Cathy's Curse, Huzzah! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Oh man, I have been waiting for this release!  It's been killing me that there's no special edition, or even halfway decent release of Cathy's Curse ever since I feel in love with it in one of those generic 50 Movie Pack DVD sets.  Specifically, it's Chilling Classics from Mill Creek, which I still own, so we can have us a comparison.  Because boy, wait 'till you see the difference!  The Mill Creek DVD isn't just barebones, it's cut, interlaced, fullscreen, soft, stretched, damaged, watermarked, and orange... oh, so orange.  Happily, Severin has arrived to save the day at last with their brand new blu-ray release.
2005 Mill Creek DVD on top; 2017 Severin blu-ray below ...as if that wasn't painfully obvious.
Now, when I say I fell in love with Cathy's Curse, that doesn't mean it's some great film.  It's kind of a mess.  But it's a delightful, endlessly entertaining mess.  If you're a fan of Beyond the Door, and enjoyed the little foul-mouthed kids, then this movie is gonna be like Christmas for you.  Conceptually, it's closer to Beyond the Door 2 (the Bava one), focusing on one possessed kid and a lot of weird issues; but tonally it's closer to the original.  It's not Italian, though; it's Canadian.  But it's just as light on coherence and sense as the best of Fulci.  The only thing it's lacking, which would've made this a much better known cult film, is a few over-the-top gore scenes.
I'm guessing S.C. stands for Sinister Cinema, who once released this film on VHS.
Now, I had to do a little research outside the film to put this together, because the film's back-story is confusing as heck.  But essentially this film is about a guy named George.  As a kid, his mother ran off with him, leaving behind his father and sister, who immediately proceed to die in a car wreck.  Decades later, in present day 1979, George returns to his family home with his wife, who just so happens to have a habit of suffering nervous breakdowns, and his daughter Cathy, who immediately gets cursed by George's late sister.  This curse essentially makes her act like a rotten brat, but one who can back it up with a cavalcade of supernatural powers.  Soon, everybody's getting tormented in one random way after another, except for George, who can't understand what everybody's always so upset about.
And I mentioned that all previous releases of Cathy's Curse were cut, right?  Yeah, they're not censored for sex or violence or anything; they've just had about ten minutes removed, making the movie even more incomprehensible.  The extended cut isn't much better in that regard, but it is a bit, and also has some amusing extra bits of dialogue, so is probably the superior version of the film.  Severin doesn't make us choose, though; they've included both cuts.  The shorter, cut version doesn't have anything unique to it, though, except for a couple of title cards to attempt to make up for the exposition they cut.
A scene only in the full, director's cut.
So Cathy's Curse has been released on DVD a bunch of times before, actually.  But it's always been by budget labels like Brentwood, Alpha Digital and Mill Creek, and usually in multi-disc collections like my Chilling Classics box.  Severin is the first to even come close to giving it a respectable disc, and they've actually come through for the film in spades.  Both cuts are fully restored in widescreen HD with an all new, 2k scan from "recently found film elements," and as you can see, the difference is night and day.  Of course, the distinction is helped a lot by the fact that the DVD version may well be the worst digital transfer I've ever seen in my life.  But still, the blu looks great in its own right.
So, the Mill Creek DVD is presented in about 1.30:1, looking vertically stretched and cutting off the sides.  If I push myself to find once nice thing to say about it, it's at least slightly open matte, so it shows a little extra vertical information for the curiosity seekers among us.  The Severin blu, on the other hand, is slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1.  I already listed all the major problems with the DVD in the opening paragraph, and I'm glad to report Severin doesn't have a single one of those issues.  Among a million other improvements, we can finally see what color things are supposed to be.  And the old DVD isn't just interlaced, it looks like it was originally interlaced and then badly de-interlaced so it was left with ghosting frames, and then copied with additional interlacing on top of that, so motion has an almost spacey look.  Now it looks like an actual movie with a pretty smart looking transfer.  Blacks are a little milky and crushed; I'm guessing the "found film elements" were a print not the negatives.  But I can't imagine anyone being at all disappointed with this.  Really, who thought we'd ever see Cathy's Curse looking this good?

