An Italian/U.S. co-production shot on location in Florida, PRIMAL RAGE truly keeps things in the family. It was directed by Vittorio Rambaldi, son of Carlo Rambaldi, the legendary special effects maestro best known for creating E.T. (well, to the frequent readers of this site, he’s best known for the countless Italian horror films that employed his magic). Carlo also worked on this film, and his other son Alex assisted him. Add Italian exploitation royalty Umberto Lenzi supplying the script (using the Americanized pen name of “Harry Kirkpatrick”) and ex Goblin keyboard player Claudio Simonetti providing the score, and you’d expect much better things, but at the very least, PRIMAL RAGE still manages to deliver the cheese factor in a very 1980s sort of fashion.
On a typically acitive Florida college campus, Ethridge (Bo Svenson, the veteran among a cast of mainly unknowns) is given funding to do research using a baboon, for reasons that have to do with restoring dead brain tissue, or something to that effect. Smiley campus nice guy Sam Ash (Patrick Lowe) and self-labeled gonzo jounalist Duffy (Mitch Watson), plan to break the story and find out what this guy is up to. Duffy makes the mistake of breaking into the lab, accidentally freeing the primate (soon killed by an oncoming police car), but is bitten in the process. It seems the animal was given some sort of experimental injections and now Duffy is infected with a “rage” disease that get progressively worse.
With Duffy quickly transforming into a diseased madman, Sam sets them up on dates with two campus cuties in the shape of Lauren (Cheryl Arutt) and Debbie (soap star Sarah Buxton). Duffy shows his first signs of intensified rage by ably protecting date Debbie from a much beefier, sexist aggressor, but later as they’re smooching by the pool, his hickey infects her with the rage syndrome. Duffy later goes ape shit in a doctor’s office and proceeds to kill a few innocent bystanders. Debbie becomes abducted by a trio of muscle-headed would-be rapists, but the imbeciles only manage to get bitten (and you guessed it, infected) before she easily gets away. The police rightly suspect Duffy of the slaughter and destruction, while Sam has to make a drastic decision about his buddy's well being. Sam's romance with Lauren flourishes and the effects of the spreading rage virus culminate at a campus Halloween party, providing a lively backdrop for the climax.
PRIMAL RAGE is very 1980s, even if the film was made at the very tail end of the decade. Here, you’ll witness college dorms adored with “Avoid the Noid” posters and plush Alf dolls, a trio of irritating bullies that resemble extras from the original KARATE KID, and too many songs that encompass power pop, hip hop (yikes!) and hair metal at their most grating levels. Claudio Simonetti’s score does chime in once in a while, recalling the pulsating intensity of Goblin’s glory days, but the dated 1980s pop tunes dominate, unfortunately. With a pseudo preppy hero who is introduced as a “knight in shining” armor, riding in a red motor bike and saving his future girlfriend from the fate of a unethical tow truck operator(!), the non-horror elements of PRIMAL RAGE could have been prime inspiration for the lampooning in the recent HOT TUB TIME MACHINE.
Acting is pretty abysmal for the most part, and the characters (which include conveniently useless patrolman and horny professors who accept sexual favors from their more leggy students in exchange for good grades) are laughable, making for a more than campy campus opus (pretty clever choice of words, eh?). As she had an abortion before coming to school and has some really awful parents, the character of Debbie starts out to be the most interesting, but is ultimately wasted as she becomes a teenage monster. Bo Svenson (here sporting white tennis shoes and a trendy one-inch pony tail) sleepwalks through the role, or perhaps it’s a brilliantly underplayed portrayal of an eccentric mad scientist, you decide. The real star here is the Carlo Rambaldi (and son) effects, which include a beheading, chronic blistering, throat gougings and other spaghetti delights. Anyone who has seen his experimental dogs in A LIZARD IN A WOMAN’S SKIN know how adept the elder Rambaldi is at simulating animals, and his baboon is so life-like, it’s hard to tell it apart from the real one that’s substituted for it.
Code Red presents the rather obscure PRIMAL RAGE in a splendid looking transfer. Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, colors are immaculate (and really shine, especially during the Halloween party climax) and detail is very sharp, with very little in the way of grain and only some fleeting debris. The mono audio is the original English track and comes across nicely (unless you take into consideration all those annoying 1980s tunes which plague the soundtrack!). A TV spot for FAMILY HONOR commences the menu-less disc, and the film is immediately followed by Code Red trailers for HORROR HIGH, THE NIGHT CHILD (the latter two letterboxed and highly anticipated by yours truly), THE BLACK KLANSMAN, SLITHIS and A LONG RIDE FROM HELL. (George R. Reis)
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