Review: Luther The Geek (1990) Blu Ray Release from Vinegar Syndrome (2009)

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“Alright Chicken-Man, Colonel Sanders wants to fry your ass!”

Before the label “geek” became synonymous with comic book movies, Funko! Pop Vinyl collecting, and TV fandom conventions, its original meaning was derived from the circus sideshow freaks of yesteryear. These “geeks” would be crazed and wild-eyed would-be subhumans who would bite the heads off live chickens and drink their blood for the amusement of patrons who would pay a nickle to see the freaks live and in person. That circus sideshow tradition is where Carlton J. Albright’s 1990 slasher film Luther the Geek finds the inspiration for its serial spree killing antagonist. Vinegar Syndrome brings the obscure horror film out of the vault at Troma for a flawless 2k Blu-Ray/DVD combo reissue from the original 35 mm print.

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Luther the Geek starts off with a prologue set in 1938, where a young Luther Watts is watching a caged geek bite heads off chickens in a rural farm. The unruly crowd causes the young Luther to tumble and lose his teeth after slamming his face into a cage, setting him down a dark path that eventually leads to stylish metal dentures which he uses to kill 40 years later and lands him in prison. Luther (played as an adult by Edward Terry) finds himself free after a contentious and hilarious parole hearing scene and soon embarks on a murderous crime spree, eating raw eggs and biting old women on the neck for blood. He spies a young mother (Joan Roth) leaving a supermarket and targets her and her daughter Beth (played by Superboy actress Stacy Haiduk) as his next victims.

In terms of plot, Luther the Geek is pretty simple. It’s a home invasion slasher film, not unlike The Strangers or Funny Games; the killer targets the victims simply because he runs into them, Unlike those films, the antagonist Luther is deranged and communicates only through clucking and chicken-like behavior, he doesn’t have the sense of cunning or planning that other killers in this genre would. However, Edward Terry imbues Luther with a sense of terror; this is a killer who is interested only in his immediate goals and self-interest. The interesting turn in the script happens when the victimized Hilary played by Joan Roth starts to emulate his behavior as her world begins to crack because of Luther’s murderous actions towards her family. Luther the Geek asks the question what happens when the prey becomes the hunter in a very twisted and gory story.

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Carlton J. Albright does a great job with the direction and cinematographer David Knox makes the film look like a million bucks, with natural light cinematography for all the outdoor shots and makes the most of the film’s low budget. The film also benefits very strongly from great performances by Terry as Luther (who was a contemporary of Al Pacino’s and studied method acting with him in New York) and by Joan Roth, as well as Stacy Haiduk and Jerry Clarke as a sympathetic trooper who gets the best one liners in the film. The special effects (which Albright initially had issues with and led to the FX artist removing his name from the film) look great and are very detailed and extremely gory; Luther the Geek is a gorehound’s film and I found myself wincing at the many neck and chicken biting scenes.

Vinegar Syndrome does a great job of porting ALL of the extras from the original Troma DVD release of the film, as well as adding new ones which make this combo a definitive edition of the film; it even includes a DVD copy of the film (for those who have yet to upgrade or for watching on a computer). We’ll go over both sets of extras here as well, which are on both the DVD and the Blu Ray. The movie has a static menu matching the Blu Ray cover art and title treatment, so everything is consistent on that end as well and is easy to navigate. Picture quality is sharp, with fine film grain through-out, though perhaps a bit too much in the nighttime scenes in the end, but that could just be due to more brightness than contrast in certain shots.

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OLD EXTRAS

    Interview with Carlton J. Albright – This interview looks like it was done either at Troma’s offices or at Tromadance during Sundance in Utah. The interview is in 480 px even on Blu Ray, so it’s a straight port. I will say everything that is covered in this interview is in the director’s commentary on the new extras. Though you do get the tidbit that the film’s shooting title was The Freak which you see in many takes throughout the old extras. Another good tidbit here not on the commentary is he wanted a scene where Luther would go to a McDonalds’ restaurant and refuse Chicken McNuggets because they weren’t fresh and bloody like he likes his chicken.
    Interview with Will Albright – Carlton J. Albright’s son played the young Luther and talks a bit about the early scenes, how he was there for 2/3rd’s of the film shoot and enjoyed the experience.
    Carlton on the __ scene – Here we have more excerpts from the earlier interview but regarding individual scenes. I take it on the original DVD this was basically to take the place of the commentary, but he gives some history and feedback on various set pieces in the film, like the final scene, the fight scene, the old lady bite and the shower scene with Stacy Haiduk.

