Deathdream Come True

Oh Blue Underground, I knew you'd come through.  Yes, from Bob Clark comes one of the great American zombie movies; 1974's Deathdream, a.k.a. Dead of Night, The Night Andy Came Home, Night Walk, It Came from the Grave, The Veteran, Whispers...  Honestly, none of those titles have ever really done this film justice.  And to be clear, this is not your typical zombie horde movie.  There's just the one zombie, come home from the war, in what in some ways plays more like a Vietnam war allegory written by Tennessee Williams.  A small town drama with something to say, some genuinely creepy scenes, smart writing and a wry sense of humor.  Tonally, this feels more like Martin than Night or Dawn Of the Dead.
But as long you don't go in hankering for high-octane Fulci mayhem (though there's a pretty sweet moment with a zombie crashing a flaming car through cemetery gates), this is a surprising treat.  You've got Cassavetes veteran John Marley leading a dramatic cast you'd never imagine from the people who gave us Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things.  And the story heads into dark places most horror today won't even go (murdered dog, suicide in the final act, etc).  It has some good shocks, but it's mostly just more thoughtful.  When Andy realizes the town doctor is onto his secret, you think okay, now he's got to run him off the road or strangle him from the shadows.  But he doesn't have those cliche motives, and instead shows up at the doctor's late at night saying, "I'm here for my check-up" and proceeds to have a long, creepy dialogue with the man.
The one downside is a bit of a "been there, done that" vibe to this Monkey's Paw variant, with films like Uncle Sam and all the Pet Sematary's re-hashing much of the same ground.  This came first and did it better than all of those, but there's no escaping that feeling like you've seen this before even if it's your first time.  It's more classic than cutting edge, although again, it finds own, more thoughtful ways of handling many of the details.  And apart from that one random guy playing a town drunk in an opening scene like he walked out of a Benny Hill sketch, everybody does a great job selling the material.  It's got an effective little score, too.
Blue Underground first released Deathdream as a pretty sweet little DVD edition in 2004.  They upgraded it to a blu-ray, restored in 2k with even more features, in 2017.  But I never picked it up, because by the time I got around to it, I was convinced BU would upgrade it again to UHD.  I came close to breaking a few times over the years, especially when Diabolik or Grindhouse would have a Blue Underground sale.  But I kept the faith, and eventually, in April '23, they announced a 4k was on its way.  It took a while, but it's here now in 2024, just on time for its 50th Anniversary, as a BD/ UHD combo-pack with "a brand new restoration, scanned in 4k 16-bit from the original 35mm negative with Dolby Vision HDR" and more special features.
1) 2004 BU DVD; 2) 2024 BU BD; 3) 2024 BU UHD.
Well, "from the 35mm negative" except, apparently, for the final shot, which seems to be taken from a lesser source.  It's quick, so pretty forgivable, especially assuming it was all they could do.  Besides that, all three discs are exactly 1.85:1, but the DVD has a vertical pinch that the new release corrects.  So the new scan adds a bit more along all four sides, but especially along the top and bottom.  The colors are virtually the same across the board, though the bright ends are a little over-exposed on the DVD compared to the more subtle 2024 discs.  The film source feels a little rough no matter which edition you watch, though some of that's probably down to the low budget filmmaking (i.e. the harsh lighting) and possible condition of the original elements.  But that's not to suggest one edition is as good as another.  The DVD has a lot of smudgy compression, for example, which the 2024 pair clear up handsomely, so overall it's a substantial upgrade, though that's with us skipping a generation.  If you had the 2017 blu-ray, I'm not sure this would be such a vast improvement.  Grain still feels a little light even on the UHD.

