• Retribution (Severin Films) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin Films
    Released on: June 25th, 2021.
    Director: Guy Magar
    Cast: Dennis Lipscomb, Leslie Wing, Suzanne Snyder, Jeff Pomerantz, George Murdock, Pamela Dunlap
    Year: 1987
    Purchase From Amazon

    Retribution – Movie Review:

    The first feature film directed by Guy Magar, who prior to this was quite prolific directing television like the A-Team, Hunter and Blue Thunder, 1987’s Retribution opens in Los Angeles on Halloween night. The L.A.P.D. have arrived on the scene outside of a hotel where a man named George Miller (Dennis Lipscomb) is about to leap from the roof to his death below. He jumps and almost immediately hits the ground, but somehow he doesn’t die, rather, his body is entered by some sort of weird, green energy source.

    George is released and after a few days pass, he starts having horrible nightmares where he sees four faceless assailants shoot a man to death. He decides to talk to his shrink, Jennifer Curtis (Leslie Wing) about these recurring dreams and while it’s clear that not all is completely well with George, she feels that he’s improved enough to get back into the swing of things. As George, an artist by trade, tries to get things back to normal, he starts having yet more bad dreams, this latest one seeing his eyes turn a bright neon green and coercing a woman to slice open her stomach with a large knife.

    The next morning, when George reads the newspaper, he learns that the night before a woman really did disembowel herself in pretty much the same way he saw in his dream. Jennifer’s boyfriend, a doctor named Alan Falconer (Jeff Pomerantz) warns her that there might be more wrong with George than just some psychiatric issues, but she remains determined to help him as best as she is able. At the same time, George, who enters a relationship with a kindly hooker named Angel (Suzanne Snyder), starts to slowly put together the pieces of this strange puzzle he’s found himself in, connecting a different death to the night that he tried to kill himself. Is George possessed, or is he just losing it?

    Co-written by Magar and associate producer Lee Wasserman, Retribution is more than just another possession film, in fact, it’s quite unique and goes in some interesting and completely unexpected directions as it plays out. The script is clever and well-written and the characters, if maybe a little cliché, are properly developed making us want to know more about them, especially George. The movie is deliberate in its pacing and the first half is a little on the slow side but once it gets moving around the halfway mark, it more than makes up for lost time. There are some visually impressive and genuinely creative murder set pieces in the film, it all moves to a great synthesizer score from Alan Howarth and the cinematography is strong. The film benefits from some bold and eye-catching use of color and the gore effects in the picture are really solid.

    As to the acting? The cast members all do fine work here, but it’s Lipscomb’s show for the most part. He plays George perfectly, handling the more dramatic side of the role well enough but really going for it when it’s time for George to go a little crazy. His character is believably sympathetic, you feel for the guy. He has an interesting chemistry with Leslie Wing, who is also quite good here.

    Note that Severin has included both the R-rated version and the uncut version of the movie in this set. Regarding the uncut version, there are a few shots, primarily some stronger gore scenes, that were cut by the MPAA and those have been reinstated in this version, using a tape source. You'll notice the drop in quality when these scenes are on screen, but it won't take you out of the film and it's better to have them included from an inferior source than not here at all and it only amounts to about twelve-seconds or so of material. You’ll notice these inserts in the stomach slicing scene, the carcass/slaughterhouse death scene and the hand-severing scene.

    Retribution – Blu-ray Review:

    Disc one contains the theatrical cut of the film, which runs 1:48:56 and takes up 31.9Gbs of space on the region free 50GB disc. Disc two contains the slightly longer ‘Extended Dutch Video Release Version’ version, which runs 1:49:05 and takes up 32.1GBs of space on a 50GB disc. Aside from the aforementioned tape-sourced inserts, you’re not going to a difference between the two transfers, they both look very good. The colors in particular are super impressive here, especially the reds, oranges and greens that are used in some of the film’s more intense moments. There’s very strong detail here, and lots of depth and texture. There are no problems with noise reduction or edge enhancement and the image always looks like film. This is quite a nice upgrade over the previous DVD release from Code Red that came out years ago.

    Audio for both versions of the movie is handled by a 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track in the film's native English with optional English SDH subtitles. Audio quality is solid. Dialogue is always easy to follow and there are no problems at all with any hiss or distortion. Alan Howarth’s synth-heavy score has good depth to it as well, it sounds very good here.

    Extras on disc start off with Writing Wrongs, an interview with co-writer Lee Wasserman that lasts for twelve-minutes. He talks about his experiences at the London Film School, meeting Guy Magar there and how they hit it off and decided to collaborate on a low budget horror movie after seeing The Exorcist. He talks about how they tried to spin the possession angle, what it was like on set and the film’s fairly tough schedule, his thoughts on the effects and the cast, the importance of the gore effects to marketing the film and working with Magar on some of the foley effects for the head squashing scene.

    Actress Leslie Wing is interviewed in Shock Therapy for eight-minutes. In this piece, she goes over how she got into acting through her background as a dancer, going to The School For The Arts in North Carolina, leaving North Carolina and moving to New York to work on the stage, making the shift to acting in film, getting casted in Retribution, how great Magar was to work with as a director even on the hardest of days, thoughts on her character and how strong the cast and crew were to work with.

