for ten weeks beginning in June as the shooter claimed one victim after another, with approximately 70 shootings reported to police. Five people were killed and 11 more hurt. A couple of the shootings were attributed to road rage incidents and suspects were arrested, though most went unsolved. As summer wound down, the shootings came to a stop, though L.A.’s freeways have averaged 40 shootings a year in the years since.

    In actuality, the script for Freeway had already been completed by the time of the first shooting in 1987. Based on a novel by pioneering television executive Deanne Barkley, it’s difficult to believe that subsequent rewrites and the actual film shoot weren’t influenced to one degree or another by the incident. Still, co-scenarist and director Francis Delia, who was offered the original script by producer William Panzer, turned out an exploitation potboiler that took full advantage of the previous year’s anxieties. While Freeway is far from a masterpiece, it’s a decent little thriller with passable performances (particularly from Jago and Belzer, who make the most of their roles). There’s action aplenty, and the dialogue-driven interludes are well paced.


    Freeway comes to 1080p high definition courtesy of Kino Lorber. The film is placed on a BD25 in its original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 with an MPEG-4 AVC encode. The image has fairly heavy grain, which shouldn’t offend Blu-ray enthusiasts looking for a filmic experience. The grain is heavy whether the scene is bright or dark, day or night. The issue is that detail levels, while certainly higher than your standard DVD, still aren’t as sharp as they should be, a fact that remains true throughout most of the film. That said, there are a couple of shots with some nice detail in clothing and fabrics. Many shots appear just slightly out of focus, likely a product of the original cinematography, but it’s sure to let some people down. On the positive side, there’s no print damage, and dirt and debris are minor to nonexistent. Colors are fairly strong and naturalistic; skin tones tend toward light peach, as they should, while blood is appropriately red. Nature shots are earthy and green. In short, the film looks somewhere in between DVD and Blu-ray, more akin to a 780p presentation.

    There is a single track, the film’s original soundtrack, which is placed on the disc in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. As with the visuals, the aural aspects of the Blu-ray are a mixed back. The sound is a bit muddled at times, and it is placed on the disc at a fairly low level, requiring it to be turned up most of the time. While dialogue and sound effects rarely conflict, speech remains difficult to make out on occasion. There are some mild age-related effects, including minor hiss here and there, and the musical score is a little too bass-oriented. Still, it isn’t terrible, so there’s that. Unfortunately, for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, you’re shit out of luck on the subtitle front, as there are none.

    Extras are few and far between. Besides some trailers, there’s an interview with co-writer/director Francis Delia. Clearly shot in HD and with good sound, it clocks in at 13:43. Delia discusses the genesis of the film, pointing out that the freeway shootings at the time began after the original script was written and were therefore coincidental. He also discusses Darlanne Fluegel and how she came to his attention, her work history, and what she brought to the table. He doesn’t stop there with the cast, moving on to Richard Belzer, whom he says he wrote the part of the disc jockey for, and then Billy Drago, whom he says he chose upon meeting him. The featurette may be short, but it’s enlightening nonetheless, covering the L.A. locations, the limitations of the resources, the time of morning they had to shoot to get car-free freeways, and so on. Delia’s memory of the film’s shoot is strong, and the featurette is a nice extra for fans of the film.

    The trailers begin with Freeway (1:36), which is surprisingly effective in selling the thriller in a post-Mad Max world (you’ve gotta love the tagline, “Freeway—the traffic is murder”). The other trailers are for films in a similar vein, including Cop (2:06), The Rosary Murders (2:18), No Man’s Land (1:43), and The Last of the Finest (2:08).

    The Final Word:

    Freeway may not be a great film, but it's a fun one. Kino's Blu-ray release is a mixed bag, however. While the audio-visual quality is better than your standard DVD, it's not as good as your standard Blu-ray. But though there's a lack of extras, the one there is--an interview with director Delia--is quite good and highly informative. Diehard fans will want to pick this title up, but wary viewers may choose to check it out from the library or rent it from an online source before deciding whether to purchase.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.

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