The original DVD has the original mono audio, but nothing else.  The 2017 BD bumped that up to lossless DTS-HD and added, English, Spanish and French subtitles, and that still goes for both discs in the new 2024 set.
The original DVD was already pretty loaded with some sweet extras.  There are two commentaries, one by Clark himself, and one by his co-writer Alan Ornsby.  Clark's moderator has to work to keep the filmmaker talking, but both tracks are insightful and worth any fan's time.  There are also on-camera interviews with Savini & star Richard Backus, several galleries, alternate credits sequences, and the trailer.  And as a fun bonus treat (well, as fun as a historical depiction of racist lynching can be), Ornsby's student film 3:45, which co-stars his then wife and Deathdream actress Anya Ornsby, is hidden as an easter egg.
3:45
The 2017 blu added a new on-camera interview with the Ornsby's, a brief but entertaining interview with production designer John Bud Cardos, another with composer Carl Zittrer, and early test footage with Gary Swanson, the first actor originally cast as Andy, who we do still see in the final film's pre-credit sequence.  And all of that is carried over onto the new 2024 release, including the easter egg.  And they've added even more as well.  There's a thoroughly skippable audio commentary by experts Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, who mostly repeat facts and anecdotes from the preexisting extras (especially Clark's commentary) in between tangents about their personal lives.  At one point Howarth says, "the story between Carpenter and Bob Clark is very well known," and I thought, oh good, he's not going make us listen to it again... They already went over it extensively in Clark's commentary and other places, not to mention the Black Christmas releases, where it's actually relevant.  But then he proceeds to re-tell it all again anyway.

But more rewarding is a new, upbeat on-camera interview with Gary Swanson.  He's recently reviewed that test footage the 2017 release unearthed and has fond memories.  The 2024 release also comes in a cool, embossed slipcover and includes reversible artwork.
So yes, this is a movie I'm very glad to own, especially given its top shelf treatment here.  I really want the best possible quality exhibited here and all the extras, so I'm glad I held out.  If you already have the 2017 BD, this probably isn't as exciting an upgrade as it has been for me.  But either way, it's unquestionably the best version there is.

Cathy's Curse, Huzzah!!

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 fell 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.

Update 5/25/17:  But is this extended version of Cathy's Curse still cut?  Apparently this film still has some missing footage...

Update 9/14/17: Resolved! I'm now pleased to report that this extended version of Cathy's Curse is indeed completely uncut. But read on for the story of the supposedly missing footage.

Update 6/2/24: And now Cathy's Curse is in 4k!  Severin has returned to this crazy film with a new scan and UHD release.
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.
But thanks to a helpful anonymous commentor (see below), it turns out there was still possibly more to be seen from this odd, little film.  He pointed out that a 1985 Comet Video compilation film called Terror On Tape included a gruesome shot from Cathy's Curse not seen on the Mill Creek or Severin discs, and he's quite right!  Terror On Tape is a direct-to-VHS film in the vein of Terror In the Aisles, The Best Of Sex and Violence or Zombiethon, where it's really just a clip show of a bunch of horror films with a little wrap-around to it.  In this case, the wrap-around stars Cameron Mitchell as a bit of a ghoul who runs the Shoppe of Horrors Video Store, where people come in seeking recommendations and he shows them gruesome selections from his movies.  And one film they show a solid four minutes to is Cathy's Curse.  Everything they show is what can be seen in previous versions except for the scene where Cathy "pushes" the old lady out of a window and her mother rushes up to the body in their lawn.  In Terror On Tape, there's an extra shot: a close-up of the woman's head where blood spurts out the top of it!  Then the next shot is the mother running to the body and it's the same as every other release.
Cathy's Curse deleted scene?!
Now, it did occur to me that maybe the Terror On Tape editor took some liberties and edited in a shot from one of the other Continental VHS films they feature, like Nightmare City or Return of the Alien's Deadly SpawnTerror does proceed to show other clips from Cathy's Curse after this one, jumping about from one moment to another with no transition (except at the end, when Mitchell says, "just a second, I've got to show you what she does to her mother!").  So maybe Terror decided to spice the clip up with a shot from something else?  Watching the whole movie, they don't seem to goose up any of the other films they highlight, but looking back at that whole scene in Cathy's Curse, it is a very awkward edit there, so it does look like it could be a cut to an insert shot...

