• Best Friends (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: June 30th, 2020.
    Director: Noel Nosseck
    Cast: Richard Hatch, Doug Chapin, Susanne Benton, Ann Noland, Renee Paul
    Year: 1974
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    Best Friends – Movie Review:

    Jesse (Richard Hatch) and Pat (Doug Chapin) grew up together and are the best of friends. Having both recently returned from a stint in the U.S. Airborne, they’re ready to get back to having fun and living life. When Pat finishes up, Jesse and his fiancée, Kathy (Susanne Benton), come to meet him at the base with Pat’s fiancé, Jo Ella (Ann Noland) along for the ride as a surprise. Jesse tells Pat that they’re going to have a double wedding.

    To make their way from Texas to California, the four decide to rent an RV and enjoy one last road trip before they all tie their respective knots. It starts of nicely enough, with the RV rental place offering them a half price deal if they drop the rig at a convention in California for them, but things soon start to get a little odd. Pat tries to talk Jesse into buying motorbikes and taking off with him, and when Jesse says no, Pat buys one anyway and starts riding ahead, outside of the RV with the other three. When things get a little wild at a bar they go to one night and a fight breaks out, Pat later that night decides payback is in order, even while the others just want to let it go.

    Pat soon makes it clear that he’s just not into the idea of marrying Jo Ellen, and he wants Jess to ditch Kathy so that they can keep on doing what they’ve been doing all these years. When Jesse states in no uncertain terms that this isn’t going to happen, Pat’s behavior becomes not only increasingly jealous (it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to read into it that he’s in love with Jesse), but increasingly dangerous as well.

    “She became the ravaged victim of a century of revenge!”

    This is an odd one, it begins almost like a buddy comedy but shifts tone a few times during its running time and definitely finishes as something a lot dark then what it starts as, yet it isn’t at all the exploitation film that the poster art and tag line make it out to be. There are a few unexpected twists and turns in the picture that, even when it’s moving slowly (and it does move slowly), keep things interesting. The first half of the movie almost seems plotless, but things definitely ramp up in the second half, making this a movie worth sticking with so long as you don’t mind the deliberate pace of the picture.

    Production values are decent enough here. This was made with a modest budget and a less than super-experienced cast and crew but Richard Hatch, who makes his feature film debut here and who would later star in Battlestar Galactica, is pretty solid in his role. Doug Chapin overdoes it in a few spots but despite his, makes up for that in the last half of the picture where his work starts to evolve rather well. Ann Noland, who shows up in Satan's School For Girls, is okay here in her part and Susanne Benton, who appeared in A Boy And His Dog, as well. Both actresses are pretty decent. All of the acting in the film is pretty good – not perfect, but pretty good.

    The original soundtrack from Rick Cunha sounds a bit like Willie Nelson’s work, it’s laid back and easy to listen to with just the right amount of heartfelt country twang to it. Stephen M. Katz’s cinematography is pretty strong as well.

    Best Friends – Blu-ray Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings Best Friends to Blu-ray from a “newly scanned & restored in 2k from its 35mm original camera negative” framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. Taking up just over 21GBs of space on the 25GB disc, there’s some damage to the elements here and there, scratches and white specks, but the picture is always completely stable. Colors look pretty nice here, especially during the finale when the sun sets on the beach, and skin tones look great. Detail is pretty impressive most of the time, depth and texture too. This always looks like film, which is a great thing. Expect a fair bit of grain here, there’s no noticeable noise reduction at all. Really, this shapes up looking quite good overall.

    The English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track is about on par with the video, in that it has some imperfections now and again but they’re minor, the odd pop in the mix, that’s about it. Otherwise, the track is clean and has good depth, bringing Cunha’s music to life rather nicely. Optional closed captioning is provided in English only and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track, also in English, is also included on the disc.

    Extras are made up, primarily, of four interviews, the first of which is Making Friends, a thirteen-minute talk with director Noel Nosseck who speaks about how his father as a projectionist growing up which led to his interest in film, financing the picture, making it for $75,000 over two weeks with a fairly inexperienced cast and crew, how he feels about the performances in the film, and how the picture isn’t quite an exploitation movie but not quite a drama and serves more as a road movie than anything else.

    Movies And Travel is a thirty-three-minute video conference with cinematographer Stephen M. Katz who starts by talking about how he got into the business without really ever intending to, getting his start on The Peace Killers when his friend was working on it, shifting from a focus puller and still photographer to a cinematographer and how his career started to take off from there. He tells some stories about different people that he worked with over the years, what it was like working on Best Friends and memories from working on it brought back by revisiting the picture after a long time, how he was still learning at this point in his career behind the camera, what's happened to some of the cast and crew members since the movie was made and what it was like on set. He also covers working on other cult films like The Pom Pom Girls, The Student Teachers and how he would sometimes be called to a set just to shoot the rape scene as well as quite a bit more!

    Editor Robert Gordon is up next in the fifteen-minute Educate Yourself. This piece covers his training at UCLA and how he spent some time in Vietnam before getting into the industry and moving from work as a production assistant to doing educational films before then realizing directing wasn't quite what he really felt he should be doing. He then talks about how he shifted into the editor role, meeting Noel Nosseck and getting along with him and making their first feature together. He also talks about working on Couch for Crown International, how a lot of people working on Best Friends were discovering what they wanted to do and could do in the business simply by trying it, checking out the dailies and trying to put the director's vision into the picture, how his editing experience here helped him edit Pixar's Toy Story and quite a bit more.

    The last piece is A Lifetime Of Music, which is an interview with composer Rick Cunha that runs for eleven-minutes. This piece lets Cunha talk about what he did before Best Friends, his career as a solo recording artists and as a a backup musician, working on a solo album in Nashville and some of the side hustles that he had going at this time, where his interest in music came from and his history of playing, how and why he was approached to provide the music in Best Friends, how scoring a movie was a new experience for him and how helpful everyone else was, how he was given a lot of creative freedom to do what he wanted and how he saw some success with a single he released around the same time.

    Menus and chapter selection are also provided. No trailer for the feature, sadly, but the interviews are all quite interesting and illuminating.

    As to the packaging, Vinegar Syndrome supplies some nice reversible cover sleeve artwork and, if you buy the film directly from their website, with an embossed, spot varnished slipcover designed by Earl Kessler Jr. and limited to 2,500 pieces.

    Best Friends – The Final Word Review:

    Best Friends is a little rough around the edges and its first half is on the slow side, but it builds really well and turns out to be a genuinely unique mix of road movie, exploitation film and character study all rolled into one. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release is a very good one, presenting the film in a nicely restored presentation and with a good assortment of extra features to go with it.

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