An American Werewolf In London, The 4k Ultra HD

It's time for another edition of Controversial Blus!  Just released today is the brand new Restored Edition of An American Werewolf In London blu-ray from Paramount.  According to the sticker on the slip, it's "NEWLY RESTORED FOR IMPROVED HD PICTURE," so we're not just talking about a reissue of the previous release with different art masquerading as a new version to trap enthusiastic double-dippers like some other releases I can think of.  This is actually an all new transfer.  But is it actually better?  The new blu seems to be receiving more than its fair share criticisms...  I think it's time I did a direct comparison.  And as you can see from the picture above, I'll be looking at some of the older DVDs at the same time.

Update 9/28/16 - 10/22/19: And I'll also be looking at the even more recently restored and improved HD release from Arrow, scheduled to be released at the end of this month.  Spoiler alert: the controversy is now behind us.

Updated 4/12/21: I'm getting a little tired of updating this movie, but if we're being honest with ourselves, we all knew a proper UHD couldn't be too far behind those 4k BDs, right?  And this Turbine set should be the final chapter for a long time to comee now.  Right?
An American Werewolf In London is a pretty great movie, with a modern appeal yet a very traditional, throwback werewolf plot at its core.  Two friends go hiking across England and get attacked by a werewolf after being warned by the creepy locals to not go out on a full moon.  The survivor, of course, wakes up back in the city hospital with a nasty, lycanthropic curse.  While he falls in love with his nurse and tries to get on with his life, his primal nature breaks free as he transforms, spectacularly, into a werewolf and begins terrorizing London.  His doctor suspects and begins to investigate, and even his dead best friend returns(!) to warn him, but true love may be the only thing that can save our tragic protagonist.
John Landis has created one of the most successful blends of horror and comedy, where neither aspect spoils the other.  And it holds up really well, thanks largely to the well-crafted characters, not to mention the famous, cutting edge effects, which still look better than anything coming out today.  It's also a clever story with great use of music and some terrific locations.  Having a healthy budget clearly helped in all the right places, from big set pieces to music licensing.  American Werewolf is one of those rare horror movies that manages to appeal to mainstream audiences without losing the core genre fans.  They've tried to recapture the magic with some success - Landis with a vampire tale called Innocent Blood and the studio with a sequel: An American Werewolf In Paris, which wasn't terrible - but An American Werewolf In London still stands head and furry shoulders above.
Paramount has released An American Werewolf In London a number of times.  I don't it would be too cynical to say that they see this film as a cash cow that can always take a little more milking.  Even limiting it to just the United States, Paramount has issued it on disc an awful lot of times.  actually, Artisan put it out on DVD first in 1997, with a barebones fullscreen disc.  So Universal's widescreen Collector's Edition was a welcome upgrade in 2001.  There was also a bundle release in 2004 with the 2001 disc and the remake of Cat People.  Then the two-disc Full Moon edition added a couple more features, and also came out with a blu-ray edition, both in 2009, so that was a good upgrade.  Then they re-released the 2-disc set as a single disc release, shaving off some extras for a more budget release in 2012.  Okay.  Then in 2014, the blu-ray was released with a gold "Academy Award" winner cover, but it was the same disc as the original blu-ray.  That same year, they also released it in a limited edition steelbook.  In 2016, Universal released their Restored Edition before finally handing the property over to someone who knew what to do with it for Arrow's 2019 Limited Edition 4k remaster.  It was pretty much the definitive BD edition, but now BDs aren't the definitive discs anymore.  So at the end of 2020, Turbine released it on UHD as an "Ultimate Edition" 4-disc set (if you count the soundtrack CD).  And now in 2021, they've just reissued it as a Limited Special Edition 3-disc set, with all the same video content, but minus the swag.
1) 2001 DVD, 2) 2009 DVD, 3) 2009 BD, 4) 2016 BD;
5) 2019 BD; 6) 2021 BD; 7) 2021 UHD.
So, all seven releases are 1.85:1, but you'll notice the old 2001 DVD is missing a little around all four sides, particularly the left.  Actually, measuring it, that first DVD is more like 1.82:1.  Even just comparing the two DVDs, you can see the later one is sharper with more naturalistic colors, too, if maybe a tiny bit on the yellow side.  And then the old blu-ray is that same 2009 DVD transfer - note the white hole in the picture around the wolfman's wrist; it looks like he's wearing a fancy diamond bracelet - but a little cleaner because it's in HD.  The grain is really strong there, and it was definitely the best looking version up 'till then.  But then we come to the Restored Edition, and... where'd the grain go?
l to r: 2009 BD; 2016 BD; 2019 BD; 2021 UHD.
Apparently, the film was given a brand new, 6k(!) scan for this restoration, and my best guess is they figured if they scanned it that close, they could apply some DNR (digital noise reduction) and not lose all the usual detail that tends to go with heavy DNR application.  That's why seeing "DNR" is a bad sign in a blu-ray review.  It means the picture is going to be unnaturally smooth and waxy, with detail erased.  Peoples' hair will look like clear plastic helmets, etc.  So bye-bye American Werewolf grain, and it does look a little bit softer, but... they seem to have been right in that the actual detail has pretty much remained.  I've seen some people say there's even more detail than the old blu, but I wouldn't go that far.  Universal's 2016 BD is the most successful attempt I think I've ever seen to remove grain without smoothing away much of the image.  Still, it was a little weird to look knowing film grain should be there, and now that we can see the results of Arrow's even more recent 4k scan (finished in 2k), we see Universal's job wasn't perfect.  I've read allegations that the grain on the 2009 edition is "fake," or artificially enhanced (it was even brought up in the comments, below), and I was reluctant to buy into that notion, but Arrow's new scan seems to bear it out.  Now we finally see the natural levels of grain you'd expect to see in a 35mm film, making the 2009's look chunky and unnatural.  The 2019 image seems even more nuanced, and a tiny bit sharper, than even the 2016 blu, and it still has the clean-up (i.e. no diamond bracelet!).  How could a 4k scan look better than a 6k scan?  When you don't futz with it afterwards!
l to r: 2019 BD; 2021 UHD.
Now, just comparing BDs, I actually still prefer Arrow's, with an encode that thoroughly captures every speck of grain.  But of course, we didn't buy Turbine's set for the 1080 blu, we bought it for the UHD.  And there's just no competing with that boost in resolution.  Let's zoom in even further, and you can see where the eyeball, for example, breaks down into blocky pixels on the blu while it's still smooth and lifelike on the UHD.  That's not a knock on Arrow; it's just a fact of life when we're dealing with a superior format.  Grain looks a little gentler on the Turbine disc, but again, when you really zoom in, there's no question it's more authentically represented and less pixelated.  And of course now you've got the new HDR color timing, which is what you're really going to notice on your television, as opposed to an academic screenshot comparison, and it really does give the image a more alive, sometimes creepier, feel without ever becoming over saturated or tacky.  It's actually more subtle and nuanced.
For audio, both Universal blus pretty give us the same English DTS-HD 5.1 mix, plus both have a Spanish DTS dub in 5.1, and French, German and Italian DTS dubs in mono.  Both blus also have 16(!) subtitle options, which I won't bother to list out, but that's pretty much every language including both English and English SDH.  A number of fans were hoping for the original English mono track, but we didn't get that.  Landis created the updated 5.1 mix himself, so I imagine there was little interest in putting the old track back on the film.  Sorry, purists.  The older DVDs also only have the English in 5.1 (plus, English, Spanish and French subs), though I've read that the mix on the old Artisan DVD at least sounds closer to the original audio, with a higher pitch.  But you had to go all the way back to the old laserdiscs (there's a fullscreen one from Image and a widescreen one from Live) for the original mono audio.

