The Strange Oeuvre of Coffin Joe, Part 2

 
...Continued from Part 1.

The Strange World of Coffin Joe (1968) was actually made and released before Awakening Of the Beast, and in some ways feels at least a bit more like a proper Coffin Joe film, so it's a little odd they chose Awakenings over this for the Fantoma set. At least it's another horror film. But I suppose the strongest argument against its inclusion was that, despite the film's title, Coffin Joe the character doesn't really appear in this film at all. Marins is in it, though, as a diabolical villain who does some pretty similar things to his victims; but he's without the signature top hat, and no longer on the same mission to sire an heir.

The Strange World is actually an anthology film, no doubt inspired by the Amicus anthologies which had already started in the 60s. We have three stories presented here. The first is about a doll maker who's robbed a gang of hooligans, but has a sinister secret that makes them regret their act. Next is a weird story with no dialogue about a balloon dealer who falls for a girl and isn't deterred in making love to her even after seeing her get murdered. And the third and final entry is the one to finally bring Marins on screen, as a professor who kidnaps a fellow professor and his wife, performing experiments on them to prove a twisted theory. All together, it's really not as compelling as the original Coffin Joe films, but horror anthologies are always fun, and it is satisfying to have Marins back delivering his mad monologues for the final act.
Cinemagia on top; Anchor Bay on bottom.
We're down to only comparing two transfers, Cinemagia and Anchor Bay. And in this case, they're both identically framed as fullscreen; and they seem to be a dead even magic in terms of clarity and detail. Like Awakening, Anchor Bay has a slight yellowish tint, but it's not downright yellow as the first two films were, to the point where neither coloring is really very preferable. In direct comparison, I prefer the non-tinted Cinemagia, but when you're actually going to watch one DVD or the other, I'd say the difference is strictly academic. Of course, Anchor Bay's subtitles are still burnt in, while Cinemagia's are removable. That's a plus, although I doubt many of us are going to watch this with the subtitles off anyway.
If you've been reading along since Part 1 of my Coffin Joe coverage, you probably already know what to expect in terms of extras. Absolutely nothing from Anchor Bay, and a whole heap of terrific-sounding but untranslated extras from Cinemagia. And you'd be right. Specially, the list of Cimemagia's extras are: another intro, another commentary, a second commentary this time, four more audio recordings, an extracted fourth segment made for this anthology that runs 31 minutes(!), audio commentary for that fourth segment, 7 interviews, an on-camera radio interview with Marins, a making of doc and outtakes about the Coffin Joe claymation piece, another interview with Marins, another episode of Who's Afraid, five more galleries, the website piece and a bunch of trailers.
We really leave horror behind now for 1971's End of Man.  We also leave black and white behind as Marins enters the (mostly) full color world as a mysterious, nameless and naked man who walks out of the ocean and might just be the second coming. He basically walks around being completely passive, and everybody's reactions to him wind up drastically changing their lives. And he winds up attracting followers. It's kind of a religious allegory played for broad laughs, with a soundtrack that plays muzack versions of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head." It's playful, Marins is in a lighter mood walking around in a red robe and turban, and people looking for sex and nudity will find some; but I still found it to be a heavy-handed slog to sit through.
Cinemagia on top; Anchor Bay on bottom.
My opinion of this film probably wasn't helped that the transfers look muddy, soft and de-saturated. Both discs now have that ghosting effect on certain (but different) frames, and they're both fullframe, although by the head room in many shots, I'd guess this was at least supposed to be 1.66:1. Anchor Bay again has that slight yellow tint to it, and the subtitles are burnt in as always. Otherwise I can't see one being any better than the other, detail and sharpness seem to be equal.
