Hollywood productions from the 1990s rarely got as confounding and audacious as Matthew Bright’s Freeway. This 1996 black comedy fronted by Oliver Stone and starring big names like Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland and Brittany Murphy is an injection of white-trash adrenaline into the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. The result is nothing short of ridiculous, and the film has now received a stellar 4K Blu-ray package from Vinegar Syndrome with a terrific new 4K presentation and a laundry list of newly produced and archival special features. This release comes Highly Recommended!
Freeway - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is currently exclusive to Vinegar Syndrome. It will be available again for purchase starting January 1, 2023
“Them's some big ugly fuckin' teeth you got, Bob.”
To understand how something as insane as Freeway could be written, let alone produced, I think it’s important to note that writer-director Matthew Bright is the childhood best friend of Danny and Richard Elfman, plus he was a member of Oingo Boingo. That kind of surrealist material that both Elfman brothers excelled at on-screen and off? Bright, to me at least, is someone who can take certain vulgar and in-your-face elements from works like Forbidden Zone and graft his own dogged obsession with the trashiest of America and mythmaking onto them. It’s not an approach that always works, and Bright’s original vision was in fact censored heavily, but what’s left still shocks and entertains to this day. I would even go as far to say it feels like a balm in today’s crowded field of sanitized prestige pictures.
Seemingly designed to be a twisted fairy tale from the 1990s, Freeway follows the travels of teenage delinquent Vanessa Lutz (Reese Witherspoon) as she runs away from the social worker trying to put her in foster care after her prostitute mother gets thrown in jail. She soon meets a charismatic school counselor named Bob Wolverton (Kiefer Sutherland), who slowly disarms the teenager and gets her to admit to being sexually abused by her stepfather. Bob then tries to attack Vanessa, but the street-smart kid turns the tables quickly and shoots him several times. Bob, as it turns out, was the I-5 Killer wreaking havoc on the freeways of LA. But thanks to Vanessa’s criminal past, she’s put on trial and sent to jail, with Bob somehow surviving the incident and taking advantage of his newfound innocence.
Freeway luckily has the wherewithal to know that subscribing gleefully to the Grimm fairy tale format will make your movie very goofy, so Bright took that a step further and added bold, brash sleaze with some absolutely pitch-black satirical humor. If you ever thought about what it’d be like for Reese Witherspoon to call someone a really incendiary racial slur, know that it’s only a small surprise in a movie full of them. Even when the heightened reaction to such inanity succumbs to time, the story still functions as a rather intelligent representation of drug-addled America and the failures of our racist culture in general.
Matthew Bright proves to be the cynical stylist needed for the material to work, too. This being his first feature, I was taken by how sleek and sturdy everything looks, although I imagine producer Oliver Stone was integral in a lot of the production. That being said, Bright conjures up images that genuinely feel torn from a collection of fairy tales that got drowned in sleaze. Freeway is precisely the lurid, somewhat-dangerous entertainment that feels revelatory today.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-rays
Freeway arrives with a two-disc (BD66 for the UHD and BD50 for the Blu-ray) release, with both discs booting up to standard menu screens with options to play the film, set up audio and video, select reels and explore bonus features. The discs are housed in a black Elite case with reversible artwork and a limited-edition slipcover (available only at VinegarSyndrome.com).
“Hey, I ain’t no trick baby!” Vinegar Syndrome presents Freeway in 2160p with HDR in a new transfer that burns rubber and pulls way ahead of all previous releases of the film, although the last format it was released on was DVD. Detail levels impress immediately with the fake storybook opening credits really showing off the hand-drawn animation work. The cut to live-action footage only reveals a beautifully filmic transfer that’s faithful to the source. I’d say the general aesthetic is to reflect the hard-edged satire, thus the film flattens bright colors a bit to look more realistic, but this presentation really shows off everything wonderfully here. Vinegar Syndrome restored two minutes of previously censored footage and put it back in there, so you’ll see a bit of difference in grain and contrast in those moments, although I didn’t find any of it distracting.
Where the HDR really impresses, at least to me, is in just how deep, inky and textural the blacks look. Take the big night driving sequence with Witherspoon and Sutherland earlier on in the film for instance. With light sources passing frequently and blowing the frames out, HDR really does well at preventing any highlight clipping and preserving how the light cascades off of the performers. This is an absolutely stellar presentation, full stop.
The DTS-HD MA stereo track included is similarly great, balancing dialogue and effects really well in all ranges. Witherspoon’s high-pitched scream gains some depth in the higher range when I expected it to dominate, too. Bass is adequate and has a fun time with the discordant score by Danny Elfman, though I expected a bit more life in the low end. No damage to really note here.
Vinegar Syndrome really got behind the wheel for their release of Freeway, as this package comes with an absolute bounty of newly filmed interviews with cast and crew, as well as archival featurettes. In particular, the new interview with writer/director Matthew Bright is a really entertaining watch, as the filmmaker doesn’t mince words about how the film was received. He also speaks fondly of his collaboration with Oliver Stone, who he props up as a protector of his vision. It’s abundantly clear from all the interviews that people thought Bright was doing something new and different and that drove them creatively. And hell, the film is still that special.
Has Freeway achieved cult status yet? Vinegar Syndrome’s new 4K Blu-ray package makes the argument that yes, it has, and we’re all better off for allowing this whacked-out fairy tale into our lives. Sporting a stellar 4K presentation aided by HDR and a great collection of special features, this release comes Highly Recommended!