I say "had," because Arrow have once again swooped in to save the day, because they've also restored and remastered the original mono from the original mag reels for their new disc!  So the pitch is finally correct.  That and the 5.1 mix are both included on the Arrow in DTS-HD, along with optional English subs.  and as for the Turbine?  Yes, they're pitch corrected, too.  Whew!  They've also got both the 2.0 and 5.1 mixes in DTS-HD, plus the German dub in same, with optional English and German subtitles.
For extras, once Universal got it, things were looking good.  The original 2001 DVD had a light but not too informative audio commentary by the two leads David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, a substantial on-camera interview with John Landis, another with Rick Baker, outtakes, a vintage 'making of' feature, and some archival footage of Baker working on the famous werewolf transformation.  Plus it had a photo gallery, storyboards, text bios, a bonus trailer for The Wolfman (the remake) and a nice little insert with notes.  The 2009 DVD and every subsequent release carried all of that over (except the bios, bonus trailer and junk), but also added a full length documentary on the film called Beware the Moon (that's the second disc of the 2-disc set that was dropped from the budget version in 2012), which is great and very thorough.  The blu also added Universal's usual junk like BD-Live and D-Box support for the two people who use that.  And no, the new 2016 doesn't have anything new to add, and even ditches the BD-Live and D-Box stuff.  It does come in a nice, shiny slipcover, though.

