“APPRENTICE TO MURDER”— Magic, Murder, Madness?


Magic, Murder, Madness?

Amos Lassen

Director Ralph L. Thomas’s “Apprentice to Murder” is set In early twentieth-century Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Young Billy Kelly (Chad Lowe) meets a charismatic magic healer, Dr. John Reese (Donald Sutherland) who is shunned by the rest of the community for his non-conformist beliefs. Together, they investigate a mysterious sickness that is hurting the area and which Reese believes is the work of a local hermit. As the plague spreads, Billy falls deeper under Reese’s spell and wonders if they are doing God’s work or the Devil’s. This is a story of misplaced faith and the macabre that clouds the lines between conventional notions of good and evil.

Billy Kelly lives with his mother Elma (Rutanya Alda) and alcoholic, abusive father Tom (Eddie Jones). One day, while walking home with Alice (Mia Sara), a beautiful young lady named who works at the same factory as himself, they see an angry, seemingly rabid dog in the middle of the road. They hide behind a bush and the other villagers flee in terror when an elderly man manages to tame the dog by using a simple religious ritual. Alice tells Tom that she lives as a lodger in the man’s house. She also reveals that his name is John Reese and that he is a Pow-wow doctor (a traditional practitioner who uses faith and magic in order to cure ills).

Later on, Billy pays John a visit in order to get help for his father’s alcoholism. To his surprise, John not only gives him a remedy for his father’s ailment but he also casts a blessing on a facial wound. When the injury heals practically overnight, Billy is convinced that this mysterious man’s powers are real and decides to become his apprentice.

While he is at work, Alice meets him during his lunch break. She does so to ask him to take her out on a date and also to express her own concerns about John. She tells him that she heard  that he spent four years in a mental asylum. Billy gradually becomes involved in a romantic relationship with her but refuses to believe her stories about John who is mentoring him. Things get darker after John’s attempt to cure a young girl results in her death. This is followed by a string of incidents that are inexplicable and thereby supernatural.  There might be a connection between these occurrences and a sinister local man named Lars Hoeglin (Knut Husebø). But, there is also the possibility that John might be playing with Billy’s impressionable mind.

The film mixes period drama with religious horror in a technologically backward and superstitious rural area. A richly-defined supernatural world is built up around its central characters. Donald Sutherland gives a fine performance as a  wizened, eccentric character performances here. He comes across as being as a vulnerable victim and as a cunning manipulator. Chad Lowe is fine as the hapless protagonist but he looks and sounds more like a 1980s than an authentic character from the period.

 Even with its flaws, the kind of film provokes thought and discussion after it is over.


  Brand new 2K restoration of the film from the original 35mm interpositive

  High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation

  Original lossless mono soundtrack

  Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing

  New audio commentary by author and critic Bryan Reesman

  New video interview on religious horror cinema with Kat Ellinger, author and editor-in-chief of Diabolique Magazine

  New video interview with cinematographer Kelvin Pike

  New video interview with makeup supervisor Robin Grantham

  Theatrical trailer

  Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Haunt Love

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Paul Corupe

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