How does Cinemagia top Anchor Bay's barren feature collection of nothing this time? Let's look at what hasn't been translated this time? An original Coffin Joe intro, an audio commentary, four more audio recordings, a 50 minute "autobiography" film by Marins, clips from two films Marins didn't make that he appears in, 6 interviews, an interview with his webmaster (I think), a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of their audio commentaries, a music video by Liz Vamp, another Marins interview, another episode of Who's Afraid, their website thing (oh, and I'm certain they're all different now), and a bunch of trailers and stills galleries. Oh, how I wish I could understand what they were saying...
Thank goodness, Coffin Joe returns in Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind (1978). This is kind of a fun "meta" horror, along the lines of Wes Craven's New Nightmare but obviously decades earlier. A doctor is haunted by nightmarish visions of Coffin Joe. His colleagues can't cure him, so they enlist Marins, playing himself, the director of the Coffin Joe movies, to help. This is the first full-length Coffin Joe film since This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse, ten years earlier. But it loses a little of its punch by not having Joe as the protagonist this time around. And, like Nightmare In a Damaged Brain, Marins cheats by using clips from his past films as the nightmares the doctor is having. It's definitely a bit of a clip show episode, but at least Joe's back.
Cinemagia on top; Anchor Bay on bottom.
More muddy transfers with the same framing. Anchor Bay looks yellowish again, and this time noticably brighter as well. Blacks might be getting a bit crushed, but I still prefer Cinemagia. And again, AB's subtitles are burnt in.
Say it with me, gang: Anchor Bay has nothing; Cimeagia has a wealth of un-dubbed or subtitled extras. Specifically, Cinemagia has: a new intro, an audio commentary, 4 more recordings, a 40 minute documentary about Marins from 1978 called Horror Palace Hotel, 3 clips of films Marins presumably worked on, 7 interviews, a clip of Marins appearing at a rock performance, another interview with Marins, another episode of Who's Afraid, another website clip, more trailers and more galleries.
The year before Hallucinations, Marins made 1977's Hellish Flesh. This wasn't included in the other set because - holy cow; it's an Anchor Bay exclusive! I knew I bought that thing for a reason... Well, Hellish Flesh is not a Coffin Joe movie, but it is a horror film with Marins as the bad guy. He's a scientist who spends to much time at the lab, so his wife cheats on him. She and her lover plot to kill him by burning down the lab (and throwing acid in his face for good measure), but the scientist survives, as a disfigured madman now out for revenge. This is a real, classical-style horror tale; a throwback. That works in its favor compared to some of his weaker, less entertaining films like End of Man, but the fact that its more conventional means it doesn't rise to the heights of his greatest works either.
There's nothing to compare this full-frame transfer to, but it looks a little better than the last couple films we looked at. Of course the subtitles are burnt in, and there are no extras. But thanks to Anchor Bay's set. we got to see one more Marins horror flick, and it's a good 'un.
And it's not the only Anchor Bay set exclusive! Even before Hellish Flesh, Marins directed 1976's Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures. Despite what you might gather from the title, this is actually a Coffin Joe film, although his character isn't quite as prominent as in the main trilogy. We get a hell of a colorful, wacked out introduction of exotic characters bring Coffin Joe back from the dead. After the credits, the film is a bit more grounded as a variety of strangers arrive to stay the night at a hostel run by Marins not quite in Coffin Joe form. Things get weird, time stops, and they each have their own little narrative a la Tales From the Crypt. There are some goofy "naked pleasures" on hand, it does live up to that promise, but it's definitely more of a horror film than anything else.
More fullscreen ghost frames and burnt in subtitles. And again, zero extras. But this is our only opportunity to see this film, and it's one of the more enjoyable ones.
