Depraved: Larry Fessenden Returns To the Frankenstein Legend

Not to be too snarky, but for me, the "IFC Midnight" series is usually the zero interest arm of Scream Factory; but when there's a new Larry Fessenden film, I pay attention.  Depraved is Fessenden's latest film, having run through 2019 in festivals and limited screenings, and finally becoming accessible on home video now with this BD/ DVD combo pack.  But if that felt like an interminable wait, you can imagine what it's been like for Fessenden himself who's been struggling to get his modern Frankenstein story funded and on screen for the last full decade.  If he can persevere through all of that, then the time I spent refreshing Glass Eye Pix's Twitter feed pining for a physical media release date doesn't seem so toughly endured.
I was a little surprised when I first heard of this project - hadn't we already gotten Fessenden's modern Frankenstein story in 1991 with No Telling (The Frankenstein Complex)?  That was already quite excellent itself.  But I guess it didn't quite scratch that itch.  And certainly, as much as they both adhere to the same, rough skeletal structure as Mary Shelley's novel (an obsessive medical scientist manages to bring back the dead through secret, hand-wrought experiments that wind up causing unexpected, tragic and ultimately deadly consequences), they've risen from the slab as distinctly different creatures.  For one thing, No Telling dictates the events from the scientist's perspective, while Depraved (mostly) shows us the world from the monster's point of view.
The result is a more sensitive film.  The creature's story has famously been as heartbreaking as it is scary.  That's pretty much what Frankenstein's best known for.  But this one really leans into the bonds developed between Adam and his maker... heck the centerpiece of Depraved is a five minute tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (which let an indie horror crew shoot all over the place?!) where he's taught the history and nature of humanity.  Relative newcomer Alex Breaux in particular gives an award-worthy performance that perfectly suits the mood piece Fessenden is building around him.  Everything you expect from Fessenden is here, from his masterful use of original music to his eccentric animations.  He possibly gets a little too distracted filling the frame with homages to everything from James Whale's classic to Cronenberg's The Fly, but it's never so much that it detracts from what might sincerely be Fessenden's best film yet.
2020 Scream Factory DVD top; 2020 Scream Factory BD bottom.
Depraved is presented in 2.35:1 on both discs.  This film was shot digitally, so that film grain you see is "fake," an effect added in post.  But we can still use it to observe the difference in resolution between the DVD and blu.  And you can see how it's crisp and clear on the blu, but smudgy and sporadic on the DVD.  More practically, the biggest difference you'll notice is just that the fine details and edges have a softer look.  Of course the colors, brightness levels and everything else are the same, since its the same master just put on two different resolution discs.  Curiously, though, they've included two audio mixes for the film: a 5.1 surround and a 2.0 stereo track (both are DTS-HD on the blu).  I'm not sure what the purpose of the stereo track is since it's not a previous mix, and 5.1s naturally down-mix on stereo TVs, but okay, I'll take it.  Optional English and Spanish subtitles are also included.
One thing you can count on, Fessenden + Scream Factory = a fantastic collection of special features, and this is no exception.  We start out with a director's commentary.  He flies on solo on this one, but he doesn't need any help to fill the entire running time with thoughtful insight and fascinating backstory.  There are a few pauses, but they feel like technical edits rather than lapses, and they never last too long.  Then there's a feature length documentary, which if you've seen past Fessenden special editions, you know take you quite thoroughly through every step of production, from conception to premiere.  These aren't just EPK talking heads and a little B-roll; they're fascinatingly candid watches even if you had no interest in the actual feature film.  In fact, this doc has had some theatrical screenings of its own.  After that, there are featurettes that interview Fessenden (good, but a lot of it's redundant after the doc and commentary), the special effects team, Breaux and other crew members.  They basically just serve as extra little addendums to the main doc, which is all good.  There's also the trailer, and a full-color 8-page booklet of photos.
So this is an easy recommendation.  It's a great film.  If Beneath had you wary of blind-buying a Fessenden film, don't worry, this is a return to his top shelf material.  And Scream Factory has delivered a first class special edition just as deep and rewarding as their previous collaborations.  Ever since the Larry Fessenden Collection in 2015, his work as been ideally preserved on home video, and this additional chapter slides right in perfectly.  I wish this was the case for most other filmmakers, but I'm certainly grateful in this case.

