Blu Reviewed: Spontaneous Combustion

The Movie Sleuth reviews the technical aspects of the Spontaneous Combustion blu-ray release.

"Too much garlic."
Tobe Hooper hasn’t had a whole lot of luck after The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Despite a minor hit with The Funhouse, the shadow of Steven Spielberg looms over all of Poltergeist and despite his short lived stint with Cannon Films between 1985 and 86 with Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, the once great horror director receded into schlock and remained off the cinematic radar for almost four years.  Other than occasionally contributing to television programs including Amazing Stories, The Equalizer (yes, the one from The Wolf of Wall Street) and Freddy’s Nightmares, Hooper let some time pass before attempting another feature.  His return to full length movies came in the form of Spontaneous Combustion, a low budget special effects driven science fiction thriller about pyrokinesis.  

Since its release, it’s gained a cult following among Hooper devotees, fans of cheesy fun and pyromaniacs who wanna see it all go up in flames.  With the 2004 Anchor Bay DVD now out of print, Code Red brings Tobe Hooper’s forgotten B-movie of the early 1990s to Blu-Ray in a limited edition pressing of 3,000 copies.  The Movie Sleuth takes a good look at the disc to see how it holds up after all these years.

The Video
Boasting a new HD master, Spontaneous Combustion most certainly shows its age in many areas.  While advancing over the DVD, the material appears to have been transferred from a theatrical print exhibiting faded colors and contrast issues.  Outside of dirty looking scenes with special effects optical composites, the image looks pretty good for the most part, clean and free of blemishes with a healthy amount of film grain.  Colors could have been a bit stronger though it’s unclear if this was inherent in the source or the result of deterioration and dimly lit scenes provide saturated blue and red hues.  Jumps in the image or wobbling haven’t been corrected and recall the stability issues on the Image Entertainment Blu-Ray of The Long Good Friday. Either way this is probably the best it ever will look on home video considering the limited commercial interest in the title without investing in a frame by frame digital restoration.     

The Audio
The box says English Mono, but as with the Anchor Bay DVD, Spontaneous Combustion is presented in two-channel Dolby Surround 2.0 with slightly higher resolution DTS-HD audio encoded on the Blu-Ray.  Like the video, the audio is generally flat and could have used some dental work as the dialogue and foley effects tend to sound raspy with scratchiness.  Graeme Revell’s synthetic score sounds clear and there’s a decent amount of surround effects when Dourif’s pyrotechnic abilities come to life.  You also get a decent amount of bass rumble during nuclear explosions and bursts of flame.  Again, considering the age and limited interest in the title, this is as good as its likely going to sound but don’t anticipate it to be a reference quality listening.

The Extras
"Smoking causes cancer."
Other than a peculiar but kind of sexy extra involving former WWE wrestler Katie Lea dressed as Princess Leia in Jabba the Hutt’s slave bikini introducing and going into the history of the film, we get zip, zero, zilch.  Not even a trailer is included when one was offered on the Anchor Bay DVD.  The menu itself uses the poster image with samples of the score in the background.  Beyond that, it’s pretty bare bones.

Given the quality of the disc and the lack of extras, casual moviegoers are inclined to pass on Spontaneous Combustion.  Tobe Hooper enthusiasts keen on completing their collection should definitely consider the upgrade in spite of lacking the trailer on the DVD.  If anything, it’s a hoot rife with 50s sci-fi tropes, some cool makeup and gore effects and Brad Dourif going berserk as his life and body spiral hopelessly out of control.  You could do worse with a six pack and a group of friends on a Friday night.

-Andrew Kotwicki