But who does have something new to add?  Arrow, of course!  First of all, yes, everything from all the past editions (except the D-Box and junk) has been carried over.  And what's new?  First and foremost an excellent full-length documentary on Universal's history with werewolf films by Ballyhoo, who really hit it out of the park.  This was clearly made with AAWIL in mind, because it starts out with Landis and never loses site of how all of this history is eventually leading to his film.  But it's a great look at the whole story (and even a bit of a postscript on the Del Toro film), interviewing a surprisingly vast collection of filmmakers and artists.  Beyond that, there's a new interview with Landis, which isn't too redundant because they ask him about British cinema and bits he hasn't touched on too much in the previous extras.  Then there's a new audio commentary by the director of Beware the Moon (who also wrote a book on AAWIL), which is rather good.  He's an undeniable expert on the film and manages to find new trivia info to share despite the wealth of content in all the other extras.  Plus, he does a pretty funny Landis impression.  But he does also slip into repeating a bunch of anecdotes we've heard elsewhere on the disc, often more than once.

Still want more?  Whew, okay!  There's a brief but quite neat look at surviving props from the film, including one of Baker's legendary "change-o heads."  There's a video essay on the Jewish aspects of this film, which are mostly quite interesting and well observed, though he does spend a chunk of time unwittingly repeating some Wolfman history that was already spelled out in the Ballyhoo doc, and he exaggerates a bit.   Then there's an interview with Corin Hardy, director of The Nun, which starts out kind of bland and uninteresting as he just shares his appreciation of the film.  But then he gets more interesting when he starts applying his own experience in filmmaking to discuss the hurdles he'd have trying to replicate what Landis achieved today.  Oh, and I even saw some forum guy post a strange video teaser for the film that he was disappointed never made it onto any of the Universal blus.  Well, that's on here, too, along with the main theatrical trailer and a TV spot.

The limited edition comes in a clear amary case with reversible artwork housed inside an attractive, thick slipbox.  It includes a two-sided poster, six lobby cards, a full-color 60-page book with notes by Travis Crawford and Simon Ward and one of Arrow's standard insert cards (mine's for Why Don't You Just Die!).
It's a little confusing, because the title of several featurettes were arbitrarily changed, but having gone through it all now, I'm happy to report that every single special feature from the Arrow set has been carried over to the Turbine.  And even better, though you wouldn't have thought it was possible, Turbine have included even more new stuff: five features totaling up to roughly another hour of content.  A nice start is a brief look at Piccadilly Circus today, with the film's first AD.  The longest is a Post Mortem retrospective with Mick Garris interviewing Landis, originally recorded, I believe, for his podcast series.  There's also a 2011 interview with David Naughton and a round-table discussion with Garris, Landis, John Carpenter and David Cronenberg, which has popped up on a few discs before, including Criterion's Videodrome and Turbine's edition of The Thing.  But it's nice to finally get it on a Landis release - a welcome addition to anyone who hasn't had a chance to see it yet.  And finally, there's a brief featurette with a fan who's collected a number of impressive props and memorabilia from the film that was created for the Arrow BD, but ultimately left off.  Now we finally get to see it.

Turbine's Limited Special Edition comes in a very stylish, embossed slipbox, and the inner case also includes reversible artwork.  Their initial 2020 Ultimate Edition also came with a soundtrack CD, double-sided poster, a 100-page book, art cards, stickers, and a Slaughtered Lamb "beer lid," whatever that is.  All the extras are completely English-friendly (except the book?  I just got the LSE, not the UE), and two of the trailers have also been boosted up to 4k resolution.
So the old debate of which blu is best is now handily closed: Arrow's beats all those that came before it with a long lead.  It brought the best picture, finally looking natural after all of Universal's odd experiments, the proper original audio (and the 5.1 remix, too, for those who still want that), and the fullest, most well-rounded set of extras.  It's not even missing some little thing where a die-hard collector might say, well, you might want to still hang onto your old copy.  And now Turbine have come along, and kicked it forward a generation, with a few more new extras to boot.  American Werewolf fans have nothing to complain about any more, it's one of the best served films on home video!