The Dead Pit Quagmire

1989's The Dead Pit is an odd duck.  I mean, sure, it's not as weird as some other movies we've looked at here, but it's weird in terms of where it falls in terms of quality.  Like, if someone said to me, hey, I've never seen The Dead Pit, is it any good?  I wouldn't know how to answer.  It's almost a good movie.  In some ways it's an awesome movie.  But it's just too amateurish and crappy to cross that "Good" finish line.  So yeah, it sucks.  But it really delivers the goods, in terms of its imaginative aspirations and in the slick level of quality it manages to reach, that horror fans are looking for.  In other words, it's a real quagmire, just the kind of off-beat flick we cult fans turn to Code Red for.
So let's dig into it.  What is The Dead Pit, a zombie movie?  Well, technically, but they don't really show up until the end to up the ante and turn the finale into a wild, The Beyond-like spectacle.  For the most part, the film is a little more subdued, with a single Freddy Krueger-like supernatural slasher committing all the villainy through the bulk of the story.  It all takes place in a mental hospital, with our leading lady convinced that an evil, dead doctor is persecuting her.  She spends the majority of her time in comically exploitative underwear, and the film occasionally dips into "women in prison" territory, replete with a scene where a cackling nurse blasts her top off with a powerful fire hose.  It's all interspersed with some awfully wooden dialogue read by actors who are clearly struggling to remember the last few words of their sentences, which is what pulls the film down to suckage levels. 
But then there's all the stuff that makes it neat.  The hospital location is pretty spooky and expertly lit, with eerie green lights peaking up from The Haunting-like spiral staircases.  The film's directed by Brett Leonard, who went on to direct more mainstream fare such as Hideaway, The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity.  None of those are what I'd regard as highly respectable films either, but you can see the qualities in here that would've lead New Line to give him those shots at the big time.  And it's full of great kills, from dental drills through the eye to melting faces and flying decapitations, all made with the classic 80s style physical effects fans trawled their video stores for back in the day.  If they'd just paid as much attention to the rest of the film as those sequences, we'd have, if not a Re-Animator level classic, at least an endearing entertainment like The Curse.  Instead, it's a more frustrating experience where cool scenes are ruined by the grind of joyless tedium you have to sit through in order to get to them.  In the end, is it worth it?  That depends on your level of patience and willingness to overlook serious flaws.  But I think this might actually work better on younger viewers who are still thinking less critically as the whole experience just washes over them, in the same way that an adult sees a man in a zippered rubber suit clumsily stepping on cheap models while a child just sees Godzilla rampaging through a decimated city.  That's why I think a lot of us are nostalgic for the old Dead Pit VHS with the novelty light-up box.
But for a very long time, it was largely academic whether you were fond or wary of The Dead Pit, because you couldn't get it on DVD if you tried.  At best, die hard aficionados were able to import hard-to-find budget discs that were barebones and fullscreen from random European territories.  Code Red finally arrived to do the film justice in 2008, releasing two versions of a proper widescreen special edition: a single disc DVD and a Best Buy exclusive 2-disc set.  It was all you could want until the HD age.  So a few months ago, Code Red, this time in conjunction with Dark Force Entertainment, released a blu-ray upgrade... at least in terms of picture quality.
2008 Code Red DVD top; 2019 Dark Forces BD bottom.
According to the back of the case, this blu represents a "brand new 2k scan from the original negative with extensive scene-by-scene correction."  And it's certainly an obvious enhancement over the DVD transfer, with a far less muddy image and more natural colors.  Like, just look at the first set of shots; it's like you're trying to view the DVD through a sheet of wax paper, which has been lifted for the blu.  But the inconsistent, patchy and sometimes pixelated film grain falls a bit short of what we expect from a brand new 2k scan.  It feels like an older master, though maybe it's just troubled compression (this is a single layer disc, after all) or a side effect of their correction process.  Both are shown in 1.78:1, but the framing has shifted a bit between versions, so it's definitely not the same scan.  But I'd say most of the credit for this blu goes to the color correction rather than any great gain in resolution.

