After surviving a suicide attempt, serial rapist and murderer John Lucker (Nick Van Suyt) is heavily sedated and left to sleep in a hospital bed. Despite the fact that he's apparently been pumped with enough drugs to "keep him stoned for a week", Lucker awakes from his slumber and promptly sets about escaping.

His first port of call is the hospital toilets, where he catches nurse Bobby (Frank Van Laecke) preparing for a date. Lucker rams a screwdriver into Bobby's eye and steals his clothes. He then jumps into Bobby's girlfriend's waiting car outside, smashes her head in against the steering wheel, and drives to a secluded spot where he can have sex with her corpse.

The morning after, Lucker dumps the car - but while doing so, he hears a news report on the car radio about his escape. The report also informs him that his only living victim - Cathy Jordan (Helga Vandevelde) - still lives in town.

Lucker determines to find Cathy and take care of his unfinished business. He uses a phone book to trace her to an apartment in the centre of town. While staking out her place, he observes the habits of her neighbour, a pretty prostitute. Following the prostitute to a local bar, Lucker hooks up with her and joins her back at her place.

It's here that we get to the film's most notorious sequence - a gruelling 12-minute set-piece involving the hooker being handcuffed to her bed, Lucker watching impassively as she begs for her life before stabbing her, then waiting and waiting It all culminates in a rightfully controversial climax that any self-respecting sleazehound has to see at least once.

From then on in, Lucker takes over residency of the hooker's flat, in a concerted effort to get to the object of his frustration - the pretty blonde Cathy

LUCKER is a Belgian horror from 1986, shot on 16mm and made within days on a miniscule budget of $30,000. Its cast is largely non-professional and most of the technical aspects (writing, editing, producing, directing) were dealt with by novice filmmaker Johan Vandewoestijne. So it's only fair to expect some shortcomings from such a project.

LUCKER is, unsurprisingly, pretty badly acted for the most part. The opening hospital scenes probably suffer the most from risible performances (amateur Belgian actors speaking English dialogue - it's not a promising prospect!), but throughout there are questionable recitals of Vandewoestijne's laughable script.

The plot is virtually non-existent: mad killer escapes and tracks down "the one that got away", murdering others along the way. It's not original and the director does little to add anything new to an already overused and uninspired premise.

The original music on the score is pretty atmospheric, but the film is also unfortunately padded out with annoying cheesy 80's pop songs that only serve to age the film.

But against all odds, LUCKER makes an impact and stays with the viewer long after the film finishes. There's a pervading sleazy atmosphere that never lifts throughout proceedings, and Van Suyt has an undeniable presence as the largely silent and convincingly slimy psycho.

The terror scenes - for a 66 minute film, LUCKER has an impressive body count of 8 - are well-filmed by Vandewoestijne, making good use of colour-filtered lighting, unusual camera angles and jarring editing to help evoke a true sense of Lucker's psychosis.

And the gore while the FX work of Flip Beys may seem somewhat primitive, it has to be said the murder scenes are filmed with considerable relish - Vandewoestijne's camera zooms in and lingers on bloody wounds like no-one else has done since Fulci's heyday. When people are killed, they're killed good and proper - stabbed multiple times, for example. One character, a drug dealer, has his face smashed into a concrete wall no less than 23 times: you can imagine the resulting mess.

The film is short and moves fairly briskly. This director's cut is 5 minutes shorter than the original version, having excised a few minutes of unnecessary scenes of Lucker walking the streets. The new cut works a lot better, giving the film a more natural flow and even throwing some previously discarded gore into the mix. The only thing I didn't like about the new cut was the abridged ending.

For it's worldwide DVD debut, Perplex have given the director's cut a digitally remastered presentation which was overseen by the director himself. It's presented in non-anamorphic 1.78:1 and comes complete with a totally new opening credits sequence.

Picture quality is not great. Images are generally soft and sometimes, in some darker scenes, the high contrast and colour bleeding make it nigh-on impossible to see what's going on. Having said that, there is a reason for this: the original 16mm negative has been destroyed and Vandewoestijne had to reassemble and restore the film from various surviving elements, such as a Dutch VHS and French dubbed master tape. Given the unfortunate fate of the film stock, the transfer makes the most out of it's limited sources and I doubt the film will ever look much - if any - better.

The English mono track is superb - a loud, clear new mix put together by the director for this release. Some noises sound artificial - the exaggerated sounds of footsteps, for example, but overall LUCKER has never sounded so good, so clear.

Optional German and Dutch subtitles are available on the main feature.

Animated menus include a scene-selection menu allowing access to the film via 8 chapters.

There's some interesting extras on this disc:

A new 36-minute video interview with Vandewoestijne, conducted in English by Ronnie Pede. The director speaks enthusiastically about the ill-fate of the film's original stock and the processes he utilised to restore it's sound and vision. Screen comparisons between the new cut and previous versions are intercut into the interview to help illustrate the fine work he's done. Vandewoestijne also discusses his motivation behind making such a confrontational film (an "act of revenge" against the Flemish government), the locations used in the film and the possibility of a sequel. Most amusingly, he also reveals that the film was originally going to be called "Corpse Rapist"!

Next up is the original Dutch VHS version of the film. This is 71 minutes long and is presented in what seems to be 1.37:1, in English mono with burned-in Dutch subtitles. It looks softer and grainier than the new cut, and highlights the fact that many scenes in the new cut have indeed been colour-corrected. Still, this is a very worthy curiosity piece for fans (and a nice bit of nostalgia for us who were previously only familiar with this film via this version).

Finally there are trailers: a new 1-minute trailer for the director's cut of LUCKER, and a 2-minute trailer for Nick Palumbo's notorious MURDER-SET-PIECES.

LUCKER is long overdue a DVD release of any kind. Synapse announced a couple of years ago that they were working with Vandewoestijne on an R1 release but at the time of writing this (January 2008) there's still no definite release date for that. Word is, their release with also include both versions of the film and the 36-minute featurette.

But, can fans wait for what realistically may not be a better version of LUCKER than the fine effort Perplex are offering here?

A genuinely odd and surprisingly effective no-budget shocker from 1980's Belgium, ripe for rediscovery. A fine DVD release too.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Perplex
Region 2 - PAL
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review