Primal Scream (1988)

If you’ve surfed around our little ol’ slice of the web for a time, you know us QWERTY-bangin’ fools of the B&S About Movies cubicle farm in good ol’ Allegheny County love our regional and SOV filmmakers. Be it Don Dohler (The Alien Factor, Nightbeast) or Brett Piper (Queen Crab) — and regardless what the mainstream audience thinks of those filmmakers — we run the banners on-high for those ambitious, up-against-the-budget self-made auteurs. Our extensive reviews for such shoe-string produced, regional ditties as Richmond, Virginia’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Hotel, Providence, Rhode Island’s It’s a Complex World, Atlanta, Georgia’s Evil in the Woods, and SOV’ers like John Howard’s Spine, Christopher Lewis’s Blood Cult, and Blair Murphy’s Jugular Wine, are evidence of that fact. Now we’re adding — it’s about frackin’ time — William J. Murray’s Primal Scream to the list. However, unlike most regional and SOV films, which take the more cost-effective shot-in-the-woods horror route, Murray, along with his writing partner Dan Smeddy, upped the game by deciding to honor their sci-fi idol, Ridley Scott.

Yes. I said Ridley Scott. On a shoe-string budget.

It took guts, four sets of balls, and helleva lotta misguided hootspa. And we love Murray and his crew of intrepid, novice dreamers for it. Call Primal Scream dime-store. Call it inept. But the in-camera miniatures, space suits and plastic-cum-cardboard set designs work and the just-staring-out, unknown cast sells the Murray-Smeddy sci-noir verse with class. As with Tommy Wiseau’s years later The Room: Primal Scream displays a lot of heart and you can’t help but enjoy the ride.

The Primal Scream VHS released in 1988 by Magnum Entertainment that I remember/images courtesy of cassiescottagets/eBay.

Beginning its production in 1981 and starting its two-year stop-start production process in 1983 under the title Hellfire — and shot, not on 16mm or video, but in 35mm — this Blade Runner-cum-Alien-inspired future world set in a Chinatown-styled 1997 concerns the discovery Hellfire, a new, highly volatile energy source mined on Saturn’s moons (for a pinch of Peter Hyams’s Outland from 1981). The mining operation leads to the usual sociopolitical bickering between a Weyland-inspired multinational corporate and interplanetary ecologists, as well corporations vying for a piece of the “green new deal.” Who cares if Hellfire earned its name by igniting human flesh and boiling internal body parts into goo. Hey, it’s “clean energy,” so says John Kerry, and it’s everywhere in space. So mine it!

When the controversy over Hellfire results in the brutal murder of a high-ranking Thesaurus corporate executive, Caitlin Foster (Julie Miller), his femme fatale sister (uh, oh), hires the Philip-Marlowe-inspired Corby McHale (Ken McGregor; yeah, he was in X-Men and Prom Night IV, but we remember him best for Ed Hunt’s The Brain), a burnt-out private investigator slumming in what’s left of Atlantic City, New Jersey, to sort out who’s behind the sabotage of the Hellfire project (foretelling Moon 44, Roland Emmerich’s own Ridley Scott-inspired film noir). Along the way, McHale picks up a spunky sidekick in the form of Lt. Sam Keller (Sharon Mason). Part of the interstellar corporate intrigue is Charlie Waxman, a seedy local bookie (Mickey Shaughnessy in his final film role; yes, he was in the classics From Here to Eternity and Jailhouse Rock, but this writer remembers ol’ Mickey best for his first sci-fi bow in the Stanley Kubrickian forefather, 1955’s Conquest of Space).

Impressive! I’m convinced.

When it came time to take advantage of the Blu-ray format to give Primal Scream a well-deserved, proper digital reissue in 2018, William J. Murray set forth to create the 45-minute making-of documentary Made a Movie, Lived to Tell, which is included on the Code Red Blu-ray reissue. The Blus are also easily available on Amazon, but analog purists (moi) can still find used VHS copies on eBay. (It took a few years of diving the discount bins of a couple-dozen home video store close outs before I had my own, beat-to-hell copy for my personal collection.) You can learn more about Primal Scream and its accompanying documentary at its official Facebook page and Dark Force Entertainment Facebook. If you’re into caveat emptor’in your Blus before you buy, you can get the technical specs at

What I love about this Primal Scream reissue is that William J. Murray, unlike Philip Cook’s low-budgeted similar space romp Beyond the Rising Moon (1987; equally-enjoyed and reviewed this week), stuck to his original vision and didn’t add any years-after-the-fact CGI patches. The 2018 Blu is the same movie we enjoyed in 1988 on VHS — only in a crisp and clean restoration.

If you’re into passionate, low-budget sci-fi, be sure to check out our reviews for not only Beyond the Rising Moon, but Ares 11, Space Trucker Bruce, and Monty Light’s recent offering, Space. And Primal Scream is a great addition to your sci-fi digital library.

Here’s the film’s trailer and the revised-reissue trailer because, well, you know how temperamental the video embed elves are.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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