Werner Herzog's Encounters In the Natural World

If you've been following my coverage of Werner Herzog's films on blu, you've seen me me bring up Revolver's Encounters In the Natural World set a few times now.  So, no more beating around the bush, here it is!  And a couple relevant DVDs for comparison, and a "bonus" DVD review, which will make sense when we get to it.  Three of the films in this set have already been covered on other pages, so you can click through to their respective pages for complete coverage of The White Diamond and La Soufrière & The Flying Doctors of East Africa, which I've just updated.  Real quick though, I'll just briefly summarize that White Diamond is interlaced, and looks almost exactly the same as the German BD, but it has a unique 'making of' doc.  And the two short films are standard def upscales, though they at least eliminate the interlacing problems from the DVD box set, making them at least minor upgrades.  Happily, however, the other two films in the set are not similarly compromised.
So let's begin with 2005's Grizzly Man, probably the best known of the films in this collection, if not one of Herzog's more famous works period.  That's largely because it takes an intimate look at the heavily publicized and grisly (you can accuse me of making a pun, but I wonder if Herzog wasn't making it first) death of environmentalist Timothy Treadwell.  He spent well over a decade documenting his time camping in Alaska to live with grizzly bears until one of them ultimately killed and ate him.  If you're even remotely familiar with Herzog, you don't need me to tell you that he treks out to the same Alaskan wilderness to examine the locations and interview those who knew him.  But we're able to go so much deeper thanks to the hundreds of hours of recovered footage Treadwell had shot of himself out there, capturing everything from dangerously unique nature footage to shockingly personal emotional breakdowns and rants.  He even managed to record his violent, final moments, which we don't hear directly, but the descriptions are graphic enough.
I first saw this when it was brand new and purchased the DVD day one on its release date.  But feeling like "now that I know what happened," I never actually revisited that DVD until it was time to write this article.  And I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised by how well it held up and reinforced by initial impressions of the film.  Grizzly Man is so much more than its lurid details.  All the interviewees' perspectives paint such a vivid picture, many of whom I'd completely forgotten but who add so much heart to the story.  And Herzog certainly doesn't disappoint in regards to flexing his talents to match robust musical performances with exotic footage.  As a true crime-type documentary, this is one of the best, and as a "natural encounter" film, it's pretty stunning, too.
Lions Gate released this film on DVD in the US in 2005, and put out nearly identical discs in nearly every territory, throughout the next year.  In 2009, Revolver brought it to blu-ray in the UK, both as a solo disc and packaged in this 'Natural World' boxed set.  It's pretty much the only blu-ray release of this film anywhere in the world, although Lions Gate has reissued it in the UK in 2015.  But yeah, as of this writing, it's British BDs or nothin' if you want this film in HD.  So I guess I should state now that Revolver's discs are region free.
2005 US Lions Gate DVD top; 2009 UK Revolver BD bottom.
Both discs are presented in 1.78:1, and seem to have been struck from the same master, but you might notice the framing isn't 100% identical.  The DVD seems to be slightly stretched vertically, which means the blu restores tiny slivers of additional picture along the top and bottom when it fixes that.  As is common with documentaries, this film is comprised of footage from various sources, with varying levels of picture quality.  But the original footage Herzog shot for this film, the highest quality stuff, was apparently shot on 16mm and blown up to 35.  So 2009 is pretty old for a blu-ray, one could probably go back to the negatives today and create a more impressive scan (for 16mm, I don't see a lot of grain here!), but this is clearly the one master the filmmakers released that everybody has to work with.  So colors and everything are otherwise the same across the US and UK releases, with just the naturally increased resolution of a higher res BD disc to add a little extra clarity to the SD compressed DVD.  In brief, you'll mostly just notice that the blu looks a little bit sharper on your TV.

