Blu-ray Review: Apprentice to Murder (1988)

Way back in 1927, down Pennsylvania way; illiterate mill worker Billy (Chad Lowe) seeks some relief for his fucked up cheek by way of the services of folk magic healer John Reese (Donald Sutherland), who throws in a cure for Billy’s booze hound pappy as well. The two become a duo, with John teaching our hero to read… despite what Billy’s maybe/sorta girlfriend Alice (Mia Sara) thinks about John.

Turns out her instincts were on the money as John is getting legal static about practicing medicine without a license, and being involved in the death of a young girl under his care. Well you can’t keep a shady cat down for long, and soon John is free and goading billy into joining him in a holy mission of spiritual warfare aimed at what he believes is causing on of those pestilences the kids are so into these days at a local farm. This brings dark times upon Billy indeed…

As you can tell from that sinister synopsis above, Apprentice to Murder is not your conventional thriller or fright flick; instead it is a character study punctuated with elements of religious strife, superstition, and in the last act the folk horror we paid to see.

Supposedly based on true events, director Ralph L. Thomas and screenwriters Allan Scott and Wesley Moore, deliver a moody, emotional affair that would doubtless be more at home in the arthouse rather than the grindhouse, but the undercurrent of horror is always there pushing at the edges of the dramatic goings-on until it finally can not be denied.

No matter what direction the narrative takes, the material is in capable hands as far as performances are concerned with Sutherland and Lowe playing off from each other nicely and treating the material with gravitas.

On the downside, if you like your possible supernatural shenanigans spoon fed to you, this may not be the picture for you as things are kept rather ambiguous throughout.

As solid as the picture is, the extra features present on this Arrow Video Blu-ray are damn good as well! First up we get an audio commentary courtesy of  author and critic Bryan Reesman. This is a great listen and brings to light elements of the film’s production as well as the story that inspired it.

Following that comes a discussion of religious themes in horror courtesy of author and Diabolique magazine editor Kat Ellinger, as well as interviews with the film’s cinematographer Kelvin Pike and makeup supervisor Robin Grantham, and the film’s spoiler heavy theatrical trailer. All of this comes in a package featuring new artwork by Haunt Love, and a booklet with new liner notes by author Paul Corupe.

Effective, thought provoking, and not at all what it appears to be on the surface, Apprentice to Murder is definitely one to check out if religious-centric chillers are your bag!



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