The post-apocalyptic skate rock opera Shredder Orpheus is an industrial microbudget retelling of the classic Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice. Brimming with anti-establishment themes, killer skating, and sci-fi tropes, this 1990 film is a hallmark of skate culture and the independent punk scene. The Blu-ray from AGFA and OCN Distribution presents the film with a surprisingly strong A/V package and an exciting set of bonus features for fans of the film. Recommended.
“Ma’am, I've dedicated my life to the sound of metal insects screaming in a wall of oatmeal.”
Skate rocker Orpheus (Robert McGinley) and his band of shredders must journey to Hell and save his bride, Eurydice (Megan Murphy, Brand Upon the Brain!), from the control of Hades (Gian-Carlo Scandiuzzi, Bonfire of the Vanities) and Persephone (Vera McCaughan). Eurydice is forced to become a performer on their variety show, which aims to sedate its viewers. These deadly signals beamed from the underworld’s Euthanasia Broadcast Network (EBN).
The story is set in a dystopian future where affordable housing is 5 acres of shipping containers, affectionately called The Gray Zone. Outcasts, war veterans, and skate punks scrape by with the clothes on their backs and the boards under their feet. Life is good for Orpheus until his new bride is killed by Hades’ goons and taken to Hell because she would attract viewers to his show. Hell is a bland television station resembling a Tery Gilliam setpiece with dismal color palettes and hallways filled with shredded memory documents. Ultimately, Hades tricks Orpheus, leaving the rocker forever separated from Eurydice. The only way to save her is to skate the Euthanasia Parking Garage with a skateboard from Hell.
Director Robert McGinley would take inspiration from the skate videos of Stacey Peralta (Dogtown and Z-Boys) and Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus as the building blocks of production. This punk retelling of the classic myth paired with anti-media themes makes this the perfect statement for late 80’s skaters dealing with the capitalist culture takeover and a growing sense of economic dismay. Not to mention society’s take on skate culture as the dissolution of the nuclear family. At the time, this feature would’ve been an anti-MTV manifesto eaten up by the outsiders.
Shredder Orpheus smartly ditches huge rock numbers for lean storytelling. The moments we get with The Shredders are worthwhile but never overstay their welcome. Frankly, we’re so blindsided by the intense characters and crazy obstacles in Orpheus’ path that we forget in the wrong hands; this could be just another rock music video. Composer Roland Barker (Ministry, Revolting Cocks, Blackouts) searched Seattle to find musicians for the fictitious band and to create a uniquely PNW sound for the film. Ultimately hitting paydirt with Bill Rieflin, Dennis Rea from King Crimson, and avante-garde jazz rocker Amy Denio. On-screen, The Shredders comprises Amy on bass, Dennis on guitars, Bill on drums, and Roland on synth.
Sets comprise abandoned parking garages and buildings with little production design other than lighting and tossing around garbage. Bigger set pieces like the EBN production studios, performance spaces, and Oepheus’s bedroom require more finesse to balance budget-friendly and industrial wasteland. Costuming looks on par with most late 80s future-set flicks. The script follows the Orpheus mythos closely but oozes with skate slang and futuristic nonsense.
Performances are committed, with Scandiuzzi and McCaughan chewing scenery behind layers of makeup as Hades and Persephone. McGinley and Murphy have excellent chemistry as the rocker couple separated by Hell. However, the MVP of the feature goes to John Billingsley as Linus, the band manager, for his line delivery of “There is an oracle coming in on the next tangent shipment. She’s got everything: counseling, channeling, neurolinguistic programming, and video tarot. She’s HOT.”
Maligned by shaky distribution and marketing, Shredder Orpheus lived its best life through VHS tape swapping and word of mouth. Embraced by the skate community and punk spheres, the film gained a rabid cult fan base. Audiences today will connect with its outrageous world-building, killer music, and anti-establishment themes. I’d double feature this with Videodrome or my favorite post-apocalyptic underground dance flick, The FP.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Shredder Orpheus arrives on Blu-ray thanks to AGFA and OCN Distribution. The disc is housed in a transparent keepcase with reversible artwork and an insert booklet. Loading the disc presents the AGFA logo before landing on the Main Menu screen with typical navigation options adjacent to scenes from the film.
The cathode rays fill our souls thanks to this solid HD image presentation of Shredder Orpheus. This AVC-encoded 1080p transfer was created from a preserved 35mm blow-up print from the original 16mm, Beta SP, and 1" tape master elements. A grainy patina washes over the image surface with grime, dirt, and focus issues present. Primary colors are appreciable but lack any dynamic presentation. Detail is limited, and flickering is evident. Black levels are noisy and offer little depth, with nighttime scenes losing considerable detail. Overall, the presentation is raw and unfiltered, which amplifies the messages of the film.
Shredder Orpheus skates the garage in a single DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track. Surprisingly, the dialogue is clear and cleanly presented without hiss or pop detected. Music tracks offer a clear presentation with excellent mids and lows, offering an excellent listening experience. Effects are rendered clear, whether it's the clacking sound of skateboard trucks or timed explosions in the Euthanasia garage. Overall I was very impressed with the fidelity of the DTS track when compared to the raw, grimy aesthetic of the image on screen.
AGFA and OCN Distribution offer a wealth of new and archival bonus features on this disc. I recommend starting with the commentary track before moving through the other options. Don’t forget to check out the original VHS Version as well.
Shredder Orpheus is the tale of a post-apocalyptic skate-rock opera brought to life by a group of skaters and musicians in Seattle. Its raw retelling of the Orpheus myth is an excellent metaphor for the growing capitalist tide consuming brainwaves and robbing independent thought. Today’s skate culture and independent punk scene owe much to this microbudget epic. The Blu-ray from AGFA and OCN Distribution provides a surprisingly good A/V package and bonus features for fans of the film. Recommended.
Order your copy of Shredder Orpheus on Blu-ray