Escapism screens original Punisher

Marvel Comics adaptations are all over the multiplex these days, but the first film adaptation of one of its characters, 1989’s The Punisher, didn’t even make it into theaters. Plagued by distributor troubles, the Dolph Lundgren-starrer wound up being one of the first studio films dumped straight to DVD. Filmmakers tried again with the 2004 version with Thomas Jane and John Travolta; they’ll try yet again later this year with Punisher: War Zone, starring Ray Stevenson.

Now, American audiences will have a chance to see the original film on the big screen for the first time at the Escapism Film Festival when director Mark Goldblatt premieres his personal cut, containing many instances of action and violence trimmed from the original. “It did play all over Europe and Asia, but unfortunately I didn’t get to go to Europe and Asia,” says Goldblatt, who’ll be in attendance at the festival.

Goldblatt points out that the film stayed at the top of the video rentals for “weeks and weeks” despite almost no promotion. “I think some people were disappointed that we didn’t retain the Punisher logo on his shirt,” he says. “Our creative decision at the time to get away from the spandex superhero costumes at the time. But other people liked it because we really pushed the envelope on mayhem—it was a pretty violent film back in those days.”

Goldblatt is best known in Hollywood as an editor for such action films as True Lies, Armageddon, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Pearl Harbor and Starship Troopers. His only directorial efforts were The Punisher and Dead Heat, a bizarre 1988 cops vs. zombies comedy that features, among other things, Joe Piscopo and a reanimated butcher shop. Goldblatt fondly recalls working with horror icon Vincent Price on Heat, which also screens at Escapism. “[Price] was just the most talented, down-to-earth person,” Goldblatt recalls. “He used to come in wearing blue jeans and red sneakers. Just a wonderful, wonderful man.”

Escapism might be the only chance fans have to see Goldblatt’s print of The Punisher. “I’m not even sure who owns it any more,” Goldblatt says. “A French video company was interested in putting out a restored DVD of it, but they couldn’t figure out who had the rights! But I’m happy to show it here.” —Zack Smith