And thanks to another helpful commentor - ciasisback - the source of that footage has been found!  It is indeed an insert shot of gore taken from another movie.  Another movie featured in Terror On Tape, even.  It's a quick snippet from when the zombies violently raid the television dance studio in Nightmare City.  So apparently Terror did have a little fun with Cathy, and actually, it's not a bad creative decision.  But it's nice to know that the Severin blu of Cathy's Curse is complete and totally uncut.
as seen in Terror On Tape
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.  Their 2017 blu saw both cuts fully restored in widescreen HD with a 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.  That's not to say there wasn't more room for improvement, though, and we got there this week with an all new 4k scan (yes, of both cuts) from "the recently discovered negatives," in an even more impressive BD/ UHD combo-pack.
1) 2005 Mill Creek DVD; 2) 2017 Severin BD;
3) 2024 Severin BD; 4) 2024 Severin UHD.



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 one 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 2017 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 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, leaving motion with 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 generation or two after the original negatives.  But I can't imagine anyone being at all disappointed with this.  Really, who thought we'd ever see Cathy's Curse looking so good?

Still, why settle?  Now Severin has given us a 4k scan of the negatives.  The framing is still 1.85:1, though it's ever so slightly tighter all around.  But the colors are richer with more natural skin tones and the blacks are deeper and more natural.  Film grain is clearer and more filmic even on the BD.  And then on the UHD, it's really captured thoroughly, even in background areas where it's still a little soft on the blu.  And the colors are even more vibrant, with particularly strong reds.  Even a quick once glance at the comparison shots shows a slightly faded, washed look to the 2017 BD (and an extreme one to the DVD, of course), which the new release solves.

Curiously, the back of Severin's 2017 case promises English, French, Italian and Spanish audio; but really both versions on both sets (that is to say, the 2017 and 2024) just have the original English mono track in DTS-HD 2.0.  Optional English subtitles are also included on all three discs for both cuts.
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.

The new 2024 set keeps all of the 2017 stuff, and comes up with more, chiefly a new on-camera interview with the actor who plays the father.  There's also a silly new, 10-page booklet called The Darkest Double Dip, and it includes has reversible artwork.  What's more, if you order it directly from Severin, you can also get a fancy slipcover with light-up eyes.
I'm thrilled to see this film restored - twice even! - 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.  And if you did love the blu, you'll be happy with the new double-dip.

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.

Popatopolis, The Jim Wynorski Story Is Terrific!

Guys, guys!  If you haven't seen Popatopolis yet, the 2009 documentary about B-movie director Jim Wynorski, you must.  It's so good.  And listen, I didn't rush to see it either.  It popped up on my radar because, as you can tell from this site, I'm pretty big into cult films and documentaries.  But I wouldn't call myself a Jim Wynorski fan.  I'm a Chopping Mall fan, and there are elements I appreciate from a few of his other films... Everybody should probably watch Lost Empire once in their lives.  But usually, honestly, seeing Wynorski's name attached to a project means not for me.  It means renting Evil Toons and finding out the evil cartoons have about ten seconds of screen-time in the whole movie.  It means cynical, direct-to-cable TV softcore porn with titles like Busty Cops & The Bare Wench Project (not to be confused with The Erotic Witch Project), and bewildering, unconnected sequels to franchises that weren't so great in the first place.  I mean, who knew the Ghoulies franchise could sink so much farther than it started out?