City Hall On Blu

It's been a slow year, so far, for new releases I'm particularly excited about, but we finally got one: Frederick Wiseman's City Hall.  It's a bit ironic, perhaps, as this is one of the least exciting movies in film history; but it works for me.  With the field of documentary film becoming more and more dominated by true crime, political pandering and celebrity garbage, watching a Wiseman flick feels like an increasingly zen experience.  As non-confrontational as his work has always been, it seems like he's been mellowing even further out in the last decade or so - it's hard to imagine the guy who's been giving us At Berkley, Ex Libris, Monrovia, Indiana and now this swinging back to create a Domestic Violence 3.  His shooting and editing formula has eased into a groove so predictable you can call out from your couch, "okay, now we're going to see two still shots of a city street at night and then onto the next meeting," right before it all unfolds on screen.
And that's not a criticism.  At this point he has to expect and want us to relax into a comfort zone.  After all, from the very beginning, Wiseman has been against showy camera tricks, gimmicks, leading narration, emotional score, etc.  The fact that the man behind the camera never leaves you guessing about what he's up to let's you settle in and think exclusively about the people in front of the camera.  For four and a half hours.  By the end of City Hall, you'll feel like a native citizen of Boston, all ready to vote in the next local election, which is the gift of this film.
I do have one complaint about City Hall, however.  One of the consistent strengths of Wiseman's films is what he discovers.  It might be too neat to say each of his films documents a system, but it's pretty true, giving us a keen, insider's view into the world around us we never had before.  From Meat to High School, we're given a deeper insight into what we've already thoroughly experienced (vegans excluded).  "Meetings" are famously dull, but the meetings Wiseman meticulously observes are fascinating because it exposes the inner workings we're usually excluded from.  You could have toured London's National Gallery hundreds of times in your life as a patron, but National Gallery shows gives you the tour only the top level insiders would get to experience.  So City Hall is positioned to be a perfect, multi-tiered exploration of local government, just like his other films have shown us the full cross section of every other system he's turned his camera to.
But unfortunately, this film is really, to use a technical term, up the mayor's butt.  Look, I'm not expecting a scandalous take-down expose from a Wiseman film.  But even in just about every other film he's done, we'd be seeing meetings of the faculty debating what to tell the protesting students or the curators deciding what to charge the patrons.  But outside of one very brief introductory scene, we're not seeing the mayor talking to his staff about what to say at an event or rally, we're just seeing the public speeches he gives there.  I kept thinking, this is what I'd switch off of on my access news channel.  And the mayor isn't just one character in this complex sea of local government, this film follows him around to dozens of events; we're barely given any time away from him before he steps back in front of the camera with another prewritten speech.  I can only assume Wiseman was given very limited access, which would explain barely getting behind the curtain, but even then I can't imagine why he wanted to film all of the mayor's speeches so doggedly.  You start to get the impression that only one person works at city hall.
Not that there's nothing worth discovering; far from it!  There's a frank and charged talk between impoverished locals and business owners who want to open a dispensary in their neighborhood.  We see a number of cases where mostly younger people of color are trying to push diversity movements into their government.  We get an eye-opening glimpse into small room of technicians who monitor and control local traffic with real-time surveillance.  A charming retiree tries to get his landlord to help with a rat problem.  There's a montage of 311 calls that could have been an entire film all to itself.  Nervous scenes where people try to beat their parking tickets or just a calm moment watching a crew slowly pave a road are all great.  Building inspectors, fireman, garbage collectors.  Everything you want from a Wiseman film is here.  Endless indulgent footage of mayoral speeches just happens to be slathered all over it.
2021 Zipporah Films BDR.
Zipporah Films offers this film on either DVDR or BDR, naturally I've chosen the latter.  I've said it before and I'll say it again: their prices are exorbitant for burned discs (they're even high for professionally pressed discs), but at least they do a first class job.  Framed at 1.78:1, City Hall is spread across two dual-layer discs with a clear and vibrant image.  I don't need to compare it to the DVD edition to see from it's obvious sharpness and fine detail that this is pristine HD picture.  Playback can be a little dodgy with BDRs, but I've played these on two different players with zero issues.  We're given the choice of two audio options, both lossless (rare to see on burned discs): stereo in LPCM and 5.1 Surround in DTS-HD.  Optional English subtitles are also included.
So yes, I'd prefer pressed discs, but otherwise you can't say they didn't do a great job.  Obviously, Wiseman is as staunchly against extras as ever[??? I don't get that attitude, but it is what it is], but in terms of presentation, Zipporah has done everything you could ask for.  And City Hall really is a good movie; don't let my complaints put you off.  Yes, I'd have liked to see more of the mayor in the office and certainly a higher ratio of other city employees to him.  But this is still on the level of work most issue-of-the-week documentary filmmakers today should be aspiring to.  I'm already looking forward to his next one!

