Stone [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (19th September 2021).
The Film

"Stone" (1974)

During an environmental rally at a park, a political candidate is assassinated by a sniper, which is witnessed by Toad (played by Hugh Keays-Byrne, a member of the biker gang The Grave Diggers, while high out of his mind on LSD. The sniper notices that one of the bikers saw him, and therefore sets about to offing the gang members one by one to cover up his tracks fully. After three gang members are killed, the police start getting suspicious, as there seems to be a connection between the biker killings and the political assassination. The police have officer Stone (played by Ken Shorter) infiltrate The Grave Diggers undercover to gain their trust, and to find out who is behind the killings. Unfortunately, Stone is immediately recognized as a cop by the gang, though he is taken in by the members after he proved to be of use to them and helped save their lives during another sniper attack. Undertaker (played by Sandy Harbutt) the leader of the gang is at first weary along with other members of having a cop within their circle, but a bond forms that blurs the line between the law of the land and the law of the open road.

"Stone" was written, produced, and directed by Sandy Harbutt who also starred as one of the main characters. An Australian actor who worked on stage, television, and film was a biker at heart and wrote the script for "Stone" in 1970, using his real life love of motorcycles and the culture behind them for a unique take on the genre that was nothing like what was seen on screen in Australia at the time. America has works like "Easy Rider" (1969) and more that broke the counterculture into the mainstream with its existential themes and drugged out visuals and sound that captivated audiences. On a smaller but also significant scale, the UK had works like "Psychomania" which the biker genre went towards the supernatural for insane cult appeal. Australia's homegrown answer to those works came independently from the first time filmmaker, and unlike the film relying on drugs or insanity, went with some timely subjects while also keeping a cult appeal.

Social issues, with environmentalism as seen in the opening sequence as well as the effects of war are showcased in the film. Many of the bikers are Vietnam or Korean War veterans with a distaste for authority as they ride on the open roads with a sense of brotherhood. The characters openly discuss about their distrust with law enforcement and the government, and their reasons behind them and where they stand. The Grave Diggers may be Satanists, but the film doesn't showcase Satanic rituals fully or promote Satanism as the core. Although many will want to scream out "SATAN!!!" like the character of Doctor Death (played by Vincent Gil) in the funeral sequence. While there are interesting notes in the background, what of course stands out are the bikes and the gang members.

Kawasaki Z1 900 bikes are the most prominently featured motorcycles in the film, with The Grave Diggers having personalized rides for their characters. Each member has a distinctive name and a distinctive look. Undertaker is tall, has long hair and a beard with a commanding presence. Doctor Death looks like a reincarnation of Dracula with an eyepatch. Toad is the big guy that may not be that smart but is a loving presence. Others having nicknames like Midnight, Ferret, 69, Pinball all have individual characteristics and even if they have few to no lines of dialogue, add to the charm of being different from each other with unique qualities. The ladies on the other hand that are part of the gang unfortunately don't have the same impact of the male characters. Even during the voting scene, none of the women have any say as the votes are only counted by men. In addition, Stone's girlfriend Amanda (played by Helen Morse) is an underused character, and her scenes don't serve much use to the plot either. But for the sake of diversity and for the skinny dipping scene in the ocean, having women around makes up for the all-male screentime for the audiences.

The character of Stone is at the core of the film's plot (and of course the title), and what is an unusual take in the story is that the gang members immediately recognize him as a cop, yet still let him be a part of the gang. In most cases of films with the police infiltrating a gang, the gang finds out far into the story that the new member was actually a cop. With "Stone", the trust and distrust are set up rather quickly and naturally. Stone wants to find the assassin and needs to be alongside the gang to find clues. The pot smoking, the speeding are of no concern to him. In a notable deleted scene, the police discuss their plan to infiltrate the gang and send Stone in for the job. It's clear they are not particularly fond of Stone himself and it seems that the character is not a typical police officer. He may be part of the law, but he is more of an outsider at heart but without the brotherhood. By temporarily joining The Grave Diggers, Stone learns about biker culture, their message, and true brotherhood. Ken Shorter's portrayal of Stone is actually not that strong. He is not particularly convincing as a cop that is willing to take on the dangerous role, and is fairly quiet and shy. In comparison to the sometimes cartoonish gang members, he is the straight man, but not the best performance in the bunch. The members of The Grave Diggers on the other hand are much more lively with their characters, and the performers do a great job discerning and defining each of their roles.

