A Pair of Scream Factories #2: Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

For our second Scream Factory pairing, well, I just couldn't leave out this essential Clive Barker film any longer.  Not that it's his only other worthwhile picture... I was pleasantly surprised with that Midnight Meat Train movie.  But this completes the trilogy of the only films he's actually directed, plus nipping at the heels of Hellraiser and Candyman, the trilogy of his best work on film.  So let's see what Scream Factory did with it.
The premise feels a little self-indulgent, but Barker manages to pull all the elements together to work more effectively than they really should.  Scott Bakula plays an archetypal NY private eye. straight out of a 40's noir, hired by a mysterious and wealthy love interest (Famke Jannsen) to come to Hollywood and "help me help my husband... I know he's in some kind of trouble."  Said husband's a celebrity magician (the comic relief guy from The Mummy and Deep Rising, here for once in a convincing serious role) who's somehow mixed up with an evil cult in league with actual magical forces.  It gets pretty convoluted, with misleading illusions, classic noir plot twists and a huge cast of characters; but Barker manages to keep it all straight.
It's actually based on one of his Books of Blood stories, called The Last Illusion, but the story here goes in completely different directions.  It's full of eye candy, traveling from one exotic location to another, including the real Magic Castle in LA.  There's an army of vicious killers, an elaborate Vegas-style magic show, overt hetero- and homo-eroticism, secret doors, a killer monkey, flying monsters, gory special effects... clearly, Barker aimed to give audiences they could possibly want and mostly succeeds.  Not that it's a perfect film.  It's a detective story where we're introduced to all the villains before the hero, so the audience is mostly just waiting for the protagonist to get caught up and figure out what we already know.  And while most of the special effects are beautifully crafted by KNB, it also suffers from a terrible case of the bad CGIs, being one of horror's earliest adapters and using throwing some awful animation in our faces for what should be the film's biggest money shots.
a frame only in the theatrical cut
a scene only in the director's cut
And I suppose I should also talk about the two cuts of the film.  There's the original, R-rated theatrical cut, and then an extended director's cut that largely replaced it on home video.  It's a solid eight or so minutes longer, and movie-censorship gives a nice scene-specific breakdown of the distinctions.  But in short, the film was clearly cut for two different reasons at the same time: length for the studio and violence for the MPA.  So the extended cut gives us a nice dose of extra bits of nastiness as well as dry "regular" scenes that enrich the story and characters.  Barker's stated, and I strongly agree, that it's the preferable cut of the film.  The theatrical cut has very little unique footage, just a few trims and frames as specific edits are different - it's mostly just missing stuff.  Frankly, I see very little reason to ever revisit the theatrical cut; but hey, if labels want to give us the option, I'll take it.
Lord of Illusions has had a surprisingly quiet life on home video.  MGM issued the DVD, which contains the director's cut, way back in 1998.  And except for them occasionally porting that disc over to another region, that's been all we've had right up until 101 Films commissioned it for blu-ray in 2014.  They put out a new HD transfer with a separate blu for each cut, and that's also what Scream Factory released State-side the same year, but with their reliably more fleshed out special features package.
1) MGM 1998 DVD; 2) SF 2014 theatrical cut; 3) SF 2014 director's cut.
Unlike our last post, the difference between MGM's DVD and Scream's BD is huge.  That might be just as much about how surprisingly poor MGM's DVD is, though, considering it's a major studio disc of a modern film ...though it is a pretty old disc.  Anyway, it has a real murky look to it, almost like a tape source (but not) except with bunch of artifacting, too, just in case you thought details weren't obscured enough.  Possibly they just upres'ed the laserdisc?  It's at least anamorphic widescreen, and free of interlacing, but the DVD is distinctly below par, giving Scream an easy win.  For their part, the box just refers to their version as an "all-new, high definition transfer," and considering how light the grain is, this clearly isn't a fancy 4k scan or anything, but it's a pretty solid HD transfer that, again, stomps all over what came before it.  Besides the obvious boost in clarity and fine detail, and cleaner digitization, it also smartens up the color, which felt a little washed in a heavy red hue.  And they tighten up the aspect ratio from 1.77 to 1.84:1 (despite claiming 1.78:1 on the case).  Oh, and for the record, the theatrical and director's cut transfers are for all intents and purposes identical, though I did spot a little more film dirt/ damage on the few moments unique to the TC than the rest of either cut,  But even there, it's just a few sporadic spots, like the black spots you can see on the upper right of that TC screenshot I posted above.