Curiously, the back of the case promises English, French, Italian and Spanish audio; but really both versions of the film just have the original English mono track in DTS-HD 2.0.  Optional English subtitles are also included.
And for the first time, Cathy's Curse has extras!  Good ones, too.  We get a 20-minute on-camera interview with the director, in French with English subtitles.  And we get a featurette with the actress who played Cathy (she says, "don't see this movie, it is not worth your time;" but she is so wrong!), and her mom who did costumes for the film.  There's also a short introduction to the film from some screening, where the host dresses as Cathy.  And there's a fan commentary (on the shorter cut) by a couple critics who helped convince Severin to restore this film, which is pretty amiable for that kind of commentary.  There's also the trailer, and if you pre-ordered the film direct from Severin, you got a nice 12"x18" poster as well.  In fact, you could really go all out and order their "Cursed Bundle," which includes a signed copy (by the director), the poster, a glow-in-the-dark t-shirt, a mask(!), a pin, "and some creepy crawlies," whatever the heck that means.
I'm thrilled to have this release, but do I recommend it?  Not if you're looking for a top notch, genuinely scary horror movie.  The Exorcist, this ain't.  Mainstream viewers will just see a stilted, cheesy, low budget mess with sub-par acting and effects.  Cathy's Curse is only for the kind of fan who sees the charm in offbeat cult flicks.  But if that's you, you're gonna love it.

Oh, and if you're wondering: The Alpha Incident isn't nearly on the same level as Cathy's Curse, but it has an absorbing premise and one pretty neat scene.

The One and Only Crimes of Passion (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

In the audio commentary, Ken Russell says he thinks this is likely Kathleen Turner's best movie, certainly screenwriter Barry Sandler's best movie, and probably his own.  I think that's completely crazy, but there's no denying that Crimes of Passion is a far out and exotic movie.  It's one you'll definitely want to watch all the way to the end.  It's got some great qualities and plenty of exoticism, but I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say it's a particularly good movie.
We're presented with a bit of a strange love square here.  Turner is an upper class New Yorker leading a double-life as a seedy prostitute.  She's got plenty of johns in her life, but Anthony Perkins stands out as a preacher/ maniac who has a twisted obsession with saving her, forcing her to kill him, and just generally whacking out on amyl nitrite.  On the other hand, you've got straight edge, suburban John Laughlin, who's trapped in an unhappy marriage with Annie Potts (Ghostbusters, Designing Women), the bitter but very jealous mother of his two children.  Of course, everybody's paths wind up crossing, and over-sexed melodrama ensues.
So much of this film takes place in a single room/ set, that it feels like we're watching a play, consisting of silly, plotless vignettes about a prostitute's day job.  Colored lights shine and crazy synth music plays as Turner switches from one crazy costume, wig and accent to another.  Then Perkins turns up for a bit to Psycho things up, and then we take a break for a very earnest dialogue about modern marriage with Laughlin and Potts with all of the mature insight of a high school dramatist.  Every so often, there's a quick bit of story, and the whole movie takes a coffee break when Annie Potts sits down to watch MTV and we see an entire music video from beginning to end.  This movie is full of porn, nudity, Halloween costumes and dialogue like "I never forget a face, especially when I've sat on it."  I think Russell just likes this film the best because he was free to be the most self-indulgent he'd ever been this side of Fall Of the Louse of Usher.  Russell fans will be pleased to get Russell in spades; and if you're looking for outrageous, you won't be disappointed, even all these decades later.
Anchor Bay first released Crimes of Passion as a non-anamorphic, barebones DVD back in 1998.  But thankfully they reissued it in 2002 as an anamorphic special edition with additional scenes restoring it to its unrated director's cut.  And that was the definitive release for the DVD era.  But now in the days of blu, Arrow has come along with a new DVD/ blu-ray combo pack, which offers us both cuts Anchor Bay had previously released, now in HD with a brand new 2k scan.
2002 Anchor Bay DVD top; 2016 Arrow DVD mid; 2016 Arrow blu-ray bottom.
What I like about getting concurrent DVD and blu-ray releases against an older DVD is that it lets you see how much of the improved picture is courtesy of the new transfer being put on the disc, and how much is from the jump from SD to HD.  Interestingly, the license plate is actually a bit clearer on the old DVD than the new one, though obviously the blu is clearest of all.  But no, I certainly wouldn't make a case that the Anchor Bay DVD is superior to Arrow's.  The colors are so much dimmer and flatter; by comparison, the old DVD looks like you're watching it through grey gauze.  And Arrow's transfer, while still 1.85:1, pulls out to reveal more picture on all four sides (though it varies shot to shot; in some the sides are about equal).  Grain is also too small to be resolved on the old disc, but quite clear and obvious on the new blu.