Harbutt's direction is very good especially when capturing the motorbikes on the road, especially with the opening funeral scene. Being a low budget film with a cost of $192,000, they didn't have a large sum to have a large procession of bikes for the scene. With a callout for local bikers who were willing to appear as extras for the scene, their expectation was around 50 bikes. Instead 400 bikers came and the funeral procession became an extravagant and memorable sequence right at the start. Cinematographer Graham Lind lensed the film, giving it a gritty yet interesting look throughout, although the limitations of the low budget can be seen with some scenes. The soundtrack by Billy Green is also a standout, mixing rock, funk, electronic, and folk into the mix. But the biggest standout may be the costumes by Helen Morse (who also played Stone's girlfriend) with both the men and the women that is timely and unique for each character.

"Stone" was executive produced by David Hannay who thoroughly believed in Harbutt's vision and in essence, gave Harbutt the opportunity to create something unique and unlike anything else in Australian cinema at the time. The film was released theatrically in Australia on June 28th, 1974 and was immediately lambasted by the critics. But for audiences, the film broke local box office records with a lengthy run and positive word of mouth. People flocked to see a counterculture film that was their own rather than foreign, and the cult surrounding "Stone" was there from the start. As for the rest of the world, it took some time for them to find the film. the film was sent to Cannes for sales but the figures offered were much too low. Things changed when "Mad Max" made waves around the world in 1979. Some of the same cast and crew from "Stone" were part of the production, and the world looked to Australia for genre films that were in the same vein. Harbutt returned to Cannes in 1980 with "Stone" and sales were made to various territories for much higher offers than he had had previously. In 1985 when the film was being prepared for its first home video release on VHS, Harbutt was able to make a new director's cut of the film. Feeling it was too long at 132 minutes. No new scenes were added but instead more than 30 minutes were removed. The new 99 minute director's cut would be the only way to see the film on home video for many years, including DVD and on this new Blu-ray edition.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The transfer is fairly impressive though it does have some drawbacks. Colors are given a boost, showcasing the blues of the skies, the water, as well as the denim worn by many of the characters. On the other hand, skin tones lean towards the brown and tan side, and not too deep on the reds. It does have a low budget 70s look to the colors, and the color corrected remastering does look cleaner and deeper, but that also leads to blacks being darker, with some detail being lost on some indoor sequences. As for damage, dust and scratches have mostly been removed but there are some that still appear such as cue blips. Film grain is still visible throughout without any major digital tinkering done. Overall a fairly good transfer, and consistent through the runtime.

The film's runtime is 99:15 which is the 1985 re-edited director's cut.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
The original mono track is presented in lossless form. Like the picture, the sound has also been remastered. The soundtrack by Billy Green sounds fairly good, though it is lacking bass and range due to the original film elements used. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, and well balanced against the music and effects. Again, being a mono track it can feel fairly flat but it stays true to the source. Hiss, pops, crackle and other damage has mostly been removed for a clean sounding audio track.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font.

Extras

DISC ONE (Blu-ray)