For audio, we just get the original mono track (which is all I ask for), bumped up to DTS-HD on the blu, though it's still a little fuzzy.  There are no subtitle options on either version.
But here's where the blu loses ground.  The special features consist of four really quite good on-camera interviews with Leonard, writer/ producer Gimel Everett and stars Cheryl Lawson & Jeremy Slate.  Neat.  We also get the trailer.  But the DVDs not only also had these interviews - they had considerably more.  There was a fun audio commentary Leonard, Everett and Slate, and brief introductions by Slate and Lawson on the single disc edition.  Plus some bonus trailers.  Then, the 2-disc edition also included over half an hour of behind the scenes footage, and another half hour of special effects test and creation footage effects artist Ed Martinez.  And there's a rather unusual "mini-movie," which edits the film down to roughly 20 minutes, but includes alternate effects shots, particularly in the final scene where the villain suffers a completely different, gruesome fate.  Oh, and there's a stills gallery.

Now, I thought all that behind-the-scenes footage was pretty neat, giving you a real fly-on-the-wall vérité style peek behind the curtain of this film.  But, while it's a little disappointing, I can see why Dark Force decided not to carry all of that stuff over (the mini-movie especially feels like they were just trying to find stuff to fill up that second DVD), especially if they weren't willing to spring for a second layer.  But it's just baffling to me that they decided to drop the audio commentary.  It's good natured, with a lot of laughing and back and forth, but never getting off track and failing to be informative.  Oh well.  One thing Dark Force did do is create two much-hyped glow in the dark slipcovers.  Mine, pictured above, is #2.  The first one uses the zombie artwork you see on the DVD, with the more cartoonish face.
So yeah, I'm a little underwhelmed by this one.  In a way, my feelings towards the blu-ray kind of match my feelings toward the movie itself, so I guess it's all fitting.  This is definitely one I didn't need, but I wanted it just enough to eventually spring for it when the price came down to a reasonable point.  You've got to hang onto the old release for most of the extras, which always saps my enthusiasm to double-dip, but at least it's a visible improvement over the DVD.  I don't mean to sound too harsh.  I mean, hey, it's another one off my list.

The Latest Chapter of H.P. Lovecraft's Necronomicon

Here's one I've been eagerly anticipating!  Necronomicon is a severely under-appreciated 1993 horror anthology based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, produced and partially directed by Brian Yuzna.  It's struggled long and hard to find its way to us, as you'll see, but Germany's Wicked Vision is finally getting their new 3-disc (blu-ray/ DVD + bonus disc combo pack) edition into fans' hands around the world.  It's a mediabook, which is fitting for a film named after one of the most infamous books of all time.
Yuzna's work seems to be going through a bit of a revival lately, with fresh fans discovering the demented brilliance of films like Society and Return Of the Living Dead 3.  And Necronomicon is one of his absolute best.  The idea here was to create a more international flavor, so this ambitious anthology features a French segment directed by Cristophe Gans (Crying Freeman) and a Japanese segment by Shûsuke Kaneko (the Gamera and Death Note films) in addition to his American one.  These guys add a slightly artier, more stylized feel to Yuzna's fun, gory romp, creating a collaboration somewhat reminiscent of his work with Stuart Gordon.  It's a great blend, especially with the Lovecraft source material as well.  It's got a great little cast, including Richard Lynch, Bruce Payne, David Warner and Return Of the Living Dead's Don Calfa, plus a whole bunch of wild, practical effects.  Jeffrey Combs even appears in the wrap-around (also directed by Yuzna) to play Lovecraft himself, sporting a fake chin that gives him a surprising resemblance to Bruce Campbell.
I remember desperately trying to track down a copy of a crappy, fullscreen DVD of Necronomicon from Brazil.  And then I remember how happy I was when I could give up the search in 2004 because Metropolitan came out with a stunning, widescreen 2-disc special edition in France.  Plenty of much bigger and better known horror films weren't getting releases that nice from major studios in the US.  That DVD was all you needed to know about Necronomicon through the whole SD era.  Then ten years later, Metropolitan turned their one and only DVD release into a one and only blu-ray.  But something's finally come along to dethrone it: the new, 2019 3-disc mediabook release from Wicked-Vision.  First announced back in 2016 for a 2017 release, it's obviously run into a few hurdles along the way, but it's finally here.
One of those hurdles actually came after the film's release, when it turned out the blu-ray had a mastering error.  So everyone who had this pre-ordered got a bum disc.  But full credit to WV, they jumped on it quick and started a replacement program and have already issued corrected versions to stores.  Those who ordered it direct from the label were automatically issued a replacement, and everyone else can fill out a form for a free one here.  If you bought this and aren't sure if you've got the faulty or corrected disc, it's easy to tell the difference, as you can see in the photo above.  That's the original faulty disc on the left with the blue and red tentacles, and the corrected version on the right, with the purple and green. 
1) 2004 French Metropolitan DVD; 2) 2019 German Wicked Vision DVD;
3) 2019 German Wicked Vision BD.
So, we're obviously looking at the same master here; the new release hasn't changed anything in that regard.  Metropolitan and Wicked Vision even share the same wonky pillarboxing that shifts from shot to shot in the overscan area... notice how it's all on the right in the first set of shots, then split thinner onto both sides in the second?  The film is essentially presented as 1.78:1, but usually hovers around 1.76:1.  Otherwise though, for an older master, it holds up on a modern blu fairly well.  Grain is a little patchy and a little digital-looking, the exact sort of thing a 2 or 4k remaster would fix up nicely; but I've seen plenty of newer blus looking worse.  So as long as you're not expecting anything cutting edge, you should be pretty happy.  The two DVDs look nearly identical, though WV's has a ever so slightly more contrast, and the HD blu genuinely does reveal more fine detail that you couldn't make out in SD.

