The Razzie Award-winning Worst Picture for 1994, Color of Night has not gotten any better with age – if judged on the basis of good writing, good directing, or good anything, really. However, it's a very fun type of bad movie to scoff at while watching. Kino Lorber's new 2-disc Special Edition attempts to better the film's prior Blu-ray release from Mill Creek, but sadly may not be enough of an improvement to merit the higher asking price. For Fans Only.
The early 1990s were a very erratic time in the career of Bruce Willis. 1994 in particular saw him starring in both the best movie of the year (Pulp Fiction, of course) and the worst – at least according to the Golden Raspberry Award voters. The erotic thriller Color of Night features a ridiculous, idiotic plot and a lazy, disinterested performance from its star. Almost nothing about it works as intended, but it can be great fun as camp if watched in the right frame of mind.
The blockbuster success of Basic Instinct a couple years earlier begat a host of imitators. Suddenly, everyone from Madonna to Jim Belushi felt the need to hop on the erotic thriller bandwagon. For Madonna's Body of Evidence, this was arguably a natural extension of her career phase at the time, which also saw the release of the album Erotica and the naughty coffee table book called Sex. For the male stars, Bruce Willis in this picture especially, it seemed a lot more like a transparent excuse to rub their body parts against female costars willing to remove their clothes on camera. Judging by the results on screen, nothing else about the role held Willis' attention very much.
The plot of Color of Night, such as it is, concerns arrogant psychologist Bill Capa (Willis), who becomes so distraught after a patient commits suicide in front of him that he instantly goes colorblind. Specifically, he can no longer see the color red, because he's afraid of blood or something. Already, you may be questioning the script's plausibility. It won't be the last time you do so.
Attempting to get away from all his woes, Capa leaves New York on a trip to Los Angeles to visit his friend Bob (Scott Bakula), a fellow psychologist currently leading a group therapy session attended by a diverse bunch of nutcases. When Bob is murdered in his own office, Bill takes over the group, only to soon suspect that one of its members may be the killer. But which one? Could it be the grizzled guy with anger issues (Lance Henriksen), the prissy lawyer with OCD (Brad Dourif), the nymphomaniac (Lesley Ann Warren), or the obnoxious artist with an S&M fetish (Kevin J. O'Connor)? Or perhaps it's the weirdo named Ritchie who supposedly has a "gender identity problem" and rarely speaks? Funny how the actor playing that one isn't listed in the credits…
Question: How did this particular cross-section of patients with such wildly different problems wind up in the same therapy group? I'm no psychologist, but I'm skeptical that this is really how group therapy works.
Just as he starts to get involved in that investigation, Capa is sidetracked by the attentions of a flirtatious young woman named Rose (Jane March) who practically throws herself at him. Considering how quickly and frequently she strips off all her clothes while doing so, Capa doesn't mind so much. He probably ought to find her timing a little suspicious, though. And isn't it weird how everybody else in the group – except Ritchie – have also recently found love with mysterious young women who pretty much match Rose's description?
What a conundrum! How will anyone ever solve this mystery?
Despite being co-written by future Oscar nominee Billy Ray (Captain Phillips) and directed by another Oscar nominee (Richard Rush) whose last film 14 years earlier was the genuinely good cult classic The Stunt Man, Color of Night is a very dumb movie with a plot that doesn't make a lick of sense. The colorblindness premise is silly, and the resolution of the mystery is almost as obvious as it is needlessly convoluted. Willis looks very bored in any scene where he isn't fondling March's breasts or licking the sweat off her midriff. The film's pacing is slack and its suspense set-pieces, including two utterly pointless car chases and a howler where a rattlesnake plays hide-and-seek inside a mailbox, are alternately boring or ludicrous (or both).
It should go without saying that the movie's sex scenes are entirely gratuitous. Jane March's only previous acting credit was the smutty softcore art film The Lover, in which she gained a moment's worth of attention for being very naked and allegedly (though she denied it) having actual intercourse on camera. That set her on an unfortunate career path of being Hollywood's first choice when searching for a young starlet willing to bare some flesh. Just 21-years-old at the time of filming Color of Night opposite the 39-year-old Bruce Willis, March jumps into the nude scenes with seemingly equal eagerness, unafraid to show everything, top to bottom, and let Willis grab and grope and grind against every part of her. The scenes serve no actual narrative purpose, of course, but they are legitimately steamy (literally so in the shower scene!), and ensured that the movie would become a big rental hit on home video even though it flopped in theaters.