Both the MGM and Scream discs feature a robust 5.1 mix, boosted to DTS-HD on the blu, with optional  subtitles.  But Scream has also gone back and recovered the original stereo mix, also in DTS-HD, which is a very nice touch.
Scream Factory certainly topped the 101 blu-ray, which only included the old commentary; but they came up surprisingly light in the special features department for this movie.  Almost all of the extras are legacy, which certainly doesn't mean that they're bad or anything, but I think we're just used to SF cooking up more goodies, especially on their "Collector's Edition," like this one.

So yeah, the MGM has the commentary by Barker, plus a handful of deleted scenes, also with optional commentary by Barker.  He's a little stiff, but as the man so clearly behind all aspects of this production all the way back to the original short story, he has a lot of great insight to share.  They also have a text intro by Barker, an isolated music track, the trailer and an 8-page booklet.  As a former owner of the original 1996 laserdisc, I didn't notice until making this comparison that they dropped the 17-minute 'making of' featurette.
So one nice plus of the Scream disc is that they not only hold onto all the DVD stuff (except the isolated score... they dropped that for some reason), they bring back that little 'making of.'  And they dug up a substantial, hour long collection of behind-the-scenes footage, which is completely engrossing.  But in terms of newly produced features, there's just one thing: a 12 minute on-camera interview with the storyboard artist.  It's a good interview - even if you think storyboard artist doesn't rank high enough to pique your interests, I recommend giving it a watch - but that's it.  Well, that and a photo gallery, reversible cover art and a slipcover.  But for a Collector's Edition of such a high profile title, it feels like the budget got somewhat slashed.

Still, it's the best edition going and an absolute must-upgrade over the DVD, a stark difference from Bubba Ho-Tep.  And unless Barker finally makes the sequel he's been hinting at for decades, it's probably the best disc of Lord of Illusions we'll ever see.  Thankfully, it's rather good.