Update 9/14/17 - 5/31/24: Just in time for the Hush Money Verdict comes Stormy Daniels in Terror Vision's brand new blu-ray edition of Popatopolis!
The title (if you don't get it, just read the "let's pop some tops" quote from Wynorski plastered right across the top of the poster), trailer and even the film's opening scenes make it look kind of a like a cheap, misogynistic exercise, inviting us to laugh at the airhead babes of Hollywood B-movies.  From the very beginning where Jim repeatedly calls an actress auditioning for a role in his latest "erotic thriller" stupid for showing up late and neglecting to bring a resume, to him showing off the Howard Stern books in his pantry, I was buckled in for a fairly sleazy experience.  But this film is really an insightful, compelling piece of filmmaking.
This film really comes at us from two angles.  One half is an immediate documentary of Wynorski making his latest feature (at the time), The Witches of Breastwick, which he is determined to complete in three days.  The documentarians are on set the whole time, and it's a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a level of filmmaking that we don't usually (ever?) get to see.  This is very far removed from the 4-hour Prometheus blu-ray doc.  As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong shooting a feature in three days with plenty of nudity out in the woods, and we get a very funny, thorough first-hand perspective of that experience.  Even if The Witches of Breastwick is the last sort of film you'd ever find yourself watching, the 'making of' is an entirely different, fascinating experience.
And that's just one half of what's on offer here.  The other is a career-spanning retrospective of Wynorski, with clips from his biggest films, interviews with his biggest peers and collaborators from Andy Sidaris to Julie Strain to Roger Corman, and even a visit to his mother's house.  Popatopolis does a great job in finding the joy in his body of work and unraveling the layers of an ultimately charming curmudgeon who clearly loves film and takes pride in doing the best he can with the dwindling budgets he's given to work with.  There's some sad discussion about the death of roles for softcore B-movie actresses who are being replaced by hardcore pornstars that don't have a problem doing whatever they're asked.
And that brings up another great strength of this picture.  This is no puff piece.  I mean, sure the cast and crew complain about the hardships and stress they're under making a film in three days.  In a scene where several of the actresses are reading over the script, Monique Parent comments that the man who wrote this clearly hates women.  And Julie K. Smith replies, yeah, when they start drinking "the anger comes out," later pointing out where the stage directions refer to her as "the cow."  But beyond just those candid little moments, people like Smith and Corman really open up about their long histories working with Wynorski, and the disappointments he's had in his career.  Corman talks about the popular "I'm sick of all these Jim Wynorski movies" reaction his films were getting in the 90s.  It's certainly an affectionate look, and you'll probably come out of this liking Wynorski more than you did going in, but it's far more honest than your usual DVD documentary where everyone answers softball questions and calls each other brilliant.  In Popatopolis, Jim calls everybody stupid.
admittedly, not the most exciting screenshot I could've selected
Now, probably the most exciting aspect of Terror Vision's new blu is the addition of the original 3-hour workprint of the film.  That's more than twice as long as the film itself, and it's missing some scenes from the final cut, like Roger Corman's interviews and clips from any of Wynorski's films.  But that just means this has a mega-ton of previously unseen material, and it's all pretty great.  As a fan of the original, I was delighted watching this extended cut, and never once bored.  It is a little rough, missing inserts, on-screen text and effects, and at one or two points they just show a test pattern while they play audio from an interview where the video was presumably lost.  If you just want to watch a light doc about the entertainment industry with friends, the final cut will probably go over better.  But if you're ready for a deep dive, the option is here and it's very satisfying.
1) 2009 Imaginaut DVD; 2) 2024 Terror Vision BD.


DVD left; BD right.
So, the 2009 DVD from Imaginaut isn't the most amazing PQ to look at, but I imagine it's about as good as the film can be presented.  The fact that Terror Vision's BD looks almost the same is testament to that.  It's a fine SD presentation: anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with no interlacing or other issues.  During the film we watch Jim shoot his film with an old HD camcorder on DV tapes, and we know the filmmakers are using smaller cameras.  This is just a micro-budget 2009 digital film, and the DVD has probably exactly the same image that they screened at festivals.  Which isn't to say the BD is 100% identical.  It's basically the same 1.78 image, but they've done a little work to it.  A lot of compression noise has been smoothed away, but at the cost of making the image generally softer.  We don't really lose any detail, but it comes out as sort of an arbitrary distinction: 10% better, 10Z% worse, resulting in a tie that'll boil down to personal taste, for the very select viewers who would even notice a difference.  Like, look at that 400% close-up.  We get rid of some overly enhanced edges, but we get a weird sort of pixelated jagged edge to them instead, and we maybe lose some light shading detail, but nothing you'd see in motion anyway, so it's basically a wash.