To that end, director Richard Rush was apparently incensed that the film's producers cut its length down to a mere 122 minutes and demanded that his own longer cut be released on video. The unrated Director's Cut adds more skeevy sex, including a pretty clear peek at Bruce Willis' little willis, though ironically the R-rated theatrical cut actually has more explicit footage of March in the centerpiece pool-sex scene. In addition to the lascivious bits, the Director's Cut also restores or extends several scenes that help make the plot marginally more coherent. It is, in most respects, the better version ("better" being a relative term considering that both versions are pretty bad), so long as you can forgive it for padding an already dull movie to an almost unconscionable 2 hours and 20 minutes.
Color of Night first appeared on Blu-ray as part of a Mill Creek double feature, paired with the unrelated thriller Playing God. That budget disc had pretty poor picture quality and no extras, but was at least the extended Director's Cut version of the film. Nevertheless, it seemed like shoddy treatment for such an esteemed motion picture.
Recognizing some cult potential in the property, Kino Lorber has stepped up and licensed it from Disney. (The movie originated under Disney's Hollywood Pictures banner.) The new 2-disc Special Edition contains the 122-minute Theatrical Cut and the 140-minute Director's Cut on separate discs. In fact, this may be the first time the Theatrical Cut has been released on home video. As I understand it, all prior DVD and even VHS copies of the movie were the Director's Cut. Both discs are single-layer and have a simple static menu that plays the film's cheesy (yet Golden Globe nominated!) end credits theme song in a loop.
I made the mistake of watching the Director's Cut first. For a movie whose raisons d'être are its explicit sex scenes, which are promised to be longer and more explicit in the unrated extended version, that seemed like a natural thing to do. Unfortunately, the Director's Cut both looks and sounds absolutely terrible. On the video side, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is unmistakably a very old transfer. The picture is soft, grainy and dim. Colors are dull and muddy. Persistent speckles and other damage also mar the source elements. A quick comparison against the old Mill Creek disc shows negligible difference, and I wouldn't be surprised if it's a direct port. It's awful.
Only after finishing that did I put in the Theatrical Cut disc, expecting it to look much the same. Color me surprised to find that it's actually noticeably better – not perfect, mind you, but better. Small differences in framing and picture geometry point to the two versions of the movie having different video transfers, which would probably explain why Kino didn't try to seamlessly branch them from one video file. The Theatrical Cut's 1.85:1 image is decidedly brighter and more colorful. It's also less grainy, but that may be due to the application of some Digital Noise Reduction.
The Theatrical Cut is still quite soft. A side-by-side comparison shows little difference in fine object detail between the two transfers. I doubt either Kino or Disney have performed a new film scan. Regardless, the Theatrical Cut is slightly less of an eye sore than the Director's Cut.
Not only is the audio on Kino's Director's Cut disc much worse than the Theatrical Cut disc in the same case, it's somehow actually worse than the older Mill Creek Blu-ray. I'd describe it as sounding like listening to a cassette tape recording played back through speakers submerged underwater. The overall volume is weak, music is dull, any loud sounds (like yelling) are shrill, and the bass is terribly bloated. Despite being offered in both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 options, neither has any surround activity at all and both sound equally poor.
As with the video, the Theatrical Cut has much better sound quality. Also provided in 5.1 or 2.0 versions, the audio in both is louder, clearer and richer than the Director's Cut, and has a fair amount of surround activity (mostly music bleed to the rear speakers). This still isn't much of a slam-bang soundtrack; dynamic range is mediocre. However, it takes something awful and raises it to the level of listenable.
The Mill Creek disc didn't have 5.1 at all, just a matrixed 2.0 surround track. When I played the opening scene through the Dolby Surround Upmixer in my receiver and heard activity in the surround channels, I knew this was not the same soundtrack from the Kino Director's Cut. It sounds much more like the Theatrical Cut audio. I'm left perplexed by what could have happened to Kino's copy.
As a notorious flop, Color of Night had never previously been granted the benefit of bonus features on home video. Kino rectifies that with a few new items.
Color of Night was (most would say rightly) savaged by critics during its release in 1994 and has not exactly experienced any sort of re-appreciation in the meantime – nor does it deserve to. The film is best watched ironically with a mind to mock it. On those terms, it's actually pretty entertaining and has developed a cult following, as absurdly bad movies often do.
Kino Lorber attempts to serve that audience with a Special Edition Blu-ray reissue that offers both versions of the movie and a couple of new commentary tracks. Sadly, the core video and audio quality are lacking, which greatly tempers my enthusiasm for it.