Hired to Kill
Starring legendary actors Oliver Reed (Gladiator, The Brood), Academy Award Winner George Kennedy (The Delta Force, Cool Hand Luke, The Naked Gun series) and Academy Award Winner Jose Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac, Dune, Lawrence of Arabia), Hired to Kill is an essential slice of '''90s action fare featuring guns, girls and a plethora of budget-busting explosions for good measure''.
Action movie staple Brian Thompson (whose brief turn in 1984's The Terminator led to a starring role in the 1986 Sylvester Stallone vehicle Cobra) stars as Frank Ryan, a mercenary sent to track down a rebel leader in hostile territory. Posing as a fashion designer, he won t be going it alone, as he ll be aided by seven beautiful but deadly female fighters.
Whilst the opportunity to see Oliver Reed chewing up the scenery behind an elaborate moustache merits the price of the admission alone, Hired to Kill is also noteworthy as being co-directed by Nico Mastorakis the man behind such cult favourites as Island of Death and The Zero Boys.
Arrow Video goes all out in presenting Nico Mastorakis’ straight-to-video actioner Hired to Kill on Blu-ray, the presentation of which comes from a new 4K scan of a 35mm interpositive, and delivered here in 1080p/24hz in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. A dual-layer DVD presents a standard-definition enhanced for widescreen televisions.
I’m impressed: this film, which is yet another that would more likely to be languishing in some cheapy DVD hell, looks really good. It’s very clean, a lot of work having gone into the restoration, and only a few minor blemishes remain. The transfer is also very sharp, rendering details film grain naturally, with digital anomalies not appearing to be a problem. Darker scenes present a heavier amount of grain, but I felt it still looked natural. The image also delivers a surprising amount of detail, rendering natural looking textures and delivering a fair sense of depth at times. Black levels are strong, though crushing creeps in in a few places, while colours present nice saturation.
Considering the nature of the film (a cheap exploitation flick made for the home video market) this presentation is certainly a surprise; it probably shouldn’t look anywhere near this good but Arrow has gone all out and put a lot of effort into this and it looks all the better because of it.
The film presents two audio tracks. The first is a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo surround track. The second track is listed as a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround on the back of the box but unfortunately the track is actually presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The 5.1 track is a bit of a disappointment. I can’t really say if it has anything to do with it being lossy, but it’s certainly not as active or as engaging as I would have hoped. At best I felt the bass was probably better managed but the track’s mix didn’t seem all that impressive and the overall sound quality is a bit weak.
I thought the 2.0 track was a bit more satisfying. I felt fidelity was better and the mix was a bit more engaging. The action scenes aren’t as loud as one would probably hope (I’m sure the low budget plays into this somehow) but dialogue is clear, or as clear as it can be (Reed’s whatever-the-hell-that-is accent gets in the way sometimes) and effects and music sound fairly sharp.
Not the big test on one’s sound system one would probably hope from an action flick, it’s still a decent mix and the sound quality is good.
Arrow supplies some nice supplements for this edition, starting with an audio commentary featuring Michael Felsher interviewing Hired to Kill’s editor, Brian Zetlin. This track really did surprise me as I didn’t hold out much hope: though the film is edited fine enough for what it is, there are some odd, almost confusing moments scattered about, like a party sequence and the scene in the caverns, so I wasn’t holding out too much hope for this track. I was wrong, though: this proves to be an exceedingly fascinating discussion.
The track focuses very little on this film, only getting to it near the end of the discussion, and is instead an overview of Zetlin’s lengthy and rather busy career. He started out (like everyone it seems) working for Roger Corman and he shares a number of stories about working there and shares what films he worked on, and from here they then go through a number of his other titles. Interestingly Zetlin was the editor for Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, which provides one of the more fascinating backstories on the track, which is about Golan Globus. He talks about C.H.U.D., Friday the 13th, Part VII, and a number of other films before getting on to how he came to work with Nico Mastorakis for this film. He shares some stories about filming, including the tragic helicopter accident that killed stuntman Clint Carpenter, and also talks a little bit about Oliver Reed, claiming that Reed had calmed down a bit by this point (other stories found in the supplements contradict this, though). I enjoyed the moments where Zetlin just talks generally about editing, how he would take the footage he was given and put it together, sharing how he got around not having the footage he needed, the enjoyment he got out of his profession, and then the advantages of digital editing nowadays. I was also fascinated about the trouble he had editing Friday the 13th, Part VII, which he had trouble getting past the MPAA without making a lot of cuts. This obviously frustrated him and he shares his feelings about why cutting out the cartoonish, ridiculous violence of that film probably made the film even worse in terms of violence.
