Letters From A Killer

Letters From A Killer (1998)
Studio Home Entertainment (Sterling)
Cast: Patrick Swayze, Gia Carides, Roger E. Mosley
Extras: Commentary track, Behind-the-scenes montage, Interviews, Photo gallery, Trivia game, Trailers

After his glorious days in "Dirty Dancing, " Patrick Swayze has had some problems finding parts in good movies that really allowed him to play off his actual acting skills. Burned up in a number of increasingly poor dancing movies, he eventually almost disappeared from the public eye and played only in a number of almost unknown independent films. When "Letters From A Killer" arrived from Sterling Home Entertainment, it was almost like a wake-up call. "I wonder what he’s doing," I thought to myself and decided to give this disc a check-up. And once again, Sterling Home Entertainment is good for a pleasant surprise, and "Letters From A Killer" turns out as a solid thriller with wicked twists and turns.

Race Darnell (Patrick Swayze) has been sent to Death Row for a murder he did not commit. Only weeks before his final execution date his attorney finds evidence that could prove his innocence and quickly seeks a retrial. With the new evidence, the jury immediately comes to a new decision and acquits Race of all charges. Over night he comes from Death Row to be a free man!

But his new life has a few problems of its own. During his time in prison he was writing recorded love letters to four different women to burn his time. Unbeknownst to each other, he made each one of them believe he loved her. One day the letters get mixed up and are sent to the wrong "girlfriends." As a result, Race receives an enraged hate letter from a woman who threatens to kill him for the betrayal, but Race is unable to recognize the voice. Immediately after being released from prison he tries to find out which one of the four women is the one that is decided to kill him.

While he is searching for clues, visiting all four women, he is somehow leaving a bloody trail as everyone turns up dead after the meetings. The psychopath lover is following Race’s every step unseen, leaving traces that implicate Race as the murderer in each one of the killings. With the police on his heels he has only a short time to find out who is behind the anonymous voice before the cops will eventually catch up with him.

"Letters From A Killer" plays like an intense thriller. It is very well written and directed, creating a brooding atmosphere around Race that shows the inevitability of the events to come and his own helplessness to elude himself. The cast is generally good and this is easily one of Patrick Swayze’s best performances, although it is slightly hampered by the rather stiff and unnatural Gia Carides. With makeup that makes him look worn down, edgy, agitated and as white as a sheet, he is going through the entire range of emotions from loneliness, joy, helplessness, fear, agony and rage with ease. Always believable he manages to create a character that is pleasant and warm despite the fact that he obviously cheated these women out of their love for his own mental support.
The story has a number of unexpected twists, making it hard to guess who the killer really is. Every time you believe you know, seconds later the person turns up dead. It is a great cat-and-mouse game that works perfectly for the film’s entire running length.

Sterling Home Entertainment has released "Letters From A Killer" as one of their Millenium Series Special Editions. The disc features a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> transfer of the movie in a 1.78:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. The softness of the transfer lacks a bit of the definition you would expect from a high resolution 16×9 presentation, but nonetheless creates a detailed picture. The color reproduction of the transfer is very good, creating natural-looking fleshtones, while also creating vivid and strong colors that are entirely without oversaturation. With deep blacks and good highlights, the transfer on this disc also exhibits a good contrast that creates a very pleasant image. The compression is without noticeable artifacts making it a solid presentation.

The disc features a very good <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix that is well integrated and uses the discrete surrounds quite effectively. Creating a busy atmosphere throughout and some great surround effects, the soundtrack has a good and unexaggerated bass extension. The frequency response is good, creating a mostly natural sounding and wide soundfield. Dialogues are well balanced and always understandable, carefully placed on top of ambient sound and noise effects.

"Letters From A Killer" also contains a <$commentary,commentary track> by director David Carson. The track is quite interesting and offers some interesting insight into the movie’s production. He discusses plans and ideas he had during the shoot of the movie, so of which did and others didn’t make it into the final film. Carson is covering many aspects of the film and manages to cover the entire running length without notable gaps.

Being a special edition the disc also contains a montage of behind-the-scenes footage. It is a nice presentation that simply strings together footage that was taken on the set and shows the cast in a good natured mood doing shots over and again, giving viewers a glimpse into the production of the actual movie. A trivia game is also part of the release as well as biographies and filmographies for most of the cast. It is rounded up with a trailer gallery from Sterling’s other "Millenium Series" releases and the film’s own theatrical trailer.

"Letters From A Killer" is a great thriller that can go head to head with major releases like "Double Jeopardy," although its imagery is not quite as spectacular at times. Easily overlooked and mostly gone unnoticed, "Letters From A Killer" also makes a great debut here on DVD and Sterling Home Entertainment has put a great presentation of the movie together. You may want to put this one on your shopping list and check it out some time. It is an intriguing story in which anything is possible and that what you least expect is going to happen.