Virus X – DVD Review

Looking at the DVD cover, one might expect Virus X to be a zombie movie, or something similar. For better or worse, that is not the case. Danita Herrington (Sybil Danning) is a wealthy woman that wants to create a plague of epic proportions. To do so, she hires Dr. Gravamen (Joe Zaso) to create a fast-acting strand of the H1N1 virus (or “swine flu”, as most of us know it today). Gravamen has a group of scientists that believe they are helping save humanity by coming up with a cure for the H1N1 virus, but they are actually working to quicken and intensify the virus for Herrington’s future plague. In order to test Gravamen’s findings, Herrington uses human subjects that Jerron (Domiziano Arcangeli) brings her, including a prostitute. Things go awry for Jerron and Dr. Gravamen when one of the subjects escapes its cell and confronts the group of scientists. Anxious to help, the group gathers around the infected subject, which is a mistake they eventually regret. Jerron, doing his job, takes out the subject, splattering the scientists with its blood and infecting them with the fast-acting H1N1 strand. With only three days to live, and the lab on lockdown, the five scientists trapped inside need to quickly find an antidote.

The action of the film never leaves the small confines of the lab, and the threat to anyone besides the five scientists locked inside seems non-existent. Given this is a movie about creating a plague, the movie could have been more effective had it made the sense of terror global instead of minuscule. Given the films low budget, however, I suppose this would have been nigh impossible, or at least very difficult.

Acting master Constantin Stanislavksi used to yell “I don’t believe you” to the company members of the Moscow Art Theatre when he thought their acting wasn’t up to par. This phrase kept echoing through my head during Virus X. The acting is amateurish, aside from a few standouts. Joe Zaso must be a B-movie connoisseur because his acting is straight out of that genre. He delivers a classic “God forgive me” line that could have been from the golden B-era of the 1960s. I don’t say this to mock the actor, but to give an idea of the quality that can be expected from Virus X. The job done by Domiziano Arcangeli also fits into the B-genre, but is more awkward than funny. Sybil Danning, Jai Day, and Dylan Vox all show talent in their work, and shine with their decently written dialogue. The story takes some odd, unbelievable, even pointless twists, but the tête-à-tête between characters is written well.

The filming and setting of Virus X have similarities to other sci-fi thrillers like Pandorum, Sunshine, and even The Thing or Alien. There is a sense of impending doom, claustrophobia, and a “no way out” attitude throughout the movie. Though this is not in the same hemisphere as the sci-fi classics like The Thing or Alien, the inspiration is clear. Virus X is the B-movie equivalent of a mixture of these movies, which might be great for some viewers, but not for a mainstream audience.

Probably in an attempt to humanize the five infected scientists locked inside the lab, Virus X tosses in a back-story for Malcolm that is pointless, as well as a couple different love connections that are completely unrealistic. The movie jumps to these love connections way too quickly, just as it jumps through the three days too quickly, leaving out too many details; for example, how do these people eat/drink/sleep for the three days they are trapped? Why does Danita Herrington want to start a plague in the first place? What is the point of the Jerron character? Some of these might seem minor, but it’s small details like these that can help capture a viewer’s attention, which Virus X never quite manages.

Virus X constantly reminds viewers that it is a direct-to-video release. Fans of low budget, sci-fi B-movies will find something to enjoy. The story leaves a lot to be desired, as does the acting, but the dialogue is well written and the gore effects are great. As each day progresses, and the virus gets worse, the special effects work and make-up gets more disgusting. The death scenes in the film are visceral and effective. There is a niche audience that Virus X aims for, and that audience should be somewhat pleased with this effort.

This DVD release looks very nice. Things are never lost in the dark scenes, and the shades of blue used throughout the movie pop well. Virus X is presented in a widescreen presentation with no aspect ratio listed.

The sound on the DVD is bothersome: the sound effects are loud and the dialogue is soft. This will force the viewer to turn up and down the volume throughout the film. The DVD lists a 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio track; if this is the case, the Dolby Digital is not used to the fullest. There were points where I was forced to turn on the subtitles to understand what was being said. This problem, while annoying, can be remedied by turning the volume up and down, but should have been addressed before the DVD was released.

Interviews with Director Ryan Stevens Harris and Actor Domiziano Arcangeli (10:49): This special feature is presented in full screen, unlike the movie itself. This is an interview from “Eye on Entertainment” and the interviewer is Dawna Lee Heising, who must be a fan of all things Botox. Heising obviously has no idea what she is doing, and doesn’t even know that Harris is the director of the project. Later, Heising uses the word “directoring” to further my assumption that she is completely out of place interviewing these people. Harris doesn’t give much insight into the filming process, but does disclose that he was also the director of photography, and filmed the movie over 11 consecutive days. After Harris is finished, Heising interviews executive producer and actor Domiziano Arcangeli. This, again, adds little information about the movie, and instead Arcangeli spends time hyping his future projects.

Interviews with Actor Dylan Vox and Actress Sybil Danning (10:46): “Eye on Entertainment” host Dawna Lee Heising is back, this time interviewing Dylan Fox and Sybil Danning. We find out that Vox was an ice skater before he started acting, and some other facts about his background. Sybil Danning comes off as the most professional of the interviewees, and discusses how she got involved in the film industry.

Also from Lionsgate (8:36): Trailers for Stag Night (1:37), Psych:9 (1:47), and Neighbor (1:39), plus commercials for FearNet HD (0:32), the website(1:02), and the “epix” premium movie channel (1:59). These are the same trailers that play when the DVD is first inserted. Neighbor is on Comcast On Demand right now, and looks interesting, and Stag Night reminds me a bit of the independent film End of the Line, which might pique some interests. Psych:9 looks terrible, and the other commercials are absolutely worthless.

Virus X Trailer (1:14)

This Virus X DVD has “bargain bin” written all over it. The extras included are lackluster and include very little of the behind-the-scenes information most have come to expect. The film itself falls in a weird place: it’s better than most SyFy Channel movies, but not quite as good as some other DTV releases, which is why I can only recommend this DVD when it inevitably ends up in the Wal-Mart $5 DVD bin. Paying anything more than that would end in disappointment.

Lionsgate presents Virus X. Directed by: Ryan Stevens Harris. Starring: Jai Day, Joe Zaso, Domiziano Arcangeli, Sasha Formoso, Dylan Vox and Sybil Danning. Written by: Jeremiah Campbell (screenplay), Ryan Stevens Harris (screenplay), and David S. Sterling (story). Running time: 85 minutes. Rating: R. Released on DVD: February 1, 2011.