A Pair of Scream Factories #1: Don Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-Tep (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Okay, and we're back with the first in my second set of "Pair" posts, this time for Scream Factory releases.  This pair was always going to happen in one form or another, because they've always needled me as the two biggest "holes" in my Scream Factory coverage on DVDExotica.  Until today, Don Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-Tep held the crown as the most glaring omission to me for several reasons.  Because it's Coscarelli's most essential film that I haven't already tackled, because it's such a fun, favorite film that I just personally want to recommend on the site, and because the whole situation of the UK import DVD having its exclusive extras is precisely the kind of thing this site is here to document.  Plus, despite the current blu-ray being only a couple years old (it came out right at the end of 2016), I have some very 2019 thoughts about it that I think it's time to bring up.  So let's go!
2002's Bubba Ho-Tep is, like its title sounds, a delightfully nutty film and a welcome highlight in a pretty drab period for horror films.  Boy, did we need this film when it came to us.  First of all, I think you could be quickly forgiven if, at the time, you believed like all the "masters of horror," that by the 2000s, all his great works were behind him.  Instead of any more masterpieces, we'd be lucky to shake out another direct to video flick or two that wasn't heart breakingly awful, right?  In the same way that we hope Argento's next film will at least be closer to The Card Player than Dracula, or Landis's will be more like Innocent Blood than Susan's Plan... we already know not to keep hoping for another Suspiria or American Werewolf In London.  But then, boom!  He dropped it on us: another genuinely great film rivaled in his catalog only by the original Phantasm.
It's an adaptation of an outrageous short story by Joe R. Lansdale, where Bruce Campbell plays an aging Elvis Presley, still living in secret in a quiet, Southern retirement home.  Nobody else cares enough to raise any questions, but their mortality rate seems a little high; and Elvis deduces that people are dying because an ancient Egyptian mummy is hiding nearby and leeching off their life force.  Who's the only man who will believe Elvis and help him battle the mummy?  JFK, of course, who also happens to still be alive, tucked away in the same retirement home, played by Ossie Davis.  It's obviously a boldly original story (despite one scene rather shamelessly lifted in whole from The Singing Detective), filled with novelty and humor.  It's pretty brave to settle on a hero who's too lazy to get his ass out of bad for the first half of the picture.  But what's especially impressive is how much sincerity and genuine character they manage to fill such a superficially goofy plot with.  There's actually more relatable humanity and touching drama in this than, say, Nicole Kidman's recent The Destroyer, which in some strange ways, shoots for the same sort of targets.  It's there in Lansdale's story, preserved through Coscarelli's subtle care, and thanks in no small part to the impressive cast.  Campbell is perfect for his role, it's through the grace of the gods that they managed to rope Davis into this, and then they have a wealth of supporting players like Roc's Ella Joyce, TV legend Larry Pennell and of course Reggie Bannister.
So Bubba Ho-Tep debuted on DVD as a pretty nice Collector's Edition from MGM in 2004.  This same disc was later reissued in 2007 as a Limited Edition - the only difference being a new three-dimensional slipcover designed to look like Elvis's cape.  Oh, and they dropped the booklet.  Meanwhile, in the UK, they introduced a more substantive upgrade.  2005 saw Anchor Bay UK debuting a special edition of their own, which came with its own nice little slipbox.  But more importantly, it was a 2-disc set with all of the special features from the US, plus several, new exclusives (detailed further below).  In 2010, it was time for HD, and Anchor Bay released their version on blu-ray with everything.  Everything, that is, until 2016, when Scream Factory came out with the US blu-ray, which included all of the MGM features, and more, new stuff they cooked up.  But... not all the Anchor Bay ones, most of which remain exclusive to the UK (and Germany, as the blu-ray EMS put out there in 2010 has everything the AB disc had, too).
1) 2004 US MGM DVD; 2) 2005 UK AB DVD; 3) 2016 US SF blu.
So, ah, okay.  Not the most impressive HD transfer I've ever seen.  Not only would it appear that Scream Factory didn't make a new master to update the previous, 2010 blu-rays, but it looks like they're using the same master as the original DVDs.  Now, don't misunderstand; I'm not calling "upconvert." You can see the slight increase in clarity when you flick between the DVD and BD screenshots; we're not getting SD compression slapped onto an HD disc.  We're just getting the same old master, slightly less compressed.  The framing also shifts slightly, starting out at 1.84:1 on the original DVD.  Then, Anchor Bay slightly squeezes the image to 1.86, and finally Scream Factory goes back to 1.84, but with a micro-sliver of extra pixels around the rim, that the old DVDs sacrificed to over-scan fade-out.  So, yes, it's a slight but legit upgrade over the DVD.  But this film was shot on 35mm; grain is barely visible when it is at all, and fine detail is soft and hazy.  Essentially, what I'm saying is, this film is dying for a new scan.

To be fair, this film was made in the murky period of 2002, when major directors were shooting films in standard def and working under all kinds of sub-par, frontier-pushing digital conditions.  Again, this film was shot in 35, but I don't know how the CGI effects were rendered... maybe it would be a more-costly-than-usual endeavor to capture this film in 2 or 4k?  But what we've got is a late 2016 blu-ray using an early 2000s master, and it looks the part.  I wouldn't even say the upgrade to HD was worth double-dipping for unless you'd already replaced almost every other DVD in your collection.
Audio-wise, things are looking a bit brighter.  The MGM DVD just gave us a nice 5.1 mix, plus optional English, French and Spanish subs.  AB dropped the foreign subs (keeping the English), but also gave us a Dolby stereo mix in addition to the 5.1.  And Scream Factory?  Well, they finally did get something from Anchor Bay.  They hung onto both the 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, both now in lossless DTS-HD, plus the English subs.  So that's ideal, at least.
But now's where it really gets complicated: the extras.  MGM started us off really nicely.  In fact, to be honest, it's a very satisfying edition right off the bat, and if nobody added anything more to the mix, I'd still be pretty satisfied.  We start out with a really fun and information-packed commentary by Coscarelli and Campbell.  This is the most essential feature, and it's no every release.  So whatever happens moving forward, we're pretty safe.  There's also a second commentary with Campbell doing the whole thing in character as Elvis, which I would recommend skipping entirely - the novelty wears off after you've read the listing on the back of the case.

