Release Date(s)1986 (July 26, 2022)
Studio(s)Culture Shock Releasing/Vinegar Syndrome
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: C
- Audio Grade: C
- Extras Grade: B-
In the streaming era, where the lines between theatrical features and made-for-streaming titles have blurred to the point where there’s often little difference between the two, it’s easy to forget that home video didn’t always have that kind of respectability. There were hard lines between theatrical features and direct-to-video titles, with the latter being the Rodney Dangerfield of the film world. While the earliest DTV titles primarily consisted of films that failed to get a theatrical release, the genre increasingly became dominated by titles that were made specifically for the home video market. Most of those were shot on film, as videotape technology still hadn’t gotten past the standard definition stage. Yet that didn’t stop enthusiastic young creators from shooting no-budget films on videotape, and sometimes marketing the results by themselves. There was direct-to-video, and then there was direct-to-video.
Night Ripper was a 1986 effort from writer/director Jeff Hathcock, who had previously made the 1985 feature Victims! on film. Night Ripper was his entry into the shot-on-video market. It’s a fairly straightforward slasher movie involving an anonymous knife-wielding serial killer who preys on nubile young women, with plenty of red herrings for suspects, and an out-of-left-field reveal at the conclusion. There’s a lot of padding, with some unnecessarily lengthy driving sequences, and Hathcock paid little attention to the 180 degree rule, so the visual continuity can be questionable. Still, he displayed a touch more confidence behind the camera than some other SOV directors, so there’s less static camerawork and more editing than was the norm. He did overuse his cutaway knife prop—it was probably the most expensive item in the entire budget, so he made sure he got his money’s worth, right up to the very end. (Speaking of which, it’s not clear if he set his finale at a mannequin factory as an homage to Stanley Kubrick’s Killer’s Kiss, or if that was just a coincidence.)
The acting is serviceable at best, and a trifle cringeworthy at its worst. Lead actors James Hansen, April Anne, Danielle Louis, and Simon DeSoto didn’t do much else, though DeSoto did reappear as his bargain-basement Lee J. Cobb police lieutenant in Hathcock’s SOV follow-up Streets of Death. On the other hand, April Audia kept working, primarily in television, but the most familiar face here is none other than Larry “The Soup Nazi” Thomas, a decade before he became a Seinfeld legend. His Harry Reems mustache makes The Night Ripper feel like an Eighties porn video at times, despite the fact that there’s not much nudity on display. Still, it’s always fun to see well-known actors like that in their earliest appearances. (He still has the mustache, by the way.)
Videographer Joe Dinh shot Night Ripper in standard definition on 3/4” U-Matic video tape, using a Sony video camera. This presentation of the movie was derived from the analogue master tape, and since that was interlaced, it’s been upscaled to 1080i instead of 1080p. It’s probably a small step up from other SOV projects that were shot on VHS, but it still needs to be viewed with expectations kept firmly in check. There’s frequent smearing, shimmering, and jaggies on display, and the overall level of detail is limited. Shadow definition is perhaps a bit better than average, but things still tend to wash out in darker shots, and the black hair on some of the actors tends to be featureless. The presentation here is far from reference quality, but it’s as good as it can get given the limitations of the source material.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. Typically for an SOV production, it’s primarily unmixed production audio with post-dubbed music, so there can be a lack of continuity between shots, with the background noise levels changing between camera setups. There’s also a somewhat harsh, metallic edge to the sound, with excessive sibilance in the dialogue. Some of the louder effects such as jangling car keys can also be a little grating. Despite those flaws, it’s a serviceable audio track for this kind of production.
The Culture Shock Releasing Blu-ray of Night Ripper includes a reversible insert, featuring the original International Video Presentations artwork on one side, and new artwork designed by Haunt Love on the reverse. There’s also an embossed and spot gloss slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, limited to the first 3,000 units, featuring the Haunt Love artwork. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with the Movie Melt! Grindhouse and Exploitation Podcast
- Interview with Actress April Audia (HD – 21:36)
- Interview with Larry Thomas (HD – 19:56)
- Interview with Jeff Hathcock (HD – 19:22)
- Extended Gore Sequences (Upscaled SD – 2:29)
- Still Gallery (HD – 5:10)
- Trailers (Upscaled SD and HD – 12:43)
The commentary track features Matt, David, and Shea from the Movie Melt! Grindhouse and Exploitation Podcast (plus Heather, too, even though she’s not listed on the menu). It’s not really a commentary track as much as it is an attempt to riff on the movie. Rather than offering any information about the production, they generally just joke about what’s happening on screen, and provide their own sound effects via a variety of audio clips. They did do a bit of research before recording, and occasionally offer tidbits about the actors and a few other things, but it’s mostly a reaction track. While they definitely do amuse themselves, you’ll only have to listen to the first minute or two in order to decide whether or not it’s going to work for you.
In the interview with April Audia, she explains how she got involved in the world of SOV, what it was like to work with Larry Thomas and Jeff Hathcock, and what it was like to play this type of character (in more ways than one). She also offers some production stories, and shares what it was like to see the movie on the shelves in video stores. The interview with Larry Thomas covers a similar set of questions, as well as looking at what it was like to work on this kind of project after his first feature film Terror on Tour. He talks about his experiences going to Cons for Seinfeld and having people ask about Night Ripper instead. Considering that Thomas let someone post his apology for his performance in Terror on Tour on IMDb, it’s nice that he was willing to sit down and have an amiable chat about working on this one. Finally, Hathcock’s interview offers some practical details about the production, such as casting, shooting, and the differences between using non-union and union crews. He’s directed on both film and video, but he still enjoys the advantages of being able to work quickly with video, and the creativity that was necessitated by his nonexistent budgets. (He says that the lead actors on Night Ripper were paid $50 for two weeks of work.)
The rest of the extras consist of an outtake reel of gore footage from the various killings, and a stills gallery including various behind-the-scenes photographs. The trailers are for different Culture Shock Releasing titles: Slash Dance, The American Scream, Girlfriend from Hell, Video Murders, and Death Collector.
This release of Night Ripper isn’t likely to win over any new converts, though as Larry Thomas attests in his interview, the movie definitely has its fans. It’s still wonderful that companies like Culture Shock Releasing continue to offer titles like this on Blu-ray, and it’s also further proof of what a fantastic year that 2022 continues to be for fans of physical media.
- Stephen Bjork