William Malone’s ‘Scared to Death’ (1980) – Vinegar Syndrome 4k Restoration Blu-ray Review

We’re back with some more Vinegar Syndrome goodness! Let’s take a look at William Malone’s (Masters of Horror: The Fair-Haired Child our retro review) 1980 film, Scared to Death, now restored back to health with a 4k restoration.


Scared to Death was directed by filmmaker William Malone (our interview) and co-written by Malone and Robert Short (The Man From U.N.C.L.E. 2015). The film stars John Stinson (The Hand 1981), Diana Davidson, David Moses (Small Wonder TV series), Toni Jonnatta (The Six Million Dollar Man 1974), voice actor Walker Edminson (The Transformers TV series), and Mike Muscat (Terminator 2: Judgement Day 1991). Director William Malone created the Syngenor and co-writer Robert Short worked his magic to make the creature’s pod. Anthony Marinelli (Over The Top 1987) composed the score.


An ex-cop, now working as a hack novelist, is called out of retirement to help investigate a string of deaths that appear to be the work of a serial killer but soon are revealed to be the work of the Syngenor – the synthesized genetic organism!

It’s 1980 and video stores are a go after VHS tapes become available to rent to the public. Filmmakers realize that they can push out low budget horror films with eye-catching cover art and get them seen by thousands rather than hoping for a money-backed theatrical release that had to gross for more than it was sold. It was here that many of the most well-know genre tropes are born, and William Malone’s Scared to Death helped to carve some of the bigger cliches into stone. We’ve got the retired cop who has to be talked into helping the current police force solve some mysterious murder spree. Said retired cop is also a writer now, natch. He’s also either goofy, nerdy, or not inherently attractive, yet he still gets the most beautiful woman to fall in love with him. How does he do that? He crashes into her car, and later on, offers to pay for a new one. This is apparently the most romantic act this pretty face has ever seen, so she sleeps with him. I swear, screenwriters are really just writing themselves into their own fantasies, as unbelievable as they may be. But I digress.

Scared to Death

We’ve also got the made up, lingerie-clad woman being killed in the first scene of Scared to Death. Didn’t you know that that’s how all women sleep, in tight, scratchy clothes with their hair and makeup perfectly done? I swear, all movie monsters must be male. They only go after the sexy women. They also seem to like a bit of comedy, and they chase and sometimes chomp the funniest guy in the film, the one usually working in some dirty, blue-collar job like construction or sewer maintenance. And then there’s the roller skating, another high point of the ’80s. There’s a scene with a group of roller skating kids that goes on and on as we follow one girl as she skate down the ramps of an empty, bottomless parking garage. But hey, she gets killed by the creature, so there’s that.

Speaking of the creature, the Syngenor is a pretty kickass looking monster. As Malone mentions in the Blu-ray extras, he got to hang out with artist H.R. Giger and the Synthetic Genetic Organism was based on his beloved Xenomorph. You can see the fine detail of the bio-mechanical creature in this 4k restoration, and there are no zippers or wires showing here. Just good craftsmanship, especially for 1980. I am a bit disappointed with its penis tongue, though. It looks like a walking stick wrapped in red Fruit Rollups, and the way it comes out of the Syngenor’s mouth is so slow and awkward. Which is too bad.

Syngenor, Scared to Death

You may think that a creature that lives in the sewers, was biologically created by man, and is now feeding on human flesh sounds familiar, and you’d be right. But Douglas Cheek’s C.H.U.D. came out in 1984, four years after Scared to Death. Maybe if the director had gotten his original pick, singer Rick Springfield, to play detective-turned-writer Ted Lonergan, this film would have gotten more attention and would have left the cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers in the dust. But Rick backed out at the last minute—he didn’t want to miss his acting classes—and the rest is history. At least then the Ted (John Stinson) romancing Jennifer (Diana Davidson) off her feet storyline would have looked a bit more realistic.

This 4k restoration is beautiful, showing the creature in all its glory. I did see some green speckles in the print at different points in the film, and the beginning is a bit fuzzy. But getting to see the fine details of the Syngenor is totally worth a few pops and cracks. Also, the sound is great, something that doesn’t always get better after the movie makeover.

As I mentioned above, Scared to Death’s Syngenor was inspired by Alien, which is pretty obvious. But I didn’t found out the director actually chummed around with H.R. Giger himself until I went through these extras. I also learned that director William Malone also sculpted the original Michael Myers mask for John Carpenter’s Halloween. How cool is that? There’s a ton more here, too. Check out all of the extras below.

From the Vinegar Syndrome Scared to Death page:

This special limited edition embossed slipcover (designed by Earl Kessler Jr. and based on the original UK Quad poster) is limited to 6,000 units and is only available here at VinegarSyndrome.com!

Ted Lonergan thought he had quit the force to pursue a career as a writer. But when someone – or something – begins stalking and viciously killing the residents of Los Angeles, Ted is asked to lend his expertise in uncovering the mystery assailant. However, things aren’t as simple as they appear, as Ted discovers that the predator he’s after is in fact a first of its kind, and a rapidly evolving genetically mutated organism known as the Syngenor. Enlisting the help of Sherry Carpenter, a scientist specializing in genetics, the unlikely duo start tracking the tedious mutant in the hope of destroying it before the body count continues to rise or even worse: before it breeds.

The first feature directed by acclaimed horror filmmaker William Malone (Creature), SCARED TO DEATH skillfully blends sci-fi and creature action with early slasher tropes all set against the grimy world of early 80s Los Angeles. Never given an official disc release and long relegated to muddy VHS copies, Vinegar Syndrome is thrilled to offer SCARED TO DEATH on Blu-ray in a beautiful new 4K restoration of its original 16mm camera negative, jam packed with newly produced extras!

directed by: William Malone
starring: John Stinson, Diana Davidson, David Moses, Toni Jannotta, Mike Muscat, Pamela Bowman
1980 / 97 min / 1.85:1 / English Mono

Additional info:
• 2-disc Region Free Blu-ray Set
• Newly scanned & restored in 4K from its 16mm original camera negative
• Commentary track with writer/director William Malone, actor Bryce ‘Kermit’ Eller and actress Diana Davidson
• “Rise of the Syngenor” – a brand new making-of documentary featuring interviews with writer/director William Malone, actor Bryce ‘Kermit’ Eller, actress Diana Davidson, makeup supervisor James Suthers, effects artist Kevin Altieri, actor David Moses, actor Mike Muscat and actress Toni Jannotta
• “The Locations of Scared to Death” – a featurette revisiting the locations with William Malone
• Alternate cut and presentation of SCARED TO DEATH
• Dracula Party – “Scared to Death” (music video)
• Reversible sleeve artwork
• English SDH subtitles

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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