Judge Paul Pritchard is a member of a motorcycle gang. You should see his chopper.
"Anybody gets in our way and we'll kick 'em, man, we'll kick 'em to death!"
When a biker named Toad (Hugh Keays-Byrne) witnesses a public assassination, members of his gang, the Gravediggers, start getting bumped off. Following the deaths of six gang members, an undercover drug officer named Stone (Ken Shorter) is assigned to investigate. Earning the trust of gang leader The Undertaker (Sandy Harbutt), Stone joins the Gravediggers while he searches for the killer. Though they have opposing views on the correct course of justice, both parties find themselves growing to respect each other.
Stone is not a great film. Hell, it's not even a particularly good film but, should your mood be right and you've consumed a few beers, this piece of Ozploitation is perfect Friday night entertainment.
Setting the scene for future Australian cult classics such as The Road Warrior, Stone is a landmark movie that has sadly been robbed of its place in history. As the "Stone Forever" documentary included in this special edition reveals, Stone made a significant enough impact on its release to deserve a similar status to the international hit Mad Max.
In truth the film hasn't aged all that well, and is unlikely to meet with widespread acclaim now it has finally been released on DVD. Even at 99 minutes the film feels too leisurely paced; one can only imagine how laid back the original theatrical cut was at 132 minutes. A large chunk of the running time is taken up with scenes of the Gravediggers drinking, smoking, and skinny dipping and is hardly thrilling entertainment. Dialogue is overly simplistic, mostly consisting of people threatening to kick someone else's teeth in, while always remembering to end each line with "man!" There's also a distinct lack of action; even what promises to be a climactic showdown in a graveyard ends up a damp squib.
There's no denying it, Stone is a movie that lives and dies by the vibe it gives off. You'll either "get it" or you won't, making it a difficult film to recommend. Those most likely to "get" Stone are those who remember the film from their youth, or, and I'd imagine this is something Severin is banking on, younger audiences who are only now discovering these exploitation classics following the Tarantino/Rodriguez Grindhouse project. Approaching Stone already accepting that it won't be as kick-ass as its poster implies is a big step to how enjoyable you find it. Indeed, once the often shockingly bad dialogue and acting has been accepted, the pacing issues and lack of tension become less important as the films often repetitious rhythms become almost hypnotic. There's a scruffy charm to Stone that I found irresistible. As you spend more time with the Gravediggers their camaraderie begins to feel genuine, making the sometimes lengthy dialogue-driven scenes tolerable. I soon found myself rooting for these reprobates, right up until a final scene which reminds us all too clearly who these people really are.
Sandy Harbutt must surely take most of the credit for the film's success, having co-written, directed, produced, and even starred in the movie (he plays The Undertaker). His commitment to the film's development is to be admired, and the fact that he has had nothing to do with the industry since the release of Stone makes me feel we've lost out on bigger and better things from the man.
While the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is showing its age, with numerous instances of dirt and scratches on the print, the image overall is detailed, if a little flat. The mono soundtrack is sufficient, but often lacks clarity. Again this is as much a result of the film's age as it is a budgetary issue.
It's nice to see Severin giving Stone a two-disc release with a good set of extras. While Disc One only has a theatrical trailer, Disc Two is loaded with special features. A "making of" kicks off proceedings, closely followed by "makeup tests" and a slideshow complete with narration by director Sandy Harbutt. The main attraction though is the "Stone Forever" featurette, which clocks in at just over an hour. Celebrating the movie's twenty-fifth anniversary, this documentary from 1999 is a fascinating insight into the making of Stone with contributions from cast and crew. Going beyond the making of the film itself, the documentary also details the movie's impact, showing how 35,000 bikers gathered to commemorate the film's twenty-fifth anniversary, even going so far as to recreate the funeral procession from the movie.
Thanks to a quality package from Severin, I had fun with Stone, which rightfully earns a not guilty verdict, man!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
• Stone Forever
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