RAWHEAD REX!!! Oh, and Transmutations, Too

Clive Barker has essentially disowned the first two film adaptations of his writings, Rawhead Rex and Transmutations, even though he also wrote the screenplays for both. You don't have to search long or hard to find interviews where he talks about their low budgets and general "not getting it" that inspired him to become a director for Hellraiser, so he could make sure his work was represented properly. In fact, let's not mince words.  He's gone so far as to say, "Oh, I hated them with a passion! I haven't seen them for many a long year and hope never to see them again." But, while they're certainly not up to the level of Hellraiser, they're still enjoyable little films for cult and horror fans - certainly better than many - and it's a shame they're so poorly represented in most of the world by low-quality, full-frame discs.

Meanwhile, in France, there's a horror magazine called Mad Movies. I've never read it (it being in French and all), but I gather it's their Fangoria equivalent. And they've written that they have quite a good relationship with Barker based on articles in the past, and so in 2009, they released his first two films on their own line of DVDs. Now, I don't believe it went as far as Barker actually being involved with these releases personally - I don't imagine they actually got him to watch those movies again, and he hasn't provided any interviews or anything for special features. And neither has anybody else, there are no special editions, but they are the first and only releases of the film in their OAR widescreen ratios.

Update 2/5/15 - 10/7/17: Well, Kino has done it.  Later this month will see a brand new, 4k special edition blu-ray of Rawhead Rex.  And it's pretty fantastic.  Read on.

Update 3/26/21: And they've done it again.  Kino has re-released Rawhead Rex as a 2020 steelbook, which ordinarily wouldn't be so noteworthy except to dedicated steelbook collectors.  But in this case, it has all new extras and even an updated transfer?  Read on...er.  Read further on!
If you've read Barker's story, it's easy to be disappointed in Rawhead Rex. It's a wild, over-the-top story of a mad demigod running amuck in modern times, told from his perspective and full of crazy inner monologue. In the movie, he's a completely non-verbal monster. And the special effects, while a great design, were clearly not meant to be seen by the camera so directly or for so long; and so it looks like a big, phony mask (in some shots they just about get away with it; in others they clearly don't). A few other clever bits of writing in the plot points are lost, too, as well as some social commentary. If ever a movie called for a remake, it's this one.
But if you can get past the coulda woulda shouldas of it, the movie we're left with is still pretty cool. It's a fun, violent monster movie that still retains enough remnants of Barker's script to set it above and beyond the generic monster movie. Not the least of which is the villainous priest character who rejects Christ to worship and serve Rex. Scenic locales, a flush orchestral score, a cool monster even if it is on the cheap, and a collection of respectable performances are all enjoyable. This is the kind of monster movie that's not afraid to take out children, and while this Rex doesn't speak, they do use the opportunity to have his crazy priest speak for him ("he sees what I see!"). It may not be Barker's wild story fully realized, but it's still more cool stuff going on than your average monster movie of the period, a la the recently popular The Boogens.
So the French DVD was pretty neat - I wish I still had one of the old, cruddy fullscreen DVDs, just to show how much farther most people who never tracked down this obscure French DVD are coming - but finally, finally! In 2017, Kino rendered it obsolete by giving Rawhead Rex the proper special edition it deserves.  And I'm not just talking special features (although, we certainly are talking special features as well), but a brand new 4k restoration from the original camera negative in HD on blu-ray!  Forget anything in the past, the slate was wiped clean.  And now they've come back with even their newer edition, the 2020 limited (to 4000 copies) steelbook edition.  Could it be another definitive leap forward?
2009 Mad Movies DVD on top; 2017 Kino BD mid; 2020 Kino BD bottom.
Mad Movies presented Rawhead Rex in an anamorphic widescreen edition that was certainly a nice improvement over the prior discs. It's slightly pillar-boxed to about 1.73:1, whereas Kino's new blu is slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1.  What this ultimately leaves us with is less image along the top, but more along the bottom and left-hand side.  I'd say Kino's framing is better, and probably more accurate, but they're not that different from each other. Mad Movies had gotten it pretty close.
2009 Mad Movies DVD left; 2017 Kino blu-ray right.
But where Kino really excels is in straight up picture quality.  Wow, this image is so much sharper and clearer.  It made what I thought was a pretty decent DVD at the time look like a murky mess.  Kino has a cooler, more robust color palette.  Grain-o-phobes should be prepared for a lot of completely natural, buzzing, un-tampered with grain.  But I don't see how anybody could be unhappy when comparing this to anything we've ever had before.  Seeing the movie like this helps raise the film from its "cheap piece of crap" reputation. With every shot looking better, it feels like a more intelligently created film. Maybe one day we'll even get Barker to acknowledge it's really not so bad.