The back of the DVD touted a 5.1 mix, but it was really just your basic 2-channel track with optional English and Portuguese subtitles.  That 2.0 has been upgraded to lossless DTS-HD for the blu, and still has the English subs, though the Portuguese ones have been dropped.
2024 Terror Vision BD.

The workprint, on the other hand, doesn't look as good.  That's usually how it goes with workprints, so that's not too surprising.  But since it's all digital footage being shared around, it makes you wonder how some of it got that way.  The film slightly shifts from 1.78 to 1.77, but a lot of the footage, like in the second comparison shot, has been vertically stretched into the clearly wrong AR, chopping off the top and bottom of the image and making everybody look like Slenderman.  Gah!  The top shot, though, shows it hasn't all been stretched, which makes it all the more perplexing.   Even the non-stretched footage is clearly in worse condition, though, with additional combing and loss of fine detail.  Also, the audio is lossy and this version's not subtitled.  Oh well.  That's usually how it goes with workprints.
The care given to these releases is especially evident in the special features.  You're really going to want to pick up the disc as opposed to just catching this on some streaming site.  First of all, starting with the DVD, there are two audio commentaries.  One is by the filmmaking team, and it's pretty solid; they're certainly in good spirits.  Also in good spirits are actresses Monique Parent and Antonia Dorian, but their commentary is very skippable.  They have little to say, leaving long stretches of silence or simply laughing at the film, and it also doesn't help that their commentary is mixed so low that it's often very hard to hear them over the sound of the film "in the background."

But more importantly than either commentary are the deleted scenes.  There's some great stuff in here, including interviews with some people who never even made it into the finished film.  There's also a festival talk where Jim goes into some great stories working on his biggest films, and during the Deathstalker 2 clip, we suddenly cut to a whole exclusive interview with its star John Terlesky, which is exclusive to just that deleted scene.  And there are more deleted scenes tucked away as easter eggs, which are also great (Julie Strain takes you on a tour of her house, dances for us, and talks to her maid who once cameo'd in a Wynorski film), so you should definitely hunt those down, too.  Finally, there's the trailer and a cute Chopping Mall-related video where a remote controlled killbot travels around the UK promoting an upcoming screening.  They even threw in an autographed postcard when I ordered it off the official website (which has shut down since I first posted this article).
2024 Terror Vision BD.
And happily, except for the postcard, that's all been ported over to the blu-ray, including the easter eggs.  And they've included a bunch of new stuff.  There's a brand new interview with Wynorski about the documentary ("if it wasn't about me, I'd be laughing my ass off, okay?  But it is about me, so I'm kind of embarrassed by it all"), and a long one with the director of the doc itself.  And the best new addition is probably the new interview with Monique Parent that pretty much delivers everything you might've hoped for from her commentary.  There's also a silly tongue-in-cheek video essay about Wynorski's body of work that I could've done without.  And impressively, although something I doubt I'll ever watch, is the inclusion of the entire Witches of Breastwick film that Wynorski was filming in the doc.  It's 1.77:1 and, having been shot in actual HD, looks light years better than the main feature.  The audio is lossy and there are no subtitles, but as they pointed out in Popatopolis, nobody's watching this for the dialogue.

