LURKING FEAR (1994) Blu-ray
Director: C. Courtney Joyner
Full Moon Studios

Charles Band's Full Moon tackles THE LURKING FEAR in the long-delayed follow-up to Stuart Gordon's Empire-era H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, on Blu-ray from Full Moon Studios.

Wrongfully-convicted John Martense (Blake Bailey, HEAD OF THE FAMILY) gets out of jail after a year and learns his father's partner-in-crime-turned-mortician Skelton Knaggs (Vincent Schiavelli, LORD OF ILLUSION) about his "inheritance": a cache of stolen money buried in the cemetery of the remote town Lefferts Corners where he was born. Unbeknownst to John, gangster Bennett (Jon Finch, FRENZY), along with his Judo-kicking gun moll Ms. Marlowe (Alison Mackie, SLIVER) and hulking enforcer Pierce (Joseph Leavengood, BASKET CASE II), is also after his stolen money. Returning to Lefferts Corners, John discovers that it has become a ghost town over the past twenty years, the denizens having fallen prey to carnivorous beings beneath the town in secret catacombs. The few remaining townspeople include ballistics expert Cathryn (HELLRAISER's Ashley Laurence, strangely billed as "Ashley Lauren") whose sister (Ilinca Goia, VAMPIRE JOURNALS) was the latest victim, drunken Dr. Haggis (RE-ANIMATOR's Jeffrey Combs), would be martyr Father Poole (Paul Mantee, DAY OF THE ANIMALS), pregnant Marie (Cristina Stoica, DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT), and scarred Ryan (Adrian Pintea, MANDROID). On the night John and Bennett wander into town, the others have holed up in the church and rigged the graveyard with explosives to mount a final battle against the creatures on Christmas Day. The race for riches soon becomes a fight for survival, and John may be the last to discover his dark connection to the town.

Originally announced as a Stuart Gordon film for Charles Band's Empire Pictures along with DAGON (which Gordon did not helm that until 2001 for producer Brian Yuzna's Fantastic Factory and the Spanish company Filmax), LURKING FEAR was mounted for Band's Full Moon with a script by director C. Courtney Joyner who had scripted PRISON for Empire and would also pen PUPPET MASTER III and DR. MORDRID for Full Moon. Set in America but shot in Romania with very Eastern European locations - apart from some second unit in Los Angeles - albeit handsomely by Full Moon regular Adolfo Bartoli (Stuart Gordon's THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM), the film disappoints with its run-of-the-mill crime plot and the feel that it has been either pruned down or under-scripted, with the actors (particularly Laurence, Combs, Mackie, and Finch) conveying unexplored depths while Bailey's hero is not given much time to take in his family legacy. The film has aged better when one takes into account the more recent Full Moon productions, not to mention many of the more recent Lovecraft adaptations, but is more entertaining as one of the latter pictures of Full Moon's heyday. The voice of the main creature was dubbed by actor James Quinn who had previously dubbed the demon Angela in NIGHT OF THE DEMONS. A more faithful, but budget- and performance-challenged adaptation can be found in Louisiana-lensed DARK HERITAGE (1989), while the source story also inspired the Canadian 1997 film LEEDERS/HEMOGLOBIN (itself possibly another long-shelved treatment since its writing credits include Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusset who had previously collaborated on ALIEN and DEAD & BURIED).

Released on tape and laserdisc by Paramount who distributed much of Full Moon's product during their early nineties heyday, LURKING FEAR has long been available on DVD from Full Moon utilizing the same aged fullscreen tape master. As such, the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer on Full Moon's single-layer Blu-ray could not help but be an improvement. The few daylight exteriors look a bit more vibrant, but it is the film's candlelit church interiors that once looked brownish and grainy on VHS and DVD that here convey an increased sense of depth and warmth. The textures of the sets as well as the real locations are much more impressive, as is the relatively complexity of Bartoli's lighting. The increased resolution reveals some additional blood gushing as victims are dragged away while giving one a better sense of the creature prosthetics but also making them look more like the latex that they really are. A couple insert shots stand out sorely as second unit since they are more flatly-lit and crisper looking than Bartoli's exteriors which are somewhat overexposed to make the abandoned Lefferts Corners look more parched. As with other Full Moon Blu-rays, the original Dolby Stereo track has been given a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo encode and a 5.1 upmix. Either one is acceptable, lacking the range of a lossless and truly discrete surround mix but gets the job done even if it does not truly envelop the listener.

Carried over from the DVD editions are the "Videozone" making-of featurette (6:40) – which focuses on the effects work and spoils several deaths – and the film's teaser (1:00), while the Blu-ray contains a brand new audio commentary by writer/director Joyner. The lively track starts off with Joyner revealing that Stuart Gordon's original concept for the Empire version was a 1930's Warner Bros. pastiche with Barbara Crampton (CASTLE FREAK), and his own difficultly in adapting Lovecraft's first-person short story. He admits to falling back on crime and detective story elements and now admits that it was a mistake. He expresses his appreciation throughout for Bartoli's photography, the Romanian art department who restored a real church that had been burned by the Russians years before (after the production left, the church was used for regular worship before the area was flooded for a nuclear reactor), the use of standing sets at Buftea Studios, and the opportunity to blow up the backlot for the climax since the studio was being demolished. He reveals that he wanted Christopher Lee or Oliver Reed for Bennett (the British gangster being a reference to THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY) but they were unavailable. He got agreements from David Hemmings (BLOW UP), Barry Foster (FRENZY), and Jon Finch (MACBETH) – a recommendation by Jeff Burr (FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM) who was a huge fan of THE LAST DAYS OF MAN ON EARTH/THE FINAL PROGRAMME – but reveals that he turned down Hemmings out of his own insecurity since he thought the experienced actor-turned-director would take over the production, and that Foster fell ill. He also mentions that Mackie was his cousin and jumped at the idea of playing a femme fatale (although she had to train for her martial arts scenes), and that Schiavelli was a local celebrity since GHOST was playing in Bucharest at the time. Also new to the Blu-ray edition are an additional trailer (2:30) for the film and a selection of deleted scenes (4:10) – in HD but lacking the original production audio – that include a different introduction to Father Poole (making sense of one of the first shots of the church interior as an extension of this sequence), Bennett's visit to the jail, a lot of additional second unit establishing shots of Lefferts Corners, and just as much extra shots of the buildings being blown up. Sadly lost is an extension of Bennett's final scene since it appears to include additional dialogue between him and the creature. Another lost scene was the coda with Bailey and Laurence that apparently expresses the protagonist's self-doubt conveyed in the finished cut's closing narration. It is wisely deleted since the film does not really bear out the relationship between the two actually becoming romantic, but it is unfortunate that the dialogue from this sequence is lost. Bonus Trailers include SPECTERS (1:30) – released stateside and in the UK as REEL EVIL – VAMPIRE JOURNALS (an off-shoot of the SUBSPECIES series), PUPPET MASTER 2, PUPPET MASTER 3, SUBSPECIES 2, and TRANCERS 2. (Eric Cotenas)