STONE COLD DEAD (1979) Blu-ray
Director: George Mendeluk
Kino Lorber Studio Classics

A Canadian-made thriller which gives TV and screen legend Richard Crenna a superior latter-day starring role, STONE COLD DEAD makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Kino Lorber.

During the cold Toronto winter, a sniper is killing off prostitutes using a silenced rifle with a Canon camera mounted on it – taking snapshots of their exact moments of death and sending them to the police in a sicko kind of taunt (along with cryptic letters), as authorities have no leads. On the case is Sergeant Boyd (Richard Crenna, THE EVIL) whose prime suspect is pint-sized strong-arm pimp Julius Kurtz (Paul Williams, BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES) who he’d like nothing more than to arrest and put behind bars, but there’s clearly not enough evidence to do so. As more bodies pile up, Boyd keeps close tabs on former “madame” Monica Page (Linda Sorensen, CLASS OF 1984) who was friends with recently-murdered junkie Bernice Carnival (Andrée Cousineau, ANGELA), who happens to have been Kurtz’ girlfriend. Monica, who is estranged from her daughter Olivia (Alberta Watson, THE KEEP) due to her dubious associations, also is befriended by sexy undercover police woman and aspiring singer Sandy MacAuley (Belinda J. Montgomery, THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER) and is nearly romanced by Boyd, as the murders continue and the nocturnal marksman remains at large.

The late 1970s city of Toronto is a perfect setting for the prostitution, drug abuse and murdering mayhem in STONE COLD DEAD, giving a 42nd Street-like vibe abound with peep shows, strip clubs and divey theater marquees showing exploitation movies that were already a few years old by this point. Never too sleazy, the worthwhile thriller does have doses of nudity and splashes of gore resulting in a proper aura of decay, and it sort of plays out like a Canadian giallo, especially in the scenes where the killer develops the shots of his homicides in a red-lit dark room, as well as the staging of the photographed shootings. Crenna is his usual reliable self, sporting the obligatory trenchcoat and spurting some choice dialogue (“140 bucks… it doesn’t even pay for the box”, he says as he counts the cash of one pavement-laying call girl victim) and is given a memorable character trate in that he (a confirmed bachelor) has concocted a contraption that allows him to feed his aquarium fish by simply calling his house phone. Williams’ pimp character is not the typical crime lord; he initially starts off as the film’s red herring, but apparently he has a conscience (mad as sin when his lover shows traces of heroin tracks on her harm) and a human side (crying at his lover's wake). This is a nice touch for a baddie that could have been stereotypical and one-dimensional.

Based on the novel “The Sin Sniper” by Hugh Garner, STONE COLD DEAD throws in a lot of shady oddball characters to keep things interestingly convoluted, and the film could play well as a companion piece to STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM, itself a Canadian/Italian production (shot in Quebec) about a revenge-seeking policeman out to find a killer. Fans of Canuxploitation will easily recognize the supporting cast which includes Frank Moore (Marilyn Chambers’ boyfriend in David Cronenberg’s RABID) as a peep show pervert and prime suspect, Chuck Shamata (Brenda Vaccaro’s boyfriend in William Fruet’s DEATH WEEKEND) as Boyd’s reluctant partner, boxer George Chuvalo (Cronenberg’s THE FLY) as… a boxer and Jennifer Dale (OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN) as a doomed exotic dancer/hooker. A pre-SCANNERS Michael Ironside can also be seen briefly (and I mean “blink and you miss him” briefly) as a cop. Same goes for future “Scream Queen” Lesleh Donaldson (FUNERAL HOME, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME, CURTAINS) as a girl sitting in a police station. The fitting score is by Paul Zaza (known for his work on numerous Bob Clark movies) and it’s surprising to hear Bob Seger’s "The Fire Down Below" (a non-hit yet popular track off of his 1976 “Night Moves” LP) played during the introductory scene of the gritty Toronto streets.

Released theatrically in the U.S. by Dimension Pictures in 1980, when STONE COLD DEAD started showing up on the MGM HD channel recently, it was hopeful that a Blu-ray release was around the corner, and here it is. The film is presented in 1080p HD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and despite films from this period frequently having a persistent hazy softness quality, the transfer is quite sharp and satisfying. Colors are strong, and in some scenes really pop out, and film grain is visible and present without being too intrusive. The detail levels (especially in facial features) are sharp and black levels are good, especially given all the night-time scenes. The source element used for the transfer is in fantastic shape, clean and free of extensive blemishes. The audio comes in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, and the mix has clear dialogue; the layering of the music and sound effects give a nice sense of atmosphere to the track. No subtitle options are on the disc. Missing from this presentation is an opening scene featuring a very young (and nude) Linnea Quigley playing a prostitute who is shot by a sniper while taking a shower. This scene was present in the Dimension Pictures version (as well as the old Media Home Entertainment VHS), so it’s possible that it was inserted for the American cut (her name does not appear in the lengthy end credits and her scene is not shot like the other murders in the film) which clocks in at a full 100 minutes (this Blu-ray presentation is actually (1:48:20).

Included is an interview with director George Mendeluk (9:05) who mentions that it was a Canadian tax shelter film, that it was inspired by his fascination with Jack the Ripper as well as BLOW UP, that he almost got busted during location shooting, and he reveals that they actually shot some of the opening scenes in New York’s 42nd Street which was then combined with Toronto’s Yonge Street (immortalized on SCTV). Mendeluk mentions that he cast Williams since he loved him in THE PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, Crenna took the part since he loved the script and that the majority of the cast had to be Canadian. On for an audio commentary are film historians Nathaniel Thompson and Howard S. Berger, who talk about the director’s career, the cast, the Canadian film industry of the period, the distribution, and their general views on the film (no mention is made of the missing Linnea Quigley scene). Also included is the film’s original American trailer, as well as trailers for ROLLING VENGEANCE, NIGHT ANGEL, THE ROSARY MURDERS and RAWHEAD REX. The Blu-ray’s cover art is reversible. (George R. Reis)