Dueling Blus: Oliver Stone's Forgotten Horror Masterpiece, Seizure

Here's a film you missed out on if you bought Warner Bros' big 15-disc Oliver Stone Collection in 2001 or their subsequent, revamped Ultimate Oliver Stone Collection in 2004.  1974's Seizure is one of Oliver Stone's least known but still arguably one of his absolute best feature films.  It's basically been languishing in obscurity until Scorpion rescued it in 2014; but being a smaller cult label, it still hasn't blipped on all the radars it should.  I've just been looking back at my old copy of Video Watchdog #26 devoted to the film, which Lucas called "unbelievably good" and "the most remarkable horror film to emerge since William Friedkin's The Exorcist."  That's high praised for sure, but not unwarranted.  There have long been rumors that Stone is ashamed of this film, but when you read his interview you can tell he was proud of it and was very frustrated that so few people saw it because the distributors let it languish.  Even the generic title, Seizure, was a forced replacement for his much more descriptive and alluring title The Queen of Evil.  In fact, I've been going back through Stone's catalog, and some of his most famous films are starting to feel a little creaky and dated.  But I feel Seizure, on the other hand (and Salvador, too; but that's for a whole other post), is only getting better with age.
Admittedly, Seizure is a bit of a dream logic horror film like, say, Inferno; so it's going to frustrate a lot of viewers.  In fact, according to Stone's VW interview, it's based very directly on a dream of his, but enhanced with some great ideas and fleshed out characterization.  In short, Jonathan Frid (Dark Shadows) is an author struggling to finish his latest horror story for children.  He invites all his friends to stay with him and his family for the weekend, when they're visited upon by three figures of death.  It's declared that only one shall survive the night, and he's powerless to stop them.  I was just talking in a recent post about how tiresome it can get when movies continually dangle the supernatural question in front of the audience: are the ghosts real or imaginary?  The Turn Of the Screw is a literary classic and deservedly so; but in lesser hands, it can be pretty tedious as the writer keeps yanking your chain back and forth between "it's real! No, it's a dream!"  We don't really know here either, but the power of this film is that it doesn't fucking matter.  We're trapped in this primal darkness no matter what.
There's a great contrast in this film between its bleak nihilism - we're going to watch a group of people twist and die unhappily, in the vein of films like Wolf Creek or House On the Edge Of the Park - and the almost childish vision of Seizure's iconic villains: their wicked leader The Queen of Evil, the giant executioner The Jackal, and a sadistic dwarf known as The Spider, played by a pre-Fantasy Island HervĂ© Villechaize, who's just terrific.  Really, the whole cast is great, which really serves to elevate the proceedings.  Martine Beswick plays the Queen (that's right, not Mary Woronov, who's actually cast as a fairly normal person for a change!), Joseph Sirola goes over the top but in all the right ways; and even though I was prepared for a wooden turn by the infamous Troy Donahue, he actually delivers a very naturalistic, convincing portrayal in Stone's hands.  All of his famous filmmaking strengths can be found in this early, overlooked work, including some bold editing choices and certainly the writing (Stone shares a credit with a co-writer, but he told Lucas that re-writer only did a little editorial clean-up and was really involved more in a business aspect).  One of the moments that elevates this script from good to great comes right near the end and is a huge spoiler, so I won't say it here; but wait 'till you get to it.
Stone made a second horror film after this, The Hand, which is a little better known and respected.  It's certainly a good film with an excellent lead role by Michael Caine.  But to me it feels like a more conventional, watered down version of Seizure, which he essentially had to remake because his first effort had been practically buried.  I mean, don't get me wrong, it's a completely different premise and the story is told very differently.  But it feels like it revisits all the same core themes and emotions because his first attempt to exorcise them before the public here was stymied.  So The Hand might be a little more polished and satisfying for the casual viewer who isn't interested in being confronted by their Friday night flick.  But to me, Seizure is the more important and powerful work of the two.
So, like I said, Seizure hasn't had a big life on home video.  I took a film course and the professor who was talking about Stone's body of work hadn't even seen this film.  It was released on VHS a couple of times by some smaller labels, but all we had of it on DVD was that same VHS transfer ripped onto a grey market disc by Substance.  Still, you put up with it because it was all we got.  Until 2014, that is, when Scorpion saved the day and released DVD and blu-ray editions of an all new, high-def master from the original vault elements.  Unless you caught it during its rare original screenings in the early 70s, this was your first time seeing it in widescreen!  Old reviews constantly deride this film for its bad lighting in the night scenes, but that's surely due to its dupey, dark video transfer, because it all looks very clear and professional now.  Coming from Scorpion and not Universal, you can bet they didn't exactly get Stone in for an audio commentary or feature length documentary, but they did scare up a couple, very good special features.  It's been the definitive, must-have edition until just recently, when a German challenger entered the scene.  Their blu is a longer cut of the film, a composite cut of HD footage and restored scenes from German VHS release that runs about five minutes longer.
So let's talk about this longer cut.  As you can see, it's fullscreen and obviously lower quality, taken from a video tape rather than original film elements.  Though, for VHS-sourced footage, it's not looking too bad.  Yes, the aspect ratio changes for the additional footage (a curious choice, since it's basically open matte... I'm surprised they didn't matte to match the rest of the film).  But what's this extra footage?  How essential to the film is it?  Well, it's not absolutely critical, but it isn't superfluous fluff that deserved to be cut either.  Some of the changes are minor... When Woronov comes out of the gas station bathroom, in the extended cut we just get a quick extra shot showing us dirty graffiti on the walls, showing us what a dive it is.  But if this movie left you puzzled and longing for answers about "what the heck did I just watch" - and it is that kind of movie - this movie definitely gives you some more towards that, in particular a large chunk of dialogue between Frid and Roger De Koven that really delves into the questions at the heart of the film, but still without giving away too much.  Check out movie-censorship's breakdown for every single detail, but in short, I'd say the longer cut is superior, but not drastically so.  It's not an eye-opening revelation... or chock full of additional exploitation elements if that's what you're after.  But it's certainly the one I'll always go back to now for future watches.

