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.

Vestron Recovers Ken Russell's Gothic (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Now here's a Ken Russell film you don't have to be a completist to enjoy. Though from his later, and most would say lesser, period, Gothic actually holds up quite well. I think it would probably be better appreciated by audiences today, in fact, than it was originally received in the 80s. It's certainly one of his wilder movies, so there's no risk of being bored at the very least. Russell lets loose with extreme, over the top imagery, this time specifically within the realm of - as its title implies - classic gothic literature and art, oftentimes replicating famous paintings of the 18th and 19th century. Imagine Northanger Abbey on acid, with a orchestral score by Thomas Dolby. It's had a tortured history on DVD though, with only a late-coming import version even being in the correct aspect ratio. Allow me to point you in its direction.

Update 8/26/15 - 1/31/18: The new blu-ray is here, the new blu-ray is here!  After all the junk DVDs (and the one admittedly decent import), it took until 2018, but thanks to Vestron, we finally have a worthy home video release of this mad-cap masterpiece of demented gothic horror.
Gothic tells the story of the famous, real summer of 1816, when Mary Shelley (Natasha Richardson), Percy Shelley (Julian Sands) and Claire Clairmont (Miriam Cyr) visited Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) and his physician (Timothy Spall) at his villa in Switzerland, and two classic novels, Frankenstein and Dracula, were conceived. If this premise sounds familiar, it's because two different films: Rowing With the Wind, starring Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley and Haunted Summer, starring Eric Stoltz, Laura Dern and Alex Winter, both remade the same story in 1988. But 1986's Gothic came first and remains infinitely more memorable. Not a lot of detail is known for sure about what went on in that villa, so of course Russell is left to speculate and extrapolate; and he of course came up with the most colorful and feverish supposition of the three films. But on the other hand, the film is largely interior, showing us the visions they concocted in their minds, and strictly in terms of plot events, very little happens besides "they got inebriated and held a seance." It's a story of mass hallucination and collective imagination, depicting the birth of only fictional characters and artistic inspiration. And there aren't many filmmakers as suited to that sort of ambitious task as Ken Russell.
This is one of those films I picked up a couple of times over the years. I first had the original 2000 DVD from Artisan, which was full frame and barebones, so I was immediately on the look out for an upgrade. I optimistically and naively bought the 2001 DVD from Front Row, hoping for something better, but it was possibly even worse. In 2002, Artisan reissued the film with a slightly improved, but still fullscreen and barebones disc. Then word finally came in 2003 of an upcoming import that was widescreen and anamorphic from MGM itself, which was free to release it overseas where it hadn't already been licensed by these cheaper companies. Now, I've long since sold off my 2000 Artisan and Front Row discs, but in addition to the Artisan re-release and MGM, I just so happen to have a 2005 Mill Creek DVD from their Chilling Classics collection, which is as at least ugly as any that came before it.  Anyway, it's all obsolete now, thanks to Vestron's new 2018 blu-ray special edition!
1) 2002 Artisan DVD; 2) 2003 MGM DVD; 3) 2005 Mill Creek DVD; 4) 2018 Vestron blu-ray
Wow, now that is a huge difference. To be fair, while fullscreen, Artisan's 2002 re-release is clearly better than Mill Creek's transfer newer here, but it still pales in comparison to MGM's lovely widescreen (slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1) picture. And that in turns, pales in comparison to Vestron's much more vivid (also 1.85), distinctly detailed blu.  Sure, the fullscreen versions are largely open matte - and Artisan's fullscreen is slightly superior to Mill Creek's with a little extra info on all four sides - so they have more picture.  But look at 'em; it's just a sea of empty head-space. "Oh look, 20% more blank ceiling... but it's so dark, you can't make it out anyway!" The film looks far, far superior in its proper framing, and this is a film where the painterly image and its composition are hugely important. Plus, despite having less picture on the top and bottom, MGM's disc still manages to find a good chunk of horizontal information unique to their transfer.  And then Vestron tops that, by unveiling even more from all four sides.
1) 2002 Artisan DVD; 2) 2003 MGM DVD; 3) 2005 Mill Creek DVD; 4) 2018 Vestron blu-ray
As you can see, Mill Creek's DVD is also plagued with interlacing and some kind of awful edge enhancement, which Artisan's and MGM's discs are not.  But both Mill Creek and Artisan appear drained of color and so dark and murky, with Mill Creek apparently cranking some sort of clarify tool just so you can make out what's going on in the picture.  And even MGM's DVD is covered in compression artifacts.  But that's all irrelevant now, as all of those problems are happily done away with on the blu.  Vestron's known for relying on HD masters already in their library rather than striking up fancy, new ones, and they seem to have done that again here.  This isn't the fresh, 4k scan Arrow would've given it.  But how can you look at this film's history on disc and not be grateful for how far its come.  And even strictly by the latest standards, the colors are beautiful and it's quite an attractive picture to look at even on a very large screen.

MGM's European DVD also came with a host of language options, including the original English plus German, French, Spanish and Italian dubs, as well as English, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish and Greek subtitles. Mill Creek's DVD of course had none of that, and neither did Artisan's or Front Row's.  Now, Vestron gives us the original mono track in 2.0 in lossless DTS-HD, and includes optional English and Spanish (a first for Vestron?) subtitles.
To their slight credit, Artisan's older disc at least had the trailer, which none of the other DVDs do, including MGM's or Artisan's own reissue. The reissue does have an amusing animated menu, though, I must say.  But until Vestron came along, we never got beyond the barebones Gothic release.  However, we're well beyond it now.  Let's start with the commentary.  I stated in my 2015 write-up of the DVDs that unfortunately we'd wasted so much time giving this film a special edition it was no longer possible to secure a Ken Russell commentary.  And that was a real shame, because he'd made great ones for so many of his films and Gothic really cried out for one.  Well, obviously Vestron couldn't perform a miracle, but they did the next best thing, pairing up his wife Lisi Russell with film historian Matthew Melia.  Between the pair of them, they bring the combination of expertise and personal insight that you'd hope for from an actual director commentary.  And thankfully, Lisi seems to have had a genuine interest in Ken's films, so she really brings something to the table.

So that's a great, insightful listen, but almost as essential is the interview with screenwriter, Stephen Volk, who tells us this film depicts the world just as he sees it.  He also has a lot of critical insight into this film from its origins to why this film is the way it is, including some details you'd never have guessed really did originate from Shelly's account of the real events.  Fans will probably be drawn more to the Julian Sands interview, which of course is good fun as well, and there's another on-camera interview with the DoP Mike Southon, who has some great anecdotes about working with Russell's temper and bringing to life his off-beat vision.  Vestron also includes their usual separate soundtrack audio which concludes with an interview with the composer.  And in this case, it's Thomas Dolby, so even fans who typically skip these might check this one out.  Additionally, yes, the trailer's back, as well as a TV spot and an image gallery.  And like all Vestron titles, it comes in a slipcover.
MGM's disc was essential in 2003, a must import.  But looking at it today, it's not even a very good DVD. Vestron's blu is the film's first special edition, and the extras are great.  But even if it were barebones, it would be the only serious option for this film.  Is it going to win blu-ray of the year and stand-up against Arrow's 4k remasters or the latest Transformers movie?  No, it's a little soft and there's room for technical improvement.  But for an 80s catalog title, this is well above satisfactory already, and then when you take into account the serious deficit that is this movie's home video situation, especially in the states, this is massive.  Finally, Gothic is nice to look at.  ...Except maybe, you know, for the scenes where the characters are all smeared in blood, sweat and feces.