Red Letters

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

Dennis Burke (Peter Coyote) has just taken a position as a college professor, but this is not the first time he has headed a class. You see, Burke used to teach at another institution, but when an affair with a student was revealed, he was forced to uproot and take a new post. In his apartment, he comes across some letters and such, all of which are laden with erotic words and descriptions. Burke is a little shaken since his change of venue and as such, he decides to send a return letter and this is a decision he won’t soon forget. The woman on the end of this mail exchange is Lydia Davis (Nastassja Kinski), a vixen who escaped from prison and is determined to clear her name, as well as regain her freedom. She claims to have been framed for murder by her own husband (Udo Kier), which leads to enlist Burke’s help in her problems. But it won’t be simple in the least, as a stubborn detective (Ernie Hudson) is sniffing the trail, all while Burke has to keep up his normal facade at work and such.

I had never heard of Red Letters, so when this disc arrived, I checked out the included trailer to see what awaited me. I was interested because the cast looked good, but it seemed to have the presence of a late night skin flick. So I was a little hesitant, but I spun the disc and I am pleased to report, this movie is not just a skin flick, although some flesh is showcased at times. I do think Red Letters sometimes gets clogged up and the end could use some work, but I still think some solid suspense elements can be seen here. I don’t think people rent a direct to video thriller and expect a modern classic anyway, so I don’t think suspense junkies will be too let down with this release. The cast here is pretty good, with such workers as Fairuza Balk, Peter Coyote, Nastassja Kinski, Jeremy Piven, and Udo Kier, all of whom handle their parts without much trouble. In the end, this one is worth a rental to genre fans, but don’t expect more than a decent flick.

I was pleased to see Fairuza Balk listed on the cast list here, as I have come to really like her performances. Maybe it is her exotic beauty or her on screen charisma, but I find her work to be memorable, which is always a welcome element. I know her skills and persona don’t themselves to all the roles out there, but Balk seems to have good choice in roles, including this one. She is able to play a less sadistic character in Red Letters, but her mean streak still shines at times, which I was glad to see. I like her work as a supporting cast member, but I hope she is able to pin down some leading roles soon. Other films with Balk include American History X, Return to Oz, The Waterboy, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Almost Famous, and The Craft. The cast here also includes Peter Coyote (Erin Brockovich, Patch Adams), Jeremy Piven (Very Bad Things, Singles), Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, The Crow), Paul Gleason (She’s Having A Baby, Money Talks), Nastassja Kinski (Terminal Velocity, Cat People), and Udo Kier (Modern Vampires, Blade).

Video: How does it look?

Red Letters is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This is a nice presentation, but some flaws surface that keep the score down somewhat. The image looks good, but not really sharp and there’s some grain present at times, which hinders a few sequences. The colors look solid though, bold when they need to be, while flesh tones seem natural as well. No issues with the contrast either, shadows looks well defined and there is no visible detail loss I could detect. This might not be up there with the elite transfers, but it looks very good when given the nature of this release.

Audio: How does it sound?

This disc uses a Dolby Digital 5.1 track and it is solid, but don’t expect a powerful experience from this release. The surrounds are used well here, but this material doesn’t call for much dynamic presence, which means the neighbors won’t complain in this case. But as I said, when things to open up, this track kicks in and some good use of the surround channels is evident. This doesn’t happen all that often, but between the musical soundtrack and a handful of tense scenes, I think the audio presence is a more than effective one. The dialogue is well presented though, as vocals seem clean and at a proper volume at all times in this mix. This disc also includes a 2.0 surround track, as well as subtitles in English and Spanish.

Supplements: What are the extras?

I was pleased to find a couple extras tacked on here, as Paramount usually issues discs as bare as possible. This is by no means a special edition, but the inclusions do add value to the disc and I hope to see increased features on discs from this studio soon. A little montage of stills can be viewed and while you watch, some little talent facts pop up and inform you about the person you’re looking at. A small touch indeed, but it adds to the fun of the stills, which makes me appreciate them a little more. The usual talent files and trailer also turn up here, but the main draw is an audio commentary track, which features a trio of crew members, including director/co-writer Bradley Battersby. This track is helped by the presence of all three people, as what would normally be slow spots in a single person effort is now loaded with information. In the end, an informative and likable audio commentary, well worth a listen if you liked the flick.

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