Ventura Distribution // 1978 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // March 7th, 2006
Twelve hours of sheer terror!
A rarity from the carefree Canadian tax shelter days of the 1970s, Eddy Matalon's underrated Blackout is an effective little low-budget crime thriller that plays heavily on inner city alienation. Rarely seen since North America shut the lights off on that troublesome and often cynical decade twenty years ago, Ventura Distribution has dutifully resurrected this forgotten flick for a new audience.
When the Big Apple is blanketed in darkness by a citywide power failure, a prison bus crashes into a wall and the four convicts inside escape. Trigger-happy Christie (Robert Carradine,The Big Red One and his slimy associates Chico (Don Granberry, The Groundstar Conspiracy), Eddy (Terry Haig, The Aviator) and Marcus (Victor B. Tyler) break their way out and take cover in a posh apartment building owned by Richard Stafford (Ray Milland, Dial M for Murder). The lone cop called to the scene, Dan Evans (Jim Mitchum, Thunder Road), tries to stop them as they go floor to floor, terrorizing the residents for money and some means of transportation to escape further into the pitch-black night.
Of all the trashy B-movies produced under Canada's tax-free feature film investment scheme in the 1970s, none was as mind-bendingly atrocious as 1977's Cathy's Curse, a tedious horror co-production helmed by visiting French director Eddy Matalon. Financed by Cinepix, the Great White North's premier studio of schlock, the film was a critical and financial failure, a micro-budgeted disaster rife with terrible acting, plodding story development, and completely non-existent thrills. Why Cinepix thought Matalon deserved a second chance, we'll never know, but we should be grateful they did. A major improvement in every way over his earlier horror effort, Blackout is a gritty high-rise thriller that wallows in just the right amount of sleaze. Matalon directs the proceedings with his usual flair for the pedestrian, but with a well-developed story and impressive casting, Blackout is much better than it has any right to be.
Playing off New York City's increase in urban crime prior to and concurrent with its 1977 power failure, Blackout exploits feelings of helplessness in its audience as it takes viewers through a harrowing night in the life of an apartment building trying to function without the modern convenience of electricity. Matalon, who co-wrote the story with his Cinepix producers, uses the high-rise as a clever microcosm of society, a place where everyone from the very rich to the struggling poor are giving birth, celebrating weddings, dying, living, and loving, mere seconds before their lives are thrown into disarray by the escaped cons. Though it's unlikely that such a diverse apartment complex could actually exist, it allows Matalon to level the playing field and put everyone at risk as Christie and his thugs take over. No one is spared from the spree of violence, and that's what makes the story so frightening.
And yet what's most interesting about the film is that Christie is often portrayed by Matalon as a sympathetic character, especially compared to the often wholly unlikable highrise residents -- a washed-up actor who talks to his dog, a mincing homosexual couple, a timid woman who keeps her husband gasping away on life support, and a pompous rich coot whose money is more important than his wife. As Christie starts to break into the apartments to rob the residents, he almost becomes a Robin Hood figure, in many cases dispensing embittered prison philosophy as he terrorizes his victims with a menacing shotgun. As the night goes on, the fugitive even helps the clueless Officer Evans deliver a baby, providing some much-needed some shades of gray to his character, and the film as a whole.
Of course, much of Blackout's success is due to Robert Carradine's multi-layered performance as the more or less scummy Christie, but the rest of the C-list actors in this penny-pinching potboiler are great as well. Though still slightly bland, Robert Mitchum's brother, Jim, is much better than expected as the heavily mustachioed cop who has put his life on the line to stop the escapees, and there's even a brief cameo by a sadly aging Ray Milland, as a hardnosed millionaire whose refusal to cooperate with the thugs results in the torching of his priceless collection of Picassos.
Unfortunately, Ventura's presentation leaves a little to be desired. The transfer is just passable, with somewhat faded colors and a noticeable sheen of grain giving the film a distinct, low-budget 1970s feel. Besides a few scratchy stock footage inserts, there are no distracting source artifacts, however, leaving me to believe that the print was cleaned up to some degree. The soundtrack is a razor-thin mono mix that is hampered by hiss and noise. There's also very little in the way of extras, just some text-based biographies and a photo gallery of stills from the film.
Though Blackout didn't receive the most ideal presentation on this DVD, I'm just happy to see it arrive at all. Easily Matalon's finest hour, this topical thriller remains gritty and effective almost two decades later.
Review content copyright © 2006 Paul Corupe; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Ventura Distribution
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 1978
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Photo Gallery