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There’s No (Primal) Rage Quit for Vinegar Syndrome!

Feature Presentations: Episode 87

Welcome to this column dedicated to my appreciation of physical media supplements called: Feature Presentations. The goal of this column is not to say whether a film is good or bad and worth picking up or not—I would like to highlight the discs that go the extra mile and provide film fans with enough tasty tidbits to satisfy even the hungriest of cinephiles. With all that out of the way, today’s article will focus on Primal Rage from Vinegar Syndrome.

The 4K cover for Primal Rage.

Vinegar Syndrome has one of the more eclectic selections of films for any boutique label. Within the past year, they’ve released the critically-derided television movie, The Birds II: Land’s End, the little-seen Mexican exploitation film Infernal Rapist and the family-friendly, slice-of-90s cinema, Sidekicks. Where else can you find a slate of entertainment as varied as that? Understanding the wide net that Vinegar Syndrome casts for their releases, one could only imagine the insanity that awaits with Primal Rage. And after having experienced such a cinematic rage, including effects by Carlo Rambaldi, I came away slightly letdown.

On a college campus, a scientist conducts only-seen-on-celluloid-style experiments with animals. When a student snoops around, he finds himself face-to-ape with one of the scientist’s test subjects. With such a rage no longer contained in its controlled environment, those on campus fall victim to the crazed infected.

While that sounds like it has all the makings of a film with endless potential, the end result isn’t as wild as one might hope. Showing the film’s tight budget, the sequences of people raging against everyone never reaches the majestic heights the 4K cover advertises. Instead, we follow a group of students working to solve the sudden rash of deaths in and around the campus. When we do get to see the infected going “ape,” it comes across as more silly than scary.

Yet, I can’t deny that I had fun with the overall product. The acting is what one might expect, the makeup effects are decent if you maintain expectations, and Bo Svenson shows up as the kooky scientist rocking a pony knob. It’s entertaining enough, and sometimes that’s okay.

For the 4K UHD/Blu-ray edition, yes, you read that right, Vinegar Syndrome gave the film a stellar release. The two-disc-set comes with a slipcover featuring Primal Rage‘s stunning theatrical poster. The interior art wrap designs are variants of what’s on the slipcover.

Sam focuses up a shot as he looks through his camera.

On the features side, Vinegar Syndrome crafted a brand new making-of “Baboon Bite Maniacs!” with comments from the cast and crew. Arguably, this feature is better than what Primal Rage deserves. For a film that remained in relative obscurity for the first few decades of its life cycle, getting a feature-length documentary of this magnitude is why physical media matters more than ever.

Cast members Patrick Lowe, Cheryl Arutt, Sarah Buxton, and Mitch Watson discuss their working experiences on the Primal Rage production, their careers, and other anecdotes. Lowe talks about replacing the film’s original lead actor and his thoughts within the Hollywood system, while Watson details how he left acting and found a career in animation. Even though the film fell into relative obscurity, only finding new life recently, thanks to Red Letter Media, no one came away with a negative perception of the finished product. Also, Bo Svenson even sits down to talk about his time on set. How cool is that?

Now, I touched upon Patrick Lowe replacing the film’s initial lead—and I never thought Brad Pitt would play such a pivotal role in Primal Rage, but here we are. Casting Director Billy DaMota discusses the casting process and dives into one of the biggest what-ifs in Hollywood: what if Brad Pitt starred in Primal Rage? The story DaMota spins concerns meeting Brad Pitt, not being impressed with his audition—yet the director wanting to cast him due to his impressive looks. And he was hired as the lead. Without spoiling the entire story, Pitt made a decision that altered his career trajectory: exiting Primal Rage and taking the first steps toward becoming the Oscar-winning actor we all know. There’s more to it, but Brad Pitt’s shadow looms over a sizeable chunk of “Babon Bite Maniacs!”

Vinegar Syndrome also includes a 2020 video interview with producer Bill Immerman. Immerman discusses how the film came about before going in-depth into how he became a film producer in Hollywood. I admit, I thought I missed something with this discourse, as Immerman never mentions Primal Rage by name or any of the cast and crew (that I recall). I had to rewatch the chat to verify if I missed something. For what it is, Immerman does well at telling his story. Those looking for analysis or production details, you can probably skip this. Watching the documentary will give you everything you could ever want about Primal Rage.

The disc’s features conclude with a small stills gallery featuring a handful of behind-the-scenes photographs.

An infected man smiles with blood in his mouth and his skin discolored.

And there you have it! Even if the supplemental material list looks light, appearances can be deceptive. It’s more about quality than quantity. Giving the movie not only a superior Blu-ray release but upgrading to 4K is more than anyone would have expected with this 1988 thriller, topping it off with a top-notch documentary. It’s more than anyone could have asked for. While Primal Rage isn’t the carnage-infused cinematic thrill ride I expected, it’s an enjoyable enough slice of late ’80s horror cheese with a better-than-it-should-be physical media release.

Written by Robert Chipman

Robert is a lifelong cinephile and has had an admiration with film for as long as he can remember. When he's not checking out the most recent theatrical release, viewing a movie on one of a 1,000,000,000 streaming services or picking up the latest physical media disc, he's trying and failing to make it in Hollywood as a screenwriter. He also has a weird fascination with Stephen Dorff. Make of that what you will. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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