Audio-wise, Revolver goes a little further.  Lions Gate's DVD has a strong Dolby stereo mix.  Revolver gives us the choice of that stereo track, now in lossless LPCM, or a new 5.1 mix in DTS-HD.  On the other hand, the DVD offered optional English and Spanish subtitles, while the blu has none.
But the pendulum swings back to Revolver's side again in the special features.  Lions Gate basically featured one big extra: a 50+ minute documentary about the recording of the soundtrack.  It's pretty great, filmed in-studio at the time of recording, letting us witness the performances and hear from all the players.  And we get to see Herzog's very hands-on way of working with the musicians.  Besides that, there's just the trailer and a bunch of bonus trailers.  Unfortunately, Revolver was a bit lazy and forgot the trailer, but thankfully they carried over the big doc.  The only problem with the doc is that it's entirely about the soundtrack, so it leaves you a bit thirsty with regards to the rest of the movie.  And Revolver addresses this with an additional feature not on the DVD (or Lions Gate's 2015 blu), a piece by Mark Kermode, where he gives us a little history on Herzog and then interviews the man himself.  Famously, this is the interview where Herzog gets shot and wounded(!) by an someone with an air rifle mid-interview.  I'd seen a low quality video of this online years ago, but it's nice to get a proper copy of it here.  And as I said, it finally gives you at least a little insight into the other, non-soundtrack, aspects of the movie.
So okay, story time now.  One of the musicians for Grizzly Man was guitarist Henry Kaiser, and apparently during the very sessions we see in the documentary, Herzog spotted some footage on Kaiser's laptop.  Kaiser was sent to the South Pole on an artist's grant to perform and record a CD down there, and while he was there, he went diving underneath the icebergs.  He filmed it, and when Herzog saw the strange and utterly unique images Kaiser had captured, Herzog decided to do two things.  The first was to ask Kaiser if he could use this footage in a new film; and that film became 2005's The Wild Blue Yonder, a rather eccentric - even by Herzog standards - science fiction film starring Brad Dourif.
The Wild Blue Yonder is almost a documentary film, blurring the lines between docs and narrative fiction in a different but thematically similar method to the way Lessons Of Darkness did.  It's comprised of four elements: Kaiser's underwater footage, a bunch of rarely seen NASA footage shot in the 80s, new non-fiction interviews Herzog conducted with NASA scientists, and the element that transforms the film into fiction: a monologue by Dourif in the role of a space alien who's landed, and failed to rebuild his civilization, here on Earth.  It's very strange but fascinating as all of these documentary elements are forged into this alien's narrative.  It ultimately plays far more like a piece of cinematic poetry than a Star Wars romp, so mainstream audiences be warned.  If the phrase "art film" makes your head ache, this is exactly what you hate, and I feel for the poor Blockbuster customers around the world with no idea who this Werner Herzog guy was and just saw a DVD cover showing a space ship and the star of Critters 4 on their new release wall.  But for my fellow aficionados, oh what a treat this is!
2006 US Subversive DVD.
Unfortunately, there is no high def option for this one, just US and UK DVDs.  The US disc from Subversive has better extras, so that's what I've got.  The film is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen and looks alright, if a bit muddy, by which I mean soft and a bit low on contrast.  One silver lining, I suppose, is that it makes the footage, shot with very different cameras on differing formats, match more when they're all held down to the same level.  The biggest issue, as you'll plainly observe above and which affects each "area" of the film (underwater, NASA old, NASA new and Dourif) equally, is that it has a nasty interlacing problem.  It wouldn't have been an A+ transfer at anytime, but it's all the sort of thing that's more offensive now in the HD age of larger screens and higher resolutions.  It comes with a fairly basic but clean stereo track and no subtitle options.  I imagine this film could look decidedly bolder and more attractive now in HD, but as of yet, there've been no takers.
But I mentioned good extras, and this is where Subversive shines.  First of all, we get another documentary about the recording of the soundtrack, which is shorter than the Grizzly Man one, but otherwise plays almost like a direct sequel.  But here, they definitely don't leave you saying that's great about the music, but what about the rest of the film?  We also get an audio commentary by Herzog and Dourif; and Herzog commentaries are always pretty great.  And that's embellished further with two sizeable on-camera interviews with Herzog and Dourif.  There's also the film's trailer, plus five bonus trailers.  The insert is actually a nice, fold-out poster for the film, and this DVD even came in a slipcover.  So yeah, Subversive didn't skimp.
But now, back to story time, because there's more to this saga, which directly ties Wild Blue to the other films in this set (which makes it all the more shame Revolver left it out of their box).  Because Wild Blue was made quickly, managing to come out in 2005, the same year as Grizzly Man.  But Herzog still wasn't over his interest in this crazy underwater footage.  So the following year, he and Kaiser (for whom this is his sole production credit) went back to the South Pole to explore for 2007's Encounters At the End of the World.  Kaiser dives and discovers more otherworldly imagery beneath the ice, but Herzog also takes the opportunity to examine the entire settlement, talking to the eccentric people who've decided to stay down there and take in all the other sites.
So yes, this one's a "pure" documentary, and probably the more generally satisfying experience for it.  Everybody there seems to be a delightful character, from the dedicated scientists to the guy who drives the trucks.  And yes, the underwater chunk of the film can feel a bit redundant if you've just watched Wild Blue, but in a vacuum it's still breathtaking and fascinating.  But thankfully, Herzog has found just as interesting a world on top of the ice as beneath it.  Besides a tiny community of charming eccentrics, Herzog delves into beautiful ice caves, finds the anti-March Of the Penguins story of a single penguin who goes mad and determines to march hundreds of miles to his certain death, and oh yes, he winds up staring down another active and deadly volcano.  La Soufrière, Into the Inferno... this is becoming a suicidal habit for him.
Anyway, this film is one of Herzog's more broadly distributed films, thanks to some backing from the Discovery channel.  Image released pretty packed special editions on both DVD and blu-ray in 2008 here in America, and there have been similar releases in other parts of the world.  Revolver, of course, took care of the film in the UK, releasing it both as a solo disc and as part of this box in 2009.  And their release stands out as it features even more, exclusive special features.
2008 US Image DVD top; 2009 UK Revolver BD bottom.
I wrote a bit, recently, about how people often seem to be under the misapprehension that action films are the most important to see in HD, because of all the explosions and kinetic energy blasting out of the screen.  But I'd argue that a film like this is really the most important candidate.  Because explosions, car chases, airplane stunts etc are typically a mass of motion blur and detail you'll never be able to make out regardless of the resolution.  But here, where the film is slowly panning and exploring all new, complex vistas, thriving with strange, alien life and colors, reaps all of the benefits of HD and holds it up on display for you like a visit to the Louvre.  And this film was primarily shot with digital HD cameras.  In fact, we're told these were the very first ones, provided by Sony, which shot directly to blu-ray discs and were constantly malfunctioning in the extreme conditions.  So yeah, in a way, it's still not the most impressive HD.  That shot above in the tent really shows the flaws, like edge enhancement and digital flaws which were presumably, unfortunately, native to the camera.

