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Blu-Ray : Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: February 27th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1984

Blonde Death

Overview -

Blu-ray Review By: Bruce Douglas
Blonde Death is a transgressive queer crime flick from 1984 produced during the advent of SOV filmmaking. Directed by celebrated gay novelist James Robert Baker, the film sees sexually repressed Tammy falling in love with a mass murderer and fighting against her conservative parents. The film was a landmark feature in the gay community looking for representation outside mainstream movies. The Blu-ray from Bleeding Skull and OCN Distribution presents the feature in the best quality possible, given the shaky source material. Special features will please those interested in the film’s background and 80’s video art culture. For fans of outsider cinema, this comes Recommended. 

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Region Free Blu-ray
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.33:1
Audio Formats:
English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Special Features:
Audio Commentary from queer film historians Elizabeth Purchell and K.J. Shepherd, Sara Lee Wade Interview (10mins), Michael J. Masucci Interview (12mins), John Dorr Archival Interview (13mins), John Dorr's 1986 Tour of EZTV (9mins), Original Trailer (1min)
Release Date:
February 27th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

“You’re gonna spend the summer with Christ!” 

The story of Blonde Death begins not with the film’s inspirations or influences but rather in a California bank years earlier when a film critic noticed something unusual. John Dorr was visiting his friend at work and saw a small security camera in the ceiling hooked up to a BetaMax tape recorder. This inspired the writer to secure his own equipment, begin producing video art exhibits, and eventually establish his art collective studio, EZTV. Here the queer experience of West Hollywood could be documented with independently produced films. Novelist James Robert Baker (credited as James Dillinger) would direct his chaotic and transgressive epic Blonde Death in conjunction with the studio, cementing the art collective as a home for marginalized voices to be heard. 

Those who enjoy underground SOV features typically seek out salacious or extreme visuals and themes rather than a polished film. Baker’s debut feature relies on sharp, reference-heavy dialogue, characters mined from his novels, and set within a world set to ruin each of them. The camera and budget may be the same as any other SOV outing, but for Baker and EZTV, it was more than just pure entertainment.

The film begins with horny southern teen Tammy Lynn Beaverdorf who has moved to California with her pervy father Vern and his born-again Christian bride Clorette who disapproves of Tammy’s primal urges. After moving in, Vern is called away to Saudi Arabia for work. Unable to handle Tammy’s loose morals, Clorette heads off on a religious retreat, leaving the teen with a jar of Tang to sustain herself. Tammy dances in her underwear to MTV videos, smokes cigarettes, and indulges in her real mother’s diet pills. 

Soon, we’re introduced to militant eye-patch lesbian Gwen, who wants nothing more than to dominate the southern blonde. She’ll rip out her ex-husband’s eye and swoon over Tammy’s reaction. Shrugging off Gwen’s advances, Tammy finds herself held at gunpoint by dashing mass murderer Link, who just escaped prison. The two fall madly in love, Tammy declaring, “I’m tired of suburban mediocrity.” Things get complicated when Link’s chaotic bisexual cellmate Troy arrives. The trio share a bed and a plot to rob Donkeyland, aka Disneyland.  

According to the excellent commentary track, Blonde Death utilizes numerous hallmarks from Baker’s novels, which are synthesized into his film. His stories typically involve a dashing brunette (Link) with a troubled past who intersects with new-to-town blondes (Tammy/Troy) in the suburban wasteland of California (Donkeyland). They’re at odds with an evil lesbian (Gwen), which incites extreme violence. Purcell and Shepherd's insights on Baker's writing are helpful in establishing a baseline of knowledge for the film, as little is known about its production. I 

Baker’s dialogue is reference-heavy, delivered effortlessly, and classically styled. There is rarely a pause for anyone to breathe, let alone fully digest the verbal onslaught spewing from the hardboiled characters on screen. Memorable lines like “Clorox Enema! The devil always knows the lower mouth!” arrive fervently. Think of the film as Bonnie and Clyde filtered through a John Waters lens. I can see similarities in Gregg Araki's films Three Bewildered People in the Night and The Doom Generation, possibly inspired by Baker’s power trio. Those looking for a double feature would do well to seek Araki’s work during the 90s new queer cinema boom. 

