• Perfect Strangers (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: July 28th, 2020.
    Director: Larry Cohen
    Cast: Anne Carlisle, Brad Rijn, John Woehrle, Matthew Stockley, Stephen Lack, Ann Magnuson
    Year: 1984
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    Perfect Strangers – Movie Review:

    Cousin Larry and Balki Bartokomous are, for better or worse, nowhere to be seen in this 1984 picture written and directed by the late, great Larry Cohen, and while the cover art might make this look a little bit like a porno movie until you see the knife, the fact of the matter is that this lesser-known Cohen picture is actually a pretty stylish and tense New York City-based thriller well worth checking out.

    The movie introduces us to Johnny Ross (Brad Rijn). He’s a hitman for the mob and he’s the best at what he does. Early in the picture, Johnny has just finished up his latest job by knifing his target in an alleyway but after making the kill he realizes that there’s a singular witness – a young boy, a toddler who can’t talk named Matthew (Matthew Stockley).

    The hoods that paid Johnny to do the job are not happy at all that there’s a witness left, while the boy and his mother, Sally (Anne Carlisle), go about their lives as if nothing had happened. Johnny’s not really sure how much the kid is going to be able to do to help any would-be gumshoes or retaliatory criminal types from breaking the case, but regardless, it’s a problem that the higher-ups would like dealt with. Johnny, puzzlingly enough, is also a graffiti artist, but regardless, in order to deal with the problem that the boy presents, Johnny decides to track down and seduce Sally in an effort to get closer to her kid, but of course, this new and torrid affair winds up causing a whole different set of problems for our spray-paint loving assassin – it never pays to mix business with pleasure.

    Cohen mixes this one up with some interesting ideas, throwing the battle of the sexes into things in a big way (Sally is an ardent feminist and has no problem speaking her mind about such matters), as well as the creeping sense of doom that can sometimes turn out to be a part of the more dangerous side of big city life. There are moments where he goes for the obvious ploys to get the audience involved – it’s easy for him to get the audience to feel for cute little Matthew when his life is frequently put into danger – but there are some interesting twists and turns here that, like most of Cohen’s pictures, give a bit more flavor than the similar pictures churned out by many of his contemporaries.

    As to the acting? Well, Matthew Stockley plays a toddler well, because he’s a toddler, so the movie has that going for it. Super skinny Brad Rijn doesn’t look like your typical paid killer, but that’s part of what makes him good for the part. He brings his own sense of style to a performance that could have easily been a big old cliché and makes Johnny a bit more interesting than he might have been in the hands of another actor (though Cohen’s writing has to share credit for this as well). Anne Carlisle, who is probably best known for Liquid Sky, brings an effectively distant quality to her character that is somehow appropriate for all that she goes through, they work quite well together. The movie also features some great footage of mid-eighties NYC, the whole thing having been shot on location, that adds to the fun.

    Perfect Strangers – Blu-ray Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings Perfect Strangers to Blu-ray “newly scanned and restored in 2k from its 35mm interpositive” taking up just shy of 27GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen, the transfer looks great. You can tell from the start that this puppy was intentionally shot soft, and it shows, the whole thing has a sort of hazy feel to it, but this works in the context of the story that Cohen is telling and is rightly reflected in Vinegar Syndrome’s presentation. Softness aside, and you can’t really dock points for that, the picture quality is really solid. Detail is good when it needs to be and colors are handled well, reproduced accurately. We get nice black levels and skin tones and the picture is free of any noticeable edge enhancement or noise reduction. Compression isn’t a problem and there’s very little in the way of print damage here to bitch about, just the odd white speck here and there.

    Audio chores are handled by a 24-bit English language DTS-HD 2.0 track. The audio is clean and clear and nicely balanced, no trouble with any hiss or distortion to note. The track sounds just fine. An alternate Dolby Digital Mono track, in English, is also provided as are English subtitles.

    Extras start off with A True Artist, an interview with actress Anne Carlisle. This eight-minute piece was shot via Skype due to the Covid-19 issues going on at the time of this writing. She talks about doing this movie right after Liquid Sky and how Perfect Strangers used the same casting director, how her sister appears in the movie, how she got into acting while working as a painter, how much fun she had working as an actress when she first got into it as well as some classes that she took, how much she enjoyed being in New York during this era of her career, how much she enjoyed working with Cohen (who gave her a lot of 'creative leeway'), working with a child actor on set, the trickiness of working on low budget pictures, what she's done since getting out of acting and her thoughts on the film overall.

    Vinegar Syndrome has also included Shadow In The City, an archival interview with director Larry Cohen. In this nine-minute piece he talks about leaving Burbank and heading back to New York City after getting fed up with California and looking to make something 'simple.' He talks about how he hooked up with Hemdale Films and making two pictures back to back with the same crew (the second film being Special Effects), how the film was originally entitled Blind Alley, the trickiness of shooting on location in New York City and some of the problems that arose while doing that (and how Cohen himself wound up appearing in the movie due to one of these problems!), working with Anne Carlisle who he liked a lot, working with the child actor hired for the film and how alert he was even if he wasn't old enough to talk, problems with shooting in a place like New York City that is always under construction and how his own way of making involves not being too prepared.

    A promotional still gallery, menus and chapter selection round out the extra features on the disc.

    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.

    Perfect Strangers – The Final Word Review:

    Perfect Strangers isn’t Cohen’s best film but it’s an underrated entry in his filmography and a very solid thriller with some nice twists and good performances. Vinegar Syndrome has brought this one to Blu-ray in fine work, offering up a nice presentation and an interesting interview with its leading lady as its main extra feature. Recommended.

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

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. davek's Avatar
      davek -
      Sometimes the world looks perfect,
      Nothing to rearrange.
      Sometimes you just get a feeling
      Like you need some kind of change.
      No matter what the odds are this time,
      Nothing's going to stand in my way.
      This flame in my heart,
      Like a long lost friend
      Gives every dark street a light at the end.

      Standing tall, on the wings of my dream.
      Rise and fall, on the wings of my dream.
    1. Alison Jane's Avatar
      Alison Jane -