Drive-In To Rivals

Here's a twisted little flick I doubt many appreciate: 1972's Rivals (not to be confused with 1981's Rivals, 2000's Rivals, 2008's Rivals or the dozen or so other listings the IMDB has for the title "Rivals").  This Rivals is another one of those "not quite horror, but definitely horror adjacent flicks.  This is a smart, twisted dramatic thriller for that select audience that liked Julie Darling or the recent Better Watch Out.  It stars child actor Scott Jacoby, and I like to think it forms a dark trilogy with his other films Bad Ronald and The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, just like The Last House On the Left, House On the Edge Of the Park and Hitch Hike make up a disturbing David Hess trilogy.

Update 12/3/17 - 9/6/23:
I originally concluded this post by saying, "[i]t makes you pine for an upgrade, but I have a feeling this is one of the DVD titles Code Red has never been able to shift out of its warehouses, which is a shame." Well, now it appears there's a home video label one step even madder, and Dark Forces has restored Rivals in HD for blu-ray.
Jacoby lives with his mom, Joan Hackett (nominated for an Academy Award for Only When I Laugh, but as far as I'm concerned, most memorable in the final, amazing segment of Dead Of Night, Bobby), in New York City.  Everything seems great, he enjoys making movies with his friends and despite being just 10 years-old has stepped into the responsibilities of being "the man of the house."  That position is threatened when Robert Klein starts courting Joan, but she assures him he just has to win her son over.  Well, we've all seen enough Bad Seed variants to know how well that's going to go.  But like I said, this isn't exactly horror.  Don't expect a lot of social workers to be pushed out of windows or nosy neighbors to get slashed with a knife.  This is a more serious, psychological film.  Better Watch Out was all about surprising you with shocking plot twists around each corner and drawing you into the classic, Hitchcock game of "how will the killer get away with his crime?"  Rivals is more about making you ask, "jeez, what is lurking in that kid's mind?"
The performances are top notch and go a long way to carrying this film, particularly Jacoby.  This film's written and directed by Krishna Shah, the man who brought us Hard Rock Zombies; but this film couldn't be more different.  It's serious, dramatically compelling and features some weird, creepy imagery.  The fact that it has the scrappy, low budget feel of a first-time filmmaker straight out of film school tackling very adult topics most Hollywood films would be afraid to touch (it's definitely an "only in the 70s" kinda movie) only makes things feel more off-beat and unsettling.  Return Of the Living Dead's James Karen co-stars and it's chock-full of great New York City locations.  The score is very scattershot, sometimes great, sometimes terrible, even bursting out into a nearly full-blown musical number at one point.  Shah seems to be experimenting with every scene, and it mostly works.  I think it's kinda great, but I certainly wouldn't fire it up on a first date.
Unsurprisingly, Rivals hasn't had a lavish history on home video.  I was excited to see Code Red gave it a chance when they released it on DVD in 2010, because I doubt anybody else would've touched it except maybe some cheap budget label throwing it in a box of 50 generic dramas or something.  With Code Red, I knew I was going to get a nice, widescreen presentation taken from original film elements.  And that was great, because for a long time, it was basically the only disc of the film available anywhere in the world.  But now Dark Force has restored it in HD as part of their Drive-In double features series, paired with Sinner's Blood, covered here.
Code Red 2010 DVD top; Dark Force 2023 BD bottom.
Code Red presented the film in anamorphic widescreen at 1.78:1, though there is a little shifting dead space in what would've been the overscan areas.  Dark Force hard mattes it to 1.85:1, taking a little off the top and left, and goodbye dead space.  But that's just the beginning of the upgrades.  Both discs are taken from a film print, and seem fairly soft and faded, which is clearly down to the original elements.  It's a little sharper and clearer now in HD, but not vastly.  There's a little print damage, too, though nothing on the level of past Code Red "grindhouse prints."  Dark Force has done some welcome color correction, however, which like Psycho From Texas, winds up being the more marked improvement rather than the boost in resolution, even on this 50GB dual-layered disc.  And the most welcome fix, as you've surely noticed above, is to the interlacing problem.  That was a distinct flaw on Code Red's DVD, and it's double- not single-frame, so even casual viewers who don't usually notice interlacing would've been annoyed, especially whenever the camera pans horizontally.  Naturally, that's stricken from the blu.  So basically, this still feels like watching an old, worn movie.  But it's a far better presentation than what we'd been living with up 'till now.
The Code Red audio is the original mono, presented with a little hiss and some pops, but nothing you wouldn't expect to hear in sync with this film.  There are no subtitle options of any kind.  This is a very no frills release for Code Red, no bonus trailers or even a menu.  You put the disc in and it starts playing the movie, and hitting the "menu" button does nothing.  But if you let the disc keep playing after the film, you do get the film's original trailer, which I imagine is pretty rare given the film, so that's a nice little treat at least.

Dark Force bumps the audio up to DTS-HD, and it sounds as if it's been cleaned up as well.  An even bigger surprise: they've included English SDH subtitles.  They're really doing it up right here.  As for special features, well...
Sinner's Blood
Dark Force's Drive-In series tend to be pretty no-frills, too.  They haven't all been barebones, but usually the double-feature presentation seems to be intended to make up for the lack of special features.  Sadly, we even lose the trailer from Code Red's DVD.  But of course, we do get the whole second feature: Sinner's Blood.  I'm going to make a whole separate entry for that film in the next few days.  But for now, here's a screenshot.  As you can see it's 1.33:1, and it's taken from a pretty beat-up source, in terms of audio and visual.  There are no Sinner's Blood extras either, but they do have the fun interstitial drive-in footage, which consists of a few bonus trailers and some vintage movie-theater ads.  This release also comes in a slipcover, which removes Rivals from the front and back cover (though at least the title's still on the spine) and solely touts Sinner's Blood.
Look, I can't express how "not for everybody" this one is, but if you're reading this thinking it sounds like the kind of movie you'd be interested in than, yes, Rivals will probably live up to and even exceed your expectations.  This is very much a cult film, but one with artier and more serious aspirations than most.  You won't find many others like it.  And now we've got a distinctly better way to view it.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know it it was uncut (back of the box says "Rated R" and approx 103 minutes) but it was almost certainly 1.33:1/FF mono...

    Continental Video (cat #1046) released this in a big box in 1985. They also released Shah's The River Niger (cat #1017) a year earlier.