Terror Vision's blu comes in a nice, thick slipcover, and my pre-order came with a sticker, fortune telling fish and a pixie stick.
This movie's great and the DVD was even better.  I was a little bummed that most fans probably weren't going to take a shot and order it from their website despite my strong recommendation.  So now that Terror Vision's come along and given it an even better release, I hope none of you guys will miss out!  And if you're one of the few who does have the DVD, no the PQ isn't much of an upgrade, but the workprint and additional features still make it a very worthwhile double-dip.

The Fletch Chronicle: Fletch, Fletch Lives & Confess, Fletch

I've been planning a Fletch post for a while.  But then Confess, Fletch came out, so I decided to wait for that.  And then Kino's 2k restorations of the first two films were announced, so I decided to wait for those.  Now a lot of time has passed, and this post has become a taller and taller order, but I'm glad to finally unveil the complete Fletch chronicle on home video.
Chevy Chase has had a handful of great roles... in Caddyshack, the Vacation movies.  He's been fun in plenty of movies like The Three Amigos, Dirty Work and Spies Like Us.  But I daresay this is his greatest, defining role.  Based on the series of detective novels by Gregory McDonald, Fletch walks a satisfying line between his natural improv comedy style and a more serious mystery.  Newcomers might be a little disappointed if they're expecting more of a pure comedy (especially given Chase's silly disguises), but once you get the tone, you'll see Michael Ritchie has directed a real cracker here: the highlight of his career.  The supporting cast is spot-on with great performances from Joe Don Baker, George Wendt, M Emmet Walsh, Tim Matheson (Animal House) and a young Geena Davis.  It's got a fantastic Beverly Hills Cop-inspired synth score and a first rate theme song by Stephanie Mills.

Universal first released Fletch as a barebones DVD in 1998, which they then updated to a semi-special "Jane Doe" edition in 2007.  And naturally they reissued it a bunch over the years (we'll take a look at one, the "Triple Feature Film Set" we saw on my Mallrats page.  In 2009, they released it on blu, which they also reissued a bunch over the years.  I bought a Double Feature set because, back when I was shopping for Fletch at an FYE, the version with Uncle Buck was actually cheaper than the one without.  So, okay, I'll take a free second movie.  And now in 2024, Kino has just come out with a new special edition, restored in 2k with more features.
1) 2007 Universal DVD; 2) 2009 Universal DVD; 3) 2009 Universal BD;
4) 2013 Universal BD; 5) 2024 Kino BD.

For starters, though similar, the 2007 and 2009 DVDs are not identical, but the 2009 BD and the 2013 BDs are.  The Double Feature set is just the exact same 2009 BD in a new case with a 2011 Uncle Buck blu.  But Fletch and Happy Gilmore has been squeezed onto the same, new DVD.  They seem to be using the same master, but are clearly different encodes... and that's not the only difference, as we'll see later.  Honestly, though, none of these releases look all that different from each other.  They're all 1.85:1 with nearly identical framing.  The new Kino has a sliver extra picture along the edges, but I mean slivers.  More important is that the old BD features edge enhancement and other tinkering that detracts from the image, which Kino thankfully does away with.  At 2k, there's not really any new detail to be found, but the compression on the old blu present sparse and smudgy film grain.  The grain is still a bit light on the Kino, but it's much better than what Universal gave us.  They've also cleaned up the color timing, though those improvements are subtle.

