Director: Ralph L. Thomas
Notable Cast: Donald Sutherland, Chad Lowe, Mia Sara, Knut Husebo, Rutanya Alda, Eddie Jones, Mark Burton, Adrian Sparks, Tiger Haynes, Minnie Gentry
The use of the ‘based on true events’ gimmick is such a wild card that it’s hard to predict what it actually means for a film. In the case of Apprentice to Murder, it’s a signifier that the film is going to ride its melodrama pretty hard. The film had a decent amount of hype around it for me, thanks to be somewhat of a rare film prior to the new Arrow Video Blu Ray release, but now that it’s in my collection, it’s understandable why the film went by the wayside without much of a murmur. Apprentice to Murder is forgettable. It certainly has its merits, particularly in how the film handles its performances and many of its subplots. On the whole though, perhaps it’s not so surprising that it was a film that fell off of the path of mainstream classics and into the ditch where cult cinema fans would find it.
Apprentice to Murder follows a fairly intriguing story, where a young man (Lowe) becomes the protégé to a religious healer, Reese, in a small town (Sutherland). Reese uses the young man, Billy, as a “detector” for all things Satan related that he can take his own brand of religious cleansing and give it to the people. As with all things thriller related, soon the two find themselves hunting down a man that might possibly be the cause of the devilish issues.
Now, that’s a simple breakdown of the plot and narrative, but it’s the basic outline to understand why Apprentice to Murder is certainly intriguing. Watch the trailer and it’s heavily sold as a religious thriller with horror elements with Donald Sutherland as a crazed devil hunter training his replacement. Even the original post looks like something that would have some evil impact. The fact remains though that all of those elements are wildly misleading. The film is rarely thrilling outside of a few moments, heavily used in the trailer, and often feels less like an Omen-esque flick and more like a made-for-TV original film – neutered of its more interesting aspects. This shouldn’t be so shocking, I suppose, seeing as director Ralph L. Thomas maintained most of his career in that realm.
Apprentice to Murder feels safe with its subject matter and, instead of focusing on the plot points of religious manipulation or the darker set up that leads Billy and Reese to murder, it focuses in its romantic subplot and the father/son relationship between its two leads. To be fair, both of which are weirdly successful in the film. The former, which features a phenomenal performance from a young Mia Sara who already showcased her talents in two major films previously with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Legend) steals the heart of the narrative. Unfortunately, between the concept and the marketing, a great romantic secondary plot cannot carry the film through. It’s the best part of this film, but it’s not enough.
As for the two leads, there are some solid performances. As mentioned, there is a focus on the father and son tone of the film which is relatively successful thanks to some decent chemistry between Sutherland and Lowe. Director Thomas develops this well, but it’s at the cost of the thrills, melancholia, and more intriguing concepts of its story. Sutherland feels subdued by the approach. The film also tries to coast through it with some solid use of sets to carry its more straightforward visual approach to the material, but the combination proves to be more forgettable than anything.
Apprentice to Murder has developed a decent cult following over the years though, more or less due to its solid cast and the rarity of its release. Thus, it’s not too astonishing that Arrow Video would eventually pick it up for release. While I would argue that the film might fit better in the line up of a distributor like Kino Lorber, Arrow once again treats the film with no less regard as the rest of their output. Although I have not seen any previous release of the film, the 2K restoration looks fantastic, there is a great new commentary by Bryan Reesman, and a handful of new interviews. One of which is about religious horror cinema with film writer Kat Ellinger, who is quickly becoming the highlight of any release from Arrow that features her work.
In all honesty, Apprentice to Murder was a disappointment for me. My own hype for the film partnered with the film’s approach to ‘play it safe’ with its concept exacerbated the choice to focus on the melodrama. The film has its merits in those melodramatic character beats and the chemistry between its strong cast, but as a whole, the film never reaches for more. It simply aims itself as a straightforward narrative of its ‘true events’ and falls prey to the trappings of feeling like a made-for-TV drama. The release is great and for those intrigued by it, I do highly suggest purchasing this Arrow Video release. Just keep your expectations in check.
ARROW VIDEO FEATURES:
- Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original 35mm interpositive
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- Original lossless mono soundtrack
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- New audio commentary by author and critic Bryan Reesman
- New video interview on religious horror cinema with Kat Ellinger, author and editor-in-chief of Diabolique Magazine
- New video interview with cinematographer Kelvin Pike
- New video interview with makeup supervisor Robin Grantham
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Paul Corupe
Written By Matt Reifschneider