Director: Jay Kamen
Kino Lorber Studio Classics

TRANSFORMATIONS, one of the Empire Pictures long lost to obscurity by bankruptcy, hits Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

Celebrating his birthday away from home, intergalactic smuggler Wolfgang "Wolf" Shadduck (Rex Smith, THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE) sets his ship's navigation controls on automatic and turns in for the night, only to be "disturbed" by a stowaway hooker (Pamela Prati, IRONMASTER). The sexual encounter of his dreams turns into a nightmare as she transforms into a demon, but it all turns out to be a dream seemingly heralding his ship going off-course… or does it? He wakes up in the hospital ward of the prison mining colony Hephaestus IV under the ministrations of pretty Miranda (Lisa Langlois, THE NEST), the daughter of a prisoner who learned what she knows about medicine from the colony's recently-deceased medical officer who raised her, and learns that his ship has crashed and is being repaired for his departure at the end of the next cycle of mining when the equipment shuts down for cargo delivery. As Wolf wanders the mining colony, he is beset by repeat visions of his alien sexual encounter that drive him to mate with the colony prostitutes, spreading a strange infection that Miranda is unable to identify but that cloistered Father Christopher (Patrick MacNee, THE HOWING) believes is pure evil. As Wolf begins to undergo a physical transformation, the warden (Donald Hodson, LADYHAWKE) declares a quarantine on the hospital ward; but a trio of prisoners – Calihan (Christopher Neame, HELLBOUND), Stephens (Michael Hennessy, EXTREMITIES), and Antonia (Cec Verrell, HELL COMES TO FROGTOWN) – need Wolf and his ship for their prison break and have already overrode the colony's computerized safety measures.

Shot in Rome in nine days for $300,000 with stock effects opticals, Giovanni Natalucci-designed sets recycled from ROBOT JOX and ARENA (as well as some props like the cross in Father Christopher's sanctuary recycled from CATACOMBS), TRANSFORMATIONS is a mess that transforms a sketchy "Beauty and the Beast"-esque plot into a half-baked R-rated aids allegory with some T&A and some sub-par monster effects. John Carl Buechler's MMI is credited with additional effects and may have been responsible for some gore inserts after editor-turned-director Jay Kamen (A NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY) lost control of the film with Empire Pictures' bankruptcy. Smith and Langlois are personable, and MacNee is dependable, but the supporting cast is pretty awful (partially due to some obvious post-production revoicing). The always slick lensing of Sergio Salvati (HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY) is one of the film's few merits; and yet, the film remains surprisingly watchable and still interesting as one of the lesser-seen Empire Pictures productions. One would suggest that the wonderful orchestral end credits theme would be better suited to a superior film, but it is actually a KPM Records library track by John Cameron (PSYCHOMANIA). Italian model Prati would play another soul-sucking sex demon in the German arty folk tale horror film SUKKUBUS the following year.

Unreleased theatrically, TRANSFORMATIONS got caught up in Full Moon's bankruptcy and even went unexploited on video by Trans World Entertainment, making its home video debut on laserdisc from Image Entertainment and as an SLP sell-through cassette through Starmaker Entertainment (now Anchor Bay). Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is stunning given the production limitations with only the effects stock footage looking grainier and occasionally scratchier. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track is in fine condition.

Extras start off with an audio commentary with director Kamen moderated by Code Red's Bill Olsen. Kamen reveals that he had been American International's staff editor and was initially interviewed by Band for a directorial job in 1986 but was not hired until 1988 when producer Bob Wynn (CELLAR DWELLER) contacted him to direct the film which at the time had no script (being based as many Empire Pictures and Full Moon productions were on a poster concept designed by Band). While Wynn pushed the script's AIDS allegory, Kamen favored the romantic aspects. Upon arrival, he found the Italian crew unsupportive with the assistant director pegging him as a one of Band's "rich Jew porno director." There was no budget for the effects, so he had the idea to slather the creature in KY jelly dyed black while the effects shots of the ship (which never match) came from Roger Corman New World sci-fi productions. He speaks warmly of Langlois and Smith, despite having to film around his blue boxers in the "nude" scenes, and hiring MacNee since he thought a British actor could make a two page monologue sound interesting. He also reveals that Band did not have the money to get the film out of customs when he returned to America, and that he begged and borrowed for a Moviola and splicing tape from friends at Paramount but that the IRS shut them down in the middle of editing because of Empire's bankruptcy. When he learned that Trans World had the film, he tried to pitch to them the idea of dubbing it in Italian and subtitling it in a jokey WHAT'S UP TIGER LILY? Olsen is vaguely familiar with the film but contributes by probing Kamen for Charlie Band horror stories common to several of the cast and crew who have worked on Empire's Italian productions (including the much-repeated anecdote that Dino De Laurentiis was so cheesed off that Band bought the studio for such a low offer that he made off with the heating and air-conditioning units, making the studios an icebox in the winter and a sweatbox in the summer).

Kamen appears in a video interview (9:35) in which he covers much of the same ground, recalling choosing between sound editing on BEVERLY HILLS COP 2 and directing the film (and regretting that decision), and that the script supervisor and assistant camera bore the brunt of the crew's ire for mediating between him and them and for being women. He also emphasizes here again that the film is not his cut. The lovely Langlois also appears in a new interview (10:32) in which she supports Kamen's claims about the Italian crew as well as one "ugly American" actor, the pleasure of working with MacNee, and not being aware until years later that the film was finished. Of her other films, she is surprised that fans bring up CLASS OF '84, DEADLY EYES, and THE NEST but not HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME which she feels is the best crafted of her genre works. A surprise for a Kino Lorber release is that TRANSFORMATIONS features a reversible cover that utilizes the alternate poster artwork seen on the Image laserdisc. (Eric Cotenas)