• Play Dead (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: July 30th, 2019.
    Director: Peter Whitman
    Cast: Yvonne De Carlo, Stephanie Dunnam, David Ellzey, Glenn Kezer
    Year: 1983
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    Play Dead – Movie Review:

    Hester Ramsey (Yvonne De Carlo), who is quite well off, lives all alone in a massive old home. The only company she keeps in her hulking abode is her loyal dog Greta, a large and very loyal rottweiler. Hester isn’t the most pleasant person to be around – she’s got a pretty big chip on her shoulder but it isn’t without reason – her sister married Sam, the only man she ever loved. When Sam dies in a car accident and her sister is so distraught that she takes her own life, can’t leave well enough alone.

    When her nephew, Stephen (David Ellzey), shows up and asks Hester to make nice with her niece, Audrey (Stephanie Dunnam), it looks – on the surface at least – like the hardened old hag is starting to soften up a bit. Hester even gives Audrey a gift in the form of Greta! Audrey and her boyfriend, Jeff (David Cullinane), seem to be doing just fine, until those around them start turning up dead, the victims of an increasingly suspicious number of accidents. As it turns out, Hester has a very specific set of occult skills, and she’s using them to control Greta to kill those she wants dead and to make Audrey look like the culprit behind it all! Local cop Detective Otis (Glenn Kezer), however, soon starts to realize that something else is going on here…

    Shot entirely in Texas in 1981 (and, as such, pretty ripe with regional flavor) but not released domestically until 1985, Play Dead (also known as both Killer Dog and Satan’s Dog), is a pretty entertaining killer dog film. De Carlo steals every scene that she’s in, vamping it up in a pretty big way and definitely making an impression. By comparison, the rest of the cast seem almost understated but they too are just fine here. Stephanie Dunnam, who also starred in Silent Rage, is pretty decent – likeable in the way that her character should be, so that we feel for her once her predicament intensifies. She went on to do loads of TV work in the decades since this was made. David Ellzey and Glenn Kezer are also decent here.

    The movie has a couple of slow spots in the first half but it’s hard not to appreciate a film where Lily Munster plays a Satanic priestess using a giant dog to get revenge. The murder set pieces are both creative and well-staged. We won’t spoilt them here as they are where most of the movie’s enjoyment comes from but bonus points to writer Lothrop W. Jordan for coming up with some pretty neat ways to involve a dog in murder.

    Production values are okay. This was clearly made on a modest budget but it’s pretty well shot and makes good use of the Texas locations. The score from Robert Farrar (who also did the music for Brownrigg classics Don't Look In The Basement, Don't Open The Door, Scum Of The Earth and Keep My Grave Open as well as weird mid-eighties slasher Terror At Tenkiller) is also pretty neat.

    Play Dead – Blu-ray Review:

    Play Dead comes to Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome courtesy of a new 2k scan of the 35mm interpositive in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and looking very, very nice. Previously released on DVD via Troma as volume seven of their Toxie’s Triple Terror series, this new transfer is an improvement in every way that you’d hope it would be. Detail is very strong and the image is quite clean. Grain looks heavier in some scenes than others but never to the point that it’s distracting. Color reproduction is pretty much perfect, black levels are nice and deep – the whole thing looks nice and organic and is in very nice shape.

    The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD Mono track. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No problems here, the track is clean, clear and nicely balanced and free of any hiss or distortion.

    Extras start out with a video interview with director Peter Wittman that runs six-minutes. It’s brief, and more to do with his life at the time the movie was made then the film specifically, but he does talk about his background making industrial films before getting into feature work. Also included on the disc is an audio interview with actress Stephanie Dunnam that runs twenty-five-minutes. Here she speaks about how she landed the part, what it was like on set, acting alongside Yvonne De Carlo, her thoughts on the film and the original concept for it, and other work that she’s done since the film was finished.

    The film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection finish off the supplemental package for this release.

    As this is a combo pack release, we also get a DVD version of the movie that uses the same restoration and extras. Vinegar Syndrome has packaged this release with some very cool reversible cover artwork and, for the first 2,000 copies purchased directly from Vinegar Syndrome, a slick collectible slipcover featuring artwork from Earl Kessler Jr..

    Play Dead – The Final Word:

    Play Dead is a pretty decent ‘when animals attack’ film, highlighted by a wonky performance from De Carlo. Those with an affection for the genre, or the actress, should get a kick out of this one and Vinegar Syndrome’s beautifully restored Blu-ray release is a really fine way to enjoy the picture.

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