The Punisher (1989)

Normally, I choose one specific feature from a home video release but, this is far from a normal pick for a number of reasons.

Let me tell you a story.

When I was a kid, a large portion of my film exposure came from television airings. This also, thankfully, skewed my view of film success and importance. With Rocky IV, Masters of the Universe and Red Scorpion all making appearances rather frequently, I accepted Dolph Lundgren as my favorite major movie star.

I mean, he was He-Man, that’s an important actor.

I would eventually stumble upon an airing of New World Pictures’ The Punisher. Chances are I would have liked it anyway, I mean, it was Dolph Lundgren playing The Punisher. My late Eighties and early Nineties heart was already a-flutter. However, over the years I’ve discovered that I genuinely appreciate the second Marvel Comics’ theatrical film. It might also be the best of Frank Castle’s theatrical turns.

Even outside of stars Dolph Lundgren and Louis Gosset Jr., the film has an interesting pedigree. Written by Boaz Yakin, whose credits include writer of Now You See Me, The Rookie¬† and director of Remember The Titans, the script is a fairly solid adaptation of the comic. In the director’s chair was Mark Goldblatt, whose only other feature was 1988’s Dead Heat (which I like too, go figure), but that’s not Goldblatt’s biggest contribution to film. Goldblatt was editor on some massive hits, including the first two Terminator films, Armageddon and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. That’s just the tip of the ice berg, check out his IMDB. He even edited something that got a Bonus! earlier this year. Anyway, looking at The Punisher like it should be a poor example of filmmaking is a huge mistake, and I recommend checking it out.

Did you try to check it out? Are you going “But Vinny, this is a special features column, and the only North American release I can find is a barebones DVD. What kind of crap are you trying to pull here?”

I pull no crap, but you’ll have to dig a little deeper for this one. If you type in “The Punisher 1989” into Amazon, you’ll notice an Australian release of the film. Click on it, because regardless of labeling, that release is Region Free. Umbrella Entertainment has released an insanely complete Blu-Ray of the film, featuring interviews with the stars and production team and even two alternate cuts. An unrated version that has been making the bootleg circuit for years and a significantly expanded workprint. The unrated cut even has a director’s commentary. This release is up there with Arrow Films and Scream Factory’s finest. Rarely have I been caught so off guard by a release, but as the film was shot in Australia, it seems that the nation has a bit more admiration for it than the typical American fan. You’ll also find that the flip cover drops the ugly Australian ratings texts in favor of some cool, stylized art. Though the disc is stellar, I do have one quick warning. Some older players, including one of mine, have some difficulty with the theatrical trailer and gag reel. When I switched to a player with more recent hardware (and likely firmware), they worked just fine.

This loaded version of The Punisher is available exclusively through imported Blu-Ray. Amazon currently has it available at a reasonable price, so I’d recommend snagging it while you can.