But it's still a true boost to HD when it counts.  The underwater footage is all the more intense and organic on blu-ray, delivering the exact experience of the viewer being sucked in and journeying through an alternative universe that the filmmakers were certainly going for.  Unfortunately, I suppose, there'd be little benefit to a fresher 4k transfer, as we're presumably pushing the limits of the native footage already; but it's certainly preferable to the noticeably softer DVD.  You can really see the difference, for example, in the numbers on the cardboard box in the second set of shots (though, again, that spot also clearly illustrates how the BD image is over-sharpened).  The BD corrects the aspect ratio a bit, too, as the DVD leaves in a little dead space in the overscan (which I left in the first comparison shot, so you can see for yourselves), slimming the 1.78:1 ratio of the BD to 1.77.  The difference is mostly accounted for by the DVD being slightly squished horizontally.  I've seen some listings for Revolver's blu suggest that it's interlaced, but I'm happy to report that's not true; it's progressive.  Many of the extras are interlaced, but not the film itself.

Both discs offer both stereo and 5.1 mixes, but the blu bumps the 5.1 up to lossless DTS-HD (their stereo is still PCM).  Image, like Lions Gate, did throw in English and Spanish subtitle options, though, which Revolver again neglects.
So now onto the extras.  Like I said, Revolver has more, but Image already had quite a lot.  They provide another excellent Herzog commentary, this time accompanied by Kaiser and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger.  We also get Kaiser's original deep sea that he originally showed Herzog during the scoring of Grizzly Man, which yes, we do see parts of in Wild Blue Yonder.  Here, it's all compiled as a roughly half-hour short film, scored and edited by Kaiser.  And we get a similar but shorter compilation of images he captured above ground at the South Pole in his earlier trips, too.  In fact, apart from the trailer and one extended interview with Herzog and the diving team, all the other extras are essentially the collected works of Henry Kaiser.  We get an entertaining short where he plays his music "around the world," and then witnesses an exorcism of some local construction equipment by the scientists.  And we get some extra footage he shot of some seals, where the lines between content made for public consumption and self-indulgent home movies begins to blur.