Oh, and it has to be noted that Schroder Media's disc gives you the option of watching the longer or shorter cut - both versions on on their disc.
2014 US Scorpion blu on top; 2017 German Schroder Media blu bottom.
Apart from the added inserts, it's clear both blus are taken from the same master.  The film is presented in 1.78:1 with bold colors and natural, filmic look.  Grain is visible and genuine, though predating the cutting edge clarity of today's 4k scans.  But it looks beautiful, and thankfully hasn't been tampered with an any of the common pitfall ways like edge enhancement.  It has a very natural look with attractive coloring.  There are a few cases of film damage, but they're rare and not too distracting.  Actually, one review I read online suggested Stone purposefully crafted them into the film as an artistic decision, but I haven't been able to confirm this; and from the German videotape footage, it appears the damage wasn't present on the German VHS... and I wouldn't think Stone was still tweaking the film after those tapes was released.  Anyway, I have to point out that the two blus aren't 100% completely identical.  Upon direct comparison, the blacks and shadows of the Scorpion disc are noticeably darker than the Schroder disc, which lightens them just a tad.  It never actually reveals any additional picture information, though; they're not correcting crushed blacks or anything.  It's just a slight distinction, and it's hard to really pick a preference.  I guess Scorpion's blacks are "truer," so I'd go with that one; but it's really a pretty arbitrary call.

Audio options are pretty much the same across the board.  We're given the original mono track in DTS-HD 2.0.  It's very strong, though there's some hiss from the vintage elements.  It's not distracting, but very evident when stopping and starting the film mid-viewing.  Both discs have offer the complete English audio (yes, the added VHS scenes also have their original English audio despite being supposedly taken from a German tape), and neither disc offers subtitles of any kind.  The Schroder disc offers an additional German dub, of course, also in DTS-HD, and it's completely clean, without any hiss.
So far it sounds like the Scorpion used to be the disc to get, but Schroder has thoroughly unseated it as the definitive release, right?  And that may be absolutely true, but here's where Scorpion still makes a case for itself.  They've got some great, exclusive extras.  The highlight is absolutely Mary Woronov's, roughly fifteen minute on-camera interview.  There is forthcoming and then there's this.  She's very funny and very no-holds barred.  She has great memories and anecdotes about this film, and it's a joy to watch.  They also interview co-star Richard Cox, which is good, although they that thing where they spend a most of the time just having him run through every film on his imdb page; and he winds up talking more about Cruising than Seizure.  But he does have some good stuff to say about this film, and it's a good watch... just not on the same level as the Woronov talk.