After that, we also get a pretty solid, 25 minute 'making of' featurette, followed by three additional featurettes focusing on Bruce's costumes, creating the mummy, and the score, which play like extensions of the main doc.  Then there are three deleted scenes, with optional commentary and about seven minutes of Lansdale reading from his original story.  Finally, there are a bunch of additional odds and ends, including a music video, photo gallery, the trailer, a TV spot and some bonus trailers.  The original 2004 disc came in a slipcover and included a nice booklet of behind-the-scenes photos and notes by Bruce Campbell himself.  Again, the 2007 reissue scrapped the booklet and replaced the slipcover with the fancier one.
The UK-only deleted scene.
Now, crossing oceans to the UK, Anchor Bay gives us pretty much all of that stuff, even the booklet - though their slipbox is different than the US slipcover, and they do drop the TV spot - plus new exclusive content.  They basically add six new things.  One thing you'll notice the US disc might seem a little light on is on-camera interviews, although there's certainly plenty of that in the 'making of' doc.  But AB makes sure to give us new, exclusive on camera interviews with both Campbell and Coscarelli.  They also include a 20-minute Q&A with Coscarelli from a UK screening of Bubba Ho-Tep.  Anchor Bay also has a special intro/ video message from Bruce, a short but fun assembly of behind-the-scenes footage, and perhaps most interestingly of all, a fourth deleted scene not included on the US disc.  And where some of the previous deleted scenes were more like outtakes, this is a solid minute twelve of Ossie and Bruce cut out of the film.

Now, like I said, Scream Factory kept all the MGM stuff but loses most of the Anchor Bay stuff.  However, they cooked up some pretty impressive new stuff that would make even somebody with one of the 2010 blu-rays seriously consider adding this edition to their collection.  First off is an all new audio commentary by Joe Landsdale.  He's pretty enthusiastic, and an important voice we didn't hear so much of in the previous editions.  Then they add three brand new on-camera interviews: one with Coscarelli, one with Campbell and one with effects artist Robert Kurtzman.  You could say the first two basically just work to replace the Coscarelli and Campbell interviews they didn't get from AB, with the added bonus that these are in HD, but the Kurtzman one feels nice and fresher.  And, what's more, they add 35 minutes of additional, vintage Campbell interviews.  This includes his special message and his on-camera interview from the UK disc, plus even more.  Yes, some of these do get redundant, but one thing's for sure; you'll get your Bruce Campbell fix here alright.  You'll also get reversible cover art and a frankly rather ugly slipcover.
So, the Scream Factory edition is probably the best edition going.  It's got all the new extras, some of the UK ones (to be clear, the ones it's missing are 1) the screening Q&A, 2) the Coscarelli interview, 3) the behind-the-scenes footage and 4) the deleted scene) and the same old HD presentation you'll find anywhere else, but which is still at least a marginal improvement over the old DVDs.  It might be cost prohibitive (or not, who knows?), but a new 4k scan would be super welcome and probably a major improvement.  And licensing AB's exclusive extras might not be worth it, but they could probably at least get that missing scene.  Considering how quickly they released upgraded transfers on the heels of Lifeforce and whatever Carpenter titles they reissued in 4k... I know it's annoying to have a label ask us to double-dip on a title they just released not that long ago, but in this case, I think we'd all happily forgive them.

