THIRST (1979) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Rod Hardy
Severin Films

Ozploitation is finally starting to hit Blu-ray, and Severin gives us a high definition upgrade of THIRST, a peculiar vampire film from producer Anthony I. Ginnane.

Unbeknownst to her, executive Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri, THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN) is secretly observed by the Hyma Brotherhood. On the day she is to start a four week vacation, she is whisked away by the secret society to a research facility. Her captors Dr. Fraser (David Hemmings, BLOW UP), Dr. Barker (Shirley Cameron, ON THE RUN), and Dr. Gauss (Henry Silva, CRY OF A PROSTITUTE) inform her that she is a descendent of Countess Elizabeth Bathory (making her a baroness); and thus the ideal mate for Mr. Hodge (NIGHTMARES' bitchy director Max Phipps), the descendent of another ancient aristocratic bloodline who shares with hers the "thirst". Describing vampirism not as peasant superstition but as the "ultimate aristocratic act", they try to waken her dormant urges. Dr. Fraser favors using persuasion – then again, he also describes the facility as a commune – while Dr. Barker and Dr. Gauss favor using force when "reason" fails (Barker more aptly describes the facility as a farm and the drugged donors as "blood cows" whose product is shipped off to the seventy-thousand worldwide vampires in milk cartons). Against Fraser's wishes, Barker and Gauss utilize drugs and psychological torture to get Kate to accept her destiny; but once she does partake of the "thirst" can they control her?

Possibly not the most expensive of Anthony Ginnane's Ozploitation films but the one with the best production value, THIRST is an elegant if uneven "modern" vampire film. It presents the industrialization of vampire consumerism with a relatively straight face and has it characterized at first as something less supernatural than elitist with the vampires wearing dental appliances to bite but generally consuming blood like milk (before throwing that out the window with some glowing red eye effects). As far as Ozploitation goes, it leans towards the classier and could have used some more graphic gore and nudity but its certainly more entertaining and less predictable as far as "modern" vampire films went at the time than Hammer's final two Dracula outings.

Contouri – so wonderfully bitchy in THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN/SNAPSHOT – makes for a pretty and fragile heroine while Hemmings (who would later step behind the scenes with Ginnane as producer and director) is not just picking up a paycheck here with a committed though subdued role (Cameron is more delightfully malevolent but Silva is given less to do besides smirk until his spectacular exit from the film). PATRICK's Robert Thompson has a small role as one of the brotherhood's henchmen and that film's hapless hero Rod Mullinar (DEAD CALM) may be even more unlucky here as Kate's architect lover. Vincent Monton's Panavision photography is one of the film's best assets (more so in the gothic-tinged scenes like the blood drinking ceremony and Kate's delusions) along with Jon Dowding's production design (THE QUEST), but Brian May's orchestral score (particularly it's "Hyma" theme with its Latin chanting and pounding Carl Orffian finish) is the composer's best work for Ginnane (indeed the producer has sampled it in the trailers for a number of his subsequent films).

Released theatrically here by New Line Cinema, THIRST hit videotape first via Charles Band's Cult Video and then later on Media Home Entertainment in panned-and-scanned transfer with squeezed title sequences (although it's not on any of the online lists, I'm pretty sure it also made it to the "Elvira's Movie Macabre" line-up). Elite Entertainment's first DVD offering of the title was pretty strong and comprehensive with a 16:9 transfer in the original Panavision 2.35:1 aspect ratio with English and Spanish mono tracks as well as an isolated track for Brian May's excellent orchestral score and an audio commentary by director Rod Hardy and producer Anthony Ginnane (Synapse Film's reissued an identical disc in 2008). Severin debuts a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer that tightens up the detail and variegations of color within the limitations of the 1970s Panavision photography to often gorgeous effect. Shadows in the day and night exteriors can occasionally tend towards the gray (a scrim seems to have been used in the sunny picnic scene) but the studio set-ups are much more solid all around. Audio has not been upgraded over the DVDs as the English and Spanish mono tracks here are encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 (although the main audio track on Severin's concurrent release of DEAD KIDS is DTS-HD Master Audio mono).

Carried over from the DVD editions is May's score isolated on a third Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track, as well as an audio commentary track with producer Anthony Ginnane and director Rod Hardy (BUFFALO GIRLS). They sadly spend the opening credits (as well as the ending credits) pointing out those cast and crew members who had passed. Hardy points out that George Miller (THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK) was originally slated to direct, and that he saw it as a spoof before Ginnane told him it was meant to be a straightforward film (he regrets this a bit because of the success of LOVE AT FIRST BITE). They also discuss the scenes where they wanted to push the envelope with nudity but held back (the blood ceremony scenes were shot in both nude and covered versions and they now regret not using the nude ones which apparently no longer exist), as well as the difficulty in setting up the in-camera visual effects (the enhanced resolution does indeed reveal that the mylar glowing eye effects are slightly misaligned in one or two close-ups). Ginnane appears to not be too familiar with the vampire genre in general as he suggests that scripter John Pinkney's (the only film effort of the Australian journalist) inspiration for the Bathory character is not in history but in Harry Kumel's DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS. They both speak warmly of working with Contouri (who is now running a family restaurant), as well as Hemmings whose dinner jacket in the film was the one he also wore out at nights (as well as in character for the Ginnane-produced HARLEQUIN/DARK FORCES). Also carried over from the DVD versions is the film's theatrical trailer (1:37) and four New Line TV spots (1:16). Fans of the film (and Australian horror in general) will find Severin's Blu-ray a worthy upgrade for the high definition image. The package also includes a DVD with the film and all extras in standard definition. (Eric Cotenas)