Thursday, April 8, 2010

Rampage (1987/1992) A Tale of Two Minds

This is the story of a film, one director and how time caused the director to rethink his film. Its also a plea for a really good special edition that showcases the various versions.

William Friedkin made Rampage in 1987 but it never received a US release. It is the story of a serial killer and the man who prosecuted him. It was said to be critical of the death penalty at a time when that wasn't the way to be (The Reagan years). It was also said to be too intense for American audiences. Actually a large part of the problem was that the distributor, DEG, went bankrupt freezing this film and many others. The flm drifted into legend and I found out about it on a list of "The Best Films You May Never See."

A couple of years later, not long after I got my laser disc machine in the early 1990's, I picked up a Japanese import of the film for a great deal of money. It was so much money that I instantly regretted buying it (okay it was only 50 bucks but at the time it was a great deal of money). Stuck with the film I took it home and contemplated whether I had made a major mistake or not.

The plot has Alex McArthur as a mama's boy serial killer killing two families in a short period of time. We watch as the fall out from the crimes occurs both with McArthur and in the life of Michael Biehn, the prosecutor. (forgive me its been a while since I've actually seen this film)

When I sat down to watch the film I wasn't completely blown away but I found it to be a rather intense film, with several scenes that cranked up the emotion, including the infamous trial scene where DA Michael Biehn takes out a stop watch to show us how long it takes to die. It was the kind of film that hung with me and I found myself talking about it to friends, who then requested copies of the Laser Disc.

Time passed. My white elephant, er, treasure sat on my shelf and was taken out now and again to make yet another VHS copy of the film.

Then word came out that like many other films tied up with the DEG bankruptcy Rampage would be getting a release. I think there was to be a brief theatrical run before hitting videotape.

Then I found out something unexpected. Friedkin was re-cutting the film. His attitude toward the film and the subject changed and he was re-cutting the film for American release. The result was the same film with a different slant.

When I saw this version I found it to be pretty much the same as the old version, however there was new footage, a different ending and a slightly different feel. I didn't really think that the politics of the film had changed all that much but some people were horrified that Friedkin had recut his film.

I continued to talk about the film now and again, mentioning both versions, but over time, with the film, in theory readily available, it kind of drifted from the front burner, to the back before being put into the fridge behind some potato salad.

Years passed and to be completely honest the film completely disappeared from my mind until recently when I was reading something on William Friedkin appearing at Lincoln Center and it mentioned the film.

Hey, I thought, I'd really like to see it again. I still have the Laser Disc but my Player has pretty much crapped out. So I started to look on line. Sadly the film is not readily available. Sure you can get VHS copies, but if you want a copy on DVD you really can't. (Well I could splurge 80 bucks on a Polish DVD, but I over paid once for the film, I'm not doing it again).

25 years on the film is sliding into limbo once more.

Its a shame. It really is. Its a good little thriller that deserves to be seen by people.

Actually what this film needs is a special edition that has both cuts of the film on it. I mean seriously, isn't this the perfect opportunity to go back and revisit a film and see how it changes over time? More importantly up until the release of this film (or more to the point, the non-release of this film) Friedkin was a major player in Hollywood. Yes, his career stalled in part because of unfortunate film choices, but mostly it stalled because he cut a deal with DEG that went belly up and left him scrambling to get momentum once again. I would love to see both versions in one set. They could also try to find the out takes and other sequences that appeared in trailers and still photographs that never have been seen. Personally I've been itching to see some sort of package that really showcased the making of this film since Video Watchdog long ago ran an article on the two versions of the film and also talked about the other sequences that never made it into any version of the film (That was in issue 13 in 1992).

I'm hopeful but I'm not holding my breath.

If you run across this film do give it a view, its worth your time.

Actually I'm just waiting for another chance to see this film when and if it shows up on cable. I suggest you keep an eye out as well.


  1. Here you can find a french TV-Rip in 16:9

    In my Case I have to look for a German Release to get the German Sound and sychronize Sound with a professiomal Video Editor like Edius or Avid.

  2. I loved this movie, wish I could find it cheaper on DVD. I think k I'm gonna have to spend the 80 bucks