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Poison: 20th Anniversary Edition

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

From the Oscar®-nominated director of Far from Heaven, I'm Not There and the new HBO mini-series Mildred Pierce, this controversial masterpiece is the most fervently debated film of the 1990s and a trailblazing landmark of Queer Cinema. Todd Haynes' first feature - following the underground short sensation Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story - this groundbreaking American indie is a thrilling work of immense visual invention.

Inspired by the writings of Jean Genet, Poison deftly interweaves a trio of transgressive tales - 'Hero,' 'Horror' and 'Homo' - that build toward a devastating climax. 'Hero,' shot in a mock tabloid-TV style, tells a bizarre story of suburban patricide and a miraculous flight from justice; 'Horror,' filmed like a delirious '50s B-movie melodrama, is a gothic tale of a mad sex experiment which unleashes a disfiguring plague; while 'Homo' explores the obsessive sexual relationship between two prison inmates. A runaway hit which made national headlines when it was attacked by conservative figures including Dick Armey, Ralph Reed and minister Donald Wildmon, Poison is audacious, unforgettable and thoroughly entertaining.

--New high-definition transfer created from original film elements
--Sundance Q&A with Todd Haynes, producer Christine Vachon and executive producer James Schamus, for the 20th anniversary of the film's Grand Jury Prize
--Archival 1999 audio commentary by Haynes, Vachon, and star/editor James Lyons
--Original poster concepts and collages by Haynes
--Behind-the-scenes polaroids by Kelly Reichardt (director of Meek's Cutoff and Wendy and Lucy)
--Last Address, a short film by Ira Sachs (director of Married Life)
--Original 1991 U.S. theatrical trailer
--English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired (SDH)
--16-page booklet with original press kit documents and more


Todd Haynes would go on to make Far from Heaven and I'm Not There, but he'd already found his voice with his debut feature, Poison, in 1991. That original release was notable for the controversy rained on the film by conservative commentators and politicians, who pointed to partial support (a total of $25,000) from the National Endowment for the Arts--and the movie's sometimes-explicit depiction of homosexuality--as a sign of that publicly funded organization's supposed agenda, or irresponsibility, or something. The movie is certainly provocative, both in its subject matter and its style. Haynes intertwines three scenarios, inspired by the writings of Jean Genet, titled "Hero," "Homo," and "Horror," each of which has its own self-conscious mode of expression. The first is arranged as a faux-news documentary about the inexplicable ascension of a suburban boy in the wake of a violent act, while "Homo" creates a dreamlike world for its intense prison affair. The horror segment unfolds in a deliberately cheesy black-and-white style that looks like a recently discovered Doris Wishman quickie from the early '60s. For such a low-budget enterprise, Haynes and producer Christine Vachon manage to give Poison an amazingly imaginative, assured look--and indeed turn the budgetary restrictions to the film's advantage. Haynes's postmodern approach, mixed in with the urgency of the AIDS era and a few explicit moments, made Poison a landmark in establishing Queer Cinema as an indie force. If it feels a little like a relic now, that shouldn't undermine the movie's role in that moment of movie history. --Robert Horton

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: James Lyons, Scott Renderer, Edith Meeks, Larry Maxwell
  • Directors: Todd Haynes
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Black & White, Color, NTSC, Original recording remastered, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Zeitgeist Films
  • DVD Release Date: June 21, 2011
  • Run Time: 85 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B004THJ3BC
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,279 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Foot Artist on December 30, 1999
Format: DVD
When I saw this film for the first time I left the theater impressed with Todd Haynes' genius. The film is actually a trilogy. One story is about John Broom's life in prison and the nuances of sex and love between men there, with flashbacks to Broom's life as a boy in a reformatory. Here, we get a glimpse of adolescent boys and their discovery of sexuality and the hierarchies of the "counterfeit world of men among men." It feels like one is coming in and out of a dream state. The second is done in the form of a documentary, "Where is Richie Beacon?" - after shooting his father, his mom claims Richie just "flew away... out the window". It's a story about how creepy suburban America really is. The third is a B&W, 1950-ish sci-fi story about a man deteriorating with a disease (that could well be AIDS) and the psychological effect it has on him. "Poison" is for the philosophically inclined. Not for the homophobic and/or faint-hearted. It is a masterpiece in its scope and execution. Very visual and sometimes very disturbing. It touches on the maddening effects of suburbia, modern life, civilization, and the human condition. A MUST SEE for the philosophy student. not easy to follow. VERY COMPLEX. I've got it on VHS and will purchase DVD soon. If you like films with substance this one won't disappoint you!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Gary F. Taylor HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 6, 2007
Format: DVD
Filmed in 1990, POISON was an extremely obscure art house film--until Senator Jessie Helms, a hysterical homophobe, threw a public temper tantrum over the fact that it had been financed in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Helm's tirade had the effect of piquing public curiosity, and while it never played mainstream cinemas POISON did indeed go on to a wider release on the art house circuit, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival and receiving an unexpectedly rapid release to the homemarket as well. Thereafter it rapidly returned to the same obscurity from which came.