Unmasking The Magician (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

1959's The Magician is a strange one.  It feels a bit like it's straining under the weight of Ingmar Bergman's previous two films, the break-out successes of The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries.  Like it's struggling to be slightly abstract and exaggerated in keeping with those visionary films, coming off perhaps a bit more gratuitously artsy.  But taken on its own merits sixty(!) years later, it actually winds up working in its favor, generating its own, off-beat sensibility.  In a time where most of Bergman's 50s films can feel antiquated or stale, it gives The Magician a refreshing appeal that stands up well to more modern faire.  So it kinda makes sense that we've only gotten it on disc in these last couple years - the time has finally rolled around for its rediscovery.
The Magician was originally called Ansiktet, or The Face, which is a more fitting title.  I mean, The Magician is handy if you have trouble keeping track of Bergman's many, many films - you can just think, ah yeah, it's that one about the big, looming magician.  But in terms of reflecting the themes and substance of the film, The Face really cuts to the heart of the matter.  It's a strange, genre-shifting tale of a traveling magician and his troupe who are compelled to perform for the chief of police and other town council who are determined to prove them as frauds and criminals.  They spend the night in the home of the consul and everyone's convictions are threatened.  Like Strawberries and Seal, it's a dark existential film dealing with mortality and, in this case, the role of the artist.  But while The Seventh Seal certainly introduced some comedy with some of the secondary characters, here the film slowly shifts from cheery humor to critical terror and back without revealing the seams.  This is accomplished through Bergman's always impressive photography, by his pre-Nykvist DP, Gunnar Fischer, the tumultuous subject matter, and particularly the strengths of his perfect cast, including a great many of his regulars, including: a particularly powerful Gunnar Bjornstrand, Ingrid Thulin, Bibi Andersson, a so-young-he's-nearly-unrecognizable Erland Josephson and of course Max von Sydow in the ominous title role.
Throughout the days of DVD, The Magician was unavailable in the US.  Pretty much our only English-friendly option was to import the 2001 Tartan DVD from their extensive Bergman Collection series, which was Region Free, albeit PAL.  But in the enlightened age of HD, Criterion changed that by releasing it on DVD and blu-ray in 2010.  They've released it again in 2018 as part of their massive Ingmar Bergman's Cinema boxed set, but unlike the other films we've looked at so far (and the rest are coming... I'll probably start grouping up several of them into individual posts as we move forward), they haven't created a new master for this version.
2001 Tartan DVD top; 2010 Criterion blu mid; 2018 Criterion blu bottom.
So yes, the 2010 blu gave us a really strong 2k scan of the 35mm interpositive, and the 2018 repeats that.  They are identical transfers.  But boy, do you see the upgrade from the DVD.  Starting with the aspect ratio, the DVD is slightly thin at 1.30:1, which Criterion corrects by restoring the slivers of extra picture for a complete 1.33:1.  It also frames the image slightly lower down, which I'll assume is more accurate; it's really too slight to make a hard judgement call on either way.  But detail is so much stronger, and film grain is very distinct and natural.  That's as opposed to the DVD, which is soft even for DVD, and has blatant, ugly contrast tweaks to clarify edges and details in an otherwise lacking image, but which mostly just result in highlights flaring way out.  Look at the lines on the door in the first set of shots; it looks like they're lined with hot neon strips.

Both discs provide the original Swedish mono track, in lossless LPCM on the blu, with optional English subtitles.
The extras aren't too extensive.  The Tartan disc is completely barebones except for an insert with notes by Ronald Bergan and a couple bonus trailers.  But the 2010 blu does come up with a couple goodies.  We have two vintage Ingmar Bergman interviews, both of which only get around to The Magician by the very end.  The first is a very short, made for 60's television one, where he starts talking about Persona, but then asks a key question about The Magician at the end.  And the second is a longer, audio-only interview that talks about the very beginnings of his career, and would probably be more appropriate on a Crises disc; but then does wrap up with a bit about The Magician.  The other main extra is another excellent visual essay by Peter Cowie.  I wouldn't have minded a longer one that went a little further in depth, or even a commentary, but what we get is certainly good.  And that's it; no trailer here either; though we do get a booklet with essays by Geoff Andrew and director Olivier Ossayas, plus some further notes about Bergman.

And, as I keep saying with films in the Ingmar Bergman's Cinema set, the new 2018 blu has the exact same extras package as the 2010 blu besides, of course, for the fact that it comes packaged with all the other Bergman films, and the extras associated with those.  The set includes a bonus disc with several docs and features about Bergman in general, but nothing more Magician specific.  Heck, some of the extras on The Magician's disc were barely Magician-specific.  The Andrew essay from the previous booklet is back again, too, in the box's massive 248 page book, but interestingly, the Assayas one has been dropped.
So, again, for all intents and purposes, the blu-rays are identical.  But that's fine, as the 2010 disc was excellent, and barring the discovery of some additional cool extras, there'd be no reason to update it.  So if you haven't got this film yet, either blu will do equally, just depending if you want to throw down for the whole box or not.  If you're just hanging onto the Tartan DVD or another SD import, by all means, double-dip already.  Or, if you're like me and you already had the old blu and then got the box, go ahead and sell your old disc off.  But if you're not a mega-Bergman fan, passing on the box and just picking up the occasional highlights, consider The Magician.  It's not one of his most famous, but it's got a contemporary appeal with its unique blend of entertainment value and dramatic weight.