So Scorpion has two interviews and the trailer.  Not a ton, but substantially more than the German blu, which just has the trailer.  It does also come in a slip sleeve, and has reversible artwork (typical of German discs, it's the same art, just without the large ratings logo).  It's a numbered, limited release of 1000 (mine's #338).  But I'm not sure if the whole disc is limited, or - probably more likely - just the initial run with the slip sleeve.  I say "slip sleeve" instead of slipcover, because it opens from the side as opposed to the top and bottom.
So okay, let's make some final tallies.  I do believe the longer cut is the preferred cut of the film, so if you don't have either disc, you're going to want to import the German blu for that.  Especially since it still lets you watch the short cut, just in case you wind up disagreeing with me, or if the inserts' dip in quality really bothers you.  But do the added scenes add so much that it's worth double-dipping if you already own the Scorpion version?  Very possibly not, unless like me you're a really big fan of this film.  And if you have the German disc, do Scorpion's extras warrant a double-dip in the other direction?  Again, if you're a big fan: yes, because those extras are good 'uns.  But if you just kinda like this film and want it in your collection, but aren't really in love with it, you can probably sleep at night with just one of these blus.  Anyway, that's where the chips fall, so now what to get or not is up to you.  But personally, I'm happy I've got both.  It was the right call for me.

The Original Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Brand new from the Warner Archives, it's the HD home video debut of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3: Leatherface.  The first Leatherface from 1990, not the 2017 one.  Yeah, the remakes have even started cribbing the previous films' sub-titles; and no, the 2017 is in no way a remake of the 1990 version - all they have in common is the titular character and some basic themes. So I guess it's really kind of an arbitrary distinction calling the films after The Return remakes.  They're just... some more Texas Chainsaw movies.
Anyway, I've always liked TCM3.  It's the first non-Hooper installment, and some ambitious elements from the original script were never filmed.  Plus, the theatrical version was heavily cut, so I can see why it had a rough time winning audiences.  But especially since we got the unrated version (first we got a restored, unrated cut on laserdisc... then the DVD restored even a bit more footage), Leatherface holds up as a pretty effective, bloody horror film in its own right.  It's directed by Jeff Burr, a Texan director who made From a Whisper To a Scream and a fairly satisfying sequel to The Stepfather, and for a New Line franchise film, plays things refreshingly straight.
In theory, this is a direct sequel to the third film, if you can accept that Leatherface somehow found an equally murderous, cannibalistic family to adopt him and grandpa after the events of TCM2.  "Like attracts like," explains screenwriter David J. Schow in the special features.  Caroline Williams even returns in a silent cameo as Stretch.  But anyway, this film begins a tradition of Leatherface finding himself with a brand new killer family in every subsequent film.  This time he's got psycho parents, a wicked killer little girl, a Chop Top-reminiscent cousin who runs the local gas station and Viggo Mortensen as his brother Tex.  Meanwhile, our protagonists the She-Wolf of London herself, Kate Hodge, and Ken Foree of Dawn Of the Dead.  So overall, it's a very strong cast delivering a series of memorable performances, with Mortensen and the little girl stealing the show, and only Foree phoning it in a little bit (when a new character reveals herself, he says, 'who the heck are you," exasperated and showing no signs that he just barely survived a jump attack by a psychotic chainsaw-wielding maniac wearing human skin for a mask literally seconds earlier).
Story-wise, they do play it probably a little too safe.  Another kidnapped woman is tied down and forced to participate in another gonzo dinner scene after being chased through the woods for the first half of the film.  It's a bit crazy that they all just keep returning to this same set piece.  For all their faults, none of the other franchise horrors, like Nightmare On Elm Street or Hellraiser, stuck to the same script so closely.  In that sense, it's almost like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacres play as remakes of the first more than the later "remakes" did.  But hey, if you have to rehash a scene time and again, the psycho dinner is a great one.  This film (at least in its current, unrated form) is thoroughly gruesome, with some great effect gags by KNB, and has some fun, heavy metal theme music.  Every time I let a few years go by and then return to Leatherface, I'm surprised by absorbing and entertaining a watch it still is.
Surprisingly, there aren't a whole ton of iterations of this film on home video.  New Line updated their laserdisc version with a fairly definitive DVD edition that was ported out to different regions around the world, naturally, and served as the single, definitive edition of this film for many years.  It had the R and unrated cuts, and was a fairly rich, anamorphic special edition.  We didn't really need anything more.  But now in the HD age, we really do.  And finally, just this week, Warner Archives have delivered, with a sweet blu-ray edition.  Now, typically, WA disappoints in terms of special features (Demon Seed, you make me sad); but fortunately, though they haven't produced anything new, they did port over everything from New Line's DVD (Time Warner bought New Line, so it's not like they had to license it).  So let's see how much of an upgrade we've got out of this deal.
2003 New Line R-rated DVD top; 2003 New Line unrated DVD mid;
2018 Warner Archives blu bottom.
2003 New Line unrated DVD
Oh, I'd say quite a substantial upgrade!  I was always happy with the DVD, but it's nice to see how much better things can be.  The colors are a lot more natural - goodbye, orange skin tones.  Warners has chosen to open the framing up a bit to 1.78:1 (the DVD was a slightly windowboxed 1.82:1), but this is clearly an all new scan that actually reveals more on all four sides.  Also, if we take that second set of shots just two frames back, we see [left, but you'll have to click to enlarge to really see what I'm talking about] that the DVD was interlaced.  It really made horizontal pans look glitchy, so it's great to see that done away with.  Detail is really clarified - look at Viggo's 5 o'clock shadow, which is just a soft color distinction on the DVD.  Speaking of DVD distinction, the transfers of the R and unrated cuts are identical, except for the fact that the R is missing about 5 minutes of footage; I just included both to be thorough.