It is easy to understand why the film never caught on in any broad sense. It is deliberately "art house," and your ability to "get" the film will depend a great deal on your knowledge of the literature and films it references. In a general sense, the film is inspired by the writings of Jean Genet (1910-1986), a French author associated with the existentialist movement.

A deliberate outsider, Genet spent so much of his youth in and out of prison that he was ultimately threatened with a life sentence as a habitual criminal. In his writings, Genet fused his homosexual, criminal, and prison adventures into a consistent point of view--one that championed freedom of choice (no matter how unattractive the choice), self-determination (no matter how unfortunate the result), and generally gave the finger to any form of authority (no matter how necessary.) POISON specifically references three of his most celebrated works: OUR LADY OF THE FLOWERS, THE MIRACLE OF THE ROSE, and THE THIEF'S JOURNAL, all of which were to some extent autobiographical.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 5, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
Todd Haynes's accomplished feature film after his impressive short, SUPERSTAR, was nonetheless a provocative look into human nature, reflective of our modern society. Comprised of three parts, this wonderfully rendered film exemplifies the positive/negative charges of life--what's worth living and dying for. Plus, sublime revelations of each character!
I remember the first time I saw POISON after it's debut at Sundance in 1991, where it received Best Feature and much controversy. I can understand why some people may find it unsettling (homo-errotic jail scene) which at the time was considered oh so taboo. But, it's much more than a "shocking" scene--it's tender and intense. That kind of situation is what I find the most compelling--something no other film director has the guts to show.
This film is one of my all-time favorites, especially since it gave me new insights into a world I didn't know exsited. No small task!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By d0740 on July 15, 2006
Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
Don't be fooled by the label "Unrated" expecting to see the same uncut version shown on The Sundance Channel 10 years ago, shortly after the movie's award at their Film Festival. The Fox release has cut certain scenes. In the "Homo" storyline, the sex was much more explicit. For example, in the scene where the 2 prisoners are sleeping side by side on the floor, in the video release Broom merely fondles the sleeping Jack. In the original, he does much more--quite daring for a theatrical movie. Perhaps that is why that scene and some others were edited. However, if you didn't see the original TV screening, you would not be aware of these deletions/edits.

Just remember that although the film may be unrated, it is cut.

ADDENDUM 4/27/12: The above review was for the old VHS version. The 2011 "20th Anniversary" DVD release does not have these edits.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 14, 2000
Format: DVD
It is sort of unsettling to me to see all of these negative reviews. But it is difficult not to take into consideration the fact that, yes, this film is not spectacular. However, it remains that "Poison," though difficult it seems for people to watch, is incredibly well done.
To begin with, the three stories do not have much to do with each other. Haynes took the three vignettes by Jean Genet and made them into a very experimental and passionate film. Those familiar with some of Haynes' other work (namely "Safe" and "Velvet Goldmine") should not find it difficult to catch common themes found in all of Haynes' movies. Freedom, sexual happiness, and a medium between the extreme and the sterile all pop up in Poison, like they did in the Haynes films which are predecessors to "Poison." The performances are all by no name actors who all give exceptional performances, pulling every ounce of pain and drive out of their characters. The extremity in the movie is hard not to respect because it touches on the issue of society's socalled "Freaks," all of who, we are reminded in "Poison," are simply other PEOPLE, like us. The film certainly works to acheive a point, although that point remains hazy on only one viewing, but what it comes down to is that "Poison" is a film about humanity and the neuroses specific individuals must live through. I commend Haynes incredibly for this film. It's just as good as his others. And that, I feel, is how it is.
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