BIOHAZARD, Fred Olen Ray's 35mm follow-up to SCALPS hits Blu-ray in a limited signed pressing courtesy of Retromedia and Monogram Pictures.
Deep in the desert, Dr. Williams (Art Payton) has perfected a matter transfer device that can reach into other dimensions and retrieve items attracted by the psychic force of empathic Lisa (Angelique Pettyjohn, MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND). During a demonstration for General Randolph (Aldo Ray, HAUNTED) and Senators Chambers (Brad Arrington, ARMED RESPONSE) and Mayfield (Ray Lawrence, SLEDGEHAMMER), the machine materializes a strange metal box that might be a coffin or a shipping crate. Randolph shuts down the project and directs demoted officer Carter (William Fair, DEEP SPACE) and his driver Hodgson (Frank McDonald, SCALPS) to transport the crate back to headquarters. En route, the pint-sized alien inside it (the director's five year old son Chris Olen Ray) escapes, killing a sentry. Carter is sent back to the lab to track and destroy the creature. With the help of Lisa's psychic impressions and a radiation meter, they start searching the countryside for the creature (in between aborted attempts at a May-December romance). While they investigate the contents of an expanding canister Hodgson made off with earlier, the creature terrorizes the locals: including SCALPS alumni Richard Hench, Carroll Borland (MARK OF THE VAMPIRE), and George Randall, THE TOMB's Emmanuel Shipov, and THE BRAIN's Robert King. Tracking the creature down to the requisite abandoned warehouse, Carter has to team up with professional rival Reiger (THE TOMB's David O'Hara) and easily disposable men in black to destroy or trap the alien.
Made after SCALPS with much of the same crew but on 35mm, BIOHAZARD looks quite slick for budget with its combination of a yesteryear "man in a suit" monster and eighties gore and nudity (relatively restrained in the latter case for a Ray film). It is certainly padded, but the various sidetracks of the plot have as much to do with the "monster terrorizes the countryside" part of the story as it does the stop-and-start nature of the two year shoot and getting the running time up to eighty minutes. The tongue-in-cheek humor and Ray's obvious affection for the performers and the genre (as opposed to the dislike he expressed for the slasher genre in regards to making SCALPS to get a foot in the door) are such that the meandering middle and the "oh, I give up" ending gag work for the viewer who knows what to expect from an eighties Fred Olen Ray film. The film's blooper reel was also appended to the end credits for the sake of padding and shows not only amusing gaffes, but also the frustration of such mistakes when shooting on short ends and rushed schedules, as well as off-the-wagon Ray's attempts to get through his dialogue with some degree of dignity. The film's creature suit was built by Kenneth J. Hall (PUPPET MASTER) and his brother Cleve (NIGHTMARE) while the make-up effects of Jon McCallum (PRISON SHIP) and Bart Mixon (THE SUPERNATURALS) were a nice step up from SCALPS (a severed head seen late in the film was provided by Steve Johnson). Bret Mixon (THE ABYSS) designed the film's title sequence and visual effects animation.
Released in 1985 on tape by Continental Video – a company that distributed a number of 21st Century Film Corporation theatrical releases – and then later by Mntex (who also reissued EVIL SPAWN as THE ALIEN WITHIN featuring new footage), BIOHAZARD hit DVD in 2003 in a letterboxed transfer with commentary track from Ray. Transferred from a 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative, BIOHAZARD's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer boasts gorgeous colors (including some candy colored gel lighting that was not so evident on tape) and a crisp image where once there was haze and murk (some jittering of the frame in a few shots appears to be the actual camera vibrating rather than any sprocket damage). The image is not always consistent, but it was shot on 35mm short ends over a two year period. The night scenes look impressive for the film's budget and the tinting of the day for night scenes is well-judged. The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is more than sufficient in rendering the dialogue, music, and effects however preferable a lossless track might have been. There are a few rare instances of scratching and frame tears but the element is in overall good shape. The new transfer represents the film's 2015 director's cut which simply some additional Angelique Pettyjohn nudity cut from the theatrical and tape versions (Ray is at a loss on the commentary track to explain why it was cut as it certainly no more explicit that what one usually sees in an eighties Fred Olen Ray pic.
