The Black CrystalOverview -
A mysterious cult is on the hunt for a stolen artifact in 1991’s micro-budget thriller The Black Crystal. Filled with gory violence, witchcraft, and a slow-burn detective story, this debut feature from Director Mike Conway is a regional horror oddity ripe for audiences to rediscover. AGFA brings the film to Blu-ray with a satisfying A/V package given the film’s source limitations. Beware as this cult curiosity is For Fans Only.
Inspired by the Matamoras cult murders and shot entirely on Super 8, THE BLACK CRYSTAL is an action-horror hallucination that was filmed in the backwoods of Tucson, Arizona. The story follows Will (writer-director-producer-editor-composer Mike Conway) as he and his yellow Trans Am encounter a gang of Satanic cultists led by the evil Daniel. Surviving the ordeal, Will meets up with Daphne, a goth witch with a "power channeler" called the Black Crystal that might hold the key to the underworld. Awash with kickboxing dads, dollar store bloodshed, and a killer synthesizer score, this is an imaginative and ambitious homemade funbomb that has been missing in action since its original VHS release. AGFA presents THE BLACK CRYSTAL on disc for the first time ever, featuring a new preservation from the original 3/4" tape master and enough extras to fill Daniel’s Satanic shed.
directed by: Mike Conway
1991 / 70 min / 1.33:1 / English DTS-HD MA 2.0
- Region Free Blu-ray
- Preserved from the original 1” tape master
- Commentary with director Mike Conway
- Interviews with Mike Conway and actor Mark Lang
- Original home video trailer
- Shorts by Mike Conway
- Bonus movie: THE BLACK CRYSTAL (original VHS version)
- English SDH subtitles
Purchase Original Edition From Vinegar Syndrome.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
“Do you dislike the male sex?”
The film opens on Will (Mike Conway) driving through the desolate outskirts of Tucson when he picks up a disheveled hitchhiker named Justin (David Lamb) who is headed to the town of Summer Haven looking for a girl named Daphne. Soon they’re run off the road by a group of mystical cult members who murder Justin for stealing a prized artifact. Will escapes the bloodshed and skips town to hide out in his brother’s cabin conveniently tucked away in the backwoods of Summer Haven. When cult leader Daniel (Mark Lamb) finds out that Will is seeking help from Daphne (Lilly Brown) two powerful forces collide with the fate of the world held in the balance.
The Black Crystal aka: The Black Triangle is an ambitious feature with plenty of lofty ideas floating around the narrative hoping to keep your attention. From the start, the film gives us every man Will who gets caught up in the drama of a mysterious cult whose leader Daniel uses a magical crystal to summon his powers. Unfortunately, when Will gets to Summer Haven he isn’t quite prepared for the aloof Daphne’s feminine charms nor the bloody violence Daniel will bring upon them. Sadly the black crystal in question is never used but rather a McGuffin tying the players together. There are lengthy discussions about magic and mystical doorways to the underworld, but unfortunately, there isn’t much shown on screen.
Where the film succeeds is in the DIY aesthetic of the gore effects and the locations around Tucson, Arizona. Conway smartly uses wide open spaces to apply an eerie atmosphere to the proceedings giving most scenes an air of unsettling anticipation. While not an effects-heavy feature The Black Crystal ensures you know the cultists are not messing around. Their kill shed smeared with blood is creepy, and their eye-gouging tactics are not to be dismissed easily. Most micro-budget features dealing with magical fantasy would surely resort to in-camera tricks to convey the mystical happenings, but I really appreciate the use of bloody gore in place of “magic”.
Performances are memorable with the amateur actors all having a good time bringing their characters to life. Conway is working his acting chops overtime to give Will the hero charms necessary to escape the cult and get the girl. Lily Brown easily channels Daphne’s witchcraft beliefs and pairs them nicely with a jaded perspective on life. Mark Lang hams it up as powerful cult leader Daniel delivering every line with a smug crescendo.
While most will reject The Black Crystal as a disposable 90’s video store oddity, I’ll say its DIY charm and mystical ambitions make for an entertaining and fun watch. The execution is solid given the production limitations and Conway’s love of driving scenes to pad the runtime. Thankfully the canary yellow Trans Am driven by Will is worth checking out even when it's smeared with blood. Cult audiences seeking the next regional horror/thriller should keep this one in mind.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Black Crystal is brought to Blu-ray by the weirdos at AGFA. Housed in a typical transparent keepcase the disc loads the AGFA logo before landing on the Main Menu screen with scenes from the film playing adjacent to not-so-typical navigation options.
Preserved from the original 1” tape master, The Black Crystal is presented in the film’s original 1.33:1 aspect ratio in an AVC encoded 1080p presentation HD image. While the feature was shot on 8mm and edited on VHS, this HD image reflects the grainy goodness of the source material while giving it a lovely VHS patina. At times it's a noisy mess but thankfully compression issues aren’t present. Colors are flat and uninteresting, specks, dirt, and flickering evident. Detail is limited as expected. Don’t forget to adjust the tracking!
The 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 mix for The Black Crystal is serviceable keeping synth scoring tight and dialogue clear though hiss and pop are a constant threat to the proceedings. Given the technical limitations of the production I’d say this mix is a good fit for this feature. English subtitles are available.
AGFA loaded this release with an excellent mix of features for fans new and old. Start with the commentary track from Conway then move through the interview and short films. Superfans will obviously pop on the archival VHS cut without missing a beat.
- Audio Commentary with Director Mike Conway
- Interviews with Mike Conway and actor Mark Lang (HD 8:15) “30 years and 60 lbs ago we made the film” says Conway spilling the beans on his production. Mark Lang’s separate contribution here is memorable as he speaks at length about his career in voice over acting and how the Nickelodeon show Hey Dude! saved a girl’s life.
- Original Home Video Trailer (HD 1:20)
- Short Films by Mike Conway:
- Bug Complex (HD 7:10) a shot on digital film about a serious cockroach problem.
- Contingency Plan (HD 4:04) Mike and his real wife Sheila star in this violent short film about a marital dispute.
- Roadkill (HD 13:08) A crime drama with double crosses, bloody effects, and car stunts. The feature looks like a 90’s Breaking Bad fan film.
- Tequila (HD 6:33) Mike Conway stars in this short about a drinking game gone wrong.
- The Black Crystal Original VHS Version (SD 70:14) Running slightly longer than the HD cut due to different opening logos, this VHS version will bring you back to the early 90’s.
The Black Crystal is an ambitious micro-budget fantasy feature shopping in witchcraft and mystical vibes with a generous helping of gore and character drama. At its core is a solid story with some exciting elements and memorable performances. AGFA brings the oddity to Blu-ray with a satisfying A/V package given the limitations of the source material. Extras are plentiful for fans of the film and director Mike Conway. For Fans Only
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