So if they're virtually identical, what makes Wicked Vision's release superior?  Well, to start with, the Metropolitan DVD had forced French subtitles when you played the English audio track (it includes both the original English and a French dub, both in 5.1).  I believe they did fix that on their blu (and bump both tracks up to DTS-HD), but the subs are still forced on many of the special features.  Also, neither Metropolitan disc has English subtitle options.  Wicked Vision, on the other hand, has the same English 5.1 mix, with an German stereo mix instead of the French dub (both in DTS-HD on the blu) and this time, Both German and English subtitles are optional on the film and the extras.   So that already puts it in the lead, but the best is yet to come.
As great as it was to see Necronomicon restored to widescreen, the biggest surprise of Metropolitan's release was that it was packed with extras.  There aren't a lot of fully loaded, completely exclusive special editions in France, but here was one.  For starters, there's a neat audio commentary by Christophe Gans and Brian Yuzna.  Then there's an hour long documentary that's packed with great behind-the-scenes footage.  That's followed up by five more featurettes, which are basically just like another hour's worth of documentary broken up into smaller bits.  Then there's also a vintage promo featurette, the trailer, two galleries (including one that shows a full set of storyboards for a deleted fourth segment!), and a 12-page booklet (in French).  It also has a pretty sweet easter egg: Gans' student 15-minute student film called The Silver Slime.  It's all style and no substance, and in some ways feels as clunky as you'd expect a student film to be, but it's got a great look and pays homage to Mario Bava.  Metropolitan also added the complete soundtrack as another extra on their BD.
The Silver Slime
And Wicked Vision?  They carry over everything from the French releases, except unfortunately, for that easter egg.  But they make up for it by creating a bunch of new special features.  For starters, we get a brand new, hour long(!) interview with Brian Yuzna.  There are also great new, on-camera interviews with the screenwriter Brent V. Friedman and effects artist Steve Johnson.  They added a second audio commentary, by two German experts, but that's the one thing that isn't English friendly on their discs.  They also add a couple additional trailers, a bonus trailer (that annoyingly plays on start-up) and their book is 24-pages (in German).  It's also worth noting that Wicked Vision's mediabook comes in three variant covers, each limited to 333 copies; mine shown above is cover B.  And they're planning to release a standard edition, but that'll be a single disc release, minus many of the extras.
So, I do kinda miss The Silver Slime, but overall, Wicked Vision's is a more flush and satisfying edition that's also free of those pesky French subs.  Yeah, it's the same transfer, so if you already have the French blu and aren't fussed about extras (the DVD had forced subs on the film, but the BD only has 'em on some of the special features), it may not be worth double-dipping.  But if you're picking up the film for the first time, the Wicked Vision is the one to get.  It's also region free, which is more than can be said for the B-locked Metropolitan.