Like the Blu-ray of HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS, BIOHAZARD is accompanied by an amusing brand new commentary by Ray moderated by David DeCoteau (NIGHTMARE SISTERS). Ray recalls how he went to see Pettyjohn – who had breast cancer at the time and died in 1992 – performing a burlesque act at a strip club and offered her a role (and the reasons she did not want to do frontal nudity while wearing a platinum wig to look the way fans remembered her) while largely glossing over Ray's alcoholism (although he goes into detail about it in the interview). He also discusses being a single father and deciding to put his son in a monster suit since he was hanging around the sets anyway. Hench served as associate producer since he was working at Panavision at the time and secured the camera package for the film (the footage shot before funding and later to finish it were shot with Arri cameras), but his offscreen duties also included vaulting monster-suited Chris Ray over high fences (presumably before the hiring of BLOOD DINER's Tim Roarke as "monster wrangler"), and building the monster crate. Some of his comments on Borland and Randall will be familiar from the SCALPS DVD commentary, but he also recalls casting Shipov again in THE TOMB because he had kept the severed head cast made of him for HARD ROCK ZOMBIES. Of the various production difficulties, he recalls accidentally paying the owner of the military truck for two days instead of one and having to take him to small claims court (the owner did not want to go on THE PEOPLE'S COURT even though the show contacted Ray about it).
Ray also discusses how producer Ken Hartford – who had previously collaborated with schlock filmmaker Herbert L. Strock (MONSTROID) whose editing equipment Ray used on a few films during this period – pulled out during production. Since the negative was in Ray's name at the lab, he spent eight months raising the money to pay the cast and crew and to finish the film; besides the two credited cinematographers – FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD's Paul Elliott and Jack McCoy (who shot Hartford's HELL SQUAD) – Scott Ressler (HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS) and THE DEMON LOVER's Don Jackson (whose house also served as a location) worked behind the camera. Ray credits McCoy with keeping him from making mistakes during his part of the shoot and ensuring he got the needed coverage. Part of the film was shot on SPACE RAIDERS sets at Roger Corman's studios including a day for the lab scenes and a second day with Ray as a promo for STAR SLAMMER. He mentions that the helmet Pettyjohn wore ended up worn by Tracy Adams in the porn film WEIRD FANTASY.
"Remembering Biohazard" is a collection of interviews (39:50) with the cast and crew that are also playable separately. Shot before the commentary, Ray's interview (18:13) gives a digest version of the discussion heard on the commentary track, but he does go into more detail about the difficulties of working with Ray off-the-wagon. He also describes his dissatisfaction with working a regular job edge-coding at Sync Labs while film students were handling the day to day production headaches on his film, and getting Fox to change the title of their bigger budgeted BIOHAZARD to WARNING SIGN. His first step towards working as a full-time director was to gather up funds to buy the negative for the 1969 Florida film SCREAM BABY SCREAM for about five-thousand dollars and flipping it for sixty-thousand. Actor McDonald (5:11) recalls walking on to the set and seeing a 35mm camera and a large crew and knowing it was a step up from SCALPS. He recalls his admiration of Aldo Ray and speaking to him on the set while avoiding mention of his alcoholism. Chris Olen Ray (9:10) recalls being fitted for the suit, running around the sets from seven at night to seven in the morning, being entertained by the cast and crew, and also relates how he felt as a kid about doing the kill scenes. Actor Hench (5:25) recalls meeting Ray for SCALPS by hand-delivering his headshot (which is relayed twice through a seeming editing gaffe), working for Panavision during BIOHAZARD, and working behind the scenes on the film (as well as his death scene). DeCoteau (1:44) appears and briefly discusses how he had first heard of Ray and was later introduced to him through a crew member who had worked on films for both of them. Ray also shot scenes with Aldo Ray for a project called BEYOND FEAR that was never finished, and he has included that footage here as a neat little extra (5:13) which finds the actor more on the ball than in BIOHAZARD or its bloopers. Unfortunately, no trailer for the film has been included. The autographed pressing is limited, and there is no word yet if it will be re-pressed as a standard edition. (Eric Cotenas)
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