And the 2020 blu?  Well, naturally it isn't such a drastic bound ahead, but it is different.  And not just different; it's an improvement.  It's absolutely a better encode.  Where grain was patchy, it's now more consistent.  But that's the sort of thing you'll only notice in a comparison of close-ups like we do here.  Just watching it on your TV, the only difference you're likely to spot is that the newer version is darker.  And I'm not sure if that's any better or worse honestly; it's just a slightly different look.
Transmutations (aka Underworld) is more of a mess. Rawhead Rex disappointed audiences by over-simplifying, but this film could've done with a bit of that. It's full of Clive Barker themes, though, which should please fans at least. You've got a noir-ish detective as the lead, investigating the supernatural (a la Lord of Illusions). And he stumbles upon an underground collection of unique monsters who at first appear menacing but turn out to be the good guys (a la Nightbreed). These monsters are actually mutations, the result of an evil doctor, played by the always effective Denholm Elliot, giving them experimental and addictive drugs. There are also some British mobster types and a prostitute who's so beautiful everyone falls in love with her and who happens to have magical powers... or something. It makes enough sense to follow the story, but when you start to ask detailed questions, its internal logic kinda falls apart. Plus it looks cheap again. But it's energetic and entertaining enough for a casual viewing, and it's got a colorful 80s music video look.
Transmutations is once again slightly pillar-boxed to 1.73:1 and looks pretty nice. Sure there's room for plenty of improvement in an HD release, but it's pretty attractive for DVD. It helps that the film was shot with so many bright, neon colors that have a soft, smoothing effect. Unfortunately, I don't think this is as good as a movie even as Rawhead Rex, so I don't think there's as many fans interested in this film regardless of what's presented here. But if you are keen to watch this movie, this is certainly the version to see.
 
 
Since these are French discs, they both have French audio dubs and French subtitles. But the subs are removable, and the original English audio tracks are also present in stereo.  For Rawhead though, Kino of course conquers (on the 2017 and 2020), offering both the original stereo track and a new 5.1 mix, both in DTS-HD.  And they also include optional English subs.

Neither DVD has any extras, not even trailers. But Kino's blus deliver.  First, the 2017 edition has an audio commentary by director George Pavlou, and it's great to finally hear his side of the story, after years of only reading Clive trash the early films.  Then, there's a series of great interviews, including Heinrich von Bunau, the actor in the Rawhead suit, spoken in German with English subtitles.  Then there's an interview with Ronan Wilmot, who played the priest who serves under Rex.  Next, is a featurette editing together separate interviews with all of the effects artists who worked on this film: Gerry Johnston, Peter Mackenzie Litten, John Schoonraad and Rosie Blackmore.  And the final interview is with artist Stephen R. Bissette, who adapted Rawhead to comic book form in the 90s, and who also has a lot to say about how the movie compares to Barker's original story.  There's also a nice gallery of original concept art, the original theatrical trailer, and a stylish booklet with notes by Kat Ellinger of Diabolique Magazine.  Kino's blu has features reversible cover art and comes in a cool slip box, pictured below.
And the 2020 steelbook?  It has everything the 2017 disc has (including the booklet, though not the outer slipbox and obviously not the reversible artwork) and more.  Crucially, it has two new featurettes, one with the two child stars, now of course grown up, which is a lot of fun as they have some unique memories of the shoot.  The other one is good, too, a cheerful and engaging interview with the film's composer.  Are they worth upgrading for?  That may be a tough call, but they do make the special edition even more special.
I've seen the Mad Movies releases referred to as being out of print and hard to find, but I think that's just some confusion about them being available chiefly through Mad Movies' online store. They're actually quite cheap and in stock as of this writing; you can get them here and here. Mad Movies also has a host of other titles at very attractive prices, but I have no idea what their transfers and features are like. These two stood out, because they are exclusive, superior editions.  Now there's no more reason to bother with their Rawhead DVD; Kino has trumped it in every regard (twice, even); but their Transmutations disc is still the best one on the market.