The Strange World of Jose Mojica Marins (2001) is a new (at the time - now it's fifteen years old. Where does the time go?) documentary about our hero. Not to be confused with The Universe of Mojica Marins, this is a more substantial, 65 minute doc that's only available in the Anchor Bay set. It's a cool overview of his life and career. We see Marins at home, talk about his childhood and his life as a filmmaker. For such an interesting person, this kind of documentary is essential.
It's full-frame, but since it was a new release at the time of this set, I assume that's how it's supposed to be. It's fine but underwhelmingly handled. I mean, the subtitles are even burnt in here. I just don't get the feeling Anchor Bay spent a lot of time putting this set together.
Finally, we have Embodiment of Evil (2009), Marins comeback film where he finally completes the Coffin Joe trilogy. He has a surprisingly big budget and great technical look here, and the story is everything you would want it to be. Marins hasn't lost his touch, and Joe hasn't missed a step in his quest for a woman to give him a son. The fact Joe looks older and Brazil looks modern is easily explained by the fact that Joe has been sitting in prison for the last 40 years (which makes sense, given what he did in those past movies). I don't know how young horror fans would feel stumbling upon this film if they'd never seen the original Coffin Joe films; but for longtime fans, it's a real crowd pleaser. If you've seen his past films but avoided this one because you anticipated a big let down, I'd say it's safe, you should check it out.
This flashback to the old film in the new one suggests how a restoration might look in 2015.
Now, the version I have is - and the screenshots we're looking at come from - the Anchor Bay DVD. They released it on both DVD and blu in the UK, and Syanpse did the same in America (sold separately in AB's case and as a combo-pack in Synapse's). As a brand new, shot on digital film, it's safe to assume that AB and Synapse's transfers are essentially identical [not true! See the update below], with the blus obviously having the benefit of being HD over the DVDs.
There's a ghosting effect on Anchor Bay's DVD, though, which I can't confirm is on their blu-ray, too. It might be, though, because I suspect it comes from their bringing an NTSC film over to PAL. It's also worth noting that Synapse's blu-ray is a dual-layer disc, while AB's is single. They share the same extras (an enjoyable 30+ minute 'making of' and the trailer), except Synapse one-ups AB with an additional 14 minute featurette on the film's premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival, where Coffin Joe speaks to a very large, enthusiastic crowd. The sound quality makes it a little hard to make out some of the words, but you certainly don't miss the showmanship as Marins is carried out in a large coffin by two burly men surrounded by... creatively dressed women. So, the AB DVD is what I've got, but I'd say the Syanpse blu is the definitive way to go.
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Update 2/13/15:
I made a little error above, as was pointed out to me in the comments. This film was actually shot on film, not digital; and the transfers are far from identical beyond a PAL/NTSC difference. So I researched it, saw he was right, and upgraded to the Synapse blu. So now, let's compare screenshots. And since the Synapse release is a combo pack, we can throw in the Synapse DVD, too.  Further update 2/12/17: The third disc in Synapse's Coffin Joe Trilogy 3-disc set is the same as the DVD from the combo pack.  Like, it's literally the exact same disc, with the 2011 date on the label and everything.
Anchor Bay DVD on top; Synapse DVD mid and Synapse blu-ray on bottom.
Synapse went back to the camera negative (it says so right on the back of the box) to strike a new transfer of Embodiment, and it's certainly quite noticeable. The framing's the same, but the colors are more natural on the Synapse disc, and the Anchor Bay is decidedly darker and smudgier. To be fair, though, I think the Syanpse disc could stand to be a sliver darker. The ghosting (look at the guard's right hand) is fixed, too. Now, granted, it's unfair to compare the AB DVD to the Synapse blu - one obviously has the added HD edge - and after all, AB did release theirs on blu, too. But I think that's why it's helpful to throw the Synapse DVD into the comparisons. We can really see what's different in the transfer vs what's different in the HD/ SD compression. To zero in on it, I've zoomed onto the sign behind the characters in that second screenshot.