But that's where Image ends.  Revolver has everything listed above, even the trailer, but also some more stuff.  Unfortunately, it's basically all more of Kaiser's "home movie" stuff.  There's a twenty minute video where he talks about each one of his guitars and shows us him playing each one in different parts of the South Pole (I suspect this is the video he created to satisfy his initial grant), and two more short films' worth of the underwater diving footage, which by this point just feels like "more of the same."  Finally, there's a very silly mockumentary Kaiser made about a seal-loving environmentalist gone mad with the other scientists on location, which consists of 90% landscape shots and 10% jokey narrative.  Look, I'll always choose more over less; it's better to have the option to watch content you may or may not be interested in than no opportunity at all.  But if you have the US blu-ray, I promise that you don't need to run out and import the UK to replace it just for these additional extras.
Revolver's box is a very pleasing, thick box with a lid that lifts up to reveal the three blu-rays each in their own amaray case.  Revolver has released all three of the features separately, with mostly identical discs.  But there's one key exception.  The White Diamond blu only has the two short films (Flying Doctors and La Soufrière) on the same disc in the box set.  The solo release is The White Diamond by itself.  Both versions also include the same 'making of' doc for The White Diamond ...and yes, I've looked into it, both are interlaced.  But the shorts are unique to the box set.  I'd recommend it, even if you'd still prefer to track down the Australian blu of White Diamond (apparently it's not interlaced) from Shock because the set isn't particularly expensive, and the other discs are worth the price on their own.  Plus you'd still need the Revolver Diamond for the 'making of' doc.  So you might as well get yourself the shorts and attractive packaging as a bonus.

The World's Greatest Zombie

We've already looked at Zombi 3, so it only makes sense to cover the good one as well. Lucio Fulci's Zombie has been released tons of time on home video, by tons of labels in tons of countries. But there's really only three, I'd say, that fans really might want to take a serious interest in today, and I've got 'em all sitting on my desk right here. I'll touch on a couple others as well, but the big three are from Shriek Show, Blue Underground and Arrow.

Update 1/14/16 - 10/7/19: Imagine trying to have a Zombie post and not update it with Blue Underground's 2018 4k restoration!  Shame on me.  Please accept this update with my humblest apologies.
I can be a little guilty of overusing the word "classic" at times, but when it comes to Spaghetti horror, 1979's Zombie a.k.a. Zombi 2, Zombie Flesh Eaters or a whole host of alternate titles, absolutely qualifies. One of the original Living Dead knock-offs, Zombie does it with so much style, it out-classes all of its competition from before its time all the way to today, even riding dangerously close to Romero's originals. Just be prepared for some cheesy dubbing and Fulci's natural predilection towards visceral impact over logical storytelling.
Zombie has a fairly impressive cast for its status, including Richard Johnson and Tisa Farrow, cult star Olga Karlatos, and two who would go on to became fan favorites: Ian McCulloch and Al Cliver. But it's really Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti boldly out there story colorfully brought to life by Fulci and the inventive effects of Giannetto De Rossi. Even just the basic look of their zombies was like nothing that had come before. And scene after scene is so outrageous and goes so delightfully far, from the underwater zombie grappling with a shark where a real actor was clearly wrestling a real shark, to the infamous eyeball piercing scene which took the shock factor further than pretty much any gory horror film ever had before. Plus, it's beautifully shot by Sergio Salvati with a catchy score by Fabio Frizzi. Really, it might've started life as a tiny exploitation film, but every department is delivering exceptional results.
Arrow's 2012 Zombie blu-ray on top' 88 Films' 2015 Zombie Holocaust blu-ray below.
And fun fact: 1980's Zombie Holocaust didn't just borrow heavily from Zombie's plot and look, even casting the same leading man; they used many of the same props and locations. But there's something else that seems to have slipped past a lot of genre critics. Even more boldly, Zombie Holocaust also re-uses exact scenes from Zombie. As you can see above, I don't just mean they re-stage similar plot points, but whole shots of Zombie Holocaust are actually footage lifted directly from Fulci's film!
So Zombie debuted on laserdisc all the way back in 1989 from Image, but most of us probably started with Roan's 1998 special edition laser, simultaneously released on DVD by Anchor Bay, which they issued again in 2002. That's when we first got the film in widescreen, with the audio commentary by Ian McCulloch. Then things got a bit weird in 2004, when somehow both Shriek Show and Blue Underground wound up with seemingly legit claims to the US rights, and they agreed to both release it... BU barebones and Shriek Show via a loaded 2-disc special edition. They had the same remastered transfer, except for slight color timing differences. More recently, BU released it again, this time in HD, in 2011. They released a DVD version and a limited 2-disc Ultimate Edition, which was later replaced in 2012 by a standard single disc edition. But by that year, Arrow was also coming out with their own 2-disc blu-ray set with their own transfer. And I have to say their results were pretty surprising.

