From the OscarÂ®-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