SORCERESS (1995) Blu-ray
Director: Jim Wynorski
Synapse Films

Jim Wynorski's 1990s late night cable staple gets an HD makeover with Synapse's Blu-ray of the explicit, previously unseen cut of SORCERESS.

After her husband Larry (Larry Poindexter, AMERICAN NINJA 2) is passed over for a partnership at his law firm, Erica (Julie Strain, NIGHT VISIONS) uses witchcraft to try to kill his friend and work rival Howard (Edward Albert, THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS). Through the premonition of his wife Amelia (Linda Blair, HELL NIGHT), Howard survives a fiery crash but the stroke he mysteriously suffered leaves him in need of extensive rehabilitation. Although he still does not believe that Erica's powers are real – or that one of her spells caused him to leave comely colleague Carol (Rochelle Swanson, NIGHT FIRE) for her – Larry tries to walk out on Erica and accidentally kills her during a scuffle. With her dying breath, Erica swears Larry will never be rid of her. Upon returning to their home after an extended stay with co-worker Don (Lenny Juliano, TRANSYLVANIA TWIST) and his wife Kathy (Kristi Ducati, THE BIKINI CARWASH COMPANY), Larry believes that the visions he has of Erica stem from his guilt and are exacerbated when Carol comes back into his life. Although Erica's friend/housekeeper Maria (Toni Naples, DEATHSTALKER II) – who taught Erica magic in order to protect herself and Larry – tries to warn him that the danger is real, but she is also too in love with him herself to tell him the entire truth of the threat against him. When a seemingly innocent murder suspect (Michael Parks, THE EVICTORS) flips out on Larry and tries to kill him, and then Carol – who starts wearing an amulet torn off the man's neck in the struggle with Larry – starts acting more and more like Erica (including dying her hair dark from the awful blonde wig worn by Swanson for the first half of the film), Larry starts to wonder if he is going crazy or if Erica is reaching out to him from beyond the grave.

Although the plot is mainly an excuse for a string of sex scenes as one expects for 1990s late night cable fodder, SORCERESS' plot seems like it mutated from a sexed-up take on Fritz Lieber's "Conjure Wife" (which the filmmakers may have read or seen in one of its film or TV incarnations like the Lon Chaney Jr. "Inner Sanctum" movie WEIRD WOMAN, the "Moment of Fear" TV anthology adaptation with Larry Blyden and Janice Rule, Sidney Hayers' BURN, WITCH, BURN or the comedy WITCHES BREW). While naked oiled witches seducing men is enough of a high concept, the script of Mark Thomas McGee (of both SORORITY HOUSE MASSACRE sequels) does not reveal its entire hand during the pre-credits sequence and actually engenders some suspense about who is possessing whom and why. The sex scenes are lengthy, satisfyingly fleshy, and pretty much the film's raison d'être, and yet the lead performances are fairly engaging as are the special appearances of Blair and Albert (with only BLACULA's William Marshall fairing unusually poorly). The climax is predictable but mostly well-staged (apart from a bit of intercutting between two incapacitated characters in different locations dragging themselves away from and towards danger), but the final scene is more puzzling than the obligatory sting-in-the-tale. The score is provided by Wynorski regular Chick Cirino (NOT OF THIS EARTH) with a sensual vocal and instrumental variations thereof composed by Darryl Way (RAGE AND HONOR). Among the closing credit in-jokes are the credit for occult consultant to H.P. Lovecraft's Mad Arab "Abdul Alhazred" and "Worst Boy: Arch Stanton." While a number of Wynorski's earlier eighties and nineties efforts were produced by Roger Corman, SORCERESS was a Fred Olen Ray (SCALPS) production (Ray is also seen onscreen as a news reporter and directed the film's second unit including an early car explosion which he and Sunset Films partner Andrew Stevens would reuse in several productions in the late nineties).

A Cinemax/Showtime staple, SORCERESS went to home video courtesy of Triboro and then on barebones DVD through Image in 1999. Synapse's 2K mastered 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen version has the onscreen title TEMPTRESS – presumably changed because of another 1995 erotic supernatural thriller of the same name with Kim Delaney and Chris Sarandon (although SORCERESS II was subtitled THE TEMPTRESS) – and is actually a previously unseen director's cut since the softer and harder unrated versions prepared for cable and home video optically cropped out full frontal nudity (some intentional, some not so) and below the waist shots while also utilizing cutaways. The image is colorful and more detailed than one would expect from a nineties erotic thriller (especially one with fantasy and flashback sex scenes), but it still looks like a low budget nineties direct-to-video film by way of the workmanlike, only intermittently atmospheric photography of Gary Graver (MORTUARY). The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo mix is not too adventurous since the film was home video- and cable television-bound but the music has some nice spread along with some directional effects. Optional English SDH subtitles are included. It would actually be nice to see some other nineties softcore horror and thrillers given this sort of treatment, but many were shot on film and finished on video (or in some cases the conformed negative lost or held up in some bankruptcy or lab closure).

There are no video extras, but the film is accompanied by two audio commentary tracks. On the first, director Wynorski discusses the cutting and reframing of the film's nudity, pointing out the previously-altered bits, and reveals that Cinemax showed the harder version and Showtime the softer one. He recalls his cast with affection, including Blair and Parks (who was difficult to work with because of their differing ideas of characterization), along with Strain (who he wanted for Showtime's VAMPIRELLA instead of Talisa Soto) and Naples who co-produced the film (hence the company name Wyn-Ton). He also expresses admiration for the work of cinematographer Graver and how it looks in high definition. The house they shot in belonged to three practicing witches (who disagreed with the portrayal of witchcraft), with a number of art pieces and furnishings already on the set. He also discusses the short shelf life of Hollywood actresses, particularly ones that work in softcore erotica, the "Tongue Olympics" sequence that he believes the actors would rather not remember, and how he was tricked into letting a documentary crew on the film for what would become Johanna Demetrakas' and Odette Springer's anti-B-movie documentary SOME NUDITY REQUIRED which took shots at him, Roger Corman (for whom Springer had worked as music supervisor at Concorde), and other exploitation filmmakers in the 1990s. The second track is a more impromptu affair recorded by Wynorski with effects artist Tom Savini (DAWN OF THE DEAD) at Cinema Wasteland. Savini, who had nothing to do with the film and was seeing for the first time during the track, unfortunately mistakes Strain for a man in her first close-up and is constantly surprised by the film's explicitness of the film. His questions to Wynorski mainly involve the plot but they do connect over discussing the independent horror business in the eighties and nineties (even though Savini was working in a slightly higher tier of genre product during that period). The talk veers off-topic enough that it would be annoying if not for the existence of Wynorski's other solo track; thus, the more laid-back track with Savini makes for a welcome supplementary extra. (Eric Cotenas)