Adrenalin: Fear the Rush (1996) – A Superlative Surge of Pyun

Matty tells you why you need this nightmarish sci-shocker in your life.  

Revisiting ADRENALIN: FEAR THE RUSH in the middle of 2020 is a strange experience. Already a tense and nerve-jangling endurance test, Albert Pyun’s highly effective blend of chase movie, horror, and science fiction suddenly seems a helluva lot more terrifying and plausible. Its themes of state control and societal collapse, and a plot that features the spread of a deadly virus strike an eerily familiar chord in the wake of COVID 19 and the increasingly bigoted and fascistic actions of those in power on either side of the Atlantic. A prescient Pyun flick? Some will almost certainly baulk at the thought.

After bringing in a pair of back-to-back sequels to his own cult hit Nemesis (1992) for Imperial Entertainment, Pyun and his Filmwerks associates Gary Schmoeller and Tom Karnowski struck a two picture deal with Largo Entertainment, whose backers, electronics giant JVC, were impressed with the drawing power Pyun had in Asia and Europe. Adrenalin was the first (Omega Doom (1996) was the second), and its low, $2-$3million budget was augmented by a chunk of change chipped in by Miramax’s genre arm, Dimension, who also agreed to distribute the film theatrically stateside. As Pyun’s work hadn’t seen the inside of a US cinema since the original Nemesis, such a pledge was no doubt very appealing — particularly as the helmer and his go-to DP, George Mooradian, always shot for theatrical, refusing to compromise their lush widescreen visuals for the straight-to-video standard of 4×3. However, a pact with the devil is just that. And come post production, Dimension’s despotic gaffer, Bob Weinstein, completely screwed Pyun and co over. In short, Weinstein imposed rewrites and reshoots (which were written by Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) co-scribe Rand Ravich), and oversaw a re-edit that condensed Pyun’s 110 minute director’s cut into a heavily compromised 77 minute version with a re-pointed narrative thrust, and markedly different colour timing and sound mixing that rendered the film an ugly, near incomprehensible mess. Naturally, it was this travesty that was dumped on the big screen, opening in New York on the 6th of December 1996. Safe to say, the response wasn’t pretty.

Maddeningly, it’s the butchered Dimension cut that’s the most widely available presentation of Adrenalin in North America, having last appeared on the US Netflix. Thankfully, though, us Brits have largely managed to avoid it. Discounting the Dimension cut being the only version currently up for rent on Prime (gah!), and irrespective of the reshoot footage still being present, our video and DVD releases of Pyun’s gut-knotting scare-show offer the longer, 94 minute European edit that’s closer in tone and intent to Pyun’s initial vision. 

Designed as an immersive, waking nightmare, in its expanded form, Adrenalin is a stylistic mix of documentary-like combat footage and PlayStation-esque survival horror. Mounted from his own fat-free script, Pyun’s no-frills story chronicles a bizarre descent into hell as a small team of future cops (the film’s set in a 2007 ravaged by crime, rioting and corruption) find themselves trapped in a dilapidated prison with a freakish cannibal killer (stuntman Darrell Craig Davis) who’s also infected with a highly contagious disease. So as well as having to fight for their own lives, the fate of the world hangs in the balance too. As Andrew Divoff’s government-sanctioned fixer explains, the ghoulish flesh-muncher is an icky blood-bomb about to go off.

Gloomy and doom-laden, Adrenalin oozes atmosphere. Gorgeously shot, primarily with a swaying steadicam to amplify its often nauseating feeling of oppression and hopelessness, Pyun conveys a palpable sense of dank, grimy fear as characters move around blackened rooms and long, stone-walled corridors, each wet-slicked suspense sequence punctuated by a surge of grisly violence when Davis’ monstrous loon pops up. For a better known comparison’s sake, in a way, Adrenalin is kind of like a pre [rec] (2007) [rec] or a cross between Split Second (1991) and Stuart Gordon’s dizzying Lovecraft shocker, Dagon (2001).   

In addition to eking a tremendous amount of production value from its crumbling Bratislavan locations (ignore the ‘this is Boston’ claims of the re-shoots: Adrenalin is unashamedly eastern European through and through, and the inherent unrest of the post communist Bloc is a vital part of the film’s tapestry), Pyun continually pushes into the harried expressions of his excellent central cast, who convincingly sell the fact they’re absolutely terrified. Taking the role following her breakout turn in Species (1995), Natasha Henstridge makes for a decent and relatable heroine. Her character is a mite undeveloped, admittedly, but Henstridge’s performance is certainly better than her subsequent claim that she’s embarrassed by the film would suggest, the model-cum-actress going on to state that she only signed up to Adrenalin’s sixteen day shoot to travel to Bratislava and to allay worries that she’d never get another acting gig after Sil. Pyun perennial Norbert Weisser is his usual reliable self and does petrified smart-arse with aplomb, and star name Christopher Lambert goes gaga with gusto. Adrenalin’s whipping boy, the pain Pyun inflicts upon his later Mean Guns (1997) lead is the sole comedic respite in this relentlessly grim mood piece, the director playing Lambert’s ability to keep standing and fighting in spite of his body being broken and shot to smithereens for uber-dark laughs.

USA ● 1996 ● Sci-Fi, Horror ● 94mins

Natasha Henstridge, Christopher Lambert, Norbert Weisser, Andrew Divoff Wri./Dir. Albert Pyun

Adrenalin Fear the Rush (1996) Poster

Portions of this review appear in Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain’s forthcoming book, “Schlock & Awe: 2,001 Forgotten Films of the ’90s Rental Realm”.

Follow Matty on Twitter @mattybudrewicz

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