But in the final months of 2018, all that became history, because Blue Underground released it once again, with an all new 4k restoration of the OCN as a 3-disc limited edition.
1) 2004 Blue Underground DVD 2) 2004 Shriek Show DVD
3) 2011 Blue Underground blu-ray 4) 2012 Arrow blu-ray.
5) 2018 Blue Underground blu-ray.
So, transfer-wise, the only real competition is between the two older blus. The Shriek Show DVD is really just noteworthy for the extras, which I'll get to later, and the new 4k blu trumps everything. But real quick, the two DVDs are virtually identical, except the Shriek Show DVD is interlaced, while the BU disc is not.  So that was an important distinction at the time; but being in standard definition naturally put them too far behind in the race in the 2010s.  But apart from being in HD, BU's old blu hadn't really advanced much beyond the 2004 days. The color timing is still different and probably preferable (those clouds are actually white), but we're not exactly getting loads of new detail. The grain is messier and the image is a little more generally blurred on the DVDs because they're in SD; but it's a fairly modest boost to BU's HD. You do see the difference when you get up close, though.  Lines are tighter and clearer.

Arrow also went back to the OCN for their transfer, but theirs is a newer scan. We still don't get heaps of new detail, but there is a little; and overall the image seems clearer and more natural. Plus the colors really start to pop with this one. You just want to pick the little people out of your screen and pop them in your mouth (hey, it is called Flesh Eaters, right?). And what really surprised me, despite both blus maintaining the same 2.35:1 aspect ratio (the DVDs are a little more like 2.32), Arrow has managed to uncover more picture on all four sides. It's just slivers along the top and bottom, but on the left and right it's reasonably substantial. One minor flaw: there's a teensy bit of yellow chemical stain in a couple of shots (look around the diver's hand in the shot above), but it's very minor and is only on screen for a matter of seconds. And, actually, you kinda see a hint of it on the earlier discs, too. It's just harder to make out.
1) 2004 Blue Underground DVD 2) 2004 Shriek Show DVD
3) 2011 Blue Underground blu-ray 4) 2012 Arrow blu-ray.
5) 2018 Blue Underground blu-ray.
But if you want to talk about colors popping, BU's new color correction for their 2018 restoration takes the cake.  Now, that's a blue sky!  But it never crosses the line into looking over-saturated.  The underwater scene goes for a more muted look, which might be shooting for realism, or just covering up that chemical stain.  Whatever the thinking was behind the scenes, though, this is easily most impressive the film has ever looked.  They've also widened the framing to 2.40:1, which unveils even more previously unseen image along the sides.  And being a modern 4k scan, while we don't really discover additional detail, the film grain is by far the most cleanly captured and filmicly represented.

Audio-wise, too, Blue Underground always plays to win. Their 2011 blu's got lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio mixes in 7.1, 5.1 EX and Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, and the same three options again for the Italian track. Plus, it's got subtitles in Chinese, English, English HoH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Thai. Arrow keeps things simpler but still thorough with both English and Italian LPCM 2.0 Mono tracks, plus English and English SDH subtitles. Meanwhile, the Shriek Show DVD has 5.1, 2.0 Stereo and mono versions of both the English and Italian tracks, plus English subs.

