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Ghost Canyon

'Apprentice To Murder: Special Edition' {Blu-ray]
(Donald Sutherland, Chad Lowe, Mia Sara, et al / Blu-ray / PG-13 / (1988) 2019 / Arrow Films UK)

Overview: Based on a true story, fire-and-brimstone preacher sees Satan everywhere, trains gullible young boy to "detect" evil, and the two of them commit several murders in the name of Jesus.

Also starring Mia Sara (Legend) and featuring a powerhouse performance by Donald Sutherland - reunited here with 'Don't Look Now' screenwriter Allan Scott - 'Apprentice to Murder' is a chilling and unforgettable tale of the macabre that blurs the lines between conventional notions of good and evil.

Blu-ray Verdict: In my humble opinion, 'Apprentice To Murder' is quite a "weird" little film that thankfully combines three major elements that I always deliberately seek out within horror/cult movies; but rarely ever find together!

And yet, in spite of featuring this rather unique potpourri, the film sadly left me Siberian cold! Firstly, the film has always been so very obscure and prior to this wonderful Arrow Films (UK) and MVD Visual new Blu-ray release, has been incredibly hard to find.

Usually there's a good reason for this, but now this highly underrated and before now undiscovered film has finally seen the light of day, perhaps more people can get on visual board and explain certain aspects of it to me better!

Secondly, the story is based, or at least loosely inspired, on true events. More than often, facts are far more astounding than fiction could ever be, so that always appeals to me.

Finally, and foremost, as it happens, 'Apprentice To Murder' takes place in the 1920's and I personally think this is the most suitable time to narrate a tale of the macabre.

The ambiance that comes with this decade is like automatically melancholic and downbeat. The people were poor, vulnerable to all sort of illnesses and petrified of God. Why there aren't any more horror movies timed in the 1920's is completely beyond me!

For the record, 'Apprentice To Murder' has all this, except that, well, the story, inspired by true events, remember, as they supposedly took place in Pennsylvania in 1927, honestly isn't worth telling!

It's fairly dull and commonplace. Definitely not something to consider as thought-provoking or recognize as one of the darkest pages in recent history, that's for darn sure.

Donald Sutherland, who couldn't look less interested in starring in this film, depicts a so-called "Powwow Doctor" practicing in a rural Pennsylvanian county, a few days of traveling away from Philadelphia.

After he "cures" the father of a young illiterate adolescent with a drawing talent, he takes the boy under his wing as an apprentice. Dr. Reese teaches Billy to read and write and also gradually becomes convinced that he can also become a blessed healer; much against the will of Billy's girlfriend Alice.

But Dr. Reese and especially his methods are unorthodox and often abased as witchery by the superstitious and deeply religious communion. When some of his cases don't end well, Billy is dragged along in a downwards spiral of accusations, curses and punishments.

Director R.L. Thomas obviously treasured the best of intentions, but sadly doesn't manage to make full use of the contemporary folklore mysticism and small-town paranoia.

For way too long, the screenplay exclusively focuses on the bonding sessions between the Dr. and his young acolyte. I swear, the undertones even get homosexual at certain moments, whereas the really interesting aspects of the story remain untouched.

The actually disturbing ordeal our "Powwow" has to face (a creepy local hermit who may or not be the Devil himself) is incomprehensibly pushed to the background, like it's some kind of insignificant sub plot.

The filming locations and set pieces are terrific, but apparently R.L Thomas and his crew had to travel to the beautiful region of Hordaland in Norway in order to recreate the rural Pennsylvania of 1927.

In closing, 'Apprentice To Murder' definitely remains a curious '80s feature, well worth checking out if you cherish cheap, but ambitious cult cinema, but overall it's a missed opportunity in my book. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs via a brand new Blu-ray (1080p) HD presentation and comes with the Special Features of:

Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original 35mm interpositive
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
Original lossless mono soundtrack
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
New audio commentary by author and critic Bryan Reesman
New video interview on religious horror cinema with Kat Ellinger, author and editor-in-chief of Diabolique Magazine
New video interview with cinematographer Kelvin Pike
New video interview with makeup supervisor Robin Grantham
Theatrical trailer
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love
+ FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Paul Corupe

'Apprentice To Murder' Original Movie Trailer