Dan O'Bannon's The Resurrected

Dear Lions Gate, you may not be aware, but among the many, many excellent cult catalog titles you have shut away in your vaults, is an fun, highly regarded HP Lovecraft adaptation that fans have been asking for called The Resurrected. It's written and directed by Dan O'Bannon, creator behind such cult classics as Return Of the Living Dead, Dark Star and co-writer of the original Alien. You've even got a lovely, HD master already made (we know, because it's streamed on Netflix). And all you would need to do, to make a lot of people very happy, boost your reputation and make a nice little profit is to release it on DVD and blu-ray, or sub-license it to a niche label like Scream Factory, Synapse, etc. who will happily do it for you. I could see wanting to do it yourself, or leasing it out and letting another company front all the risk and labor, but surely you'd want to do something more than just sitting on your vast catalog and watching them depreciate in value - especially with a hot.

Update, update, holy crap - update! 8/28/15: The special edition this film should've gotten years ago has finally landed! It's a limited edition blu-ray/ DVD combo pack from OFDb Filmworks, with a plethora of extras from Red Shirt Pictures. The film's finally been released in its OAR, and its in HD. It's a pretty lavish set from Germany (so be prepared for Region B blu and region 2 DVD), and I just got my hands on it the other day, so let's take a look! Join me further down the page for a fresh comparison and look at all the new features.

Update 1/5/20: So in 2015, it was a German, region B release.  Shortly after, Lions Gate really started cracking open their vaults with the Vestron Line.  And tonight we wrap up our updating run with the one title they licensed to Scream Factory for a proper US release in 2017.
The Resurrected is one of the most direct, faithful adaptations of Lovecraft on film, starring Chris Sarandon (who, by the way Lions Gate, starred in the also underestimated Fright Night, which wound up selling out its entire blu-ray run in only two days. Just sayin'.) as Charles Dexter Ward, whose wife hires a private detective (24's John Terry) to find out why he's disappeared to a remote cabin with a strange man. Mad science, gruesome murders and a sequence set in the 1700s stand between them and the monstrous answer. Impressive effects, music by the always reliable Richard Band and some atmospheric cinematography (though you wouldn't know it from the full screen version) add up to a quality horror flick just dying to be rediscovered by a broader audience. The Lurker In the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H.P. Lovecraft calls it, "the best serious Lovecraftian screen adaptation to date."
Admittedly, part of the difficulty The Resurrected has had finding its audience is that the film ran into some difficulty in post production. The producers took the film away from O'Bannon, who said he felt it was his best work at the time, and re-cut it themselves. So it went through a couple titles (Shatterbrain and The Ancestor) and a final version O'Bannon wasn't so pleased with. And tragically, Dan O'Bannon has passed away, so it's too late to hope for his involvement in any kind of special edition. But thankfully, his director's cut already exists! He made it before he passed and it's already screened theatrically as early as 2013. It's frustrating that nobody's taken the opportunity to pull a Nightbreed and put out the still unreleased director's cut along with the theatrical version of the film.  But we at least get deleted scenes taken from the workprint on both the OFDb and Scream Factory discs, which is a good step in the right direction.
Now, to be fair to Lions Gate, they did release The Resurrected on DVD at one point. It's fifteen years old now, long out of print, and a completely no-frills fullscreen release without even a trailer, but that's substantially more than can be said for some other sought after Lions Gate titles, like Nightwish Tale of a Vampire.  But it really wasn't until OFDb released it in Germany that the film could be said to have any kind of proper edition.  They released a proper widescreen version in 2015 on blu as a limited edition media book, followed by a slimmer single-disc release in 2016.  And of course, as of 2017, we now have it in HD here in the US courtesy of Scream Factory.
1) 2005 LG DVD; 2) 2015 OFDb BD; 3) 2017 SF BD.
Credit where it's due, the DVD is at least open matte rather than pan & scan, so nothing's cropped away. Still, it's interlaced.  And looking at the composition, there's no question that the widescreen version is the correct ratio, with the OFDb looking much more impressive in 1.78:1.  Then, SF's blu is even wider at 1.85:1, but they didn't just matte it a little more.  It actually has more vertical info (though not as much as the DVD) and more on the sides - especially the left.  The boxy look of the film on DVD and cable is certainly a part of the for the negative reactions this film has gotten from casual viewers over the years. This finally looks like a movie, not a cheap TV show. Granted, the new HD transfer doesn't look quite state of the art: a little soft and it doesn't look like we've got a natural look at the film grain yet. And that goes for both blus. Scream has the improved framing and they've also done some fresh color correction (OFDb's timing pretty much matches the old DVD), providing some additional separation, generally white whites and unveils some detail that was crushed away in the shadows of the earlier edition.  But this 2k scan of the interpositive still seems to have had its grain smoothed away, or more likely not thoroughly captured in the first place.