Here's where the 2009 DVD really sets itself apart, in a bad way.  The original DVD and the 2007 Jane Doe edition include the original stereo track, but the Jane Doe also created a new 5.1 remix.  The 2009 DVD, unfortunately, keeps the 5.1 but drops the original track.  And while both previous DVDs include English and Spanish subtitles (and also French for on the 2007), the 2009 has none.  So yeah, you were definitely getting a stripped down inferior edition if you tried to save with the triple feature.  And that's not all the bad news.  The blu-ray has all three subtitle tracks, but still only the 5.1 remix track, albeit in DTS-HD.  Happily, the Kino brings back the original stereo mix, now in DTS-HD, along with the 5.1, and keeps the English subtitles, though not the Spanish and French.
Now the original DVD had nothing but the trailer, and the 2009 DVD doesn't even have that.  But the Jane Doe Edition earns its (corny) title by having cooked up some genuine special features.  Primarily, there's a half-hour retrospective featurette, which by and large is pretty great.  It features candid interviews with the screenwriter and producers, and gathers a good number of supporting cast and crew to share their memories of the filmmaking.  Unfortunately, though, the DVD producer decided to cast himself as a Fletch-like character who keeps doing skits in between all the interview footage, and that material is downright embarrassing.  It's one of the more notorious extras in DVD history.  But the interviews are really worth pushing through for.  Besides that, there's a brief but fun featurette with the effects artist and producers about Chase's disguises.  And there's a third featurette, but it's just a series of clips from the film with no original content, so you'll want to skip that one.  And that's about all you got, but it also came packaged in a fancy, holographic slipcover.

The Universal blu-ray just carries over the Jane Doe extras, but happily, the Kino takes things further.  Yes, all the Jane Doe stuff is back, but now we get an all new audio commentary by Bryan Reesman and Max Evry.  And boy, is it good.  The usual batch of slack, self-indulgent "expert" commentators we tend to get these days should take notes.  They've read the Fletch novels and have a wealth of info and insight to share, quoting articles and interviews throughout the film.  That's the primary new extra, but Kino has also tracked down an old promo interview with Chase.  It's very short, but finally adds his voice to the supplements.  They've also dug up four TV spots and thrown in some bonus trailers, including Fletch Lives.  It also comes in a much classier slipcover than the old Jane Doe one.
Fletch Lives is a distinct step down from the original, and notably not based on a McDonald novel.  But it's still a fun, Fletch caper with more emphasis on comedy.  Chase dons more silly disguises, and some of the supporting cast are playing broader characters, particularly Randall Cobb as Ben Dover.  They wouldn't have put someone like him in the original film, and even though there's some justification, Cleavon Little plays an over the top Southern stereotype in a cartoonish way that fails the original's standards.  On the other hand, other supporting players like Hal Holbrook and R. Lee Armey are consistently first class, while walk-ons from players like Richard Belzer, Dennis Burkley (Cal!) and Phil Hartman add color.  And it's great to see original supporting players Richard Libertini and George Wyner return, even if they're little more than cameos, to provide some continuity to the series.  It's the rough equivalent of Ghostbusters 2, an amusing sequel that re-captures at least some of the magic of the original, so long as you don't expect it to live up to the same standards of quality.

Universal first released it on DVD in 2010.  Universal released it on blu in 2017, but for reasons I can't remember, I went with the Fabulous Films blu-ray that came out the same year in the UK instead.  There's no particular advantage, I think I just came across a cheap used copy.  At any rate, they've both been rendered obsolete now by Kino's new 2k special edition... although, maybe not very obsolete.
1) 2010 Universal DVD; 2) 2017 Fabulous BD; 3) 2024 Kino BD.
All three editions of Fletch Lives are also presented in 1.85:1, though the Fabulous blu is closer to 1.84; and as with the original film, Kino's edition also features slim additions of picture information along all four sides.  It's almost the exact same case here as with the first Fletch, except to be fair, Universal's Fletch Lives blu-ray is a little less tinkered with.  But the Kino is still clearly the superior disc, with a more natural filmic look, slightly richer colors and more natural contrast.  For example, look at the white board behind Fletch in the first set of shots.  The detail is flared out on the DVD and first BD, but you can make it out now on the Kino.  Casual viewers might not appreciate the gains, but Kino's discs really are improved.

All three tracks include the original English stereo mix, in DTS-HD on the blus.  The US releases include optional English subtitles as well, but they're lacking on Fabulous's UK disc.  The DVD also includes both French and Spanish dubs and subs.  And again, Kino has also included a new 5.1 remix, also in DTS-HD.