With a budget of $2,000 and a cast of unpaid actors, Baker pulls off a remarkable feat with his debut feature. Technically speaking, his eye for detail within shot composition and scene blocking is impressive for someone working with early VHS equipment. The film is notorious for its scenes secretly shot within Disneyland. Inside the park, the three actors show no trepidation towards their setting or the crowds of people shuffling about. They move through the tourists in character as the camera operator seemingly passes through the throngs of families, keeping the trio in frame. What does Disneyland represent to Baker? He’s sticking it to the schmaltzy pop culture gays and the wasteland of nostalgia. It’s an exciting part of the film, adding tension and danger, which multiplies every second. However, Blonde Death wasn’t the first film shot in the park. The first guerilla film shot in Disneyland was a 1969 gay romance short titled Ron and Chuck in Disneyland Discovery by director Pat Rocco. Take that to trivia night, nerds! 

Blonde Death marks a radical moment of making film accessible to a marginalized audience from an artist that anchored the queer experience of West Hollywood. This piece of buried video history is a testament to independent video's impact on visual artists and filmmakers looking to document a changing cultural landscape. While Baker’s film is not for everyone, its significance should resonate with SOV fans as an integral part of the home video movement.  

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Blonde Death arrives on Blu-ray, thanks to the deranged weirdos at Bleeding Skull and OCN Distribution. This Region Free disc is housed in a transparent keep case with a reversible artwork sleeve. Loading the disc presents the Bleeding Skull logo before landing on the Main Screen with typical navigation options. 

Video Review

Ranking:

Blonde Death is presented in the film’s original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, warts and all. This AVC-encoded 1080p HD image is from a preservation of the original 3/4” master tape. Analog fuzz permeates the image with appreciable primaries bathed in a yellowed tinge. Detail is limited at best. Artifacts and noise litter the frame, which honestly adds to the experience. Tracking lines appear frequently. The source material has some deterioration, but overall, the image quality and preservation matter very little to audiences who are soaking up Baker’s spicy dialogue and ultra-violence.

Audio Review

Ranking:

Blonde Death arrives with a basic 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio track that provides a surprisingly exciting experience. Whip-smart dialogue is clean, though you might want to switch on the English SDH subtitles once things get heated, as the amateur actors lose clarity during sustained sequences. The soundtrack from The Angry Samoans blends nicely into the mix. Hiss and pop are apparent but only noticeable during scenes without heavy dialogue. 

Special Features

Ranking:

Bleeding Skull and OCN Distribution provide new and archival content for the special features collection. Start with Dorr’s studio tour before popping on the commentary track. 

  • Audio Commentary with queer film historians Elizabeth Purchell and K.J. Shepherd offers an exhaustive historical perspective to the film giving the audience context for the film’s production, presence, and place in transgressive queer cinema. What an invaluable resource!
  • Sara Lee Wade on Blonde Death (HD 10:08): An Interview with the film star who describes her experience shooting the grassroots production as “an amazing time!” She shares her experiences shooting in Disneyland, working with Dillinger, and dealing with fans. 
  • Michael J. Masucci on Blonde Death (HD 12:31): The self-described custodian of EZTV, videographer/editor Michael Masucci, recounts the history of the art collective that formed the video production group. He fondly remembers Dillinger and shares anecdotes from the early years of the film’s success. 
  • John Dorr Interview (12:55) Archival interview with EZTV Founder Dorr on a cable access show called Filmmaker Forum. Here Dorr opens up about the challenges of dealing with Hollywood types, his struggles to find purpose, and launching his film forum. He describes  Blonde Death as “sophisticated social commentary.”
  • John Dorr’s 1986 tour of EZTV (HD 9:23): In this archival featurette, we’re treated to a walkthrough of EZTV with Dorr as our guide. An exhibit area complete with a screening of Blonde Death opens up to the cluttered offices of producers, frazzled technicians, and editing consoles. Michael Masucci is busily cutting a film as Dorr passes by. 
  • Original Trailer (HD 1:13) 

Final Thoughts

Blonde Death is a fist to the face of hypocrisy bathed in chaotic bisexual frustration. Baker’s technically proficient SOV crime drama encapsulates an early 80s queer experience paired with the growing tide of suburban mediocrity. Its grotesque violence and guerilla tactics make for an exciting and alluring piece of independent microcinema. The Blu-ray from Bleeding Skull and OCN Distribution provides a pleasing HD image, given the film’s shaky source material. Special Features are tailored for fans and those interested in outsider video art. Recommended

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