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Synapse Films presents
Thirst (1979)

"Welcome to the Brotherhood, Miss Davis."
- Dr. Gauss (Henry Silva)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: October 27, 2008

Stars: Chantal Contouri, Shirley Cameron, Max Phipps, Henry Silva, Rod Mullinar
Other Stars: Amanda Muggleton, Robert Thompson, Rosie Sturgess, David Hemmings
Director: Rod Hardy

MPAA Rating: R for (brief nudity, sensuality, gore, violence, vampirism)
Run Time: 01h:35m:27s
Release Date: October 28, 2008
UPC: 654930306994
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-B+B B+

DVD Review

There are some good reasons why vampires in fiction and on film are often aristocrats. There's a certain requirement of having hirelings to protect your coffin, of course, and a title makes it much easier to move in polite society despite having decidedly odd habits. But there's also a social satire undercurrent of the aristocrats themselves being vampires preying on the rest of us, a theme that this Australian entry in the horror cycle of the 1970s brings explicitly to the forefront.

Kate Davis (Chantal Contouri) is a young woman who has a seemingly normal life with her boyfriend Derek Whitelaw (Rod Mullinar). Unbeknownst to her, however, she is a descendant of the notorious Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Before long, she's abducted by the brotherhood of the Hyma, an upper-crust society of vampires, who seek to indoctrinate her in their ways and mate her with Mr. Hodge (Max Phipps), of another notorious (but unnamed) family. But Kate's will is strong, making them uncertain how to proceed; soon rifts develop between two factions, one led by the sympathetic Dr. Eric Fraser (David Hemmings) and the other by the more sadistic Mrs. Barker (Shirley Cameron) and Dr. Gauss (Henry Silva).

Thetheme of the aristocracy as vampire is humorously developed through the notions of arranged marriages to promote the "bloodline" and more chillingly through actual farms where abducted persons are kept to serve as sources of blood. There's a dairy flavor to the proceedings, with the health of these involuntary donors being carefully monitored, and with the product even being packaged in colorful milk cartons. The donors are little more than docile sheep, who are being bled dry (occasionally in a literal way) without objection by the upper classes. At one point, the process is outright referenced as "the ultimate aristocratic act." And of course, the farms are visited by tourist groups of vampires who eagerly take photos.

But it's not all social satire. First and foremost this is a frequently terrifying picture about abduction and removal from familiar surroundings culminating in the effects of brainwashing. Kate's strength of will is both an asset and a weakness to her, leading to a shocking finale. Contouri is quite superb in the lead, far more than a screaming victim, even though she is badly abused at times during the proceedings. She's resilient against nearly impossible odds, but not to an eye-rolling extent either; she has her liabilities and can be made to crack under the right circumstances, a situation that Mrs. Barker is eager to exploit. She's at her best in a desperate attempt to escape from the farm.

The supporting cast is reasonably good as well. Henry Silva is quite threatening as Dr. Gauss (he's often extraordinarily menacing with a glare, without ever saying a word), while Shirley Cameron's Mrs. Barker is gleefully over the top, taking pride in her bloody work. A rather puffy-looking David Hemmings is alternately a comfort and a danger, with a dark nastiness lurking behind his friendly exterior. Max Phipps is doughily comic as Kate's intended paramour, with the immaturity and warped degeneracy typical of the upper classes. The photography is effectively disorienting, making good use of the wide aspect ratio.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 'scope ratio transfer looks quite good overall, though there is a bit of softness throughout that may be part of the style of the time. The source print is virtually spotless, with no major damage of any kind, and at most a speckle here and there. Shadow detail is strong, and textures at least on the closeups are well done. This is apparently the first time the film has been released on any home format in the correct aspect ratio.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono soundtrack is clean, with a good solid soundstage. Brian May's score in particular comes across nicely, with reasonably good bass extension for mono. Dialogue is generally clear throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 TV Spots/Teasers
Isolated Music Score with remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Rob Hardy and producer Antony I. Giannane
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:03m:28s

Extra Extras:
  1. Gallery
Extras Review: Synapse provides a solid special edition, starting with an informative commentary from the producer and director. They tend to want to talk mostly about the low budget at first, but it gets better as it goes on, with some interesting production anecdotes. There are a set of filmographies (mistakenly labeled as bios) for nine cast members, as well as the director, producer and writer. There's an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) theatrical trailer, as well as three television spots. Pleasantly, the most valuable of extras (and a vanishing breed), the isolated score, is present, allowing one to examine May's score in detail. It sounds even better here than it does in the soundtrack, and its efectiveness and haunting simplicity will stay with the viewer a long time. Finally, there's a gallery with some pressbook excerpts and about 20 or so stills. A featurette or some interviews would have been nice, but this is a good package nevertheless.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

A startlingly effective vampire film that deftly combines satire with suspense, Thirst deserves a wider audience, and Synapse certainly puts the picture on its best footing.

 


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