• Death Warrant (Scorpion Releasing) Blu-ray Review

    Released on: July 7th, 2020.
    Director: Deran Sarafian
    Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Patrick Kilpatrick, Cynthia Gibb, Art LaFleur, Robert Guillaume
    Year: 1990
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    Death Warrant – Movie Review:

    Directed by Deran Sarafian for Cannon Films in 1990 and from a script by none other than David S. Goyer, Death Warrant sees Jean-Claude Van Damme star as Louis Burke, a police officer from Canada who has recently brought in an insane serial killer dubbed The Sandman (Patrick Kilpatrick). With the killer now behind bars in Harrison State Prison, you’d think Burke could rest easy – but nope! The L.A.P.D. requests his assistance solving a series of murders that has recently erupted in that very same prison where The Sandman has been recently incarcerated.

    To do this, Burke poses as a criminal arrested for armed robbery and makes his way into the bowels of the prison to find out what he can from the various members of its sizable – and dangerous – populace. The only contact that Burke will have with the real world is through his lawyer, Amanda Beckett (Cynthia Gibb), who, of course, he falls for (and she for him). While inside, he befriends Hawkins (Robert Guillaume) who helps him learn how to navigate the tricky racial boundaries inside the big house, which proves handy when trying to get information about the killings. Of course, Burke can’t help but cross a guard with violent tendencies in the form of DeGraff (Art LaFleur), but by the time he starts putting together the pieces of the puzzle Burke finds himself in some very real danger with Amanda working outside in a race against time to get him to safety in one piece.

    Death Warrant doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it does what it does really well and it proves to be a highly entertaining and surprisingly engaging action picture. The prison setting lets Goyer’s script work in all the clichés you could hope for but so too does it allow the writing to create some unique and interesting characters, Hawkins being the best example of that. He isn’t quite the kindly old black guy you see often in prison films, he’s a hard ass in his own way and Robert Guillaume (yep, TV’s Benson!) does a fantastic job portraying him in the film.

    Van Damme is really solid here as well, it’s a definite reminder of why he’d become one of the biggest action stars of the nineties. He moves fast and he looks good doing it, convincing in his ability to kick ass when necessary. Fine, he doesn’t have a ton of range here but none of the material in this film is a particular challenge for him, he handles it all with ease. Supporting work from lovely Cynthia Gibb is pretty solid, and both Art LaFleur and Patrick Kilpatrick do a great job playing the two heavies in the film, with Kilpatrick in particular clearly relishing the chance to play a psychopath.

    The movie is paced well, never dull, and the cinematography does a great job of capturing the different locations that were used to create the prison where it all takes place. Gary Chang’s score is good if never amazing, and Sarafian directs with just the right amount of style. Add to that some genuinely impressive stunt work and fight choreography and yeah, Death Warrant holds up surprisingly well.

    Death Warrant – Blu-ray Review:

    Scorpion Releasing brings Death Warrant to Blu-ray from a “new 2k scan of the interpositive” framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Taking up just under 28GBs of space on the 50GB disc, this transfer looks really nice. It’s naturally a little on the grainy side but there isn’t much actual print damage here at all, just a few small white specks now and again. Colors are reproduced very nicely, though skin tones definitely look a bit reddish, and we get good black levels. There’s strong detail present throughout, even in the film’s many darker interior scenes, and compression artifacts are held in check and only appear occasionally in minor instances. There aren’t any issues with any noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement here either, it all looks very good.

    The English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track sounds very good. Dialogue is always clean, clear and easy to follow and there’s some impressive depth at times to the score. The levels are nicely balanced and the track is free of any noticeable hiss or distortion to note. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.

    Extra features start off with a new audio commentary with director Deran Sarafian that is a reasonably scene specific affair. He talks about the opening scene and locations, how he’d never heard of JCVD before getting the script for the feature, how he works in an homage to the ‘Talky Tina’ episode of The Twilight Zone entitled ‘The Living Dolls’ (directed by his father), meeting with Van Damme before making the film and the actor’s concern about the love scene in Death Warrant, how lucky he feels they were to get Robert Guillaume in the film, heading into some actual California prisons to do some research for the movie, the different locations that were used throughout the movie, how aspects of the script compare to The Wizard Of Oz, why POV shots are used for some scenes, how the film had to compete with the slasher boom that was big at the box office of the time, Cynthia Gibb’s tendency to giggle after he yelled ‘cut’ while making the love scene come to life, where some of the extras featured in the picture came from and plenty more. Sarafian’s delivery is very relaxed and there’s a bit of dead air here and there but he offers up quite a lot of information about making the film and his experiences working with his collaborators on this project.

    Featurettes start off with a new interview with actor Patrick Kilpatrick, who speaks for ten-minutes about how he was cast as The Sandman in the film, how he got his start acting in New York before moving to Los Angeles, auditioning for Death Warrant and the enduring popularity of his character from the film, working with Jean-Claude Van Damme, training with the L.A.P.D. in order to learn how to use a baton, what it was like on set shooting inside an old power plant, Deran Sarafian’s directing style and attention to detail and more. A second interview gets actor Art LaFleur in front of the camera for a seven-minute talk about playing Sgt. Degraf, auditioning for and landing the part, working with Sarafian on the film, how he had to ‘become’ his character in many ways for the shoot, working with Van Damme (who he describes as ‘an ace’), the precision of the fight choreography featured in the film, getting along with the other cast members in the film and other related topics. Both of these are very well done and quite interesting.

    Rounding out the extras are a trailer for the feature as well as bonus trailers for Delta Force, P.O.W. The Escape, Death Wish III, Dogs Of War, Lone Wolf McQuade, Rollerball and Body And Soul. Menus and chapter selection are also provided.

    Death Warrant – The Final Word Review:

    Death Warrant is one of Van Damme’s best films from the early days of his top billing action films. It’s rough, tough and quite suspenseful and JCVD is back by a really strong supporting cast. Scorpion Releasing has done a really nice job bringing this one to Blu-ray with a strong presentation for the feature and a nice selection of extras features. Highly recommended!

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