The 2005 DVD just offered the original stereo track with no subtitle options.  OFDb bumped that up to DTS-HD, plus both 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD mixes of the German dub with optional German subtitles.Scream Factory keeps the stereo track in DTS-HD and gives the film optional English subtitles for the first time.
So it's great to have a widescreen release of this film, finally, but where OFDb has really excelled is the extras. Now, this is a German disc, so there are a couple of bits that are German only. But most things - all the important stuff -  is completely English-friendly.

First up is an audio commentary (yes, in English) with the film's producers Mark Borde and Kenneth Raich, writer Brent V. Friedman, special effects artist Todd Masters and actor Robert Romanus (he played Lonnie).  Brent Friedman and Todd Masters also comes back for on-camera interviews, running 18 and 16 minutes respectively. This and all the other interviews are in English with optional/ removable German subtitles. The other interviews include star Chris Sarandon (16 mins), composer Richard Band (10 mins), and production designer Brent Thomas (8 mins). There's also a brief acceptance speech by Dan O'Bannon at the Chainsaw Awards, introduced by Bruce Campbell and Quentin Tarantino, and two trailers for the film. Finally and perhaps most excitingly of all, there's over 18 minutes of recovered footage of the director's cut from the workprint tape. As you'd expect, it's from fuzzy 4:3 tape, but it actually looks a lot cleaner than most workprints I've seen, looking essentially like a commercial VHS release. It's missing music cues, and there's the occasional "shot missing" card for big effects moments; but this is really the stuff fans have been wanting to see since final cut was first taken from O'Bannon back in 1991. These are all on the blu-ray and in HD.
2015 OFDb DVD.
Because yeah, technically OFDb's release is a 3-disc set.  The second disc in this set is the DVD version of the blu.  And the third disc is most of the extras that couldn't fit on the blu on DVD. It's worth noting, though, that there's an animated stills gallery with the behind-the-scenes photos and such that's only on the DVD, and not on the blu. And for the German speakers among us, there are also two additional commentaries (one with a pair of German film critics, and one with two guys from Wicked-Vision Magazin), as well as a radio play of the original Lovecraft story. Oh, and there's a glossy, 80-page book included in this set, which is also all in German. But at least it makes the set look a little more lavish. There's a separate insert, too, with a note from the producers of the DVD and telling you the individual number of your limited copy (mine's 2040/5000).

And Scream Factory?  Thankfully, they've imported everything except the German-language commentaries.  Even that photo gallery.  And most excitingly, they've also come up with a little bit more.  First is an on-camera interview with ST Joshi, the Lovecraft expert we've seen on several recent Lovecraft discs, like Dagon and Beyond Re-Animator.  Then, even better, they interview female lead Jane Sibbett.  Apparently, she doesn't like horror movies, but she's a good sport.  Scream's release also comes with reversible cover art.
OFDb's release turned out to be absolutely everything I was asking and hoping for when I wrote the original version of this post, and Scream Factory's is even better.  Admittedly, I still hold out hope for that director's cut, and this film could still look better.  But at a certain point, we're looking at the grey lining of a silver cloud, because these blus really deliver what we fans have been clamoring for and they'd have to be crazy to be disinterested just because we can think up even more to hope for.

A Pair of Vinegar Syndromes #2: Deathrow Gameshow.... The Only Way To Go

Released in the same DVD bundle as Code Red's Spaghetti Cinema and Six Pack #3 is the long-awaited special edition of Deathrow Gameshow, by writer/ director Mark Pirro. Known for getting 8mm horror comedies like A Polish Vampire In Burbank and Nudist Colony of the Dead distributed wide on cable and VHS, I believe Gameshow is the most mainstream and biggest budgeted of his films. It was 35mm with a theatrical run, was a big seller in the early days of VHS and I can certainly attest to the fact that it played a whole ton on late night HBO and Cinemax back in the 80s. I used to stay up all night to watch it as a kid, until I got savvy enough to tape it.