Audio-wise, I suppose a few fans might be slightly disappointed.  The DVD offered listeners a choice between a DTS ES 6.1 Surround mix, Dolby Digital EX 5.1 Surround mix and the original Stereo Surround stereo.  Warner's blu just gives us the 5.1 mix, albeit in lossless DTS-HD.  But goodbye, fancy 6.1 and goodbye presumably original stereo mix.  Both discs also include optional English subtitles, though.
Again, Warner Bros didn't cook us up any new special features, but they did carry everything over from the DVD except for some bonus New Line trailers, some light DVD-Rom content and an insert with chapter titles.  First, there's a packed audio commentary with Burr, Schow, Greg Nicotero, William Butler, R.A. Mihailoff (he played Leatherface) and executive producer Mark Odesky.  It's so packed because the laserdisc originally included two audio commentaries, and the DVD/ blu features an edited together hybrid cut of the two.  Overall, that's just fine, as it never hits a stand-still and is jam-packed with great information and anecdotes.  On the minus side, the editing is a little sloppy, with two soundbites repeated twice, verbatim - somebody clearly lost track of which clips he'd already used!  Besides the commentary, there's a 30-minute 'making of' with all the same people from the commentary (plus another producer), which repeats a lot of the same stuff from the commentary, but also has some exclusive stuff.
One thing that's great about the commentary and this doc is that they were recorded long after the film, and people aren't afraid to talk about what went wrong, or even openly disagree with each other.  Did you know Burr, for example, was fired from this film and then rehired because they couldn't find a replacement over the weekend?  Burr talks about getting fired, the producers talk about firing him.  Yeah, the extras are very forthcoming, which is a treat.  And sure, 30-minutes probably seems a little short for those of us used to Scream Factory's lush feature-length docs, but this is edited so tightly, it has just as much content, just shown at a break-neck speed with no leisurely credits or film clips.
2003 New Line DVD top; 2018 Warner Archives blu bottom.
Besides those extras, we get a roughly ten minute featurette on additional deleted footage.  It's not just deleted scenes, as it also features on-camera interviews with Burr and Nicotero talking about what went wrong and why they didn't make the cut; but also includes the footage itself.  And they include an alternate ending, which is interesting and quite different.  It's hard to say which ending I prefer, actually; this one or the one they wound up including in the final film.  They both have their pros and cons.  And finally, they end with the famous trailer.  Even if you usually skip the trailers, if you've never seen this one, be sure to check it out.  It's wildly different from anything actually seen in the film.  All the extras are in in the same SD condition as they were on the DVD except upconverted and happily, they corrected the interlacing.  In fact, the trailer looks like it might've been genuinely restored in HD.
Ultimately, this is an extremely satisfying upgrade from Warner Archives, and I'm happy to finally put my old DVD to rest.  Don't mourn the R-rated cut; it's just an inferior version of the film.  And I doubt we'll see a triple-dip of this title for a very long time, so I'm quite confident recommending this edition, as well as TCM3 in general, assuming you go for this kind of film.