    I’ll admit I first head of this film years ago mainly due to the involvement of Stacy Haiduk, who played Lana Lang on the syndicated Superboy TV show that ran from 1989 to 1992. This film was shot before she started that role and in the days of genre magazines like Cinefantastique, this film was noted because it was a role in which she had an early nude shower scene. I never found the movie until years later by which point I had completely forgotten about the Superboy connection and was mostly struck by how freaky Terry’s performance was and the weird Stockholm syndrome like relationship between Hilary and Luther and how extremely gory and detailed the special effects in the film are. Here we get some feedback that Stacy and the actor playing her boyfriend weren’t attracted to each other, but she was ticklish so they tickled each other to get that loving relationship across. We then get 10 different shooting takes of the shower scene, which as a horny 15 year old boy would be awesome, but somehow seems a bit creepy and excessive here, but if you want to see every shot of Stacy Haiduk naked that they shot in the film; here you go (heck, she’s even nude in the trailer). They do the same with the other shots, so its interesting seeing some different camera sets up and angles, but you don;t get much of the direction prior to the shot, so its kind of not super helpful. It is cool to see different steadicam shot setups though, so worth a look. These are Troma’s extras, of course, so its good to have for the sake of completionism.

    The Children Trailer – The trailer for Albright’s beloved 1980 killer kids film. Very low resolution, this is a straight port from the Troma release and looks to be a reissue trailer as well, not the original.

NEW EXTRAS

    Commentary with Director Carlton J. Albright – This is the best reason to get this release. Joe Rubin of Vinegar Syndrome interviews Albright as they watch the film and Albright dissects his entire directing, writing and casting process as they watch. He has a soft spot for the film and a keen memory, so he tells us how certain sets were built (the house they shot in didn’t even have an indoor bathroom so that was a mock bathroom built in a closet for the shoot), as well as motivation he gave the actors with the roles (the family had suffered a death prior to shooting in Albright’s bible for the film which informed Roth and Haiduk’s performance – though this is never mentioned in the film itself). This is the best kind of commentary; where the director lets you in the process and Rubin follows up the anecdotes with strong questions regarding why he did certain things or what was he thinking when this set piece was being filmed. This is the reason why films have commentaries, since you get the background of the film, learn about the struggles involved and find out things that help your understanding and enjoyment of the film. Great work by Rubin and Vinegar Syndrome.
    Foul Play – an interview with Jerry Clarke – Interview with Clarke today, who plays the trooper in the film. A good color segment, he talks about his life now as a working actor and painter and how the film landed him his SAG card.
    A Conversation with Carlton Albright – More background on Albright as a person and a filmmaker and his development of the film pre-production. If you enjoyed the commentary, this is more detail and background. Solid feature especially in terms of learning about film pre-production.
    Trailer – HD port of the film trailer – Very well done trailer feature. This is how you do trailer features. Scanned from trailer negative. Includes nudity and the best line in the film by Jerry Clarke, “Alright Chicken-man, Colonel Sanders wants to fry your ass!”
    Introduction by Carlton J. Albright – Good introduction by Albright, where he invites yout o see the film and bemoans the films original distributors which he calls crooks. Very funny.

Again, a solid release by Vinegar Syndrome. An obscure slasher in a point where they were starting to die off, but well done and very unique. The transfer and package are finger-lickin’ good.

Luther the Geek is available on Vinegar Syndrome’s website at Exploitation.tv or you can order via Amazon.com and support Cult Following at the link below.

Purchase Links

Luther the Geek Blu-ray + DVD

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