    Angel's Heart sits down with actress Suzanne Snyder to speak for seven-minutes about how she got into acting despite being very shy in her younger years, taking an acting class in her late teens and finding a taste for it, some of the early films she appeared in like Class, getting cast in Retribution, taking direction from Magar who she describes as very passionate about getting the film made, thoughts on her character and co-stars, how intense Dennis Lipscomb was to be around and how supportive and helpful everyone was on the set.

    Santa Maria, Mother Of God, Help Me! is an interview with actor Mike Muscat that lasts just over nine-minutes. This covers his career as a character actor, appearing in plenty of films over the years. He talks about how high school drama class led him into this before then talking about joining the army for a while to take advantage of an acting and theater program they had there. He took the experience he got there and turned it into a career in Hollywood where he got cast in Retribution and spends the rest of the interview talking about his character and the scene that he appears in.

    Soundtrack Composer Alan Howarth is up next in a featurette called Settling The Score which runs eight-minutes. He talks here about how he feels that the music he scores for films should tell the story of the movie. He also covers what he was able to learn from his collaborations with John Carpenter, how Retribution was basically his second big solo score after doing Jim Wynorski's Lost Empire, having access to a digital keyboard and a state of the art studio to work in, the methods he uses to create film scores, why certain motifs are used in specific scenes, what he does when he needs to build tension with his scores, challenges that arose while scoring the movie, trying to ascertain what a director wants and how to deliver that while staying true to your own vision, working with Magar and his thoughts on the film overall.

    Visions Of Vengeance is a chat with SFX artist John Eggett that spends seven-minutes covering how he got into doing effects work in 1971 working on Gas Pump Girls, which led to him doing a lot of low budget work for Cannon and then eventually wound up working on Retribution. He talks about how horror movies offer FX creators a lot of freedom and creativity, working without a lot of storyboards, what was required for a few of the film’s key gore scenes, requiring literally hundreds of gallons of blood for the film, how important it is to him that nobody ever be hurt on anything he’s working on, Magar’s hand’s on style and how he feels that the movie holds up really well.

    Artist Barry Fahr speaks up in The Art Of Getting Even. Over seven-minutes he talks about graduating in the eighties and opening a studio in downtown L.A. during the punk and new wave era. He talks about how he got work as a scenery artist for film and did matte shots, working on Star Wars without knowing it, working on The Gong Show, getting hired to work on Retribution and realizing that Magar and company knew what they wanted. He did some sketch work and after getting the okay, wound up doing a few different versions of the demon face featured in the painting in the movie. Fahr also talks about how he worked closely with Lipscomb so that he’d be able to get the painting scenes right.

    Living In Oblivion interviews production designer Robb Wilson King for ten-minutes. Here we learn about how he got into art and design, how he was a lifelong movie freak and when studying architecture wound up getting a part time job designing sets for Roger Corman. This helped him get into the film industry and get work on Retribution after working on a few horror movies like The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare On Elm Street and more. He then goes on to talk about meeting Guy Magar and really getting along with him, his thoughts on the script for Retribution, the film’s low budget, what was involved in getting the production design required for the film done, having to construct a few unique sets for the film, creating the gallery and studio sets seen in the movie, why the Easter Island statue appears in the movie and how he feels about the film overall.

    Also included on the disc is a student short by Guy Magar entitled Bingo, made in 1973. This is available to watch with an optional commentary from Magar. This two-minute short is literally set around a game of Bingo, showing the players and the box of balls blowing around. As numbers are called, a winner claims her prize – which turns out to be a loaded pistol that she uses to shoot one of the other players! The commentary explains when and how this was made and provides some context for it.

    Rounding out the extras on disc one are a few trailers for the film as well as a stills and poster gallery.

    On the second disc, we get a commentary from director Guy Magar moderated by David Gregory. They speak about the opening credits and the use of music overtop of them, getting inspired by The Exorcist and co-writing with Lee Wasserman and how much hard work the cast and crew put into getting this love budget movie finished. He explains why the movie is set around Halloween, shooting in downtown Los Angeles, using some crane shots in the early hotel scene to add production value and how he wound up co-editing the film. As the track progresses, they talk about Alan Howarth's score for the film, how he moved from directing television into the feature business with this film, casting the film, some of the symbolism in the film, what was shot no a set versus what was shot on location, issues that they had with the MPAA and how the film was originally given an X, where the excised footage for the uncut presentation came from, learning from Mike Leigh at film school in London, shooting the slaughterhouse scene, getting the entire cast to agree to work on SAG scale, the film's unfortunate distribution history, staging some of the stunts in the film and plenty more.

    Also included with the two Blu-ray discs is the film’s entire soundtrack on CD, which is always a welcome addition to any release.

    Note that this review is based on test discs so we can’t comment on any packaging or inserts, though we can say that this release does come with some cool reversible cover sleeve art.

    Retribution – The Final Word:

    Retribution is a really unique and original horror film, one that defies expectations and that will keep you entertained and engaged from start to finish. It’s got some great effects, strong production values and some impressive performances, especially from Lipscomb. Severin’s two-disc Blu-ray release includes both cuts of the film, loads of really well-done extras and the film’s soundtrack on CD – what more could a Retribution fan ask for? Highly recommended!

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