I've also shuffled the order a bit and didn't give away which shot is which with a caption this time. But you don't need me to tell you which is which anyway, do you? That's the dark, blurry, unreadable Anchor Bay disc in the center, without a clear distinction between where his cap ends and his head begins. And that's a much clearer, smoother and brighter Synapse DVD to the left of it. Of course, better still is the Syanpse blu on the right, which really takes away a lot of the compression flaws of the image, and its sign is by far the easiest to read. But even without the leap to HD, Synapse's transfer still clarifies each letter, whereas the Anchor Bay only manages to clarify each word from the next, like varying lengths of grey smear.
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Coffin Joe, as seen in one of his many exclusive Cinemagia intros.
So, that's about it for what's available. There are more Marins films out there, even more Coffin Joe ones; but none that have been released (except for some now very rare SWV video tapes). He's also still active as a filmmaker, so don't be surprised if one of his new works pops up on DVD one day. As I mentioned already, the now OOP Fantoma set has been reissued by Umbrella in Australia, so they're easier to find now. These titles have also been issued in a few other countries... I've seen Greek and Japanese discs online, and a collection from Italy which seems to have everything that Anchor Bay UK set offers. But I think those all just replicate the transfers and features we've covered here.

Overall, collecting Coffin Joe means you're either going to have to do a lot of double/triple dipping, or let some stuff go. Fantoma and Synapse have the best transfers, and some nice if brief extras; but they only have a few of his films. Cinemagia has more films and all those untranslated extras, plus that one translated soc. Mondo Macabro's disc kinda blows, but they have an exclusive extra. And considering how lacking Coffin Joe fans are in (translated) extras, you might be compelled to pick it up just for that. And Anchor Bay? They've got the most movies, but the worst transfers. It's really just a collection of compromises. It's just going to come down to how much do you feel you need beyond the core Coffin Joe trilogy of films. At least until somebody comes along and does a massive restoration of Marins' entire body of work.  But it seems Synapse's DVD-only Trilogy may be the best we'll get

It is unbelievably frustrating how much great material there is in the Cinemagia box without subtitles. Any company that simply reissued an English-friendly version of that box alone would have fans dying to give them their money. But of course, there's so much more that could be done. Look how good the original films could look. And you know what? I'd really like to see The Bloody Exorcism of Coffin Joe. It seemed like the buzz around Coffin Joe on DVD has simmered, but I'd love to see it boil back up for blu-ray. I've read so many fans say on forums that they were holding off on the Brazilian set, waiting for the English-friendly version that was sure to arrive in America. But it's been over a decade now. So let's keep hope alive, but in the meantime, we can at least make use of what's available.

Northanger Abbey 2007, The "UK Edition"

You sort of expect to have to dig through cut and censored prints of foreign horror movies on DVD; but you don't expect it to be just as bad collecting Masterpiece Theaters!

Northanger Abbey is the most under-adapted Jane Austen novel. There's pretty much only this version and the 1980s BBC one starring Peter Firth. Neither are definitive; both have their pros and cons and don't quite capture the entirety of the novel... so I'd recommend the pair of them about equally, and even together. A big part of the reason is because Austen was making a lot of direct references to - no, more than reference, almost parody of - contemporary literature. Of her day. Of course, with some smart alterations by a clever screenwriter, changes can be made that help bridge modern viewers to the story. But that requires us to step further away from Austen's writing, and the top quality thereof; because only a very small selection of audiences today could really appreciate all of the humor and implications of the novel as written.
 
You see, the lead character Catherine (Felicity Jones) reads a lot of novels. Far too many novels, according to everyone around her; but she's hopelessly caught up in her gothic romances. She has extensive daydreams and fantasies, which really set this one apart from Austen's other novels, to the point where she's neglectful of the real world. And when she's invited for an extended stay in a medieval country house, things finally get out of hand for her.

This version is written by Andrew Davies, who's pretty much the reigning king of adapting classic novels for British television, responsible for amazing versions of Vanity Fair, Bleak House, The Way We Live Now, He Knew He Was Right, Wives & Daughters, and of course the more modern House of Cards series. He's also been quite successful with Jane Austen, including the penultimate Pride & Prejudice version starring Colin Firth. Granted, he may have had a few missteps (I remember his modern retelling of Othello being a little goofy; but then again it seems to have quite good reviews,s o maybe I need to revisit it), but this is not one of them. It's no P&P 1995, but it's still very good.
So let's talk about cut versions. As you might imagine, this modern version of Northanger does take the opportunity to spice up Catherine's fantasies a bit in the sexiness department. That ruffled a few purists' feathers, but that's not why this movie was cut. Did yo know, it's actually relatively common for Masterpiece Theater to cut down their British imports for broadcast? Yeah, so what you see on PBS is not always 100% of what people got to see aired in the UK. They just get out their scissors and trim things down a bit. Oftentimes, those cuts have been reinstated when it was time to release the DVDs... but not always.
In 2008, when WGBH released this on DVD, it ran a just under 85 minutes. Uncut, the movie runs just over 93 minutes. That's almost 10 minutes missing from an already short movie. And it's not just a PAL/ NTSC timing thing; lots of scenes were cut. A fantasy sequence, yes, but also conversations, small shots and moments. Fortunately, word got around and fans complained. So when they decided to release this on blu ion 2011, they came out with the "Original UK Edition" stamped on the front cover.
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Update 5/23/15: Let's get real about this comparison! I've got the old, cut DVD here with me now, so let's look at precisely what was cut, and also hold up some screenshots to see exactly how different the SD and HD transfers are. We're not gonna settle for second best here at DVDExotica!

Note: the following time-coded section, explaining all of the cuts, is pretty spoiler heavy. Skip to the end of it if you wish to avoid spoilers.

7.28:
When Mr. and Mrs. Allen talk about taking Catherine out into society for the first time, the cut version ends with Mr. Allen saying, "I entertain high hopes of our arriving at the rooms before midnight," and we cut to the carriages. But in the full version, the scene continues with Mrs. Allen saying, "how he teases us, Catherine. Midnight indeed." and Catherine smiling.