The Great King Cohen on Blu-ray

King Cohen, the recent documentary about the life and works of the great Larry Cohen spent the good part of last year generating a lot of buzz in the horror film community.  But disappointingly little of that coverage seems to highlight the fact that it hasn't just been bouncing around festivals and then become available on streaming; it's on blu-ray.  More than that, it's a pretty sweet special edition that adds a lot of value; but you barely hear about that.  Maybe that's because it's the first blu-ray release of an indie label that up 'till now has only released soundtrack albums on CD and vinyl, it didn't ping on anyone's radars?  After all, to be fair, I'd never heard of La-La Land Entertainment before either, and consequently, this isn't available through a lot of the traditional avenues.  Amazon has a listing for it, but they don't stock it, and they confusingly refer to it as a soundtrack on DVD with a release date of October 4, 2019.  Somebody should pre-order that just as a science experiment to see what happens.  But no, I'm happy to report that there really is a pretty must-have blu-ray release.
The big concern I had going into King Cohen is that, as a pretty entrenched fan of "triple threat" producer/ writer/ director Cohen is that having most of the special edition releases of all his films, that this would be pretty redundant.  Larry's a fantastic raconteur, and even when his films don't have many other features, they tend to have commentaries or lengthy on-camera interviews with him telling all the film's wild guerilla origins and battles with the studios.  Sometimes even those DVD interviews would overlap a lot of the same anecdotes.  And surely a stand-alone documentary would have to explain a lot of the basics of what he does and what makes him interesting to the uninitiated.  So would this just be a boring retread of everything we've heard before?  Is King Cohen merely a bemusing Cohen 101 for newcomers, with little to offer the informed?
Happily, the answer is a big no.  Even as the very basics are established, it's mostly new, since few special editions start from a place of where the filmmaker was born and his other showbiz jobs before he started making movies.  And the man behind this doc, writer/ director Steve Mitchell, seems to be one of us enough to know what will actually constitute news to fans.  We get a lot of great stuff about his earlier TV days, which you rarely hear about.  Hearing the scuttle about some of his less recognized films, like The Private Files of J Edgar Hoover and Wicked Stepmother, goes a nice way towards making up for them not having quality, special editions of their own.  And even when a few key stories are so important they simply must be repeated here, the additional voices he employs to tell them add a very fresh spin.  For example, Scream Factory's It's Alive boxed set pretty thoroughly covers Larry's relationship with Bernard Herrmann, but hearing it from Martin Scorsese's perspective is additionally enlightening.
Not to mention, it's just impressive they got Martin Scorsese to sit down and dig in with them in the first place.  In fact, the roster they've assembled for this documentary is very impressive: from critics and ex-wives to fellow filmmakers like Joe Dante and John Landis, stars like Eric Roberts and Yaphet Kotto and of course the essential Cohen staples like Michael Moriarity and James Dixon.  I mean, if those two weren't in this, I would've kicked a garbage can over!  So many players were bought in, they almost wind up getting short shrift - they managed to bring in Eric Bogosian, and then only feature a couple of sentences from him, because the King Cohen train has too much ground left to traverse to slow down.  Of course, Cohen himself sits in front of the camera for a series of carefully re-edited interviews, and then you've got Fred Williamson boldly contradicting every story he tells.  It's all super satisfying, with the sole exception of JJ Abrams, who's obviously one of the most famous parties involved and who gets top billing on the cover and poster, but only contributes a brief introduction.  You keep waiting for him to come back and say something about anything, but he never does.
Besides that though, the only criticism I have - if you can even call it a criticism - is that there's so much to Larry's career left to tell.  So many films go completely unmentioned, like Uncle Sam, Invasion of Privacy, Full Moon High, Messages Deleted, etc. that you wish this could be one of those ultra-comprehensive, multi-hour documentaries like Never Sleep Again, that just goes on until it covers everything, regardless of length.  Here, I still had questions.  But if the worst I can say about a movie is that it left me wanting more, I don't think the filmmakers should feel too crushed.
2018 US La-La Land Entertainment blu-ray.
And it looks great on blu.  It's a very high quality, HD production, not to be confused with some of those fan-made docs you see pop up on EBay as BDRs or anything.  This is an official pressed, all-region dual-layer disc  The film is presented in 1.78:1 in consistently strong HD, with the natural exception of some vintage footage, which is reliant on its source.  You can tell immediately which film clips come from nice, 4k restorations and which had to be ripped from cheaper DVR releases.  The main documentary footage itself seems to have been shot digitally, so there's no real concerns of accurate scanning or capturing film grain.  It looks like a proper DCP presented plopped straight on the disc, with no interlacing or other issues in the new or film clip footage.  The audio's a crisp DTS-HD track and they've created optional English subtitles.  Many of Larry's major studio films have yet to be presented so well.
And then we've still got the extras to explore!  The bulk of it can be broken down into two main, roughly 45 minute chunks.  One is additional interview footage of Larry, where he tells a bajillion more showbiz anecdotes (again, only a few of which you'll recognize from other discs), and the second is from all the other actors and collaborators.  So yes, here we get a bit more from Eric Bogosian, along with the rest of the gang.

