NIGHTKILL (1980) Blu-ray
Director: Ted Post
Kino Lorber

Jaclyn Smith trades the Angels for James Franciscus in the run-of-the-mill thriller NIGHTKILL on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

Having long endured the emotional abuse of her businessman husband Wendell Atwell (MANNIX's Mike Connors) – who has plenty to spread among the help and his own pets – Katherine (Smith) wants a divorce even though her own family fortune is inextricably entangled in her husband's business so that she can be happy with Wendell's business partner Steve Fulton (Franciscus). Things quickly take a turn, however, when Steve takes it upon himself to poison Wendell with an untraceable drug developed by their biochemical division, intending to take Wendell's D.C. business trip in his place, collect the million dollars' worth hush money Wendell keeps stashed in a locker at the airport, and then return the next day to get rid of the body down a nearby abandoned mineshaft. A shell-shocked Katherine goes about her evening, accepting an award for her work with juvenile delinquents while fending off the attentions of amorous Herbert (Fritz Weaver, CREEPSHOW), the husband of her best friend Monika (Sybil Danning, THE HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF). When police lieutenant Donner (Robert Mitchum, CAPE FEAR) turns up on her doorstep after Wendell's secretary (Belinda Mayne, FRIGHTMARE) has reported him missing, Katherine endeavors to dispose of the body herself only to discover something even more shocking stored in the deep freeze. With Donner poking around, Katherine tries to keep herself together, but it seems as though Wendell might not be dead and is saving a dark and stormy night to take his revenge.

A West German co-production lensed in Arizona with an American director and British crew – including a couple make-up effects by Stuart Freeborn (STAR WARS) – NIGHTKILL is a painfully bland murder mystery full of obvious twists, distinguished only by its interesting if underutilized cast, some scenic backdrops (although WHITE OF THE EYE made far more atmospheric use of Arizona as a psycho-thriller backdrop), high production value interiors, and the occasional clever composition and lighting of cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond (DON'T LOOK NOW). Smith does well enough as the focus of the usual gaslighting mechanics while Connors, Franciscus, and Mitchum stick around long enough to pick up paychecks. Weaver and Danning are slightly more colorful characters but used to little effect. The triumphs of producers David Gil and Richard Hellman with JOE and SWEET MOVIE respectively, while the flat direction is what one would expect of jobbing director Ted Post (BONANZA, RAWHIDE) when not given a script as outlandish as THE BABY.

An Avco-Embassy television and Embassy Home Entertainment VHS release, NIGHTKILL was an eyesore on the video shelves but has been out of circulation digitally until recently. Kino Lorber's MGM-licensed 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray looks better than the VHS tape but that's about the most that can be said for it. The image is clean and color but not particularly inviting in terms of detail and texture, possibly the result of the original photography or an older HD master. The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track fares better in terms of dialogue and the scoring of Günther Fischer (JUST A GIGOLO). No subtitles or captioning options are provided.

Extras include an audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson who themselves are surprised that the film is getting a Blu-ray release, and that the film was meant for a theatrical release but would more likely have been seen by viewers on TV or on videotape where it was marketed as a slasher film. They are at pains to establish what is remarkable about the film but have more than enough of "interest" to point out from the oeuvre of jobbing director Post (which extends far before his television career back to the stage with American Negro Theatre) who RAWHIDE's Eastwood brought in to direct HANG 'EM HIGH, and the experience of collaborators like HARRAD EXPERIMENT cinematographer Richard H. Kline who reveals that Post did insist on normalcy in the visual rather than flourish. In pointing out thrillers upon which Post might have drawn from, the commentators more or less provide a list of films with which the viewer's time is better spent. Also included is an interview with actress Smith (13:43) who recalls her post-CHARLIE'S ANGELS film career, the professionalism of her co-stars, Post as a performance-oriented director, and Freeborn – with whom she had previously worked on Lewis Gilbert's THE ADVENTURERS – working on her make-up for the finale. A video-sourced teaser trailer (0:21) is included along with trailers for STONE COLD DEAD, HEART OF MIDNIGHT, STILL OF THE NIGHT, and NIGHT ANGEL. (Eric Cotenas)