8.38:
At the crowded ball, when Mr. Allen abandons the ladies for the card room, Mrs. Allen suggests, "perhaps we should cut to the tea room," Catherine nods, and we see a brief shot of dancing. The DVD then cuts to the introduction of our leading man, Henry, literally bumping into Mrs. Allen and then having a small chat. This actually skips over a whole scene, which continues follows the brief shot of dancing to Mrs. Allen and Catherine .comically spotting two empty seats, then running and pushing past a crowd of people to get to them before they're taken. The pair then have a substantial dialogue scene about how uncomfortable it is to be in society with nobody to introduce them. Starting to receive awkward looks, they conclude that they are unwelcome, stand up and make an embarrassed retreat from the room. Then they bump into Henry on their way out, and we're finally back in sync with the DVD. This isn't just an amusing scene onto itself, but adds some weight to the following scene, when Henry introduces them to the party and they are now made to feel welcome there. He didn't just show up and charm them, he rescued them from a social disaster. There's also a reference to this moment at the end of the movie, which only makes sense if you've seen the full version.

15.45: After leaving the dance, the DVD cuts to Catherine writing in her room, but the blu has an another scene first, where Catherine and Mrs. Allen tell Mr. Allen about Henry. Mr. Allen warns Catherine about the danger of "attracting all manner of scoundrels and adventurers." They then have a lengthy discussion of Henry, both comical and expositional; and it's here Catherine first hears of Northanger Abbey. "Is it haunted," she asks. "No doubt. These abbeys usually are," Mr. Allen replies. This is a pretty key scene, and it's hard to believe PBS thought it expendable. Trimming the button off the "arriving before midnight" scene is one thing - and I gather PBS's editor saw an opportunity for a site gag by cutting from Catherine asking Henry, "well, who's to say I keep a journal?" at the dance a close-up of her furiously scribbling away in said journal - but it's a bit like cutting the part where Luke learns about the Force from Star Wars.

27.23: During the dialogue on the staircase, where Catherine is told Henry and his sister will not be keeping their promise to take her out, her friend says, "in this false world, people often make promises they have no intention of keeping." In the DVD, we then cut to Catherine saying, "but what if they come after all?" But in the blu-ray, her friend has more dialogue, saying, "remember, we are your true friends. We keep our promises," before cutting back to Catherine's line. It's a short moment, but, but not an unimportant bit of manipulation, considering they're actually the ones deceiving her.

39.39: After Catherine and Henry finally have their walk in the woods, and he asks her to keep his sister's meeting with a mysterious man a secret from their father, the DVD cuts to Catherine talking to her friend, skipping the following from the full-length version: first, a shot of a horse-drawn carriage racing at night. Then we find Catherine in a bath, and her voice-over narrates the further adventures of the monk receiving a magic talisman than will grant him access to a lady's bedchamber. We then enter her dream, where her bath is out in the woods, and Henry arrives in full preacher garb, helping her out, naked (though, for the record, nothing R-rated is ever in frame). She then awakens to her name being shouted. Finally, we see her friends walking through town towards her house, and that then cuts to the scene of them in her room as seen in the DVD.

This is the missing scene most people notice first, since it's easier to remember whether or not you saw Catherine naked in a bathtub in the woods rather than if you saw the extra lines of dialogue about whether they'd be late to the party. And it's probably the scene a lot of Austen fans mind losing the least, since nudity (even with nothing really shown, like here) and such overt sexual tension doesn't really feel faithful to Austen's sensibilities for the times she was writing in. I imagine the filmmakers would argue it's more like "if Austen had written it for today's audiences," but it's questionable at best. It's more a shame to lose that very funny voice-over about the monk that leads into the scene, however.

47.29: In the carriage, when Catherine is discussing with her friend why she danced with Henry's brother after just becoming engaged, her friend says, "he is the eldest son, you know,, the heir to Northanger Abbey. Not that that weighs anything with me; I'm in love with the best man in the whole world."The DVD then cuts to Catherine running dramatically down a stone corridor during a stormy night. But the complete version continues on in the carriage, with them further discussing the brother, "do you think he's handsome?" And Catherine asks the key question of the story, "then, how is one to know what to believe?" The carriage arrives, and then we cut to the stormy corridor scene.

