A descent to hell, set in a nightmare world of homelessness, skateboarding, and mind-numbing midnight cable TV
New on Blu-ray from AGFA and Vinegar Syndrome, Shredder Orpheus is resurrected from the VHS wasteland in a new edition looking better on home video than its creators probably ever could have anticipated. A preservation of the VHS version of the movie is also included on disc, which is great not only for the nostalgic element of respecting the way fans might remember it, but for comparison as well. Throughout this article we’ll share comparative images of both versions.
Among the most well-known tales of classic Greek myth is that of Orpheus, a legendary musician and hero from among the company of Jason’s Argonauts who sought the Golden Fleece, and who later traveled to the Underworld to bring back his beloved Eurydice from death.
The Tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice is so universal and operatic in its concept and themes of love and loss that it’s adaptable to virtually any culture and medium, and has been adapted into numerous films as varied and unique as Jean Cocteau’s career-spanning Orphic Trilogy, Brazilian director Marcel Camus’s Black Orpheus, and from the video wasteland, Shredder Orpheus, written, produced, and directed by Robert McGinley, and also starring McGinley as Orpheus.
As McGinley mentions on the commentary, the film is stylistically inspired by exactly what you would guess from watching it: the surreal late-night TV of Videodrome, the post-apocalyptic survivalism of Mad Max 2, and the energetic skateboarding of Bones Brigade skate videos.
There’s little hope to be found in The Grey Zone, a derelict district of vagrants and crust punks who barely scrape by, making their dwelling in shipping containers.
For people like Axel (Steven Jesse Bernstein), Scratch (Linda Severt), and Razoreus (Marshall Reid), what little pleasure life has to offer is found in skateboarding and rock music. And the best rock around is that of their friend and local legend Orpheus and his band, The Shredders, which includes his beloved girlfriend Eurydice (Megan Murphy).
Axel, a disabled war veteran, gets around by using a longboard as a wheelchair, and serves as our narrator in the fashion of a Greek chorus, relating the story of how things went down from his street-level perspective.
A local cable channel, Euthanasia Broadcast Network (EBN), is actually a secret gateway to hell, run by demonic producers who program mind-numbing, brainwashing late-night content specifically designed to dull the masses. When they get ahold of video footage of the beautiful Eurydice, they decide to take possession of her by bringing her to the underworld – by murdering her at her wedding.
That’s too much for Orpheus, who follows into the bowels of the hell that is the EBN to steal back his bride from her untimely death, armed with his wedding gift – a mystical electric lyre, said to have been crafted by Jimi Hendrix, imbued with unknown powers.
The term “shredder” in the title serves multiple duties, applying not only to Orpheus’s band and their guitar shredding, and to his identity as a skateboarder, but also a more nefarious and hidden definition: as the dead enter the Underworld, EBN puts their records through their shredding room, destroying their memories and placating their will. It’s only those with a strong enough resolve to overcome this that have any chance of escape.
This movie is absolutely wild and worth checking out, especially if you have any affection or nostalgia for old school skate videos, weird shot-on-video movies, or late-night cable TV. It’s also a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the Orphic tragedy, creating modern parallels for mythological elements like the traditional Greek chorus, Hades, the River Styx, the Guardians of the Underworld, and the Maenads of Dionysus. It’s bizarre, artistic, unforgettable, and, literally, punk as hell.
The film is distinctly culled from the VHS-era, and also something of a last gasp of the 80s, a 1989 film which made its release in 1990. Vinegar Syndrome describes the video as “Preserved from a 35mm blow-up print; created from the original 16mm, Beta SP, and 1″ tape master elements”.
Considering its mixed 16mm and video source, the movie looks terrific. The movie did have some theatrical engagement, thus the blow-up print, but was primarily known as a videotape, and this is certainly the best it’s ever been seen outside of a theater. The lo-fi source is fitting to the time and theme; really the only noticeable video era artifact is that on transitions only, some brief combing can be seen. It’s usually on a single frame and a few at most – something that’s almost invisible and not likely to be noticed by most viewers. Here are a few examples.
The standard edition features a clear Elite keepcase and booklet. Vinegar Syndrome also offers a limited edition (of 2000) which adds a spot-gloss slipcover, “only available on our website and at select indie retailers. Absolutely no major retailers will be stocking them.”
The included booklet is no mere throwaway insert, but a 20-page treasury with an essay by Amy Rose, interview with Robert McGinley, vintage materials including a magazine ad for the VHS tape, and even a letter from “Orpheus” writing to today’s plugged-in, internet-connected audience who have traded in mind-numbing cable TV for mind-numbing social media and rampant misinformation.
Special Features and Extras
- Commentary with director Robert McGinley and AGFA’s Bret Berg
- Preservation of the original VHS version (does not play with subtitles or commentary)
- Bombshelter Video promo from 1993 (6:20)
A hosted EPK that’s part ad, part skate video. I’m not sure if the film grain is real or faked (it seems something like this would’ve been shot on video), but either way it’s worth mentioning that you will rarely get the opportunity to see vintage skate video material like this actually looking this great.
- Behind the scenes photo gallery (5:32)
- Original home video trailer (1:10)
- Booklet with a Robert McGinley interview by David J. Moore and writing by Amy Rose
I’ll close this out with a bunch of additional screen grabs that further show the film’s unique look on both the VHS and Blu-ray transfers.
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Shredder Orpheus Blu-ray
Vinegar Syndrome Exclusive – Shredder Orpheus Limited Edition Blu-ray with Slipcover
Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and formatting for web.