No Fletch Lives disc has ever had any extras beyond the theatrical trailer on the DVD.  But Kino has rectified this unfortunate situation with another excellent commentary by Reesman and Evry.  They've also thrown in the original promo featurette and two very brief actor promos for Chase and leading lady Julianne Phillips.  The trailer's here, too, along with several TV spots and a handful of bonus trailers, including the original Fletch.
Like most O.G. fans, I assume, I approached the new Fletch with crossed arms.  It certainly didn't help that this was following an entire legacy of mediocre at best remakes of classic 80s films from Robocop to the Ed Helms Vacation.  But Jon Hamm does a great job of capturing the spirit Chase brought to the role without doing an imitation, and Greg Mottola directs a more faithful Fletch, without the silly costumes and once again adapting a mystery from one of the novels.  I went in ready to reject this completely, but came out hoping this could be the first in a complete series of Fletch films.  Bu unfortunately, I think the aforementioned legacy has kept too many people from giving this one the chance it needed to succeed on that commercial level.

So I suppose we're lucky to have physical media copies available at all.  Paramount released separate DVD and BD editions mid-2023 in the US, and few other parts of the world.
1) 2023 Paramount DVD; 2) 2023 Paramount BD.
Confess, Fletch is even faithful to the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, although the DVD is more like 1.86.  The blu-ray is naturally sharper and clearer than the DVD.  If you look at the sign by Fletch's head, it's an unreadable blur on the DVD, but can be made out to read "(Area Code) + Number ONLY" on the blu.  That's a level of gain even the Kino upgrades didn't provide.  Otherwise, of course, they're concurrent releases using the same master with identical color-timing, etc.  The advantages are all in the natural benefits of the format.  We get the proper 5.1 audio, in TrueHD on the blu, with an additional audio descriptive track, optional English subtitles, a Spanish dub as well as French and Spanish subs.

Unfortunately, there aren't any special features, not even a trailer.  That's a real shame; I would've loved a commentary by Mottola, or even just a brief promotional chat with Hamm giving a few comments on taking on the Fletch legacy.
I suppose you're curious about Uncle Buck, too?  Well, why not?  I'm not a huge fan of the film.  John Candy's great and it has its moments, but John Hughes has created too preachy and sappy a family film for my tastes.  However I did find something interesting about its history on disc, and I do happen to have a couple editions, including the original 2005 Universal DVD, the 'John Candy: The Comedy Favorites Collection: The Franchise Collection' DVD set from 2009, and obviously the Double Feature BD with Fletch.  But I should tell you Kino has already announced a 4k UHD, and I don't plan to upgrade, so don't expect an update here anytime soon.  So anyway, let's take a look.
1) 2005 Universal DVD; 2) 2008 Universal DVD; 3) 2013 Universal BD.
So, it's all ancient history now, of course.  But what was interesting is that the 2008 John Candy collection quietly included a rather substantial upgrade over initial DVD that had been released just three years earlier.  As you can see, it's the same master they'd eventually use for the blu with cleaner, more naturalistic colors and substantially more picture along all four sides.  Now that we have HD editions, of course it doesn't matter, as the blu-ray is more focused and clear than any DVD.  But it was a pretty neat surprise in 2008.

One big downside to the blu, though, is that it features a crappy lossy stereo track (even by lossy standards, it's underwhelming).  All three discs at least feature optional English subs and no remixes.  The original DVD also threw in Spanish subs and French and Spanish dubs.  The 2008 DVD dumped all the Spanish stuff, but kept the French dub.  And the blu-ray just has the English.  None of the releases have any extras except for the trailer on the DVDs.  The blu doesn't even have that.  Kino will hopefully help with all of that.  They certainly did with Fletch 1 and 2, and those weren't even UHDs.  But they're still highly recommended for any serious Fletch fans, and so is Paramount's Confess.