All-American Murder is a campy 1991 whodunit thriller masquerading as a trashy teen slasher. Starring Christopher Walken, Joanna Cassidy, and Charlie Schlatter the film follows a misfit college student who becomes embroiled in a series of murders. Featuring plenty of unintended humor, sleaze, and snappy Walken dialogue the film is a perfect midnight movie. Vinegar Syndrome brings the straight-to-video banger to Blu-ray with a new 2k scan and plenty of bonus features for fans of the film. Recommended.
“No one said virtue came easy.”
After an arson charge gets artistic delinquent Artie (Charlie Schlatter) kicked out of school, his overbearing father enrolls him in a prestigious college hoping to set him straight. Within the first day on campus, he has slept with the dean’s wife Erica (Joanna Cassidy) and fallen in love with prim cheerleader Tally (Josie Bissett). Artie pursues the God-fearing Tally with an obsessive near unlikeable bent. “I’m harmless, honest, I just find you very watchable,” he says following her after class. Showing up at her sorority house with an obscenely giant painting, he instantly wins her affection.
Before their second date, the hopeless romantic hears screams coming from her sorority house. Artie races over only to see a burning body fall from a balcony. A crowd gathers around him instantly accusing the supposed pyromaniac of murder. Detective P.J Decker (Christopher Walken) is assigned to the case and becomes the only person willing to consider Artie’s side of the story. Going against procedure Decker gives the kid 24 hours to find evidence to clear his name but the suspects keep ending up dead!
While easy to dismiss as a trashy teen slasher, the snappy dialogue, grisly murders, and Giallo influences elevate this beyond a made-for-tv mystery thriller. Thankfully the chemistry between Schlatter and Walken keeps the film from wallowing in its own monotony. Walken is having so much fun in this movie. You can see him relish every opportunity to dangle his lines dropping them into the dialogue complete with his trademark cadence and dark humor. His entrance is a masterclass in Walken character acting. Rolling up to a hostage situation he grabs the bullhorn and taunts a knife-wielding psycho with claims of having sex with his wife. “I hope you have the fun with her that I do… I love that little mole on her butt, don’t you?”
Boiled down to its core All-American Murder is about American college students buckling under the burden of keeping a pristine image while upholding their family’s impossibly high standards. As we’re introduced to the students on campus connected with the murders they reveal their All-American values are but a mere facade. Am I digging too deep into this sexy whodunnit episode of Beverly Hills, 90210?
Beyond the biting social commentary and swings at the ideal American college student, we’re treated to some memorable scenes filled with salacious and grotesque matters. The sleazy elements from the film are so much fun. Starting off with the dean’s wife Erica played by Joanna Cassidy. Her delivery of the line “Last month I knocked off more undergraduates than Kent State” is rewind-worthy. Add into the mix a panty-sniffing handyman, gritty group sex flashbacks, and a stack of lewd Polaroids and you’ve got yourself a proper indecent thriller. The sinister kills feature a bevy of weapons not typical for a traditional Giallo offering a unique take on the form. Power drills, fire, snakes, and even hand grenades are employed at the hands of our killer.
Schlatter is likable and engages with full commitment to the zinger-laden dialogue with Walken. Their scene in the interrogation room is my favorite. Unfortunately, these exchanges become the crutch of the film relying upon them too often rather than building tension with murders and scandalous material. You can just feel the tonal imbalance struggling to break free from its TV movie chains to fully blossom into something truly great. The supporting cast is off the charts with Joanna Cassidy smoldering as the sexy older woman Erica, Richard Kind as the hard nose cop betting against Artie, and Josie Bissett as the conservative cheerleader Tally. While no one here goes for camp the strains of unintentional humor are obvious manifesting All-American Murder into a black comedy.
An entertaining thriller with plenty of interesting kills and salacious material All-American Murder is a perfect late-night cable throwback. Walken is top-notch here delivering some memorable lines and being generally cool as hell. The blaring 80’s music tracks, meandering opening, and a limp ending keep it from reaching its potential. Naturally, audiences who can make it to Walken’s entrance as Decker will be rewarded for their patience.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
All-American Murder arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Vinegar Syndrome. The Region Free BD-50 disc is housed in a standard transparent keepcase with reversible artwork. Loading the disc you’re treated to the funky Vinegar Syndrome logo before landing on a static Main Menu screen with typical navigation options.
All-American Murder arrives on campus thanks to Vinegar Syndrome. The MPEG-4 AVC encoded HD transfer is presented in 1080p with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio from a 2k scan of the 35mm interpositive. The image here is bright and full of detail though depth is inconsistent. Primaries pop with rad 80’s fluro colors populating everything from costuming to the art on dorm room walls.
Facial features like Artie’s freckles and the stony glare from Mr. Walken appear with plenty of detail and life. Lush green landscapes of the college campus with the white marble of the Greek houses offer an excellent display of the high contrast levels present. Black levels hold steady with plenty of detail in shadows and during nighttime scenes. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray marks the first HD offering of the film making it an obvious upgrade for collectors.
All-American Murder is presented here with a confident yet unbalanced DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track. The audio mix struggles to carry the proceedings with the onslaught of poppy 80’s synth and rock ballads that announce each emotional beat. Thankfully the dialogue track is clear and clean without hiss or pop though exchanges can be hidden under the effects and bombastic music tracks. Keep the volume up to catch Walken’s signature inflection in the snappy dialogue.
Vinegar Syndrome provides this disc with ample bonus features considering the film’s pedigree. Start with the interviews then move onto the commentary track to fully immerse yourself in this amazing thriller.
Audio Commentary from The Hysteria Continues! - Members of the slasher podcast The Hysteria Continues! Discuss the film in an informative yet approachable manner. The team shows a real affection for the film rather than mocking the proceedings.
Being on a Team (HD 15:08) A casual interview with actor Charlie Schlatter who recounts some hilarious stories about working with Christopher Walken supplied with an impressive impersonation of the actor.
A Valuable Experience (HD 14:47) An Interview with cinematographer Geoffrey Schaff that focuses on the film’s production and lasting impressions.
All-American Murder is an entertaining thriller cloaked in Giallo trappings, sleaze, and plenty of unintended humor. While filled with an amazing cast and plenty of grisly deaths, this murder mystery still needs a few credits to graduate but receives high marks for ambition and entertainment value. Vinegar Syndrome brings the film to Blu-ray with an impressive A/V package paired with an entertaining commentary track and two interview featurettes. Recommended.