M.I.A.: The Great, Creepy TV Ghost Story, Don't Go To Sleep

Man, I've got so many discs backed up I want to cover, I kind of forgot about about covering M.I.A. films.  That is to say, discs that have never been released on DVD or blu anywhere in the world and really deserve to be... just in case you've forgotten, too.  And this is one I've had on my list since I first came up with the concept: 1982's Don't Go To Sleep, a genuinely disturbing, long neglected ABC TV movie of the week that's better than most ghost-themed horror movies that get released theatrically today.

Scream Factory got my hopes up in 2013 when they announced their TV Terrors line.  There's only so many vintage TV horror movies that hold up this well; surely it had to be on the short list.  But unfortunately, they picked such klunkers.  The Initiation of Sarah is at least mildly amusing in a campy way, but I'm not sure I even accept that Are You In the House Alone? qualifies as horror (or "terror"); it's more like an after school special with basically one brief scene that plays like anything from a horror movie.  And look at the packaging.  They're not marketing the films to their fans or selling unfamiliar horror fans with what good movies these are; it's just big pictures of televisions with the word "TV" all over it.  Like that's a selling point.  Nobody's going to be excited because the movies were made for TV; people need to know what's compelling about the actual films themselves.  Oh, and making it DVD only well into the days when most serious collectors have gone exclusively blu probably didn't help.

So naturally, it flopped.  I read an interview where someone from SF said it was one of their worst sellers.  In fact, SF pretty much hung up DVD editions entirely around then.  Later on, they figured it out I guess, because they released Body Bags with full-size artwork for the film and John Carpenter's name emblazoned on the top.  They didn't put "TELEVISION" in giant letters across the top and a little Body Bags logo in the corner.  So hopefully maybe some day they'll balls up and take another stab at releasing some cool, vintage made for TV horror.  If they do, may I suggest this one?
Admittedly Don't Go To Sleep does start a bit stiffly, and it does have all the inherent flaws of a made for TV movie from the 80s.  It's got boxy, fullscreen framing (unless it turns out they did film for a potential theatrical release - wouldn't that be exciting?) and it routinely, awkwardly fades to black for commercial break.  Like I said, this film was never released on DVD or blu in any region, but it was released on VHS by Unicorn Video way back, so we can see how it's properly cut together without ads and TV junk.  Rips of that tape are all over the internet and still widely sold as pirated DVRs on various grey market sites, which should show the labels that there's an active market for this movie even to this day.
So let me stop griping and finally get down to what's so good about this flick.  As an ABC program from the 80s, it's obviously not gory.  But it's surprisingly dark and edgy.  It's well written and goes places you'd never expect this movie to have the courage to go to.  It's got a fantastic cast, and while again, the editing is a little clunky and you can tell this had a short production schedule, once this film gets going, we get some strong performances.  Valerie Harper goes beyond her sitcom roots to deliver some strong, sincere moments as a grieving mother, we get Dennis Weaver, star of Speilberg's Duel and Ruth Gordon - Maude from Harold and Maude for God's sake.  And impressively, the little boy, who was also the son in Poltergeist, steals every scene he's in.
The story's quite serious and intelligently walks the line between a ghost being a genuine supernatural and a psychological representation like few ghost stories besides Henry James' Turn Of the Screw manage.  Briefly, a small nuclear family move back in with their aging grandmother, ostensibly to care for her as she grows senile.  But we soon learn the entire family is in need of this regrouping because they've just suffered the loss of a young daughter, and each one of them holds themselves in some way responsible.  They struggle but manage to get along until the youngest daughter, Mary, is visited by her deceased sister, who urges her to take revenge on her family, one by one.
Now, usually in any horror film where a nuclear family is under duress, they all survive okay.  Maybe a nosy neighbor will get it, but a family isn't like a group of teen counselors; they usually all live.  But oh no, ABC goes for it.  I don't want to get into spoilers, but nobody's safe.  Of course, you shouldn't expect Tom Savini-level slasher kills - although this film does make great, memorable use of a pizza cutter - this is a ghost story, meant to hit you in the emotions and generate a slow, building disturbance.  So even though you might be nonplussed by the droll first act, it's worth sticking with it as it worms its way in.  And while you might expect, canned, cliched library cues; they producers (including Aaron Spelling, if you can believe it) clearly sprung for a big, orchestral score.
There's no video quality to scrutinize here, as there isn't a release to judge.  I've just got a DVR I made of a VHS rip I found someplace online years and years ago.  You can tell it's from video-tape, with the VHS lines along the bottom.  And it's got big, chunky macroblocks, suggesting this was probably uploaded at 320p at best.  It looks awful.  But imagine if somebody went back and scanned the original film elements?  Visually, it would be an entirely different world.  No film deserves to be seen looking like this, and Don't Go To Sleep definitely deserves to be seen.

