• Don’t Panic (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: November 27th, 2020.
    Director: Rubén Galindo Jr.
    Cast: Jon Michael Bischof, Gabriela Hassel, Helena Rojo, Jorge Luke
    Year: 1988
    Purchase From Vinegar Syndrome

    Don’t Panic – Movie Review:

    Written and directed by Rubén Galindo Jr., the man who gave us Grave Robbers and Cemetery Of Terror, 1988’s Don’t Panic (aka Dimensiones Occultas) introduces us to Michael (Jon Michael Bischof), who has recently moved to Mexico with his hard drinking mom (Helena Rojo). On this seventeenth birthday, he celebrates with his best pal Tony (Juan Ignacio Aranda) and their foxy friend Alexandra (Gabriella Hassel), who Michael is clearly crushing on pretty hard. When they give him a Ouija Board as a gift, he initially wants nothing to do with it but soon bows to peer pressure and before you know it, our trio has made contact with a spirit named Virgil. Before they can go too far, however, Michael’s wasted mom shows up and puts a stop to things.

    That same night, Michael is plagued by nightmares about a knife-wielding maniac killing off his friends and, in true horror movie style, it turns out that these killings also happened in real life. From here, Michael starts getting premonitions as to who the killer will strike against next, leaving him in the inevitable race against time to prevent more murders from happening while, at the same time, trying to figure out who is behind the killings and why. The only catch? Michael is seen as the prime suspect in the case!

    Borrowing more than a few elements from A Nightmare On Elm Street, Don’t Panic still manages to infuse some quirky and interesting elements into its storyline to make for an interesting watch, and while the influence of Craven’s classic is undeniable, this is hardly a carbon copy. One of the more puzzling and memorable aspects of the movie is our hero’s tendency to strut about in adults-sized pajamas that look like they were made for a four year old boy, complete with colorful dinosaur prints on them! Jon Michael Bischof’s performance is an odd one to begin with but seeing him dressed like, occasionally with glowing red eyes, definitely adds an additional layer of weirdness to the proceedings.

    The rest of the cast are okay. Helena Rojo is pretty fun as the drunken mom, chewing a fair bit of scenery whenever she’s on screen. Juan Ignacio Aranda adds some welcome comic relief at times, and Gabriella Hassel is decent enough in her role, and plenty easy on the eyes as well.

    Galindo paces the movie well, borrowing from Halloween in the way that the killer acts in the picture, often times moving very slowly and deliberately. He also conjures up some decent atmosphere, particularly when the action shifts to a hospital, which is always a great setting for a horror movie. A few decent murder set pieces and some pretty solid gore (courtesy of none other than Screaming Mad George!) are also worth mentioning. The film definitely has its share of obvious hokum – a scene where Michael and Alexandra go on a date being a prime example – and the dialogue can often times come across as pretty hammy, but this still manages to be a pretty entertaining watch, especially if you appreciate the quirkier side of the slasher subgenre.

    Don’t Panic – Blu-ray Review:

    Don’t Panic arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and taking up 26.9GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Presented “newly scanned & restored in 4k from its 35mm original negative,” the picture quality here is very strong. A very big upgrade over the old fullframe DVD release from BCI Eclipse/Deimos Entertainment (which looked fine for its day), the transfer offers excellent depth and detail. Much of the film takes place at night, often times indoors in dimly lit conditions, but shadow detail remains quite strong. The picture is very grainy, given how it was shot, but there’s no real print damage here at all to complain about. The transfer also remains very filmic throughout, never showing any evidence of any noise reduction or edge enhancement.

    This films was shot in English and Spanish, so the 24-bit DTS-HD English language track on the disc is the way to go, though if you prefer the Spanish language option it’s here in Dolby Digital 2.0 format. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. No real problems here, both tracks sound quite good. The levels are balanced properly and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion to complain about.

    Extras start off with a commentary track from Rubén Galindo Jr. Here he talks about shooting the movie twice - in Spanish and in English - his appreciation of the cinematography in the film and how the camerawork brings the viewers into the action, how many of the actors have gone on to become famous soap opera stars in Mexico, some of the themes and concepts that the movie deals with, why the main character wears dinosaur pajamas in the movie, the use of Screaming Mad George's special effects in the film and more. There's a lot of dead air here. Galindo is well-spoken and has a very sharp memory but this track could have used a moderator to keep him a bit more engaged.

    A second commentary track features the crew from The Hysteria Continues that, like a lot of their tracks, has a good sense of humor to it as it starts about their own personal panic attacks, some of which involve cats. From here, they cover the Mexican horror and action boom of the era in which this movie was made, what the cast and crew have done aside from this picture, the odd vibe that the English version of the movie has given that the actors don't speak English as their native language, how some scenes are clearly meant to be American and others Mexican, the pajamas (of course), some of the slasher movie tropes that the film deals with, the casting link to Cemetery Of Terror and Grave Robbers, how a certain character looks like Tackleberry from the Police Academy movies and a lot more.

    Possessed By Horror is an interview with Rubén Galindo Jr. that clocks in at just over twenty-four-minutes in length. Here, over twenty-five-minutes, he talks about how before getting into film he wanted to be a veterinarian, getting into computers at a young age and then finally getting into the movie business after developing an appreciation for horror films as a kid. He talks about some of the influences on his work, the importance of the camerawork in his movies, working the Ouija Board into Don't Panic, working with Richard Davidson and Screaming Mad George on the special effects, shooting in English and Spanish, the rushed six-week production schedule, pressure from his father to get the movie right, trying to distribute the movie in the United States at the time and the film's distribution and release history,

    The disc also includes some alternate Spanish language titles and credits, menus and chapter selection options.

    Vinegar Syndrome provides a very cool embossed slip cover (that looks great alongside their releases of Grave Robbers and Cemetery Of Terror) with this release as well as some slick reversible cover sleeve art.

    Don’t Panic – The Final Word:

    Don’t Panic might be frequently goofy, but it’s always entertaining and it winds up being a whole lot of fun. Vinegar Syndrome has done right by the film, giving it an excellent presentation with a nice selection of extra features too, making this one pretty easy to recommended to slasher fanatics and B-horror junkies alike.

    Click on the images below for full sized Don’t Panic Blu-ray screen caps!