BU hasn't changed much in 2018.  They've still got the 7.1 and original mono tracks in DTS-HD, though they've ditched the superflous 5.1s and they've added a French mono mix.  They've also their many subtitle language options and even added a few more: Cantonese, Mandarin, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Italian, Russian and Swedish.

Oh, I should mention, though, that Arrow also gives you a unique multi-branching option, where you can choose to watch the film with the opening and closing credits for Zombie, Zombi 2 or Zombie Flesh Eaters.
Now here's where your head's really going to pop, because, since this is such an important Spaghetti horror title, all three companies have really gone to town in the extras department. And apart from a few items, almost none of them overlap. So if you're prepared to multi-dip, there is a crazy amount of Zombie extras awaiting you. Before listing them all out, however, let me remind you that Blue Underground has two editions out, and almost all of the exciting new extras are on that second disc. So if you're going Blue, make sure you know which version you're getting.

Blue Underground DVD:
  • Several theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots
  • Poster & stills gallery
  • bonus trailers for other Fulci films
That's right; this disc is essentially barebones.

Shriek Show DVD:
  • Audio commentary with actor Ian McCulloch, moderated by Jay Slater, this is the same commentary that dates all the way back to the laserdisc. It's kind of dry, but not bad.
  • On-camera interview with Captain Haggerty, who played the opening zombie on the boat. He's actually a pretty interesting character, so this is a fun one; and Shriek Show are the only people who've talked to him.
  • Building a Better Zombie, a very substantial, 98 minute documentary, featuring interviews with Dardano Sacchetti and Elsa Briganti, Gino and Giannetto de Rossi, and Gianetto's wife, Mirella Sforza, who did more traditional hair and make-up, plus additional FX artists Maurizio Trani and Rosario Prestopino, producer Fabrizio de Angelis, Enzo Castellari, the director originally approached to direct Zombie, Sergio Salvati, cameraman Franco Bruni, Fabio Frizzi, and actors Ottaviano Dell'acqua and Al Cliver
  • An Evening with Dakar, a short performance by actor Dakar who plays us some of his music
  • On-camera interview with costume designer Walter Patriarca
  • Photo gallery
  • Trailer
  • a fun collection of bonus trailers for other zombie films
  • easter egg: Alternate Zombi 2 opening and closing credits
Shriek Show's 25th Anniversary Special Edition 2-disc set also came with a signed, fold-out poster, plus an insert, mini-comic book (not related to Zombie, but a movie Shriek Show produced called Flesh for the Beast) and a cool outer case.

Blue Underground blu:
  • Audio commentary with actor Ian McCulloch, again, this is the same one from all the other editions, including Shriek Show's. 
  • Introduction by Guillermo del Toro
  • On-camera interviews with stars Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver and Ottaviano Dell’Acqua. BU are the only ones to talk to Richard Johnson, who's a great get.
  • On-camera interviews with Gianetto and Gino De Rossi and Maurizio Trani - edited together into a nice featurette.
  • On-camera interview with co-producer Fabrizio De Angelis
  • On-camera interview with Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti
  • On-camera interviews with Sergio Salvati and Walter Patriarca
  • On-camera interview with Fabio Frizzi
  • On-camera interview with Lucio's daughter, Antonella Fulci
  • On-camera interview with Guillermo del Toro
  • Several theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots
  • Poster & stills gallery
  • easter egg: a bonus clip from the interview with Maurizio Trani, where he talks about the shark scene
Blue Underground doesn't go for any inserts, reversible art or anything. But that's fine, because it's all on the disc(s). All their interviews are especially professional and they've got just about everybody on there.

