Umbrella Entertainment revives a forgotten Ozploitation gem, 1983’s Midnite Spares, in a well-assembled new presentation with great extras and excellent A/V quality. Anyone who might remember Quentin Tarantino hyping up the car crash-filled trailer for this film in the 2008 doc, Not Quite Hollywood, might be slightly taken aback that this isn’t wall-to-wall car mayhem. Even so, the film has a convincing grasp on its setting in the culturally diverse suburbs of Sydney, colorful characters, and a suitably smashing final showdown. Highly Recommended.
A little too lightweight for an "adult" action film, but a little too thoughtful and seedy for a goofy teen romp, Midnite Spares is a charmingly oddball Aussie import from 1983. It's set in a world of car thieves, chop shops, and winged sprint car races. James Laurie plays Steve, a talented sprint car driver who has come to Sydney's western subrbs from "up north" in Queensland to reconnect with his grease monkey dad Ted and do some racing. When he gets to town, Ted is nowhere to be found and Ted's business partner, a Czech named Tomas (Max Cullen), quietly suspects foul play.
While Ted and Tomas have tried to keep their heads above water while running a legit shop, they have been getting squeezed by the local auto cartel to turn chop shop and become part of their interstate smuggling circuit. Steve takes it upon himself to investigate his dad's disappearance, while Tomas fends off the offers and threats of the "midnite spares" crew.
Steve's lack of success in finding his pops is mitigated by a burgeoning romance he starts with sweet teen Ruth (My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Gia Carides), who works at the racetrack hot dog stand. Her Greek immigrant family is more than a little overprotective, but Steve's earnestness -- and talent on the sprint car track -- gradually wins them over. The "melting pot" aspect of the suburbs is also underlined in the film by a conflict between immigrant Vietnamese hot rodders and the racist manager of the hot dog stand, who tips off the thieves to rip off their car.
Character actors extraordinaire Bruce Spence (who will always be the gyrocopter pilot in Mad Max 2/The Road Warrior to me) and David Argue (BMX Bandits) form a comic Mutt-and-Jeff duo of mechanics who work in Tomas's garage and who act as the ragtag pit crew for Steve's races. Argue's girlfriend is played by Amanda Dole, then known as Australia's Playboy Playmate of the Year. As such, she is mostly called upon to wear skimpy outfits or to gradually remove them.
Viewers looking for automobile action will probably find more to like in the off-track chases than the sprint car racing scenes. The racetrack footage is so quickly edited that it can be a little confusing to follow, which might be down to the production not having enough time to shoot everything they wanted and/or the accidental death of a camera assistant during a crash at the track, which presumably halted production at that location.
The film really comes into its own in the final twenty minutes, when Steve and his friends have had enough of the bad guys' intimidation and go smash the hell out of their equipment -- and more than a few of the thieves, while they're at it. Director Quentin Masters makes the car thief crew so hateable that this extended setpiece of brilliantly conceived and chaotically staged demolition-derby-style car stunt mayhem perfectly closes out the film on a note of metal-crunching catharsis.
Genre fans might get a little antsy waiting for the smashing finale, but I found a lot to like in the colorful characters and lived-in setting of Midnite Spares even when the film didn't put us behind the wheel.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Midnite Spares is housed in a standard keepcase with reversible cover art, highlighting two different vintage poster illustrations. A booklet is enclosed, featuring a 16-page full-color comic adaptation of the film and an essay by Heather Drain. A limited edition slipcover with new art by Haunt Love is available exclusively on the Vinegar Syndrome site. The disc loads to a copyright warning and a brief “20 Years of Umbrella Entertainment” ident, both of which can be fast-forwarded or skipped, before the full-motion main menu. This release is Region Free.
Touted as a new 4K remaster, this AVC-encoded 1080p 1.85:1 transfer doesn't disappoint. The image on this scrappy low-budget flick is clean and stable, with well-resolved film grain that feels organic. Some darker shots are a little grainy, but the encode thankfully doesn't compound this with any noise or dropouts. Color is nicely saturated, with skintones looking natural. The trendy smoke diffusion of the time sometimes fuzzes out fine detail, but the video all looks like a faithful translation of the film elements.
The film defaults to the originally released theatrical audio, mixed in DTS-HD MA 2.0, which has a punchy, beefy sound to it. If you switch the audio track, or locate the option in the Special Features menu, there is an alternate, "uncut" soundtrack, also presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0. This version is a little quieter, a little less aggressive and slightly more naturalistic-sounding. Also, to paraphrase Mark Hartley on the audio commentary, there is a little less music and a few more four-letter words. Many of those words are already present in the theatrical version, so the selective re-dubbing or removal of dialogue is mildly puzzling but maybe it makes a difference in the Australian ratings system. It's not a night-and-day difference between these two versions, but it's cool to be able to A/B the different mixes. One subtitle option: English SDH.
Umbrella offers a nice collection of extras here, identical to the contents of their Australian release last year. While the featurettes can be accessed from the Special Features menu, they autoplay as one long piece as well.
Ozploitation films tend to have the reputation of being more gonzo than your average genre film. Arguably, Midnite Spares gets to that over-the-top place in its smash-'em-up finale. Thrill seekers might be bummed they have to wait so long for the car stunts, but I found the quirky specifics of the film's suburban Sydney setting and the ensemble of idiosyncratic characters to be consistently appealing. This disc from Umbrella/OCN offers an outstanding new transfer, the chance to watch the movie with additional swearing, and some solid supplements. Highly Recommended.