Luther the Geek Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome
Directed by Carlton J. Albright
Written by Whitey Styles
1990, 80 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on January 19th, 2016
Edward Terry as The Freak (Luther)
Joan Roth as Hillary
J. Joseph Clarke as Trooper
Thomas Mills as Rob
Stacy Haiduk as Beth
Tom Brittingham as Geek
Shoppers at a Kroger grocery store in rural Illinois are in for a shock when recently-paroled Luther Watts stops by for some eggs and sunglasses. He is neither polite nor likely to pay for his purchases and is asked by management to leave the store. Luther is not completely uncaring, however, as demonstrated when he offers a sweet old lady a raw egg while waiting for the bus. When the clumsy old biddy drops it on the ground he flies into a rage and tears into her throat while wearing a pair of razor-sharp metal dentures. Luther makes his escape in the chaos that follows by hiding in the backseat of a car driven by an unsuspecting woman on her way home from the market. Soon after she unpacks the car, he forces his way inside the house and ties her to the bed, but his rage is interrupted by the arrival of her family. Luther begins a game of hide-and-seek in both the house and nearby barn while terrorizing the others over a long and brutal night.
When we first meet Luther, he is a child participating in a crowd’s after-hours taunting of a carnival Geek; a performer that bites the heads off live chickens and drinks the blood, usually in exchange for booze. In all the excitement, the boy is pushed to the ground where he loses his teeth, but discovers that he too has a taste for blood. As a teen, Luther was sent to prison for committing three murders and, years later, is now up for parole. The board reluctantly approves, in hopes of rehabilitation, but the first time we encounter the adult Luther following his release is in the grocery store scene. The filmmakers offer just enough vague backstory to suggest that the impressionable youth is somehow so disturbed by witnessing his neighbors baiting a drunken carney that he has grown into a psychopathic chicken-man that never speaks, but only clucks and crows. His motives are never revealed and the idea that the prison system would release a convicted murderer that wears jagged metal dentures and acts like a bird is cause for concern.
Luther the Geek is a bizarre home invasion tale that offers little in the way of character development, but rather focuses on games of cat-and-mouse. Our non-traditional Final Girl is Mrs. Lawson, a mother who is never addressed by name (though credited as Hillary) and spends much of the picture unconscious and tied to a bed. Her coed daughter Beth is worthless and fails to call for help even when a state trooper comes to the house in search of Luther. Apparently, Beth’s purpose in the film is to supply gratuitous nudity with her boyfriend Rob, and she excels at that task. Luther remains the most interesting character, thanks completely to the performance by Edward Terry. Whether brutalizing victims or taunting them to fight back, Terry keeps Luther captivating and he maintains a menacing presence every minute of his screen time. One of his creepier moments comes as he drags an unconscious victim to her feet and gently dances with her before resuming his acts of violence, reminiscent of a similar scene in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (1986).
Director Carlton Albright (The Children) delivers an unsettling tale that contains some nice moments of suspense and an overall atmosphere of dread. The script is credited to Whitey Styles, but some online sources suggest this is merely an Albright alias. There are many elements in this picture familiar to the genre, including the isolated farmhouse location invaded by a silent killer. The story is a quirky character piece, more interested in Luther’s behavior than the repercussions of his actions. Supporting cast performances are serviceable, but the real stars of the picture are the gory make-up effects and stylistic lighting and camera work. Albright has an eye for storytelling, but the pacing is occasionally at odds with his efforts.
Luther the Geek was shot in 1987 but not released until 1990. The picture was originally titled Freak (as Ed Terry is credited in the titular role), and underwent a name change to avoid legal issues with the Tod Browning classic Freaks (1931), though I seriously doubt they would have run into any real trouble. The movie takes its time despite a sleek 80-minute running time, for it appears not to know exactly where to go with the villain. Some of the opening sequences feel like padding, as the characters in the parole hearing, for example, disappear after only one scene. It would have been interesting to see Luther interacting in more social environments before sequestering him to the farmhouse. His moments with the old lady or other grocery shoppers are interesting, but the scenes without Luther are a bit tedious. The film suffered a disastrous release and barely registered with audiences until it arrived on video store shelves with little fanfare. Twenty-six years later, viewers are given a fresh opportunity to see this strange flick and if you haven’t before, this newly-restored special edition is something to crow about!
Video and Audio:
Dear Lloyd Kaufman (President of Troma Entertainment, and creator of The Toxic Avenger),
I have seen several of your Blu-ray discs of catalog titles like The Last Horror Film and disappointment is an understatement in describing my reaction. Please consider further licensing agreements of Troma titles to the knowledgeable technicians at Vinegar Syndrome for future releases, as they continue to prove their skills with movies including Graduation Day and now Luther the Geek. They have proven that, with the right efforts, these classic films can shine in ways that audiences have never imagined possible. Please, Lloyd, as your company has always been an early adopter of new technologies, I beg you to either put someone else in charge of HD authoring or farm out the material to a company that knows what they are doing.
Thank you for your understanding, from a longtime Troma supporter and defender of independent cinema.
Luther the Geek has always looked like worn -out trash on previous releases, but this new Blu-ray edition is nothing short of a revelation. Finally presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and given a beautiful 2K HD transfer that scrubs away all memories of the murk that audiences have come to expect, Luther is an all-new experience that is long overdue and definitely worth the wait.
The DTS-HD MA mono track gets the job done, as there is little dialogue to balance between music and effects tracks and everything sounds natural without distracting audio pops or hiss.
Carlton Albright is all out of fucks to give when it comes to the distributors that screwed him over. In his brief video introduction, he hopes they rot in jail and encourages audiences to have a nice viewing experience.
The director’s audio commentary, moderated by Vinegar Syndrome’s Joe Rubin, is filled with anecdotes from the production, as Albright appears eager to have his stories heard. Rubin does a fine job prompting the next story and the conversation covers a lot of ground.
Actor Jerry Clarke, credited in the film as J. Joseph Clarke, discusses his role as the state trooper in Foul Play (10 minutes). He is an actor, painter, musician and a gracious host that is more than happy to discuss his time working on the film. He shares many tales about the production and takes time to show off some of his artwork that hangs around his home.
A Conversation with Carlton Albright (7 minutes) provides a bit more reflection, now twenty-five years on, as the director shares additional tales, including one about the uncredited make-up effects artist.
The original trailer is finally available and offers a look at how the film was marketed.
Many years ago, Luther the Geek was released on DVD by Troma Entertainment, and the special features from that disc have been ported over here, including a five-part interview with the director, a general overview of how the film was received (5 minutes), and a few scene-specific segments that focus on the “Shower”, the “Old Lady Bite”, the “Fight” and the “Final” scene with a combined running time of 20 minutes.
The director’s son Will Albright is interviewed (3 minutes) about his brief appearance in the film’s prologue as young Luther.
The trailer for Albright’s previous feature The Children (1980) is also offered for your viewing pleasure.
A DVD copy of the remastered film is also enclosed.
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