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Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/16/2019
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/26/2019
As we all know, movies released in the United States have ratings – G, PG, PG-13, R – which are handed out by the Motion Picture Association of America. Films are submitted to the MPAA and they either grant a rating or suggest adjustments to achieve a desired rating. An additional rating, NC-17, was created in 1990 for films which had content which was considered too strong for an R. Before that time, some of these movies would be released without a rating, which were referred to as being “Unrated”. Horror movies like Dawn of the Dead and Gates of Hell titillated viewers by being Unrated and claiming to contain content so strong that no one under 17 would be admitted. While the Unrated label could keep releases out of some theaters, it also became a badge of honor for horror movies. However, movies like Superstition make one wonder if being Unrated was simply part of the hype.
On a lonely road sits an old house which is owned by the local church. The house has a history of violence and the odd caretaker, Elvira (Jacquelyn Hyde), only adds to the eerie ambience. George Leahy (Larry Pennell) and his family move into the house and begin to get settled in. However, their move is overshadowed by some bizarre deaths which have recently occurred on the property. Reverend David Thompson (James Houghton) is on the scene to help the family, while Inspector Sturgess (Albert Salmi) roams the property, as he’s convinced that Elvira’s son, Arlen (Josh Cadman), is a killer. As David begins to learn more about the history of the house, he begins to suspect that something supernatural has put George’s family in danger.
In 1982, the American horror movie market was awash in films which were part of the slasher cycle, as entries into the Halloween and Friday the 13th and their many imitators filled theaters. Going against the grain of its U.S. brethren, Superstition opted to focus on supernatural ideas. Likewise, at this same time, scary movies from Europe were also leaning towards ghosts and monsters rather than masked killers. This could explain that when I first saw Superstition back in the early 80s, I was convinced that it was an Italian production, as it has the appearance of a lost Lucio Fulci film. But, no, this is a homegrown American film.
And it’s a confounding one as well. On the positive side, it contains one of the best kills ever in a horror movie. Not only does it come out of nowhere, it is so badass that even the most hardened fright-film fan will sit up and take notice. (And it will make you think twice anytime that you are around power tools.) The movie also attempts to rise above the typical genre fare by offering multiple characters and a fairly detailed flashback scene. James Houghton, who resembles a young Guy Pearce, is good in the lead role and provides a good anchor for the audience.
On the other hand, the movie also makes some mistakes. The supernatural threat in the house is explained about halfway through the movie, but this notion never gels with what we are seeing in the film, as the presence is simply portrayed as a shadow and a pair of monstrous hands. It’s as if the bulk of the movie was shot and then the actual story was written. The story meanders at times and characters do some things which don’t make a lot of sense, such as how Inspector Sturgess insists on hanging around the house in an attempt to catch a killer who hasn’t been seen in weeks. The way in which Elvira spouts nonsense while leaning out of a window is laughable, as she appears to be dispensing drive-thru lunacy. The film’s finale seems to leading up to a big finish, but it simply peters out with a needlessly dark coda.
Despite these issues, Superstition is not without its goofy charms. If you are a fan of European horror, especially entries like Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery, you’re sure to find something enjoyable here. As noted above, that one death scene is killer (pun intended) and the movie does get mean-spirited in the final act. But, did it deserve to be released “Unrated”. The answer to that is no. The violence portrayed here is R-rated at best. There is some gore, but it’s nowhere near the level of the classic “Unrated” films from the time. So, if you go in expecting a gorefest, you will be disappointed. What you will find is a movie which is more of a throw-back to the haunted house films of the 70s, with enough violence to solidify its identity as a product of the 80s.
Superstition is never as cool as its movie poster art on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. We get quite a mixed bag with the video presentation here. Some shots are very clear, while others are extremely grainy. Some show extreme shimmering, looking as if the image is being projected on tinfoil. Overall, the colors look good, but the picture is a bit dark at times. The level of detail is adequate, but we do get some softness to the image. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio mono track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We don’t get any dynamic effects here, but the sound is well-balanced, as the musical score and the sound effects never drown out the actors.
The Superstition Blu-ray Disc contains just a few extra features. "Lake of Fire" (30 minutes) offers an interview with lead actor James Houghton where he talks his career (which began as an exposure to filmmaking at a young age), and then shares his memories on the making of Superstition. "That Crazy Witchcraft" (24 minutes) allows Director James Roberson to share anecdotes from his life and career. (He name-drops Charles B. Pierce. How often does that happen?) He talks about his early work in editing and directing, and then talks specifically about Superstition. The extras are rounded out by a TRAILER and a TV SPOT for the film.
Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long