Compiling the Ultimate Day Of the Dead (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

For many years, Day Of the Dead was the under-appreciated, unloved entry in George Romero's epic "Dead Trilogy."  It was the dumb, trashy 80s film that followed two horror masterpieces that each had dramatically revolutionized the genre.  And okay, Day didn't have the formative impact its predecessors had; but over the decades, its reputation has grown and solidified as, if nothing else, one of the great zombie films.  And accordingly, it's received a series of compelling special editions, on both DVD and blu, here and abroad.  Very different special editions, in fact, with all sorts of unique quirks, faults and special features.  I'd actually been holding off getting any version of Day on blu, in fact, in a sort of "which is the right one to buy" paralysis.  But now that I'm the DVDExotica guy, I figured that's no longer acceptable, so I had to work it all out.
I've always dug this film, but I get why others haven't.  It's got big performances and heavy-handed characterizations, it's a lot less scary, particularly with its eccentric, calypso-inspired upbeat soundtrack (I mean, come on, Dawn had Goblin!), and it doesn't help that all the fans know Romero's original concept for the film had to be greatly scaled back from his original vision, including half the action taking place on an above-ground army base with an army of trained zombies and what would eventually become Land Of the Dead's centerpiece: Dead Reckoning. 
On the other hand, this film gets so much right.  The characters might be overdrawn, intentionally or not, but Joseph Pilato's Captain Rhodes, John Liberty's cheerfully demented turn as "Frankenstein" and of course Bub are all characters that forever stick with you.  It's got one of the all-time great locations.  And Day is the film where Tom Savini, assisted by a young Greg Nicotero brought just not top of the line gore, but elevated the zombies themselves from extras slopped in grease paint into jaw-dropping special effect show-pieces.  Practically all of the peaks and valleys that would become The Walking Dead can be found in this film, even the way the zombies wind up getting side-lined by the in-fighting of the survivors.  But even within the short run of a single movie, Romero takes the story farther with his idea of evolving zombie intelligence and views of the outer world at large, than TWD has in all of its seasons to date.
So, Day of the Dead was naturally in the hands of pretty much the #1 horror and cult DVD label during the 1990s and early 2000s, Anchor Bay.  They first released it in 1998 as a widescreen, but non-anamorphic single disc edition in 1998.  I've actually still got that one.  Then they reissued it in 2003 as a proper, anamorphic, 2-disc Divimax special edition.  I've got that one, too.  They also repackaged that as a cheaper, single disc edition without the fancy packaging in 2004.  But really, that 2003 DVD's been king until the age of HD.  Then, things get a little tricky.  Anchor Bay released a very early blu-ray edition of it in 2007, then Arrow put it out in the UK as a DVD/ blu-ray combo-pack in 2010 with all new special features.  Then they reissued it as a limited edition, 3-disc set in 2012 with even more special features.  They also put out a steelbook in 2014, but unfortunately without that third disc.  And back here in the States, Scream Factory picked it up for their own edition, with more unique special features, in 2013.  All of these blus have stuff on them that the others don't... and that includes technical problems.  This isn't gonna be a quick and easy comparison, so let's not waste any more time.
1) Anchor Bay 1998 DVD 2) Anchor Bay 2003 DVD 3) Arrow 2012 DVD
4) Arrow 2012 blu-ray 5) Scream Factory 2013 blu-ray
So the first set of shots shows exactly why the original DVD is hopelessly out of date.  It's a tiny, little 1.80:1 non-anamorphic image.  That alone is reason enough to replace it, which Anchor Bay did themselves, giving it a fresher, now thankfully anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer on their newer DVD.  The older DVD also had washed out colors, hot brights, artifacting, and all the obvious stuff you can expect from an old 90s DVD.  I won't waste anymore time harping on that; the pictures speak for themselves and the situation is already obvious.  Interesting, though, that Anchor Bay is the last we see of the traditional 1.85 framing.  Arrow and Scream Factory both opt for a 1.78:1 frame (though Arrow's DVD is a little rough around the edges and could be maybe considered 1.79:1).  It's never a massive boost in detail and clarity from the DVDs, but the difference is there.  You can actually read the numbers on the yellow sticker of that car on the blus, which you certainly can't on the original DVD.