Arrow blu:
  • Audio commentary with screenwriter Elisa Briganti, moderated by Calum Waddell, this is fun, because we rarely see or hear from Elisa without her husband, mostly just supporting whatever he says. Now we get to hear from Elisa herself, and she's pretty interesting.
  • Audio commentary with Fulci biographer Stephen Thrower, moderated Alan Jones, this is pretty solid. Thrower is very well informed and they never run out of things to say, though fans may find themselves already knowing a lot of what's being said, if only because other extras in this same set told them.
  • Introduction by Ian McCulloch
  • From Romero To Rome: The Rise and Fall Of The Italian Zombie Film, an hour-long documentary that covers zombie films from Night Of the Living Dead to Zombie. It shows a little bit of films after and before these, but it mainly focuses on the Romero and Italian films, including interviews with Russell Streiner from Night, Dardano Sacchetti, Luigi Cozzi, Ruggero Deodato, Antonio Tentori (who wrote several later Fulci films) and a collection of British critics. It feels a little thrown together, like they selected who to include based on whoever they could easily get as opposed to who would be the best interview subject, but it's still very engaging.
  • On-camera interview with Ian McCulloch, this one's pretty long and goes fairly in-depth. They seemed to have some trouble lighting him, but otherwise it's quite a good interview.
  • On-camera interview with Gino De Rossi, where he talks you through how he made many of his effects, in Zombie and other films. He walks you through his workshop and shows you a bunch of original props. Definitely don't skip this one.
  • A bit of a silly, short segment where Dardano Sacchetti shows his original script. They literally just point the hand-held camera at his printed pages and expect you to read it that way, which you probably won't bother to do unless you're watching on your computer and can take screenshots.
  • A Fabio Frizzi Q&A, which is pretty fun, but one of those where they shot a live event with a fixed camera and don't get very good audio. They don't seem to have mic'd his translator, in particular, so it's actually harder to understand him than Frizzi.
  • Theatrical trailers and TV spots
  • easter egg: the deleted scene from Zombie Holocaust. I really don't understand what this is doing here, since it doesn't feature any of the footage lifted from Zombie. So, uh, okay...?
  • easter egg: a short video clip looking at Gino De Rossi's "wall of fame" in his home.
  • easter egg: a fun bonus clip from the Ian McCulloch interview.
Arrow's set comes with a thick, 40-page booklet, with lots of notes by Waddell, Thrower, Slater and Craig Lapper. It also has reversible cover art and Arrow's usual card for another one of their releases (I got Dr. Jeckyll and Miss Osbourne). And if you order it directly from Arrow's site, it comes in an outer slip box.
For their latest limited edition, Blue Underground wasn't left with much room to grow.  Who else could they interview that wasn't already covered above?  Those special editions were already getting a bit repetetive with their anecdotes.  So their new 2018 features might be a little disappointing, but what else could we ask for?  Everything from their 2011 Ultimate Edition has been carried over (so there's no reason to hang onto it once you've upgraded), and we get a new audio commentary by Troy Howarth, and a half hour on-camera interview with Stephen Thrower.  Thrower gives us a nice academic summary, but there's very little in the audio commentary fans wouldn't already be able to voice themselves if roles were reversed.

So BU has focused more of their energies this time around on the packaging.  We're given the choice of 3 holographic slip covers (mine is #2), and every edition also includes a 24-page full color booklet, with an essay by Thrower, a complete soundtrack CD (the third of the 3-disc set), an insert promoting the latest Zombie comic book, and reversible artwork with the classic "We are going to eat you!" cover inside.
There aren't too many other editions to concern yourself with, since these guys have made them redundant. Umbrella released a blu-ray with just the old commentary on it, Happinet's blu in Japan seems to be a mirror of Blue Underground's 2011 set, and the German blu just has a short piece on Fulci. The only other disc that might blip your radar is Another World's DVD (the same guys who did that New York Ripper Special Restored Edition). That features a 40+ minute doc on Fulci's films (the first part, in fact, of the doc that's on the New York Ripper DVD), and a 30+ minute feature on Rosario Prestopino. I haven't seen that one, but it sounds pretty interesting, if you really want to go all in.
Now, I'm not necessarily recommending all these special editions unless you're a hardcore fan. There's a lot of redundancy in the interviews by your third Zombie set. I mean, most of the extras are unique, but they're asking the same people the same questions. If you've got Arrow's Contamination blu and 88's Zombie Holocaust, too; you're really going to hear a lot of McCulloch's anecdotes in particular over and over. But the big three - Shriek Show, Arrow and BU - are quite substantial and with some noteworthy treats you won't find in the others. So, you'll definitely want to get the 2018 BU 4k restoration for the best transfer, and for most of you, that will probably already be enough; because it's fairly packed. Then if you're still hungry for more features, since you've already got the ideal presentation of the film, you can just buy cheaper DVD editions of the Shriek Show and Arrow sets, which I'd recommend in that order: Shriek Show > Arrow.  I mean come on, you know you want to see that Captain Haggerty interview.