Admittedly I was putting off listening to this track but it ended up being one of the better tracks I’ve listened to recently. It’s entertaining, funny, and incredibly informative with Zetlin sharing some great stories from his career and sharing everything he has learned over the years.
Following this is another fun feature, an interview with the film’s director Nico Mastorakis. Though I ended up enjoying the gimmick of his interview found on Arrow’s The Zero Boys (it’s set up with the filmmaker literally interviewing himself) I was still relieved to find he doesn’t go that route here, though it looks like this interview was filmed at the same time as the interview for that film. Again it’s a very amusing but informative discussion, with the director going over the details of the production from why he shares a director credit (Peter Rader started out as director until Nico stepped in, and the reasons he gives for this slightly differ from actor Brian Thompson’s reasons given in another interview on this release) to why he made the choices he did. He talks about the helicopter crash, which obviously (and more than likely rightly) still upsets him today, and he talks about the film’s actors. He has nothing but great things to say about George Kennedy and Jose Ferrer, two professionals, but when he gets to Oliver Reed he does not hold back his real opinions. Mastorakis was apparently told that Reed had cleaned up his act so the actor was hired. Unfortunately he was drunk most of the time and, as he says, an absolute monster, even verbally and emotionally abusing his own wife. He even shares a story about what Reed did during the filming of the climax, which is baffling, but considering it was Reed, sadly not surprising (for whatever reason, I can’t bring myself to spoiling the story).
Mastorakis is again funny and engaging, and obviously doesn’t take himself too seriously (he won’t call himself a “director extraordinaire,” but rather just keeps himself “very busy.”) I was also impressed at how he takes the time to talk about the various members of the crew, praising them for their work and I’m sure if he could have, he would have talked about everyone that worked on the film. It runs 27-minutes.
Arrow then provides an interview with the film’s star, Brian Thompson, which runs over 17-minutes. Thompson talks about how he got into acting and how he came to star in this film (he was Nico’s son-in-law at the time) and how being the star differed substantially in comparison to his previous supporting roles in other films. Like the other features on the disc he talks about the helicopter accident but he shares more happy memories from the shoot, and even backs up Mastorakis’ story about what Reed did during the filming of the climax, though apparently Reed told Thompson why he did what he did, with Thompson doing a rather solid Reed impersonation I might add. Admittedly I was not expecting much from this interview but it turns out to be another terrific supplement on this release.
Arrow then closes the release with the film’s trailer and a gallery of production photos presented as a video feature, automatically jumping through each one (it runs about 7-minutes). The included booklet, which, like other Arrow titles, is limited to first pressings, features a great essay on the film by John Oliver, who gives a decent scholarly slant to this release that actually did make me look at the film in a slightly different way. It’s a good booklet so if you’re thinking of picking this title up get it while it still includes the booklet. Both the DVD and (surprisingly) the Blu-ray also contain PDF copies of the script, Freedom or Death, which can be accessed with a BD/DVD-ROM.
Again, Arrow puts in more effort than one would expect, this time for a 90s straight-to-video action flick (though it’s pointed out in the features that at the time, straight-to-video was basically the new grindhouse experience). I enjoyed the features and I’m sure fans of the film will get an even bigger amount of enjoyment out of them.
Despite any reservations I may have on the film Arrow has done a spectacular job on this edition. It looks and sounds great (though again, the 5.1 track has been mislabeled and is actually a Dolby Digital track) and the supplements were all fun. Though I’d say the release is really for fans only, it’s still a solid one and one I certainly recommend.