In the future of 1993, a privatized and powerful mining corporation is extracting a newfangled element cleaner and more abundant than any other energy source known to mankind, but the element, known as Hellfire, is also the most dangerous as it causing the human body to spontaneously ignite the internal organs in a heap of electro-combustion, searing the body from the inside out. A private detective is hired under the pretense of an affair scandal but becomes intertwined in a power struggle to harness complete control of Hellfire that leads from explosive skirmishes on a mining station on Saturn to the many charred bodies scorched by the unforgiving Hellfire on Earth and the investigator is caught in the middle behind a veil of cloak and dagger criminal conduct, searching for answers and the truth.
A gumshoe narrative with a caustic boost of flesh destroying flair, “Primal Scream” is the 1987 independent science fiction action epic from first time filmmaker William J. Murray and an equally tenderfoot crew buckling down for their inaugural ignition into full-length feature film space. More recently familiar with Murray’s work on the Jersey shore thriller, “Exit 0,” as the director of photography, the writer-director got his big start helming “Primal Scream,” also known originally as “Hellfire,” a planetary, melodramatic perusal also set in New Jersey, shot primarily on location in Atlantic City. The title change from “Hellfire” was the brainchild of the distributor who bought the rights to the film, claiming “Primal Scream” as a more marketable title, but with a name like “Hellfire,” the spaceship models, web of lies, and evil corporations detective story would have garnered an audience. “Primal Scream” is a production financed by a movie theater concession stand franchisee, Howard Foulkrod, looking to be a part of movie-making team.
Before working with Murray in “Exit 0” as a heedful bed and breakfast front desk attendant with a pervading cocksure attitude, New York born Kenneth McGregor first and foremost collaborated with the filmmaker on “Primal Scream” as a washed up police officer turned private dick Corby McHale that became McGregor’s debut lead role in the low-budget sci-fi feat. McGregor could carry the weight on such a profound role that required physicality from a browbeaten scoundrel that could attract young new love as well as re-attract his former affairs. However, I wasn’t especially sold on McHale’s love interest, Samantha Keller, who came off strong toting up a lip-giving and gritty female officer who has history with McHale. Sharon Mason dons the role with her lanky, on the gaunt side, appearance that could have elevated the role in a incongruous, yet positive, light, but Mason withers down to a lovestruck puppy besotted with McHale back in her life, losing that salt of the Earth edge that keeps her sharp in repelling the scum around her as a beat cop. Jon Maurice was a real presence on screen as a weary and angry captain on the force and maintains a mutual respect for his former office and friend, McHale, though doesn’t look it. In his only credited acting role, Maurice has the towering posture of “Dawn of the Dead’s” Ken Foree or “Candyman’s” Tony Todd with a resonating voice, a gospel actor, and compliments McHale’s unkept and insouciant façade. Rounding out the cast is Julie Miller, Stephen Caldwell, Edward N. Fallon, Joseph White, and timeless showman Mickey Shaughnessy in his last performance before death.
I find difficulty in thinking of one single aspect in where “Primal Scream” doesn’t deserve admiration. Do I think “Primal Scream” is a flawless attempt of a gargantuan dystopia of escapism? Not at the least, but for a pressurized, first time director, William Murray, his equally untried crew, and a cast of novice actors, the space ship model and pyrotechnics-laden gumshoe narrative palpitates wildly with tremendous heart for the amount of other intrinsic details that went into the feature, like the video phones and the ultramodern everyday vehicles, that didn’t produce a sensory overload of futuristic adornment and kept a practical milieu of face-to-face gambling bookies (location was set in Atlantic City after all) and ballistic projectile weapons despite a significant advancement in space travel. Hell, there’s even a sleek unrivaled-looking DeLorean in the first moments of the movie as a cherry on top. Granted, “Primal Scream” is set in 1993, nearly a decade outlook from production, and maybe undershot a realistic timeframe for interplanetary mining base construction. Another thing unclear is the story’s plasticity, murkily prefaced with a drop-in climax that is then refocused on the beginnings of Corby McHale’s seemingly diminutive hired involvement that leads to corruptive strife and dislodging of greed for the better of mankind. While trying to maintain a belief in the systemic universe the characters live in, the scenes are told through McHale as noted in the climatic introduction, but there are a few scenes outside that perspective box and don’t make filmic sense to the storytelling core. Ambitiously executed, “Primal Scream” dotes on films, such as “Blade Runner” or “Brazil,” of an Earth dystopian future and challenges us to totally recall our affection for the practical movie making magic.
In what I consider an odd release for Dark Force Entertainment and Code Red, I have to remind myself that William Murray’s “Primal Scream” is an oddity film with rich background and ludicrous-speed potential all around and makes a grand, high-definition Blu-ray debut distributed by MVDVisual. The region free release is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 1.78:1 aspect ratio, from a rather preserved source. The picture maintains a stable course throughout with some flare ups of scratches, blemishes, cigarette burns, and omitted frame jumps that were nearly inherent with 35mm productions. Yet, the coloring is excellent and balance with no diluting edge enhancements or cropping. A forced English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo mix is a palpable mix that is clear and unfractured by distortions. There remains a constant, low-toned crackle and hum throughout the approx. 85 minute runtime, almost as if it’s electronic interference, but the mix maintains a par score that offers beveled depth and a resounding range of bombastic explosions and the snap, crackle, pop of skin being corroded and cooked by Hellfire. Special features include an audio a new commentary by director William Murray and crew as well as the same group in a Making of “Primal Scream” featurette “Made A Movie, Lived to Tell,” showcasing current interviews recollecting 30 years ago their experience in making, and surviving, their first movie. Also included is the “Hellfire” 1981 promo reel. “Primal Scream” is more down to Earth than it is pew-pewing in the inky expanse, paralleling the dangers of new and unexplored elements and mining procedures, such as fracking, with a sleuth story rigmarole to save man from not only destroying their corporeal selves, but also destroying their souls from corruption.