And between the blus?  Well, there's room for improvement on both, but Arrow has a real smoothed out, DNR'd look.  Scream Factory isn't exactly a microscopically perfect 4k scan of every inch of grain, but it's more natural and filmic than Arrow's.  It also has richer colors.  Also, while both are in 1.78, the framing is shifted slightly.  But they're close enough that it's hard to guess which one is more correct or to say that one looks better.  They just offer slightly different slivers around the edges.  But in general, yeah, I doubt many would contest Scream's win in terms of PQ.  Everything's pretty natural and straight-forward so far.
But hey, that old 1998 DVD did get something right - the audio!  Now, it just gives us the original mono audio track in 2.0 (and no subtitles, for the record).  But having that original mono audio is going to prove important here.  But problems were introduced with the new 2003 edition, problems that would plague this film for years to come.  And this is ironic, considering we're talking about Anchor Bay's special Divimax edition, where their fancy new audio was a big part of their marketing.  They included three audio tracks: Dolby Digital Surround EX (a 5.1 mix), DTS-ES (a 6.1 mix) and Dolby Surround 2.0.  Oh, and now with English captions.  Just one problem with all three of those audio tracks - they're censored!  Lines with curse words, or even phrases like "oh, Jesus" as the scientists watch Bub eat human flesh st the 1:11:40 mark, are muted.

Now, I can't take credit for being the first to spot this problem; it's been written about plenty online.  This page on istherefood.com does a great job of finding specific instances and including audio clips of both the censored and uncensored versions; I definitely recommend pouring through that.  So I'm just going to focus on which tracks on which discs are censored or uncensored.  And so far, the answer is 1998 uncensored, and all the tracks AB's 2003 DVD are censored.  Now that page I linked writes about Arrow's audio being still censored.  But that article is from 2006, so thankfully he's talking about an older DVD set they released that year.  Checking Arrow's blu-ray, which offers both the original mono in 2.0 and a 5.1 mix in DTS-HD (but unfortunately, no subs), I'm happy to report that both tracks are uncensored.  And Scream Factory, which just offers the original mono in DTS-HD (and yes, subtitles)?  Also uncensored.
But we haven't even gotten to the most complicated part of the comparison yet: the extras.  It starts out simple enough.  The original DVD had a 20 minute collection of behind-the-scenes footage, the trailer, and an insert.  Curiously, it was a double-sided disc, with the film on one side and the brief extras on the other.  Anyway, the 2003 DVD really ramped it up, with fancy packaging of a 3-dimensional zombie acting as a little velcro gateway to the foldout case (protected in a clear plastic shell), and a neat booklet designed to look like Dr. Frankenstein's notepad.  They actually lost the original behind-the-scenes footage, though, replacing it with a new, longer behind-the-scenes footage featurette.  They're very different, though.  The original was apparently shot by Nicotero and interviews a lot of the crew and interns, while the latter was shot by Savini and focuses largely on the development of the special effects.  There's no overlap between them and they're both quite good and worthwhile.

