Thundercrack! is a blu-ray release that cult movie fans have been await­ing for years. The trou­ble of putting a release for this film came in many forms: it was hard to get good ele­ments and also dif­fi­cult to get a com­plete ver­sion of this oft-recut project togeth­er. Thankfully, Synapse pre­vailed and has pro­duced a home video edi­tion of Thundercrack! that defies the odds and looks bet­ter than any­one could imag­ine. Even bet­ter, they’ve stacked the release with hours of extras that are eye-open­ing in more ways than one.

ThunCrk-bluThe trans­fer is impres­sive here, par­tic­u­lar­ly when you con­sid­er how dif­fi­cult it was to get usable mate­ri­als togeth­er. As disc pro­duc­er Don May, Jr. details in his lin­er notes for this set, it was tak­en from the only com­plete 16mm print of the full-length the­atri­cal ver­sion and said print had got­ten beat up over forty years. It is pre­sent­ed in its orig­i­nal Academy (1.33:1) ratio and ben­e­fits from exten­sive clean-up done on it: aside from a few bits of overt ele­ment dam­age, it looks amaz­ing­ly clean. The black-and-white cin­e­matog­ra­phy has a vel­vety rich­ness to it and the details are often sur­pris­ing­ly vivid.

The loss­less mono audio brings some extra clar­i­ty to what has always been a murky mix — and the addi­tion of option­al English sub­ti­tles is a big help for fans in deci­pher­ing all the dia­logue.

Synapse has made a sim­i­lar­ly hero­ic effort with the extras: this is a blu-ray/DVD com­bo where the blu-ray has its own extras and the DVD bypass­es a stan­dard-def pre­sen­ta­tion of the film to devote itself entire­ly to extras dif­fer­ent from those on the blu-ray. As a result, there are sev­er­al hours of mate­ri­al for Thundercrack! fans to sift through that will help them gain a new under­stand­ing of this one-of-a-kind cult movie.

The blu-ray hosts two big extras. The first is an 84 min­ute audio inter­view with film­mak­er Curt McDowell that is pre­sent­ed as an alter­na­tive audio track on the main fea­ture. It’s an engag­ing lis­ten, with the artic­u­late McDowell speak­ing freely about his thoughts on his film school and its stu­dents, his D.I.Y approach to this art form and his feel­ings about art and pol­i­tics.

ThunCrk-04The oth­er extra on the blu-ray is It Came From Kuchar, a fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary about the lives and work of George and Mike Kuchar, who became self-made leg­ends of under­ground film­mak­ing before going off in their own direc­tions. It’s a warm, fre­quent­ly wit­ty por­tray­al of the­se two mav­er­icks, who tell their sto­ry in their own words and cov­er plen­ty of ground on their biogra­phies, the ‘60s under­ground film scene and their artis­tic obses­sions. Testimonials from famous fans like Atom Egoyan and John Waters are also includ­ed, along with glimpses of George Kuchar guid­ing his col­lege class through a crash course in film­mak­ing à la Kuchar. It’s a nice lit­tle primer on two artists who are still unsung in the main­stream art world.

This set’s DVD is stacked high with its own array of sup­ple­ments. It starts off with the film’s the­atri­cal trail­er, which sells both the sex and the under­ground weird­ness as Kuchar sup­plies some wild, pur­ple-prose nar­ra­tion. Kuchar also appears in a 10-min­ute inter­view that is real­ly one of his trade­mark video shorts, packed with col­or­ful­ly bizarre visu­al effects. He dis­cuss­es the film, McDowell and mem­o­ries of the shoot, with the most inter­est­ing part arriv­ing when he describes how his philo­soph­i­cal dif­fer­ences with McDowell about sex informed the film’s sto­ry­line.

ThunCrk-05Marion Eaton appears in a six-min­ute video seg­ment where she reads a let­ter that cov­ers her take on the char­ac­ter, what drew her to the role and a nice trib­ute to the film­mak­ers. Mark Ellinger appears for his own sit­down: in just under 9 min­utes, he talks about devel­op­ing the sto­ry­line with McDowell, his mis­giv­ings about how the film was treat­ed and his love for the chal­lenges of post-pro­duc­tion work. McDowell and Eaton both appear in an episode of San Francisco Bay Area Filmmakers where they both make a case for Thundercrack! as being an art piece instead of pornog­ra­phy. Both are engag­ing and intel­lec­tu­al as they dis­cuss the work.

Next up is a series of footage com­pi­la­tions. The first is a 30 min­ute out­takes and behind-the-sce­nes reel that offers snips of sce­nes with and with­out sound as well as a saucy bit of clown­ing around between crew mem­bers. Next up is 18 min­utes of sex scene out­takes: the­se explic­it bits give you an appre­ci­a­tion of how dif­fi­cult is to chore­o­graph real sex for the cam­era. The last of the­se reels is nine min­utes of audi­tion footage, fea­tur­ing both even­tu­al cast mem­bers and unknowns. Almost every­one dis­robes for the cam­era to prove their com­fort with the film’s sub­ject mat­ter.

ThunCrk-06The DVD clos­es with a col­lec­tion of the short films that Curt McDowell made at art school pri­or to mak­ing Thundercrack!, five projects that range from three to twen­ty min­utes in length. They’re all art­sy, some­times fun­ny and fre­quent­ly sex­u­al­ly explic­it. The most mem­o­rable entries in this sec­tion include the self-bar­ing Confessions, which involves McDowell giv­ing a con­fes­sion of his teenage sex­u­al dal­liances to the cam­era before cre­at­ing a col­lage of sex, exper­i­men­tal footage and inter­views of friends, and Loads, a no-holds-barred cin­e­mat­ic diary of his sex­u­al encoun­ters with a series of gay-for-pay San Francisco hus­tlers (Waters ref­er­ences this film in It Came From Kuchar as some­thing intense to leave even him feel­ing tak­en aback).

In short, Synapse’s spe­cial edi­tion of Thundercrack! is one of the most amaz­ing releas­es to come out on blu-ray this year, offer­ing an excel­lent restora­tion of an under­ground clas­sic and a set of extras that give you a detailed por­trait of the artis­tic mav­er­icks who made it. If you have any inter­est in Kuchar’s work or under­ground film in gen­er­al, it’s a must-buy.

To read Schlockmania’s film review of Thundercrack!, click here.