Delirium (1979) Blu-ray Review
Blu-ray Release: February 8, 2022
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 88:06
Director: Peter Maris
When a series of savage murders rock St. Louis, the police investigation will lead to a deranged Vietnam vet and an underground organization of white-collar vigilantes. (From Severin’s official synopsis)
The movies banned under the UK Director of Public Prosecutions’ Video Recordings Act of 1984, aka: the Video Nasties, created an instant must-see list for cult film lovers the world over. As the censorship craze abated and titles became more accessible, thanks to VHS bootlegs, remastered DVDs, and fan-edited torrents, the inherent insanity of the DPP’s list came into focus. For every truly harrowing entry there were a half-dozen laughably bottom of the barrel horror films and exploitation trash that would’ve been entirely forgotten, had it not been inexplicably associated with Cesare Canevari’s The Gestapo’s Last Orgy (Italian: L'ultima orgia del III Reich; 1977) or Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980). Occasionally, genuinely interesting movies were saved from obscurity and the secondary lists of non-prosecuted (but still seized) films included oddities that a certain breed of cult fan can appreciate for the utter weirdness of their independent amateurism. Peter Maris’ Delirium (aka: Psycho Puppet, 1979) – not to be confused with a pair of gialli with the same name from Renato Polselli (Italian: Delirio caldo, 1972) and Lamberto Bava (aka: Delirium: Photos of Gioia, 1987) – is a good example of one of these confusingly esoteric works of hand-cobbled found art.
Delirium isn’t a horror movie; rather, it’s more like an extended episode of a late ’70s TV police procedural about a vigilante crisis that was left on a shelf and padded with scenes from an unrelated early slasher movie. Apparently, that’s not too far from the case, as Maris sort of inherited an incomplete movie, which he refers to as a “failure” in the interview on this disc without specifying if he reused any previously shot footage. He reports that the script was patched together from that unnamed, failed project, aspects of a novel by author Eddie Krell (I’m assuming it is Murder Won't Buy a Honeymoon [Dell, 1963], because that is the only published novel of Krell’s I can find evidence of), and input from himself, Krell, and from first/only-time feature screenwriters Richard Yalem and Jim Loew. Being an incredibly low-budget, regionally-produced indie, Delirium was shot in pieces when local cast, crew, and locations were available, adding to its erratic, episodic nature. That said, the results aren’t quite as random as reviews from the period might lead you to believe. The slasher portion is the more successful in terms of entertainment value, because it has a real manic quality to it, as if an amateur camera crew was chasing around an actual bloodthirsty nutcase. Either this unhinged quality or the VHS box art probably landed it on the Video Nasties list, because it isn’t a particularly gory movie by 1979 or 1984 standards. Personally, I prefer the second, non-horror half of the movie for its dopey ambition. With a fraction of the budget and skill, Maris and his co-writers attempt to expand upon ideas on the subject of group vigilantism, as written by John Milius for Ted Post’s Dirty Harry (1971) sequel, Magnum Force (1973), with fashionable (though not sympathetic) references to post-traumatic stress in Vietnam vets. You have got to respect that kind of gumption. The haphazard execution of the various staff meetings, police procedural aspects, and a romantic subplot also pleasantly remind me of the charming, community theater-like filmmaking seen from the best regional exploitation, though I understand that this is a peculiar and difficult to acquire taste. The action, though stilted, is impressively reckless, all things considered. Maris would later build upon these experiences to become a reasonably well-respected B-action filmmaker, including Mad Max 2 (aka: The Road Warrior, 1981) rip-off Land of Doom (1986), other vigilante movies – Ministry of Vengeance (1989) and Diplomatic Immunity (1991), being two of the better known – and the point-and-click FMV Sierra video game, Phantasmagoria (1995).
In the UK, Delirium was temporarily banned on home video, but, here in North America, it was officially released on VHS by at least three different companies – Paragon Video, Caravan Video, and Academy Entertainment (in big box and slipcover style). Following this, however, it disappeared and was never put out on DVD. There wasn’t even a widescreen source to make bootlegs from, as far as I can ascertain. Severin is here to solve all of these problems with a brand new Blu-ray debut, presented in 1.85:1, 1080p video. The transfer was restored using the “only known 35mm print,” which I assume was a blow-up from 16mm based on imdb.com specs and the general look of the material (imdb and my eyes could both be wrong, of course). Grain texture isn’t muddied with digital noise, but it has that ‘spread out’ structure of a blow-up. A negative source might have made for a cleaner transfer, but the print’s inherent artifacts – namely the punched-up black and white levels (the nighttime location exteriors are sometimes indiscernible) and minor damage (mostly white flecks, vertical lines, and a handful of burned dots) – end up really fitting the griminess of the film. Color quality isn’t diminished beyond what you’d expect from a 40+ year-old, low-budget, 16mm exploitation movie, either, and separation is tight without oversharpening problems.
Delirium is presented in its original mono and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. From performance to effects and music, it is the epitome of a cobbled audio mix. Sometimes, it sounds surprisingly clean for a single-channel mix of its age and, other times, the various elements overlap into a bit of an audio mud-pit. The score, which is made up entirely of library cues, tends to sound the best, but even this depends on the condition of the recordings the filmmakers stitched together. The use of library music isn’t terrible in theory, but the production’s choice of material led to inadvertent comedy when the film was released in the UK, because one of the most commonly used cues, “Approaching Menace” by Neil Richardson, was the theme to the popular, still-running TV game show Mastermind.
Directing Delirium (20:24, HD) – Director Peter Maris talks about his early life leading up to becoming a filmmaker, raising money to make Delirium, recycling a failed movie, the messy writing and production processes, casting locally, shooting on location, on-set antics, and the film’s release.
Monster Is Man (16:34, HD) – Special effects artist/expert Bob Shelley recalls his career in independent B-action and television, developing his skill-set, and the tricks behind Delirium’s various effects.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.