Anyway, Anchor Bay's DVD also added a lot more, including an excellent audio commentary by Romero, Savini, star Lori Cardille, and production designer Cletus Anderson, plus another commentary by Roger Avery (Rules of Attraction, Pulp Fiction).  The second commentary is somewhat interesting, but runs out of steam about halfway through.  They also have a solid 'making of' documentary that runs about 40 minutes with a lot of interviews, an audio-only interview with the deceased Richard Liberty (the actor who played Frankenstein), and a fun promo video for the mines the film was shot in.  Also included are stills galleries, three trailers, three TV spots, and the original script as a DVD-ROM bonus.  The Anchor Bay blu-ray, for the record, has exactly the same extras as this 2-disc set.
Which brings us to Arrow.  Interestingly, Arrow's 2010 blu-ray featured all new extras, but none of the old ones.  These were all made by Highrising Pictures, during Calum Waddell's time with Arrow, and they're all pretty good (and yes, feature those cute animations by his wife).  There's an all new audio commentary by Nicotero and fellow effects artists Howard Berger, Everett Burrell and Mike Deak, which starts out really fun and informative, but like the Avery commentary, starts to run low on material in the second half.  Then there's a nearly hour-long interview with Joe Pilato, which goes quite in depth, and another seventeen minute "travelogue" of footage of Joe at various European conventions.  All great stuff, but by itself, pretty light.  Like, most of the major players aren't included.

And that's why they re-released it as a 3-disc set.  Now the original DVD and blu from the combo-pack are exactly the same, but they've added a third disc of extras, which basically restores most of the Anchor Bay special features.  Their 'making of,' the Liberty interview, the Nicotero behind-the-scenes footage (but not the Savini one!), even the mine promo.  Also this disc has all the trailers, TV spots and stills galleries.  Arrow's set also includes a 16-page booklet by Waddell, a card for a different Arrow release (mine was Withnail and I), and reversible artwork.
And Scream Factory?  It's another weird hodge-podge of old and new extras.  They have the two Anchor Bay audio commentaries (but not Arrow's), Savini's behind-the-scenes footage (but not Nicotero's!), the mine promo, and the trailers and galleries.  But they also have an all new, feature length 'making of' documentary.  This is better than the AB one, covering a lot of the same material but a lot more besides (though it has to be noted that the original AB one has some exclusive interviews, too, like Romero's wife).  And Scream also made a new featurette visiting the mine location (not to be confused with the promo video), which is kinda cool and a little bit weird, honestly.  Scream's release also includes reversible artwork.
So let's say you want all the extras.  Admittedly, some of it gets redundant (you'll hear the story about the guts used for the zombie attack scene going rancid about sixteen times), but each release has a lot of strong, exclusive stuff.  Well, if you can track down Arrow's 3-disc set, all you need is that and the Scream Factory.  Between those two, you'll have both companies' new content plus all of the Anchor Bay material.  But Arrow's 3-disc set was limited and out of print, so it'll take some digging.  Your only option using the regular, more readily available Arrow release is to buy all three blus: Arrow, Scream and Anchor Bay (or, at least, the Anchor Bay DVD set).

As far as the film itself, though, Scream is the easy choice.  Best video, uncensored original audio with subs.  Yeah, the mono has a little sibilance (on all the releases), but it's nowhere on the level of Black Christmas or anything.  Arrow does give you the uncensored 5.1 mix, but for me, I just want the original mono, not those revisionist remixes, and I'd rather have the subtitles.  So Scream Factory for the best presentation of the film, and add Arrow's 3-disc set (and, I mean, it's not that impossible to find) for the ultimate, full Day Of the Dead experience.