Vinegar Syndrome: Shot (1973) - Reviewed

College students Mitch Brown and Nate Kohn aren’t names you’ll immediately recognize in the annals of 1970s New American Cinema.  But in 1973 after raising $15,000 with college campus film screenings, first-time writer-director Brown with producer Kohn made a miniscule but nonetheless impressive mark with their first and only feature film Shot.  An understated little entry in the buddy cops-and-robbers action thriller, the film follows unorthodox detectives Ross and Wilson who have their own frowned-upon methods of crime fighting.  In pursuit of local drug lord Blasi, the two enlist the help of Blasi’s disoriented girlfriend as an informant.  Unbeknownst to them, Blasi is plotting a big score which threatens to take the two detectives down with him.

Spoken of the same breath as Jim Van Bebber or Buddy Giovinazzo, Shot is the very definition of an underground picture.  Made quickly on a shoestring budget with local actors and fellow University of Illinois students, Shot is mostly remembered for staging wild car chases, tense shootouts, startling stunts and frequently stunning aerial photography.  While not the most complicated or compelling narrative, Shot impresses with how much physical action is onscreen despite being an overtly collegiate film.  Performances are mostly fine by the local cast members with the actor playing Blasi looking very like Combat Shock actor/composer Rick Giovinazzo.

For a homegrown amateurish production, despite poorly recorded audio and occasionally shaky camerawork, Shot is an inspired microbudget action gem which proves you can still make an engaging thriller with little to no money.  You also have to hand it to the cast and crew for tackling this film in the dead of winter with some chase scenes making you fear someone will slip and fall.  Coupled with a funky rock score by Area Code 615, Shot sports a uniquely small-town American backdrop and winds up feeling more authentic as a result.  Most of the crimes take place in local restaurants and open fields, contrary to the slick and shiny nightclubs often dramatized as gangster backdrops. 

Screened on campus and given a limited local theatrical release, Shot almost vanished without a trace before resurfacing years later on a Sony VHS with the title Death Shot in truncated form.  Thought to be lost, the film was rediscovered by the good folks at Vinegar Syndrome who have given the gritty 16mm film production a new 2K digital remaster.  Seen now, the film while being something of a poor man’s The French Connection nonetheless remains impressive for what they were able to pull off despite having both hands tied behind their backs financially.  Not a masterpiece but an otherwise entertaining slice of ‘70s regional student filmmaking.

--Andrew Kotwicki