Update 1/3/15 - 1/4/20: You may've guessed this was coming after Psychos In Love yesterday, since it's the only film with a VS update that was still missing.  It might've hurt them to release this as a double-dip so quickly after fans had waited so long for Code Red's special edition.  That's certainly why I didn't jump on it right away.  But we're covering it here now, as we near the end of our update blitz.
So nostalgia definitely drove my excitement when I heard Code Red was planning a special edition for this release. It blew my mind that there would even be a special edition for this, and I couldn't wait to see if its outrageous humor would hold up as a grown-up. The basic premise is that death row inmates are given the option to appear on a network game show to win prizes in exchange for getting killed in silly games on national television. After a contestant at the beginning of the film fails to answer a trivia question to win a pardon, it's off to the guillotine - BUT, his family can still win a big cash prize if his head lands face up in the basket. It's kitsch, trashy, juvenile and loaded with enough jokes to rival a Zucker brothers film. As you can imagine, most of them are real groaners, but I have to say that some of are genuinely clever.
And yeah, there is an actual plot to the film. The host, who also happens to be a sexist heel, accidentally kills a big time mafia boss on his show. He appears on a talk show to debate the morality of his show with a beautiful feminist, and they wind up on the run from a crazed hitman played by character actor Beano. The film does a good job of keeping the predictable plot moving at a good pace, and never veering too far from the crazy game show itself, which after all is the draw of the film. It absolutely adheres to film rule #1: don't be boring. In some ways, the exaggerated cartoonish elements (for example, when the mob boss calls, the phone shakes and smoke comes out of it) remind me of early Raimi films, like Crimewave, only with more nudity. But between times changing in comedy and the audience becoming adult, the whole conceit of the show doesn't seem as delightfully demented as it did in the 80s, which once had me telling incredulous kids at school "you can't believe what I actually saw in a movie!" But it's still fun and very, very 80s, with an unforgettable theme song.
One last thing I have to address is the newer, director's cut of this film.  No deleted scenes or anything have been restored to the film, but if you listen to the audio commentary, you'll hear Pirro repeatedly identifying digital changes he made. He "Lucas'd it," he admits, pointing out how he added things like blood to the guillotine blade, and funny on-screen logos to a commercial that plays within the film. Blood and logos that the viewer never sees, because while the commentators are clearly watching this second version, we're watching the original theatrical version without those changes.  Until this latest release, you could only see the altered version if you ordered it specifically from the filmmaker's website... which is fine, since nobody wants CGI blood in their movies even when it was made like that in the first place. "Lucasing" a movie is pretty much universally acknowledged as a bad thing, and I gotta say, the added effects aren't exactly seamless.  But Pirro seems to prefer it, so for the curious, Vinegar Syndrome has finally made the special edition more accessible by including it as an extra on their release.  So now everybody wins because we can have both.
Original left, retouched version on the right.
Anyway, it took so long for Code Red to deliver the film after announcing it that I started searching around, and realized that it was included as a bonus film with another Crown International DVD release released in 2008 by BCI Eclipse, The Kidnapping Of the American President. I was expecting a junk-o VHS-sourced print, but amazingly it turned out to be a nice, anamorphic widescreen print. That DVD is now out of print, and going for outrageous prices on Amazon. I was actually able to rent it from Netflix, but now they no longer carry it. That same print turned up again in 2010, anyway, in a 12 film, 3 disc set (they're double-sided) from Rare Cult Cinema from Mill Creek Entertainment. That one's compelling as it sells for very cheap (about $6 new on Amazon, not even counting third party sellers).  It was great to have something to tide us over as Code Red's release got pushed back again and again.  But it finally came out in December 2014, and that was great have to tide us over until Vinegar Syndrome restored the film from its original negatives and released Deathrow Gameshow on blu in 2016.
1) 2010 Mill Creek DVD; 2) 2014 Code Red DVD; 3) 2016 VS DC DVD;
4) 2016 VS DVD; 5) 2016 VS DC BD; 6) 2016 VS BD.
So the Code Red and Mill Creek DVDs are virtually, but not 100%, identical.  Both have a lot of digital noise and are ever so slightly pinched and pillarboxed to 1.75:1, clearly utilizing the same master; but CR's colors are a smidgen richer.  Code Red had the edge already, anyway, because there is one clear difference between the two prints. After the closing credits, the film comes back with one more shot - a stinger.  Well, the Code Red's stinger is complete, but the Mill Creek one only shows a fraction, before chopping the actor's line mid-sentence, and cutting to the Mill Creek logo.

