Wednesday, July 15, 2020

RAD: The Classic BMX Movie From The 80's Finally Get's Its Due

Breakin' the Ice
by Luke Whaley

It's summer, 1989. I'm eight years old. We've just come back from the video rental store with a stack of VHS movies, and the first one my siblings and I feed to our VCR is a movie called Rad
My very own, well-worn
 VHS copy of RAD

The minute the movie finishes, without even stopping to hit rewind on the VCR, we're out the door. At the end of a cement walkway a two-foot piece of scrap wood is propped on a cinder block, creating a ramp. Trees in our yard become obstacles. The concrete pad that slopes from the carport to a flat parking space is the starting line. Before you know it, with a little imagination and a couple of worn out bikes, we're ready to recreate the Helltrack scene. We strap on any helmets or knee pads or gloves we can find that make us feel like we're wearing professional gear, and we're off. The song "Thunder in Your Heart" is on repeat in my head as my feet force my bike into action. The grass slows us down. Our legs burn. The sun hammers sweat from our skin. I hit the downhill slope of the driveway and feel the wind on my face. My older brothers are in front of me, but for the moment I'm not Luke anymore, I'm Cru Jones. I'll catch them.

Through my early teens we did this, or some iteration of it, every time we watched Rad. The movie was a staple of my childhood, an anthem for the small town anykid that wanted to follow his dreams, and it featured some of the coolest bike stunts I'd ever seen. It was an underdog story on par with The Karate Kid and Rocky to me.

When DVDs began to take the place of videocassettes and all my favorite movies got the digital upgrade, inevitably I thought about Rad. Once or twice a year I'd scour the internet to see where I could find a DVD. Amazon didn't offer it except in a bootleg disc that was, I read, just a scan of the VHS. I had created a scan with my own VHS copy years ago and didn't want to pay someone for video quality I already had, so I never bought it. An official DVD was nowhere to be found. I signed up to be notified by Amazon when the DVD would be released but that notification never came.

Blu Rays replaced DVDs, and then 4K came along. I was beginning to think that I would never see a high-definition release of the film when I received an email from an obscure company called Vinegar Syndrome announcing its release in 4K. I was skeptical. Vinegar Syndrome specializes in exploitation movies of all kinds, from silly, B-grade horror movies to smut films from the sixties through the eighties. It did not seem like a likely home for a family movie like RAD. Despite my skepticism I pre-ordered the movie.

Boy am I glad I did.

It is by far the most well-produced and comprehensive release of a cult movie that I've ever seen. This, it seems, is where Vinegar Syndrome really shines. Such care and attention to detail went into the packaging of the disc that it felt like a special edition release of a big-time summer blockbuster movie. The slipcase features the classic VHS cover art, lenticular on the front and holographic on the back. Inside the slipcase the movie disc case includes the original artwork. Also inside the case is a folded poster depicting the Helltrack obstacle course. 

The transfer of the film is as nice as could be expected. There is some grain here and there, and one or two weird transitions that felt a little more drawn out than I remembered, but all in all Rad has never looked better. I have to admit I was a little nervous watching it again after I'd gone six or seven years without a single viewing, but I was not disappointed. There is a certain amount of cheese to it, being a typical, lower budget 80's film, but I was surprised at how it held up. The magic was still there. Maybe it was nostalgia, but who cares? 

I was equally impressed with the special features. With a movie like this that has hovered in the realms of obscurity for years to all but the die hard fans, a blu ray release would normally consist of the movie, a theatrical trailer and maybe, maybe a commentary track. This release has three commentaries, featurettes on director Hal Needham and writer Sam Bernard, archival interviews, the music video to the song "Break The Ice" by John Farnham, an original theatrical trailer, and more. 

The 4K release of Rad is my favorite release of this year. Its only competition will be the Friday the 13th Collection: the Deluxe Edition that will be released in October by Shout! Factory. As excited as I am about that release (which will FINALLY feature the real 3d version of Friday the 13th part 3) it will be tough to beat out Rad.

Here is the full list of special features for Rad:

-    Brand new commentary track with lead actor Bill Allen
-    Brand new commentary track with actress Talia Shire and Robert Schwartzman
-    Archival commentary track with: actor Bill Allen, actor Bart Conner, writer/co-producer Sam Bernard, and various BMX stunt riders.
-    Interview with director Hal Needham
-    Interview with writer Sam Bernard
-    "Rad 25"- The 25th anniversary event (footage from filming locations, autograph sessions, etc)
-    Multiple archival interviews with cast and crew
-    "Break The Ice" music video
-    Original theatrical trailer
-    Extensive behind-the-scenes still gallery

    **    In a quick update to this blog entry, I am sad to inform readers that this particular 4k edition is out of stock at Vinegar Syndrome. It is going for ridiculous prices on ebay and Amazon. At some point I read to keep an eye out for distributors of Vinegar Syndrome's titles. There may be a few copies that crop up from time to time. One I know right off the bat is Diabolik DVD, but I know there are others. While the 4k is not available at this time, DVD's are available through Amazon.

You can rent or buy a digital copy here.

While you wait for that ultimate 4k to re-appear, check out a couple of these Rad items you can find online:

Helltrack face mask from TeePublic
Cru Jones Jersey from 80s Tees
Rad Racing Tee from Etsy

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