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Dead North (Saturn’s Core) Blu-ray Review

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    Ian Jane
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  • Dead North (Saturn’s Core) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Saturn’s Core
    Released on: September 27th, 2022.
    Director: Gary Whitson, Sal Longo
    Cast: Clancy McCauley, Aven Warren, Terri Lewandowski, Tom Beschler
    Year: 1991
    Purchase From Amazon

    Dead North – Movie Review:

    Co-directed by Gary Whitson and Sal Longo for their own W.A.V.E. Productions in 1991, Dead North takes place, as all good W.A.V.E. Productions do, in the suburbs of the great state of New Jersey. Here we meet a Vietnam veteran named Jake, clearly still damaged from his time spent in the service, who deals with seemingly perpetual anger issues, often times taking things out on his lovely wife Cynthia. He’s also absolutely certain that Cynthia is carrying on behind his back with another man. In an effort to save their marriage, Jake and Cynthia go on a couples retreat to the woods with Jeff and Linda and a few others.

    They aren’t in the woods for long when it becomes clear that not everyone is as faithful to their significant other as they pretend to be. Things only get more complicated when foxy hikers Peggy, Sheila and Denise show up on the scenes… but before we go too far down the melodramatic rabbit hole, an axe wielding killer shows up and starts slaughtering our characters one at a time.

    “The slaughter begins when death takes a hike!”

    Blessed with some wonderfully seedy cover art showing a female lead bound to a tree (or, if you flip it around, hogtied and gagged inside a tent), Dead North is simultaneously way too fucking long and perfectly timed. It’s a movie that doesn’t really seem to exist for a specific reason, at least not during the bulk of its run time. The fetish stuff does come into play but not only the final act, we spend most of the first hour plus hanging out with people in tackily decorated living rooms listening to them talk about their relationship problems.

    Once the hacking, slashing and tying up of nubile women that W.A.V.E. made a name for themselves with actually starts, it’s a case of too little too late – but despite the fact that it doesn’t really give its intended audience much of what they’re presumably want, it’s hour and fifty-one minute running time is as weirdly hypnotic as it is strangely fascinating. Full points for throwing in a pretty cool twist at the end as well, and the homemade gore effects are as charming as the actresses’ taste in undergarments is bland.

    Poorly paced and frequently lacking in anything even remotely resembling narrative focus, Dead North is weirdly compelling in the way that other W.A.V.E. Productions are, even if it doesn’t fly its fetish elements as directly in your face as other efforts have. The acting is about what you’d expect from a group of amateurs recruited from a newspaper advertisement and the cinematography is mostly flat but occasionally actually impressive. Really, it’s just all over the place, a lot of things happen for no reason and conversations that add nothing to the story pad the movie way more than they should, but it’s awesome that this movie exists.

    Dead North – Blu-ray Review:

    Dead North comes to region free Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080i high definition transfer that was transferred from the original S-VHS master. Framed at 1.33.1 this looks very much like the micro-budget SOV production that it is, but it’s more than watchable if you keep its low budget origins in mind. Detail can’t surpass the source material but the disc is well authored and compression is obviously much better here than had the movie been put onto a DVD. Colors and black levels look alright, skin tones too. Again, don’t expect a revelation here but those accustomed to the way that camcorder epics such as this look on optical discs will be more than happy with this way this has turned out, so long as expectations are kept in check.

    The 16-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo audio, available with optional English subtitles, sounds fine in both cuts. Levels are balanced well enough and there isn’t much in the way of hiss or distortion to complain about. Again, the limitations of the source material do factor into the equation here, but overall, given the film’s roots, the audio is decent.

    Extras include an audio commentary with director Gary Whitson moderated by Ross Snyder, co-director of Mail Order Murder: The Story of W.A.V.E. Productions. They start the talk by going over where W.A.V.E. was at in 1991 after being started in 1987 and how they progressed, auditioning performers after placing an ad in a newspaper, thoughts on the different actors that pop up in the movie and how they came to be involved, which scenes were added to the original cut to flesh out the story, different locations that were used, influences that worked their way into the movie, where the music from this and other W.A.V.E. Productions and who 'The Gang' was, memories of shooting specific scenes like the fight in the water, shooting promo photos for the cover art, getting the necessary props together, editing the film and plenty more.

