Apprentice to Murder
In early twentieth-century Pennsylvania Dutch Country, young Billy Kelly (Chad Lowe, Highway to Hell) falls in with a charismatic “powwower” or folk magic healer, Dr John Reese (Donald Sutherland, Don’t Look Now), shunned by the rest of the community for his non-conformist beliefs. Together, they investigate the mysterious sickness that is blighting the area, which Reese believes to be the work of a sinister local hermit. But as the plague spreads and the wide-eyed Billy falls ever deeper under Reese’s spell, are they doing God’s work or the Devil’s bidding?
Also starring Mia Sara (Legend) and featuring a powerhouse performance by Donald Sutherland – reunited here with Don’t Look Now screenwriter Allan Scott — Apprentice to Murder is a chilling and unforgettable tale of the macabre that blurs the lines between conventional notions of “good” and “evil”.
Arrow Video presents Ralph L. Thomas’ Apprentice to Murder on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It’s delivered on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode and comes from a new 2K restoration scanned from a 35mm interpositive. The disc is a region B release and North American viewers will require a Blu-ray player that can play back region B content.
As expected Arrow still goes all out with the restoration for this film, despite the general obscureness and (let’s be honest) lack of appeal the film will have. The restoration has cleaned the film up rather thoroughly, no significant damage present, but it’s the encode I’m most impressed with. The film is quite grainy, surprisingly so, and the grain is rendered exceptionally well. And despite the later generation print the image manages to keep the level of detail high, everything looking sharp and crisp.
Where the image falters a bit is in the darker scenes and the black levels. I found crushing a bit of concern and shadow delineation is almost non-existent. Still, despite this shortcoming I was still very impressed with the final result, the film receiving the same care attention that Arrow gives for all of their restorations.
The film’s audio, presented in lossless 2-channel PCM mono, isn’t especially aggressive but it sounds fine enough. Dialogue is clear, the music has a bit of range to it, and there aren’t any severe issues, like drops or pops. It’s a perfectly serviceable mono track.
Arrow provides a nice little special edition for the film, starting with a rather strong audio commentary by author and critic Bryan Reesman. Reesman, rather impressively, keeps the track going at a great pace, covering the film’s production and even delving a bit into the actual incident that the film is based on, while also talking about the locations used in the film, which have been reused for several other films. He does recognize the film’s faults, and at times it can be a bit confusing as to whether he likes the film or not, or even considers it good (he states a few times it feels like a made-for-TV film in a somewhat unflattering way), but he offers a defense for the film and explains why the film has probably fallen to the curb, from poor marketing (it was sold as a horror film but is, in reality, more of a drama) that set up unreal expectations. He even talks about more personal things that he thinks relate to the film, even sharing a story about a friend of his father’s, who was convicted of murder. I’m rather shocked Arrow would bother adding a commentary but I’m glad they did as I ended up enjoying it and the context it provides.
Arrow also throws in a few interviews, including a couple of crew members from the film. Cinematographer Kelvin Pike (about 9-minutes) and make-up artist Robin Grantham (about 7-minutes) give general outlines of how they came to be involved with the film and share some anecdotes from the set. But the best interview by a mile is the one provided by Kat Ellinger, who goes over the use of religion in horror films and their evolution through the years, where more explicit references to religion are found. She then talks about how Apprentice to Murder makes use of all of these genre staples in setting up its story, from Night of the Hunter to films set around the occult. Although I still wouldn’t consider the main feature a horror film I found this feature to be a superb resource.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer (sold explicitly as a horror film) and Arrow also includes a booklet. A PDF copy I was sent to me has become corrupted so I will update this review once I get a new one.
Overall I ended up being more enamored by the supplements than the film itself and was pleased going through them. Arrow put in far more effort than I would have expected and fans of the film should be more than happy with this.
As usual Arrow goes the extra mile with their release, giving the fairly obscure film the same love and attention you would expect most companies would reserve for more popular titles. The image has a few shortcomings but overall, I thought it looked great and I was quite pleased with the supplements, which do manage to raise one’s appreciation a wee bit for the film. Highly recommended for fans.