Blu-ray Release: June 13, 2023
Video: 1.78:1 & 1.33:1/1080p/Color
Audio: English LPCM 2.0 Mono
Subtitles: English SDH
Run Time: 89:57
Director: David A. Prior
Colonel Crawford (David Campbell), the sadistic commander of an advanced military training center known as 'Scare Camp', has created the most grueling and realistic exercise imaginable. To Vietnam War veteran Jason McKenna (Fritz Matthews), it is all too real. His ability to distinguish between flashbacks and the ongoing exercise slowly fades. Driven by emotional terror, McKenna believes he must kill to survive. (From MVD’s official synopsis)
One of the greatest misconceptions of film criticism is that an auteur needs to be an innovative, visionary, or even skilled filmmaker. Some of the truest, to-the-letter auteurs can be found in the realms of the B-to-Z indie scene, especially those films shot on consumer grade equipment, like 8mm and video formats. David A. Prior was one of the first trash auteurs of the straight-to-video generation, beginning with his shot-on-video debut, Sledgehammer, in 1983. He followed that up with shot-on-film features, like Killer Workout (1987) and The Mankillers (1987), many through his and director David Winters’ company, Action International Pictures. Among Prior’s trademarks was his bodybuilding, Chippendale dancing brother Ted. The duo collaborated on several films, including minor video market hit Deadly Prey (1987) and Operation Warzone (1988), but their first shot at matching the studio-backed action bombast of Schwarzenegger and Stallone on a budget was 1985’s Kill Zone.
Whereas Deadly Prey was a pretty unabashed rip-off of Rambo: First Blood Part 2 (1985), Kill Zone (sometimes stylized as Killzone, not to be confused with Cirio H. Santiago’s Kill Zone ) begins with the promise of connections to Prior’s slasher movies. The sledgehammer killer who hates his mother has been replaced by a machine gun killer suffering from ‘Nam flashbacks. Unfortunately, this potential for slasher-esque unstoppable killer antics isn’t really delivered upon and Kill Zone turns into another ‘80s STV Rambo clone, though one made by earnest American nobodies, instead of faltering Italians in search of a quick buck. Still, the basic concept of war games inciting violent hallucinations, though borderline incomprehensible in the context of the film, has a lot of potential in the way it changes the context of David Morrell’s original First Blood novel (Rowman & Littlefield, 1972). Kill Zone is a kind of practice run for the more over-the-top Deadly Prey, but it’s arguably the better paced film and features some memorable DIY stunts, as well as a pretty good performance from Ted Prior, albeit in a slightly diminished role.
Kill Zone was released on VHS via Vestron Video in the US, but then disappeared into obscurity, while the likes of Sledgehammer became Prior’s larger early legacy. I couldn’t even find evidence of a digital or TV release in another country, only a handful of videotapes in Australia and Europe. Unlike Deadly Prey, which had its Blu-ray sourced from a Beta SP transfer, MVD Rewind’s had access to Kill Zone’s original 35mm interpositive, which they have scanned and restored in 4K. The 1.78:1, 1080p transfer is, obviously, a big upgrade over VHS, so much so that MVD has also included a 1.33:1, 480i transfer for the sake of nostalgia. The HD image exhibits notable, but minor print damage artifacts (usually scratches) and chunky grain, which is, in my experience, in keeping with an interpositive source versus a negative source. Color quality is fantastic with natural neutral hues and browns, vivid jungle greens, and blue skies. Details are tight as are edges, especially where higher contrasts are concerned, yet I didn’t notice any oversharpening haloes. Textures are somewhat inconsistent throughout, though this may be the result of cinematographer/editor Vic Alexander being rushed and using less than ideal hardware.
Kill Zone is presented in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 and its original mono. The sound design is a charming mix of thin, caught-on-set sounds and foley, and fuller, canned library effects. Nothing ever quite fits what’s happening on screen aside from some dialogue, which is almost always too quiet on the track to fully understand. This isn’t the disc’s fault and, to the contrary, we should probably celebrate the authenticity of the presentation, warts and all. Composer Robert A. Higgins, who only has this one credit to his name, delivers a surprisingly complex synth score that features multiple layers of instrumentation, instead of the typical single key melody you’d hear from a David Prior movie. The music volume and clarity is also pretty inconsistent throughout, but, again, this is what we’re here for.
Commentary with producer and co-writer Jack Marino – Similar to MVD’s L.A. Wars (1994) release, Marino is essentially interviewed by moderator Heath Holland (of the Cereal at Midnight podcast) via Zoom meeting. The duo discusses the zero budget ingenuity of the filmmakers, developing the script, casting, ongoing financial challenges, and connections to First Blood. Marino also shares a number of personable behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
Video commentary with Jack Marino – Again, like the L.A. Wars release, this is the raw Zoom footage, not a picture-in-picture option.
The Making of Kill Zone (37:52, HD) – Blu-ray producer Steve Latshaw talks to co-writer and producer Jack Marino about the film’s popularity with VHS collectors and B-action films, Kill Zone’s funding and production, the beginnings of Action International Pictures, working with Prior, casting, and location shooting.
Kill Zone VHS Version (89:39, SD) – A complete copy of the Vestron Video release.
Bonus trailers – Action U.S.A. (1989), L.A. Wars, Showdown (1993), Angel Town (1990), My Samurai (1992)
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.