50.45: After Catherine's friend tells her she has to wait two years to marry because her fiance has yet to come into his money, the DVD cuts to Catherine talking to Henry and his sister on a stairwell. But the extended version first cuts to a scene Catherine and Henry's sister walking through the woods discussing the two year delay, which turns into a conversation about "how many of us marry for love" and how Catherine's naive upbringing could indeed be dangerous for her. And Catherine confesses that she doesn't feel as pure of heart as people think her to be, for she has her terrible dreams. And then we cut to the staircase scene.

56.09:
When the carriage arrives to take Catherine to Northanger Abbey, the extended version has a scene of Catherine saying goodbye to the Allens. A nice touch: when Mr. Allen says, "I should be sharp about it. These great folks don't like to be kept waiting," we see the captain outside pacing in frustration before Catherine bursts out the door. The US cut just cuts from the carriage arriving to Catherine coming outside.

59.09: After Catherine and Mr. Tilding's dialogue in the carriage as he takes her to Northanger Abbey, the US version cuts to them inside. The UK version shows their servants coming to meet them and help them out of the carriage. Honestly, this is the most painless of the trims.

1.01.32: The UK version has a shot of Mr. Tilney looking frustrated at how long Catherine is taking to come to dinner. We then see the ladies rushing through the house (being such a massive house, it's a long way to go) and finally arriving and apologizing. Mr. Tilney angrily shouts to his servants, "dinner to be on the table directly!" before leading Catherine to the table, where the US version begins. In short, the US version just cuts everything that's imposing and dramatic out of the Catherine's situation, and just gets right to the dialogue.

1.08.45: After Mr. Tilney's carriage rides off, the UK version gives us an exclusive scene of Henry and his sister taking Catherine apple pickings on the grounds, which the US version has excised. Hardly a critical loss, but it does sew some "when the cat's away" seeds (a la Mansfield Park), which of course lead to Catherine getting into so much trouble a short while later, and it's probably good to have a reminder of how well Catherine and Henry get along when things aren't as dark as the Abbey tends to cast them.

1.28.21: When Catherine admits to the the Allens that she may be as much to blame for being exiled from Northanger Abbey as any of the Tilneys, the US version cuts to her little cousins asking her if the abbey was scary. But the full-length version first has a scene of Catherine burning her novel in her room. It may be a bit of a heavy-handed moment, but it also seems to be a pretty key moment, and so near the ending, for PBS to callously cut it.

1.33.24: A single line is taken out of one of the very final scenes. Cuts so deep into the finale feel particularly presumptuous of PBS, though it is a rather fleeting moment. When Henry is confessing to Mrs. Allen, she says, "You had no part in what happened, Mr. Tilney. And Catherine is as you see her: no harm done. Any friends of our children are welcome here." To which he replies, "oh, very good." At least in the US cut. In the UK cut, Mrs. Allen says, "shall we agree to talk no more about it?" And that's when he replies, "oh, very good." So nothing earth moving, but the longer version does make Mr. Tilney more gracious, and the moment overall feels more natural in its complete form. It's also a strange cut, since PBS gained hardly any time at all, since the line goes by so fast. If they needed just an extra half second of commercial time, surely they could've just trimmed a few frames off an establishing shot instead?

All of these cuts just feel very meddling. And while most aren't too destructive, it's certainly a better film in its complete form. Enough so that I think any Austen fans who were initially disappointed by this film during its initial Masterpiece Theater broadcast or the DVD ought to make sure they've seen the complete cut before dismissing it. Nothing so huge was cut that you could no longer follow the plot, but anyone Austen reader knows that everything hinges on delicate moments.
2011 blu-ray on top; 2008 DVD below.
2011 blu-ray right; 2008 DVD left.
2011 blu-ray on top; 2008 DVD below.
And comparing screenshots, we can see there is definitely more detail and a clearer, more streamlined look to the blu-ray. This is pretty much what you'd expect from a blu-ray upgrade. But what I wasn't expecting to find was the weird PAL/NTSC issues the DVD had. It's of course an NTSC disc, but it plays at PAL speed, considerably faster than the blu. And as you can see in the second pair of shots, it also has ghosting frames from the conversion. It's very noticeable in motion whenever the camera pans horizontally, it has a very herky-jerky look. Although I guess this is hardly the first UK show to have that problem on a US disc. But it's just one more factor that makes the blu-ray a more valuable improvement. It has the complete cut of the film, boosts it to HD and it corrects a bad PAL conversion job.
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I'm not sure they would have even selected this title for a blu-ray release if it wasn't for the fact that this doubled as an opportunity to appease fans miffed about the cuts. So thankfully, this actually lead to us getting the full, uncut version and a nice upgrade to HD. ...Still no extras unfortunately, except for a Downtown Abbey commercial at the start of the disc and optional subtitles (the DVD at least had closed captions). The back of the box says this is 1080i, not p (because it was probably telecined that way for TV). Overall the image looks quite attractive, not interlaced, with a lot of intentional soft focus.
All in all, its a nice transfer of a nice movie, and an essential upgrade for anyone who bought the 84 minute DVD. There is also a blu-ray release in the UK, but it's only available as part of a set containing the ITV's other two Austen adaptations from the same period, and their Mansfield Park wasn't so hot. There's no extras on that one either, but it does purport to be 1080p so if anyone wants to splurge, they might find a minor improvement. But I imagine they're going to be pretty close. Recommended.