M.I.A.: Lamberto Bava's Prince of Terror

I've been adding so many films to my on-going list of DVD & blu-ray titles I want to cover on this site, that I've been neglecting those that are still desperately in need of any kind of disc release at all.  And man,  am I tired of waiting for this one!  Lamberto Bava's Il Maestro del Terrore, or The Prince of Terror, was made for Italian television in 1989 as part of their Alta Tensione quadrilogy, along with School of Fear, Eyewitness (a remake of a previous Dario Argento television production) and The Man Who Wouldn't Die.  But The Prince of Terror didn't air until 1999 because it was deemed to be just too much for television audiences at the time.  And oh boy, is it!   If you're looking for the kind of obscure movie with scenes so outrageous they can make you break out into applause even when you're just watching the film at home by yourself, this is it.  Sure, as a whole, the movie's a bit clunky, but prepare for an inflating zombie, chainsaw attacks, deadly golf balls marked 666, twisted mind games, lethal booby traps, multiple madmen, a dog named Demon, fake deaths, toilets overflowing with blood, diegetic special effects and one of the great, absurdist endings of all time.  There's even a robot!
Now, when I call this clunky, I think I mostly mean the typical Italian post-sync dubbing, which makes all the performances feel stagey and ridiculous.  In this case, though, that adds almost as much as it subtracts; and beyond that, screenwriter extraordinaire Dardano Sacchetti certainly knows how to keep the plot twists coming.  Production values are high and Bava's scenes are atmospheric and well lit, with that 80s neon tone and plenty of blue night filters.  Simon Boswell's score is reliably effective but feels a little low effort compared to his other work.  Typical suspense riffs play through scenes of our protagonists slowly creeping around the house, helped by the fact that our protagonist is a horror director himself, so while for the most part it plays like any other thriller, you'll notice he's suddenly walking past a giant glowing eyeball or a portrait of Frankenstein's monster.
Yes, Tomas Arana, star of The Church and The Sect, plays Vincent Omen, a famous horror director who's so successful, people have begun to associate him with the devil himself.  "Take a good look at me," he tells a reporter on his private golf course, "do I look different?  Do I have skin like a reptile?  Are my eyes phosphorescent?  Do I have hoofed feet?"  Yeah, so with an attitude like that, it's not hard to guess that he's made some enemies in the business, including a longtime collaborative screenwriter who he fired off his most recent production and an actor he injured in a dangerous stunt.  So when his family home is invaded in the middle of the night by someone intent on sadistically toying with the Omens, it could be anybody, or seemingly even multiple murderers, out to prove just who is the true prince of terror.
They have a daughter who's character, I guess, is supposed to be 13 or so?  She's treated as being that age and plays it that way, if not even younger.  Plus Mr. Omen says he's 37, so how much older could she be?  But she's clearly played by a grown woman to allow for some sexual tension in the third act.  It's the sort of move they'd never try to pull nowadays.  Not that there's ever actually any nudity, and the sleaze factor is never allowed to rise to House On the Edge of the Park levels.  It's mostly more of a fun, one-surprise-after-another spook show, but some moments dance on that edge.
Italian horror fans will spot plenty of familiar faces, including David Brandon from Stage Fright and monstrous cameos from the actual creatures of Devil Fish and Demons 2.  There are some great, gruesome effects by the one and only Sergio Stivaletti, and even a crazy bit of stop motion animation.  The Prince of Terror might not quite add up to a masterpiece, but it's constructed out of so many great parts, that I'm sure it would accrue a healthy following if it were ever allowed to find its audiences.  I honestly believe the cult video label that started putting titles like this and Spider Labyrinth out in HD would quickly become a horror fan favorite, even in this age of stiff competition.  And I know it's silly, but I want Mask Of the Demon, too, dammit!  Come on, guys, who's going to finally step up for these must-have gems?