Of course, VS's restoration has far more than an edge.  The film is now matted to 1.85:1, and yet manages to unveil more information along all four sides.  The colors have been corrected and are cooler and more distinct (for example, the secretary's blouse is truly white).  Small detail is much clearer (we can finally read those post-it notes all over the walls), and a nasty collection of compression artifacts that've grown all over previous editions like mold has finally been cleared away.  Oh, and finally I have to point out that the Vinegar Syndrome's release is a DVD/ blu-ray combo pack; and they've continued their strange tradition of making their DVD actually open matte at 1.78:1, revealing even more vertical information than the blu.
And how about that director's cut (DC)?  Well, it fixes the DVDs' pinched aspect ratio slightly to 1.79:1, leaving just a single sliver of a vertical matte, but also zooms in on the picture ever so slightly.  It has slightly duller colors, with a bit more of a dusky red hue over the image.  The image is even softer with some unfortunate edge enhancement or something muddying the image, like this is a copy of a copy (which it probably is).  But the real problem is that it botches the frame rate, regularly double-printing some frames while interlacing - then correcting - others, creating ghosting effects and giving motion and panning a stilted jittery effect.  Putting aside any question of whether the film is improved or hampered by the creative changes made to the film, it's objectively the worst transfer of them all.

Every version just includes a simple mono track in 2.0, but it's now in lossless DTS-HD on the blu (though it's still lossy on the director's cut).  Vinegar Syndrome has also included optional English subtitles for the very first time.
But where Code Red really triumphed was in the extras. None of those old BCI or Mill Creek editions have any extras at all, not even a trailer. But Code Red has the trailer (plus the usual CR bonus trailers), and a whole lot more. First of all, the film has a very informative and engaging audio commentary by Pirro, stars John McCafferty & Robyn Blythe and co-writer Alan Gries, who mostly works as moderator. It's very upbeat, but not afraid to get critical and never lulls. Then, there's a great retrospective documentary called Revisiting Deathrow Gameshow, which features all the lead actors (except, unfortunately, Beano), lots of the crew and even the former VP of Crown International Pictures. It's over half an hour long and is a very fun look back on the shooting. And finally there's an old self-made documentary film by Pirro called Mimi Motion Picture Making from 1994. It's a 49-minute retrospective on Pirro's career discussing all of his films (including a segment on Deathrow Gameshow) with even more interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. All together, it's a wonderful retrospective you're sure to enjoy even if you didn't particularly care for the movie itself.

And Vinegar Syndrome?  They've carried over almost all of the wonderful Code Red stuff, except Mimi Motion Picture Making seems to have been just to much to fit onto a single disc.  That's because they've used that space to instead include two of Pirro's early short films.  Buns, from 1978, is a silly horror spoof about a maniac who only kills people who eat hamburgers, and stars Pirro himself and McCafferty in a smaller role.  And 1979's The Spy Who Did It Better is a 45-minute James Bond parody with McCafferty in the lead role, where the director has unfortunately added some more of his digital revisions.  These are distracting but never intrusive enough to spoil the fun.  VS also adds a brief director's introduction, TV spot, photo gallery, and includes reversible artwork.
Naturally, Vinegar Syndrome's is the decisive, definitive edition.  One thing the Rare Cult Cinema pack does have going for it, though, is that it also includes Pirro's My Mom's a Werewolf, which he wrote but didn't direct.  It's a fun flick, too, so that plus the price may make it a nice, cheap pick up for the casual viewer.  And dedicated fans may still want to track down the Code Red edition for the exclusive documentary.  But for most people, the VS is all you'll need.