Audio wise, all three discs just offer the original mono track, which is all I'd want anyway, though of course only the blu has uncompressed LPCM.  All three also include English HoH subtitles. 
And like I said, Anchor Bay's 2002 reissue was a special edition, so it's got some great extras.  First of all, there's another entertaining Ken Russell commentary.  He's joined by screenwriter Sandler, and they're definitely having fun with this film.  Besides that, there's about 20 minutes of deleted scenes.  Yes, even the 2-hour expanded director's cut still has additional scenes, all of which expand on the themes found in the feature, though most of them probably would've made the film worse if left in.  The deleted scenes also have audio commentary with Sandler (but not Ken).  Then there's the trailer and an insert with the same artwork Arrow used for their reversible cover.

Thankfully, Arrow included all of Anchor Bay's extras onto their set, otherwise we'd all have to hang onto our DVDs, because those features were essential.  They've also added new, on-camera interviews with Sandler and composer Rick Wakeman, as well as a fullscreen version of the music video that played in the film.  As I already mentioned, Arrow's blu has reversible artwork and a nice booklet with notes by Paul Sutton and archival interviews with Russell and Turner.  It's not a lot of new stuff; most of the important features are from the DVD.  But hey, a little more is still more.
So do I recommend this one?  Hmm.  If you've never seen this film, you should probably rent it before purchasing.  It's a film to see once, but maybe not to revisit again and again.  If you're a fan, though, and already have the DVD, well, I still might be tempted to prioritize the HD bump pretty low compared to other titles.  But it's certainly a clear upgrade and the best, definitive version.  The colors really pop now, which is important for this particular film.  It just depends how you feel about the film; and you'll need to see it for yourself to work that out.

The Original and Definitive Dogme '95: Celebration, The Idiots, Mifune and The King Is Alive

Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinternerg's Dogme '95 was a film movement we may need even more now in the age of "superhero fatigue" than we did in 1995, but thankfully it's legacy can still live on; and even though the officiators are no longer judging and certifying Dogme films, there's no reason why anyone can't make a film adhering to the rules today.  The idea essentially was to strip away the artifice and the spectacle of modern filmmaking, and push filmmakers to again focus on the story and heart of a movie.  Shooting must be done on location, the sound must never be produced apart from the images, the film must contain no artificial action (such as murders and weapons), etc.  The suggestion was never that all films should become Dogme films; and the stripped down aesthetic was perhaps lured into too many amateur and aspiring filmmakers as opposed to the sort of industry veterans it was more intended to inspire.  But the movement persisted for nearly a decade and saw the creation of several dozen films from all around the world.  And these are the first four, released individually (mostly in the US) and as a fancy boxed set called the Dogme Kollektion in Denmark.
Dogme #1: Vinterberg's Celebration (originally Festen) is still my favorite of all the Dogme films (though admittedly I missed a lot of the later ones).  There's a massive family reunion for Helge, but no one can understand why his eldest son Christian is acting completely out of control... except his sister or who shares his dark secret.  It becomes a dark, brutal struggle between the rest of the extended family to stay together and Christian to reveal the truth.  It's based on an original screenplay, but has since been adapted to stage on Broadway and around the world, where it's fame, particularly in London, may have since eclipsed the original film.  But The Celebration is powerful, and still holds up as a fascinating, low-fi watch you can't tear your eyes away from.