"Stone Forever" documentary (65:36)
In 1998, 30,000 bikers along with the original cast and crew gathered in Sydney to commemorate the 25th anniversary of "Stone". This documentary shows the crowd recreating the film's opening funeral procession scene, along with interviews with fans of the film and the impact it had on them, along with interviews from the cast and crew recollecting their time making the film. It is not shown in the documentary but it is mentioned that unfortunately, there was an accident during the motorcycle ride that killed one rider and injured 14. In an eerie way, the recreation of the funeral procession ended up becoming an actual funeral procession. There are also mentions of the film's attacks from critics, the immediate cult success, the recutting of the film by Harbutt, and the film's sales and reception overseas.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Tarantino on Stone" interview (9:12)
In this interview originally shot for the 2008 documentary "Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!", filmmaker Quentin Tarantino discusses his love for "Stone", from its positive qualities, some negatives, his happiness in discovering the film, and more.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Making of Stone" short (23:12)
This vintage documentary short made during the production of the film shows behind the scenes footage along with interviews with the cast and crew.
in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Deleted & Extended Scenes from the Theatrical Release (38:25)
The long lost footage from the original 1974 cut of the film is presented here for the first time in a home video release, all unseen in over 35 years. Included are the extended funeral procession, multiple scenes of the police in their investigation, including their idea of sending in Stone undercover, a lengthy joint smoking scene, extended riding sequences, and much more. The image and sound quality is not very good, with scratch marks on the image and with some muffled dialogue for the sound.
in 1.33:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"Not Quite Hollywood" Extended Interviews (125:20)
The 2008 documentary "Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!" had countless hours of interviews conducted by filmmaker Mark Hartley with people involved in classic cult Australian films, and more than two hours of talks dealing with "Stone" are presented here. Writer/director/actor Sandy Harbutt, cast members Ken Shorter, Rebecca Gilling, and Roger Ward, executive producer David Hannay and editor Ian Barry all get a chance to speak about their time on the project. From the low budget nature, getting the biker culture right, behind the scenes happenings, the cult appeal of the film over the years, and more are told.
in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Stills Gallery with commentary by Sandy Harbutt (20:28)
Harbutt narrates over this stills gallery as he gives biographical information about the actors in the stills, and their relationships over the years, plus about the locations in Sydney used, the funeral scene, and more. Although when he gets to talking about Peter King and him getting arrested there is some sudden censorship applied. Not sure if this was intentional or if this was how it was on the original DVD editions.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Make-Up Tests (8:33)
Silent indoor test footage with the various actors is presented here, in very good condition. There is some damage visible on the sides of the frame and some of the color being washed out, but looks quite good after sitting on a shelf for so many years.
in 1.85:1, without sound

Theatrical Trailer (3:19)
The original trailer, remastered, is presented here.
in 1.85:1, in Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles




DISC TWO (Soundtrack CD)
The first 3000 copies also include the soundtrack album composed by Billy Green on CD. Originally the soundtrack was released by Warner Bros. Music in Australia on vinyl with 13 tracks. This newly remastered edition has an additional 7 tracks, including a new remixed track "Stone Is a Trip" which takes the instrumental track "The Race" and overdubs it with narration and vocal cues from the original theatrical trailer. The track listing also differs from the soundtrack album and like the original vinyl, is mixed in stereo, giving a more robust sound in comparison to the film's crammed mono soundtrack.


The film received some barebones DVD releases in the early 2000s, and then a nice special edition from Severin Films in the US and UK and Umbrella Entertainment in Australia, which included the 25th anniversary documentary, the 1974 making-of, the make-up tests, and the slideshow with commentary. On Blu-ray, the film was first released in Germany by Schröder Media in 2016 with the same extras as the special edition DVDs, plus the unrelated 1972 film "Brute Corps" as a bonus film. This Umbrella Entertainment goes one better with the inclusion of the long unseen deleted scenes. Sadly with Harbutt passing away in 2020, a commentary for the film is sorely lacking. What is truly missing is a restored version of the original theatrical cut. The version that fans fell in love with is not included, and there are some interesting material featured in the deleted scenes. Possibly because the deleted footage was not in the best condition, but hopefully one day a re-release of the original version could be seen.

Packaging

This is spine #2 in the "Ozploitation Classics" range, which comes with a slipcase.
The inlay has the original poster art from various regions, plus the tracklisting of the soundtrack CD, with credits and lyrics to "Cosmic Flash".

Overall

"Stone" is at the beginning of the Ozploitation movement and is a very satisfying biker film, even with its flaws and all. Great characters, wonderful visuals, and with a memorable ending, it was an instant cult film that continues to find new audiences more than 40 years later. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray gives the film another new lease on life with a very good transfer of the video and audio with a great number of extras. Highly recommended.

The Film: B Video: B+ Audio: A- Extras: B+ Overall: B+

 


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