I wouldn't go quite so far to say, as with His Name Was Jason or Popatopolis, where if you haven't seen the extras then you haven't really seen the film.  But this definitely comes close to You're So Cool, Brewster or Crystal Lake Memories, where they're a big deal and seeing the film + extras is a decidedly fuller, more rewarding experience than just having watched the movie.  I mean, it's no small thing that the combined running of the special features is roughly the same as the film, effectively doubling the length of the feature.  And they don't cheat like The Death of Superman Lives by repeating the same film clips over and over in order to misleadingly advertise the number of hours of bonus footage.  Every minute is a worthwhile minute.
Then there's also a series of festival introductions Larry filmed to play before this doc when he couldn't attend in person, a brief look at some of the famous monsters Larry still has living with him in his home, and the trailer.  And, no doubt part of why Amazon listed this as a soundtrack on their page, is because it also comes with a bonus soundtrack CD of the documentary music by Joe Kraemer.  Now, this is a limited edition release (although it's a healthy 5000 copies, so don't panic), and each copy also comes with a personalized inner cover, signed by Mitchell, Kraemer and Cohen himself.  And it also ships with a regular cover, if for some reason you object to the signatures.  Personally, I reversed the unsigned version and slipped it underneath the signed one, so it works as interior art.  😎   Oh, and there's an insert with the CD's tracklisting in there, too.  So, as you've no doubt gathered, I recommend this release pretty highly... even if you already watched the movie streaming last year.

M.I.A.: Nigeal Kneale's Nighteen Eighty-Four (The Peter Cushing One)

This is one of those posts I made this site for.  This case has been frustrating sci-fi lovers and DVD collectors for almost fifteen years now.  That's when we were first told about the restoration done on Nigel Kneale's BBC adaptation of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four for a pending release from DD Home Entertainment.  It's a twisting, frustrating tale that so far has ended in nothing, but I still remain hopeful, for reasons I'll get into.  This isn't really about the particular stop-gap grey market discs I've settled for in the meantime, pictured above, but I'll tell you everything you could want to know about that, too.
Like all the BBC productions from that time, 1954's 1984 aired live, and thankfully, unlike many of those productions, it was recorded and preserved.  1984 was produced and directed by Rudolph Cartier, the maverick visionary who also made all of Kneale's original Quatermass serials along with other noteworthy works including his lost horror classic The Creature (remade as Hammer's Abominable Snowman, also starring Peter Cushing) and an adaptation of Wuthering Heights.  Unlike classical adaptations like Wuthering Heights, however, it's worth noting that Orwell's novel was a contemporary work, having been published in 1949.  So this was the first time viewers were seeing 1984 on screen, and it was quite controversial at the time, primarily for the torture/ Room 101 scenes, though by today's standards, it's all suggestion and quite tame.
While this is far from his first acting gig, this is the film that really put Peter Cushing, who plays the lead character Winston Smith, on the map, because it was this production that led Hammer to pursue him for their movies.  And even having seen subsequent adaptations of 1984, it's hard to imagine anyone performing the role on the level of Cushing.  He shares the screen with some impressive co-stars, too, including Donald Pleasance as his confidant Syme and Andre Morell, who'd go on to play the title role in Kneale and Cartier's Quatermass & the Pit.  With a smart and faithful script and top shelf performances, this still holds up as the definitive Nineteen Eighty-Four to this day.
So what happened to that restoration?  Listings for the DVD went up on all major retailers site in the summer of 2004, soon followed by a very exciting press release.  Like Quatermass & the Pit (again, this was all standard for BBC programs of the time) the live performance made use of 35mm film inserts, and DD's press release described making fresh scans of the original negatives to insert them into the best quality telerecording they could muster, describing the results of their work as, "even better than when it was first transmitted."  I can still vividly remember, and just tracked down, the original MHVF forum post where I read that the release was being delayed, if not out-right cancelled, because Orwell's estate didn't want it conflicting with a concurrent DVD release of the 1984 Hollywood version (yes, the studio movie of 1984 came out in 1984).  I've seen that version, and it's not bad... it's certainly got the production values, and William Hurt's a great actor.  But there's something more oppressive about the plain, gray walls of the BBC original, and Kneale's script and Cushing's performance are just tighter and more effective even to this day.