Universal/ Focus Features released this Stateside in 2004, with a straight-forward barebones edition that I immediately replaced with 2005's Danish box set from Zentropa Films.
2004 Universal DVD on top; 2005 Zentropa DVD below.
So this was shot on standard definition, old DV tape camcorders, and shakily handheld at that.  So it's a bit absurd to fuss over image quality.  Still, the Zentropa disc does have a sliver or two of extra picture and slightly warmer colors.  More importantly, though, the English subtitles aren't just forced but burnt into the picture on Universal's DVD, whereas they are optional/ removable on the Danish disc, which also offers the alternate language options of Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.  So it's already the preferable edition, but the reasons will be much more compelling and overwhelming as we look at the extras.
The US DVD has the trailer on it.  The Zentropa has the trailer, several deleted scenes including an alternate ending, audio commentary by the director (and yes, all the extras are English friendly, by the way), an hour-long documentary on screenwriter Mogens Rukov, an on-camera interview with Vinterberg where he explains that this is all based on a supposedly true story told over the radio by a mental patient and a half-hour retrospective documentary with the cast and crew.  And that's just on the main Celebration DVD.  The Zentropa bonus disc includes a 25-minute behind-the-scenes documentary made during the filming of The Celebration, and a whole bunch of additional deleted scenes (one of which is over 15 minutes long), with optional commentary by the director.  I mean, just the deleted scenes alone would have made this an essential upgrade for me, but this is a packed special edition. 
Dogme #2: Everyone associates Dogme '95 with Lars von Trier, naturally; but he's actually only made one Dogme film, The Idiots.  I wouldn't hold it up as one of his better films or one of the best Dogme films, but it's certainly worth seeing once, at least.  It certainly doesn't have the most likeable characters, as a collective of young adults perform a sort of communal social experiment where they pretend to be mentally handicapped to reap any benefit society will bestow upon them while reveling in the discomfort they 'cause the local community.  Still, one woman is taken in by the strangely therapeutic side of their "spassing" and "channeling their inner idiot" and decides to join them.  But how long can they really maintain the lifestyle?

The Idiots garnered a lot of controversy, not only for the many offensive things you can imagine would pop up reading the above description, but also for frank sex and lots of full frontal nudity.  As such, it's the only early Dogme film not to have been released in the US.  So us film fans naturally imported the 2000 UK disc by Tartan.  But again, I was all too happy to replace it in 2005.
2000 Tartan DVD on top; 2005 Zentropa DVD below.
The Tartan disc is frankly puzzling.  Not only are the colors quite different (possibly the result of the filters used on the film behind Trier's back and against Dogme rules that they later had stripped off) and the subtitles once again burnt onto the picture, but Tartan letterboxed it.  Another one of the Dogme rules is that the film be in traditional Academy ratio and film-stock (yes, most Dogme films were shot digitally, but they all had to be transferred to final 35mm prints... despite appearances, Dogme '95 was really not a game for aspiring, amateur filmmakers).  So this is clearly the wrong aspect ratio, and in this case, a particular violation.  And all it does is lose picture information, cropping it to a very unusual 1.63:1.  On top of that, the DVD's non-anamorphic.  So yeah, I can't imagine what the folks at Tartan were thinking, with the Zentropa disc being a serious upgrade in just about every way.
And of course, that includes extras.  The Tartan disc just had an interlaced trailer and a stills gallery.  Yeah, it claims an interview with Trier on the back of the case, but that's just a short text-only thing.  The Zentropa disc, of course, comes through for real.  We get the trailer, audio commentary by Trier and several deleted scenes including an alternate credits sequence.  And most compellingly, we get the feature-length documentary, The Humiliated, about the creation of The Idiots, which might actually be more a more important film than The Idiots itself.  And again, that's just the main Idiots DVD.  The bonus disc has a bunch more: a half-hour retrospective documentary, a featurette on the color filters controversy I mentioned earlier, a 20-minute interview with Trier, and an "Idiots All Stars" music video.
Dogme #3: Mifune.  Admittedly, when I first saw Mifune (a.k.a. Mifine's Last Song), I didn't like it.  It felt really pandering, like some Hollywood schmaltz, and it kind of is.  It's about two brothers, one of whom is mentally handicapped, who are left to run a farm when their father dies.  And the other brother keeps the other brother's spirits up by pretending to be a samurai named Mifune (named after Toshiro Mifune, from all the Kurosawa films), who he convinces lives on the farm with them.  But on later viewings, I have to say the story of the prostitute and her young brother, who move in with them, is actually fairly affecting.  If it's Hollywood-style schmaltz, it's at least good schmaltz.  The film is well acted and the director makes things work more than they should, which is especially impressive given the strict Dogme limitations.  He couldn't exactly lather on a sentimental soundtrack, for example.

