The 2000 film Versus, has something of a curious history. An extreme, low-budget action horror film that rose to prominence during the kung-fu mania of the millennium, piggybacking on the success of franchises like The Matrix, and the hunger for anything related to those gunplay and martial arts styles. As a result, it fast became a cult success, benefiting from the early days of DVD sales, and a heavy underground fan following.

The plot, such as it is, follows Prisoner KSC2-303 (Tak Sakaguchi), recently sprung from prison with his cellmate, and awaiting the rest of the escape crew on the edge of a haunted forest. Naturally, things go from bad to worse as some of the trigger-happy gangsters start picking fights with each other, and the entire posse ends up strewn throughout the forest beset by hordes of mutant zombies. If that wasn’t quite enough to deal with, there’s also a small matter of an evil immortal sorcerer (Hideo Sakaki), a cursed woman with magical blood (Chieko Misaka), a pair of psychotic cops, and a seemingly endless supply of guns, ammunition, and fake gore.

The new Arrow Video Blu-ray package has pretty much all the extras and supplementary materials that exist for the film, including some amusing deleted scenes. It also contains two versions of the film, the original and the superior 2004  recut, Versus Ultimate. This is a particularly fine addition, as the Ultimate cut contains a host of newly shot action scenes and insert shots, an improved score, vastly better colour correction and post production visual effects. It’s also tweaked and trimmed in minor ways which drastically improve the flow and clarity of the storytelling, making it easily the preferred version of the film.

Not even the additional fixes and the 4K restoration can ever fully move the film away from the plain fact that it looks and feels kind of like a student film. For all it’s cult popularity, and historical significance, Versus is still the sort of film that gets churned out every year by amateurs, students, and fan-film makers who gathered together a few pals and some toy guns down the local woods with a camera. For all that Kitamura might cite early John Carpenter, and Sam Raimi films as influences here, what it most closely resembles is actually Peter Jackson‘s craptacular alien invasion flick, Bad Taste. For all the genuine ingenuity at work here, and the occasional brilliantly constructed shot or sequence, there are dozens which look cheesy, overblown, or downright silly. None of which is helped by the runtime bleeding over two hours (even in the shorter theatrical edition) which is excessive for a film with a threadbare plot and barely 20 minutes of dialogue throughout.

Overall, it’s a hard film to dislike, but it’s also a piece of cinema which has become dated, in part because of its own precociousness. Versus looks and feels like an anime cartoon committed to film, but twenty years on from its creation, that’s no longer a novelty. Anime, and film derived from that art form is commonplace these days, and usually done better than this. Certainly one for the collectors, and fans of landmark Japanese cult cinema, but other viewers might find it a tad plodding these days.

Available on Blu Ray from Mon 7 Dec 2020