on 30 December 2014
Flashback to 1979. I was 9 years old and the neighbors took me and my 2 sisters to see a terrible movie at the drive-in called ‘Prophecy’, which was some foolish mutant bear nonsense. But we stuck around to see the 2nd feature, and that was the one far more worth seeing. It was some previously unknown movie from a couple of years earlier titled ‘The Redeemer’. I remember being transfixed to this movie, and found parts of it very disturbing to my adolescent mind. When we got our first VCR in 1986, I tried all the local video stores to see if anyone had a copy of ‘The Redeemer’ to rent, to no avail. I desperately wanted to see if those scenes I recalled had only been romanticized with time, or if they were in fact still effective: the boy coming out of the watery lagoon, the two thumbs, the living marionette with a sword, a man getting a knife in his head from above, a bathroom sink drowning. I thought I may never know…
Jump ahead to 1997. I was having my first exposure to the internet and one of the first things I looked up was this movie. I found that it wasn’t just a dream or from my imagination after all. It had definitely been released on VHS, though had also been renamed for some pressings to ‘Class Reunion Massacre’. The following day I went to the local video store I had been going to for years, and there it was! I eagerly snatched up ‘Class Reunion Massacre’ and shoved it into the VCR with such excitement that I’m surprised I didn’t break it.
I watched the movie with great intensity, wondering if I would think it’s just a piece of 70’s cheese or if I would still find value in it. I found myself getting chills during the playback as I saw all of the scenes that haunted me for nearly 2 decades. By the end of the movie the verdict was clear. I loved it! It had everything about those low budget 70’s movies that I loved. The filming was very soft focus at times, creating a distinctive halo of light around windows and objects, adding an eerie element. Some other camera tricks were also effective, as were the excellent primitive analog synth sounds used to add to the shock value on certain scenes. The overall music was very dark and haunting, relaying the aura of doom that lay before the cast. Some of the acting by the secondary cast was a little hammy at times, (best exemplified by the carhop waitress girlfriend), though much of the primary acting was just fine.
The story revolves around an over-the-top preacher going on about sins and punishment. His ranting is interspersed with footage of former students talking about attending their upcoming 10 year high school reunion. Their “sins” are depicted as being such trivial things as greed, being gay, being trampy, being a glutton, or being a rich snob. The unsuspecting victims soon realize something is amiss when the 6 of them are the only ones at the reunion, and the doors have now been locked. One by one, each student meets their fate by the hand of The Redeemer. Each time The Redeemer takes a victim, he is in a new disguise; a bird hunter, a clown, wearing a bizarre puppet mask with a flamethrower, etc. Some of the costumes are pretty bad, such as wigs being painfully obvious, but it adds a creepy element to The Redeemer’s performance. By the end of the film, the deeds are done and the lunatic preacher finishes his sermon.
The dream-like touches in the film amplify the impact. Seeing things like the kid coming out of the water (despite the terribly tight rust colored 70’s pants he’s adorning), a mystery school bus in the desert out of nowhere, the mystery second thumb (which has been puzzling to anyone who has seen this film, and even the filmmakers themselves), the living marionette, etc, all give this film a truly haunting quality. I can understand why this film divides horror fans because it’s one of those that you either get or you don’t. Some also view the film as unnecessarily cruel, though I choose to view it as exposing the double standards and hypocrisy of religion. My take on the second thumb is that it was transferred to The Redeemer as he performed his duties, providing him the extra powers subtly portrayed in the film (disappearing from a locked bathroom, waving his hand to animate the marionette), then returning to the devil kid when all is done.
A special note should be given to the performance of T.G. Finkbinder as The Redeemer. I think he does an amazing job of changing disguises and voices, and find everything about his performance very intriguing. I’ve read fairly recent interviews with him in which he fondly recalls his time on the film, and how the kids that he teaches in his current profession all get a rise out of the movie. I’m very happy the film retains a small but dedicated cult following, and I rank it as one of my favorite films ever. Whether or not it’s because of the personal nostalgia attached to it or any inherent quality is anybody’s guess, but I love it.
I purchased ‘The Redeemer’ DVD on the Code Red label at the time of release. There had been talk for so many years about the movie being released by this label, and originally it was going to be a special edition. In the end, it was just the film and a trailer. I would have loved at least an interview with Finkbinder relaying tales from the set, etc. But the long-awaited DVD release was a partial disappointment. The print used was in very bad condition, tattered and torn with the ravages of time. The label states that the negatives are long lost and none of the few prints they got their hands one were very good. There are constant scratches in the film, dirt and spots. But all of that could have been somewhat forgiven if it weren’t for some of the reel changes being chopped so poorly. As the Cindy character tries to tell her drunken boyfriend she is going to her reunion, it abruptly cuts in the middle of her sentence. I’m sure with having a few prints at their disposal, Code Red could have attempted to piece together the best quality reels of film for at least a complete representation.
But then much to my surprise, a blu-ray edition was eventually announced. Despite the expected quality, I snapped it up. It’s pretty much the same print as the DVD with the addition of one really damaged scene just after a character had been the victim of a shotgun blast. I can find some charm in the film’s condition because it adds a certain character of those old drive-in movie days, though I wouldn’t have objected to a little more care to the presentation. Also, the blu-ray is lacking the trailer from the DVD and there is no sort of menu. The disc simply plays when you put it in and stops at the end. But all in all, I’m happy to have this obscure little treat on blu-ray, and will treasure it as the collector’s item it has already become.