Wednesday, June 15, 2011

THE AMBULANCE

"You're going to kill me, aren't you?"

"Why yes, eventually, I will. But I promise you, you'll be in perfect health before you die. Isn't that nice?"

I'm quite a fan of writer director Larry Cohen's films. From BLACK CAESAR to IT'S ALIVE to GOD TOLD ME TO, THE STUFF and Q, the man knows how to craft smarter-than-average exploitation fare, usually by finding a single strong, central "hook" and then extrapolating on it with intelligence and offbeat, black humor. One of his lesser-known efforts, 1990's THE AMBULANCE, has recently been made available on MOD DVD from the "MGM Limited Edition Collection," and although it's not one of his best flicks, it's definitely an entertaining ride.

Eric Roberts (SHARKTOPUS) and his astonishing mullet play Josh Baker, a Marvel Comics artist who becomes infatuated with a beautiful young woman named Cheryl (Janine Turner, NORTHERN EXPOSURE, CLIFFHANGER) that he sees on the street each day on his way to work. One morning, he gets his nerve up to introduce himself, and as they're talking, she suddenly has some sort of attack and collapses. Almost immediately, a strangely old-fashioned ambulance shows up and takes her away. When Josh can't keep his mind on his work, Stan Lee gives him the afternoon off, and that's when Josh discovers that Cheryl's not at the hospital - or any hospital in the city - at all. She's been kidnapped by an evil doctor for use in illegal medical experiments! Too bad the police don't believe him, even when the mysterious ambulance continues to prowl the city streets....

THE AMBULANCE is a satisfactory little thriller, perfect for late night viewing on Cinemax (which is where I first saw it). Cohen's script is smart and his direction is fairly suspenseful, and the cast - which also includes James Earl Jones and Meghan Gallagher as cops, Eric Braeden as the aforementioned evil doctor, Cohen fave Laurene Landon as Josh's neighbor, and appearances by Red Buttons and Stan "The Man" Lee - really shine, playing their parts straight, but with a slight twinkle in their eyes. There's also a great late 80s musical score by Jay Chattaway.

The MGM Limited Edition Collection brings this 90s cable and VHS favorite to DVD as a Manufacture-On-Demand disc, with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sourced from a remarkably clean print. The picture is maybe a tiny bit soft, but the colors are bright, contrast is good, with only minimal dirt or wear. In fact, for a 20-year-old B-movie, it looks great. Audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, which fairly recreates the original Ultra Stereo soundtrack. There are no extras.

THE AMBULANCE is a good, goofy, B-movie fun, and well worth checking out. Recommended.

BUY: The Ambulance