But okay, fine.  A delay is annoying, but if you've ever been excited by an announcement for a Synapse Films release, you've learned to cope with long waits.  Of course, fifteen years is another matter.  But there were more developments in the meantime, stringing the faithful along.  First, in 2007, Koch Vision announced a US release.  That quietly disappeared, too.  Then, iIn 2014, The BFI announced their own release (scroll down), and again, it was listed on retailers' sites with a new cover (wrongly proclaiming it to be "directed by Nigel Kneale") and everything.  If you click that link now, however, you'll see it's been pulled, too, apparently for roughly the same reason: the Orwell estate only wants the one version on the market.  I hope it doesn't escape them that they're crushing important art and, in some small way at least, emulating the authority figures George was warning us about in the first place.

So, in the meantime, I got this grey market DVD from A2ZCDS.  I hesitate to call it a bootleg, since it's openly sold through major retailers, and is a legitimately pressed disc with a UPC, etc.  But you know, it's like all of those cheapo releases that put out "public domain" titles where the title isn't really in the public domain, so much as nobody seems to be actively defending it.  And there are a number of such unauthorized releases of the 1954 1984, but I picked this one because it seemed a little more respectable... I knew there'd be no such thing as a high quality release, but I could at least hope for no ugly watermarks or interlacing.  And because, despite saying "1 DVD" clearly on the back of the case, and not mentioning it anywhere at all, this is actually a 2-disc set with the 1956 American adaptation of 1984 included as well.
The 1956 version.
This version of 1984 is okay, but falls short of both the 1954 and 1984 versions.  Kneale himself has been very critical of it, for example here's an interview where he calls it "a horrible bit of work."  It's filmed more like a movie, with more detailed sets and varied camera set-ups, as it's not a live production being recorded in studio.  But it's a bit clunky and heavy-handed (apparently funded by the CIA for propaganda purposes), focusing more on the love story, while Edmond O'Brien fails to deliver the relatable power that Cushing or Hurt bring to the role.  It's a novel coincidence that Donald Pleasance turns up in sort of the same role in this version as well, though; and despite coming up shorter than its competition, it's still worth the watch.
A2ZCDS 2009 US DVD film segment top; live footage mid; 1956 version bottom.
So yes, this looks like soft, swampy grey mist.  But I was at least happy this edition is free of interlacing and watermarks.  To be honest, the live footage, which is the overwhelming majority of the film, probably wouldn't look a whole heap better in any case.  But here, the video footage looks indistinguishable from the rest, whereas I'm sure it looks beautiful in that shelved restoration.  Meanwhile, the 1956 version looks better with deeper blacks and a touch more detail, but it's still a super soft, macro-blocking mess that reeks of old video and over-compressed DVDs.

And BFI would surely include subtitles, which of course these DVDs lacks, too.  Again, these are budget, borderline bootleg discs.  It's interesting to note, though, that this company also hosts the 1954 version (but not the 1956) streaming on Amazon Prime; and if you order direct from their site, you can get the 2-disc set or either version individually as single disc releases.  Of course there are no special features here either, though they do slap on two cheesy, animated commercials for their DVD line on each disc.  If BFI's edition ever were to see the light of day, one hopes they might include things like the BBC special from the 1960s that reunited the cast of the original 1984, or the rare 1965 BBC version that actually re-used Kneale's original 1954 script.
Now, I hope nobody takes me featuring this particular A2ZCDS disc to mean that I'm holding it up as any more than a cheap junker.  In lieu of anything else, it's better than nothing so I'm glad to have it, but that's as far as I can recommend it.  Obviously, this film deserves a properly licensed edition with features and the restoration work that was already done and has been sitting shelved all these years.  But the reason why I still hold out hope, as I mentioned up top, is that apparently the Orwell estate's copyright is due to lapse in just another year or two, and they will no longer be able to stand between this lost classic and its audience... providing physical media is still a thing by that time.