    A second commentary comes from Richard Moog, the author of Analog Nightmares: The Shot on Video Horror Films of 1982-1995. He explains his love of shot on video cinema, goes over some of the details of the cinematography featured in the movie, provides thoughts on the different performances featured in the movie, Whitson's direction and how he'd make the most out of having a limited cast and budget in his movies, getting around the nudity people would expect in the movie, the longevity of W.A.V.E. Productions' various tropes such as the bound electrocution sequence, the way that the story is structured in the movie, issues with the movie's nearly two hour running time, the sense of nostalgia that the movie provides and other details related to the production.

    The disc also includes a second feature in the form of 2012’s The Pineland Murders, which is essentially Gary Whitson’s remake of Dead North. The story is pretty much identical to the feature attraction, you’ll be hard pressed to find much difference, but it looks a little slicker having been shot on digital video rather than a camcorder. Anyway, yeah, three couples having marital problems retreat to the woods of New Jersey to try and make things right only to get individually attacked and killed by a psychopath. Again, it’s too long and it doesn’t have the retro charm of the original movie, but Whitson is working with better looking and more believable actors this time around. The ending is also elongated a bit here, which makes for an interesting variant. Overall, however, this is really a scene-by-scene redo that doesn’t really try anything new. Watch the original, knowing that this is an interesting variant if you need more (and more recent) W.A.V.E. in your life.

    The Hanging Judge is a custom short from W.A.V.E. made in 1991 that also features the cast of Dead North. Here, over the span of forty-six minutes, it opens with a woman being sentenced to death by hanging - turns out it's just a dream, one that she's had five nights in a row. This woman, Loraine, calls Carl and he says they'll get to the bottom of it. She and Carl meet up with Doug and Janet to investigate a barn that is rumored to be haunted, since it was used by Loraine's grandfather, a judge, to hang people. They explore a bit and then there's a make-out session and Loraine has that same dream again. Then a ghost shows up and everyone tries to hang Loraine. Carl kills himself and Janet and Doug go see a shrink who tells them they need to face the truth, but they don't believe their killers because they weren't in control of their actions and experienced some sort of mass hysteria. So... they go camping. Janet gets tied up in a tent and is killed - or is she? Nope! It's just a dream too. Then they go to the woods and swim for a bit. It seems they're really camping now - when it's time for sex, Janet gets into her slinky thing hoping for a good time only to get strangled by a guy in a black ski mask - is it just another dream and does it tie into Loraine's backstory at all? We won't spoil the ending but Janet does spend a lot of time trying to get out of the ropes she's been bound with before it's all over.

    Crushed is a Gary Whitson 1995 short film from 1995 featuring Dead North stars Clancy McCauley and Aven Warren that runs eighteen minutes. We start with a buxom woman bound in a shower, the water spraying down on her W.A.V.E. Productions t-shirt. From there, a man and a woman engage in some candle play. He's handcuffed to the pull out couch but she sets him free only for him to handcuff her to himself. They fool around then hit the sack but in the middle of the night she gets up and splits. Turns out she's a newscaster - she does her bit and reports on an escaped python that has killed three people only to go home to try and relax. Once she's home, she's attacked by... something and quite literally crushed!

    Finishing up the extras on the disc are a trailer for the feature, bonus trailers for a few other Saturn’s Core releases (Mail Order Murder, Burglar From Hell, Psycho Sisters, Duck: The Carbine High Massacre, Sinestre and Ravage), menus and chapter selection options. There’s also an Easter Egg that can be pretty easily found that plays an alternate version of Dead North that runs 1:49:19 and features different credits and some different editing choices as opposed to the feature version that runs 1:50:10. The packaging mentions that the disc includes of an interview with Whitson titled True North but it was not found on the disc.

    On top of all of that, the release also comes packaged with a full color insert booklet titled “Lunchmeat Midnight Snack: Dead North Special Edition” which is twenty-eight pages of rare vintage news articles plus writing on the film from Lunchmeat’s Josh Schafer, Saturn’s Core’s Ross Snyder and Gary Whitson himself. This release also comes with some nice reversible cover sleeve art.

    Dead North – The Final Word:

    Dead North will be an endurance test to some, but nearly two hours of nonsensical bliss to others. It is, like a lot of its fellow W.A.V.E. Productions efforts, as hypnotic as it is nonsensical but it has its own unique and decidedly wonky charm. The Blu-ray release looks and sounds as good as it probably can but it’s stacked with extras that round out this release quite nicely.


    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Dead North Blu-ray screen caps!

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