It's Fright Night! Twilight Time's 30th Anniversary Edition (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Finally, finally, finally, Fright Night has a special edition! For those who haven't been keeping close track, Twilight Time originally released a limited edition blu-ray of Fright Night in 2011. Before that, all we had was the old school, no frills DVD from Sony. Well, all 3000 copies of Twilight Time's blu, despite having no real extras except for an isolated score (a standard feature for Twilight Time), sold out surprisingly fast, and fans clamored for a copy as second-hand prices sky-rocketed into the hundreds of dollars. In the interim, Sony released non-limited blu-ray editions in Japan and Australia, and included the film in a 4 movie 2 disc DVD set here in the US, but the demand stayed high. So now Twilight Time has brought it back for a 30th Anniversary Edition, this time packed with the extras we've been begging for, and limited to a greater number of 5000 copies. Well, that sold out within two days, and those of us who pre-ordered are just now receiving our copies. Woohoo!

Tom Holland's Fright Night is just one of those perfect 80s horror flicks. It's fun without losing its serious edge. It's serious yet still manages to be genuinely funny. It's got a perfect concept and an iconic cast. It's the kind of horror movie that people who don't like horror movies will still enjoy, without alienating actual, hardcore horror fans. Not a lot of movies slam dunk on both sides of that fence.
It starts out a little Rear Window-ish, with William Ragsdale as our likeable everyman watching his neighbors suspiciously with binoculars... have they just committed a murder? Worse than that, they seem to be vampires! Of course nobody believes him and they all want him to stop telling crazy stories, even as the vampire gets dangerously closer to killing him and everyone he loves. Just when you think: maybe I'm starting to get tired of the "no, you've got to believe me!" schtick, the film takes a new angle. Ragsdale decides the only person in the world who can help him is Roddy McDowall, the vampire hunter he watches all the time on television. Of course, the actor who plays him is nothing like his character, but somehow he manages to press the cowardly and unbelieving McDowall into accompanying him, and they find themselves facing up against real life vampires!

So, this new blu-ray pretty much uses the same transfer as the 2011 release, except I've read the contrast is a bit higher and the bit-rate is a lot higher, as the film has graduated now to a dual-layer disc (also to accommodate the great number of extras, of course).  Unfortunately, I don't have the first Twilight Time disc to do a comparison there, but other sites seem to be hashing those details out quite thoroughly anyway. Again, they're fundamentally the same, just with the contrast and bit-rate differences. The distinctions appear strong enough to pick a preferred version, but not so strong that I think anybody should feel compelled to replace one with the other. Still, I highly recommend this HighDefDigest review which fully compares the two.

I do have the original Sony DVD, though; so besides just reviewing the new disc and showing you these screenshots (all taken from the 30th Anniversary Edition, of course), I thought it would be fun and worthwhile to compare it the blu to the DVD. The Sony disc, barebones though it was, still had a pretty strong transfer after all. How much are these blu-rays really improving upon what's been readily available all this time? How much are we really gaining here?
DVD on top; blu-ray on bottom.
Yeah, it's a real upgrade. But, like I said, it's a pretty top notch transfer from Sony's anamorphic 2.35:1 DVD. The colors are a little more natural on the blu and the detail is stronger. But the DVD gives it as much of a run for its money as standard def could master, with no differences in framing. And in some shots at least (i.e. that middle one with McDowall and Chris Sarandon... although not really when you look up close; the blu is clearly better), you could argue the colors might actually be preferable on the DVD.