Columbia Tri-Star released this one in the US, but again, this Zentropa set crushes it.
We gain some ground and we lose some.  The subtitles are happily not burnt onto the Columbia Tri-Star DVD, but the colors are as off as ever (overly green this time) and now we've got a serious interlacing problem.  Admittedly, the digital nature of these Dogme film gives a little interlacing to each of them; but the US DVD clearly has a problem, which the Zentropa disc fixes. It also reveals a little more picture along the sides.  And the Zentropa image has more detail, which is awkwardly smoothed away from the Columbia effort.

On the other hand, this is the first Dogme DVD that had some solid special features the first time around.  Or at least one big one: audio commentary by the director.  It also has the trailer and some bonus trailers.  Well, the Zentropa disc carries the commentary and trailer over, but also adds a lot more.  There's also a bunch of deleted scenes, with optional commentary, a 45-minute documentary called On the Road With Mifune, about promoting the film, taking it to film festivals, etc, a half-hour 'making of' doc and a 20-minute retrospective.
Dogme #4: The first three Dogme films got bigger commercial receptions, but you can feel that The King Is Alive is in some ways a bigger movie, with higher picture quality and American stars including David Bradley, Brion James and Jennifer Jason Leigh near the peak of her fame.  It's the story of a busload of international tourists who break down in the heart of an African dessert, and with little hope of rescue or escape, keep their sanity by putting on a performance of King Lear while they await the inevitable.  This is the darkest, most nihilistic Dogme yet, which is saying something considering Lars von Trier had already made one.

MGM released this DVD in 2002, but does it stand up to the Zentropa re-release?  Guess.
Picture quality-wise, it may be the closest approximation yet, but MGM's DVD has an interlacing problem that Zentropa fixes.  Zentropa also finds a sliver more picture along all four sides.  They also might have a smidgen more detail, but it's very close.  Really, the interlacing is the only significant distinction.  ...Until you get to the extras, of course.  The MGM DVD only has the trailer, but Zentropa has the trailer, commentary by the director and a 23-minute retrospective.

So the Dogme box-set blows all other international releases of the first four films away.  But wait, that's not even all!  Discs #4 and 5 also have a wealth of documentaries and shorts about the Dogme movement itself.  The King Is Alive's disc also includes three featurettes called The Birth of Dogma 95, Marketing Dogma and The Inheritance After Dogma (yes, all spelled with a's instead of e's), which range from 15-35 minutes each.  They consist of on-camera interviews with all the directors and producers looking back on their experiences.  Then the bonus disc has more documentaries on Dogme, this time collected from other countries.  There's a silly one called Wag the Dogma, where the director chases after Trier and other Dogme heads for interviews and turns the rules into a country song.  There's a more serious, hour-long doc called Freedogme, a featurette about Trier's DoP, Anthony Dod Mantle, and a short featurette about Dogme films playing at the Cannes and Berlin film festivals.

And finally, the short documentary Lars From 1-10, which Warner Bros had released on a few short film compilations previously, is included here as well.  I was happy to be able to sell my Shorts 07: Utopia DVD when I got this set.  🙂  Oh, and there's a 16-page booklet with notes by Peter Schepelern, which yes, is in English, too.
So this is easily the definitive release for each of these films, and a must-have box for fans of Trier and co. or anyone interested in the Dogme '95 movement in general.  Considering these films were all shot on standard definition mini-DV tapes, I don't imagine there's any point in holding out for a blu-ray or anything either.  Of course, back in 2005, I was able to order this set new from a number of sources.  Now, in 2017, I was googling around and the Dogme Kollektion seems pretty scarce.  But I only spent a minute or two on it; if you put in a little more effort you might find a better deal.  For my part, I can tell you that it'll be worth it.