• The Laughing Dead (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    The Laughing Dead (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review
    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: October 26th, 2021.
    Director: Somtow Sucharitkul
    Cast: Tim Sullivan, Wendy Webb, Premika Eaton, Patrick Roskowick, Larry Kagen, Krista Keim
    Year: 1989
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    The Laughing Dead – Movie Review:

    Written, produced, scored and directed by Thai-born Somtow Sucharitkul (who also stars in the film!), 1989’s The Laughing Dead is a rather strange film but a pretty interesting one that funs of more diverse horror films should appreciate.

    Father Sullivan (Tim Sullivan) is a Catholic priest that somehow winds up being in charge of a tourist expedition to Mexico so that they can check out the country’s annual Day Of The Dead celebrations and to check out some Aztec ruins. Along for the ride in the church bus are Wilbur (Larry Kagen) and his lady friend Clarisse (Krista Keim), an obnoxious guy named Dozois (Raymond Ridenour) and a cranky curmudgeon type named (Gregory Frost). Hidden away in the back is a teenaged runaway named Laurie (Premika Eaton).

    When they stop in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, they meet up with Tessie (Wendy Webb), a strange woman who was once a nun. The reason she’s no longer a Bride Of Christ is that she, years back, had a torrid affair with none other than Sullivan himself, and she gave birth to a boy named Ivan (Patrick Roskowick) out of wedlock. Things go from bad to worse when they bus driver inadvertently runs over a local girl, killing her in a strange way, and continue to go south when Dr. Um-Tzec (Sucharitkul) enlists Sullivan’s aid in conducting an exorcism that actually turns out to be part of his plan not to cleanse a townsperson of a demonic spirit but to conduct a ritual to please the old gods and bring about mass sacrifices and an apocalypse of sorts.

    This is a weird film. Sucharitkul is probably better known in North America under his pen name, S.P. Somtow, and he chose to cast the film with quite a few other writers. As such, many of the leads in the picture aren’t necessarily professional thespians, and it frequently shows, but the acting in the picture isn’t bad so much as it is unique.

    Sucharitkul shot the film in Arizona doubling for Mexico, and for the most part this works well enough, and while he wasn’t working with a massive budget, the production values here are decent. The cinematography is pretty polished and the movie makes great use of a pretty bright, bold color scheme. The story is unique, not quite a zombie movie and never really a slasher at all, more of a hodgepodge of different cultural quirks kind of mixed in together with a bit of decent gore and makeup effects. Bonus points to Sucharitkul and company for getting very creative with some of the film’s murder set pieces, and the score is pretty solid here as well.

    The movie isn’t perfect – it’s a bit disjointed, tonally uneven and the middle stretch drags a bit – but there’s more than enough here that works to help those with a taste for unique horror pictures that don’t necessarily abide be genre clichés to be plenty entertained.

    The Laughing Dead – Blu-ray Review:

    The Laughing Dead comes to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer taking up 27.2GBs of space on a 50GB disc. Framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and “newly restored in 4K from its original negative,” the picture quality here is excellent. The image is naturally grainy at times but it always looks perfectly film-like and shows very little in the way of actual print damage. There’s strong depth and detail present throughout and the image is free of any noticeable edge enhancement, compression artifacts or noise reduction. Colors also look really, really nice and we get solid black levels as well.

    The 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track, available with optional English subtitles, sounds good. The levels are properly balanced and there are no problems with any hiss, distortion or sibilance. An optional Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is also provided.

    Extras start off with a commentary track with writer/director/producer Somtow Sucharitkul that goes over his origins as a filmmaker, some of his training and background details, how he wound up making a feature in America, how he got into writing and why, casting decisions, effects work, trying to depict Mayan culture accurately in the film, locations that were used for the shoot and quite a bit more. Sucharitkul has got a pretty good memory and he tells some interesting stories here.

    Unholy Assembly: Crafting The Laughing Dead is an extended thirty-five minute making-of documentary that includes interviews with Sucharitkul as well as producer Lex Nakashima, actress Premika Eaton, actor Tim Sullivan, cinematographer David Boyd, associate producer/second unit director Michael Deak, costume designer Shellagh Hannigan and transportation/production assistant Ron Ford. This interesting piece goes over how the movie came to be, going over where some of the ideas for the movie came from, getting things rolling, casting the picture, the studio used for the shoot, what it was like on set, what it was like working with Suharitkul as a director and how they got around some of the issues and problems that arose during the making of the film.

    If you purchase the release directly from Vinegar Syndrome, the first 5000 copies will come with a limited edition, embossed rigid slipcover designed by Robert Sammelin.

    The Laughing Dead – The Final Word:

    The Laughing Dead is a genuinely weird film, and while it isn’t particularly scary, it’s atmospheric and strange enough to work. Vinegar Syndrome’s done a nice job with the presentation and the extras are decent too. Recommended for those look for something a little off the beaten path.

    Click on the images below for full sized The Laughing Dead Blu-ray screen caps!