Let's go back for a second look.
Again, DVD shots on top; blu-rays on bottom.
Oh, and the DVD was a flipper disc with a full screen version on the other side. Let's have a look at that, too.
DVD on top, blu-ray in middle and full-screen DVD on bottom.
Man, look at that; it's not even open matte. And with the film being 2.35, that's like literally half the picture they're chopping off! But, okay. I really don't think anybody was thinking, hey, maybe the full-screen version will turn out to be the definitive one! Let's get back to the important stuff.

The colors seem to go back and forth between scenes for which are stronger. And I'm thinking this new 30th Anniversary's contrast might be a closer match to the DVD than the 2011. But okay, the HD. How are we doing? Again, it's an excellent DVD, though the blu is clearly sharper and more lifelike, but if you're just looking at these images sitting on the page, and not opening them up separately to see them full-size, the differences might seem academic, or at least not a big deal. So let's get in closer.
DVD on the left; blu-ray on the right.
 Okay, so these are details from the last screenshot comparison above. I've enlarged the size of both, so don't judge them too harshly quality-wise. This particular pairing is for illustrative purposes, not to be properly representative. But look what we've got. First of all, the grain is much more evident on the blue. He almost looks freckled. The blu either smooths that away or just doesn't capture it because it's too small, and at the cost of a lot of detail. There's just more to see now in his eyes. And the DVD's also got that softer-edged, splotchier look that you routinely get between SD and HD.
Of course, whether you're coming to the 30th Anniversary Edition from the DVD or from any of the other blus, by far the biggest advancement is in the extras department. First of all, that there are any at all. And secondly, there's a lot, and it's great, high-quality stuff.

First of all, there's both the audio commentaries that were released online as mp3s years ago. They're lively, both informative and fun, and between them gather together almost everybody from the film: Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Jonathan Stark, special effects artist Randall Cook, plus moderators.  Both trailers (one more than the DVD's got) and the isolated score are carried over from the 2011 blu, and they've added a stills gallery.

Frankly, that's all I needed to be happy for this release. But there's a lot more, including a reunion panel from 2008 that's just under an hour long, and brings together Tom Holland, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Amanda Bearse (especially nice to get here, as she was missing from the commentaries) and Jonathan Stark. And there's a set of three in-depth interviews with Tom Holland that add up to a solid half hour.

Oh, and there's also a nice insert booklet. The DVD also had one of those, and the 2011 blu came with a collector's magnet which this one doesn't have. So I guess they all score alright in that department.
And finally there's a Vintage Electronic Press Kit, which is kind of a mess, but a beautiful mess. When Twilight Time first announced this, my mind just read that as one of those six minute featureless made to promote the film that are comprised of clips of the film interspersed with a few on-set interview soundbites, and maybe a few seconds of behind-the-scenes footage if we're lucky. Nothing great, but still nice to have for the little glimpses of the past, right?

Well, now let me tell you it's over 90 minutes. Awesome! It's also not a single, edited documentary. It's just all the footage that was included in the film's electronic press kit. That means, for example, that yes, there is a short featurette like I just described included here, and it has a neat into by Roddy McDowall. And then it's included again, minus the intro. So it's not like 95 minutes of great stuff, so much as 85 minutes of stuff with greatness mixed in. Fortunately, it's carefully broken up into chapters so you can jump to each little section and just hit Forward to skip one.

So, there's the featurette, a music video of the main theme and a little making of for the that music video, which are all pretty great. And there's individual interviews Tom Holland, William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall and Amanda Bearse, plus another featurette about visual effects artist Richard Edlund. Oh, and four brief "newswrap" stories about the film. But there's also stuff you're going to want to skip, like the same music video but with Spanish titles, or a series of clips from the film, which are nothing but short chunks of the film in low video quality. Oh yeah, all of this is in low video quality and has a big time counter embedded into the lower center of the image, which I guess is why Sony never put any of it on their DVD. But I'm sure glad Twilight Time didn't pass it over. Just sit there with your finger on the Forward button ready to skip the repeats, and it's a good 45 minute or so watch. And for the diehard fans who really want both versions of the featurette, etc; hey, it's nice they've got the option.
 
Twilight Time's 30th Anniversary Edition is a total five star release. Sure, you could prefer the contrast on the 2011 disc or the color timing of the Australian disc or something. But you can't really call this disc anything but first rate all around. It's both impressive and a shame that this sold out so lightning quick, even after the previous blu-ray releases, because this is the kind of release that belongs in everyone's collection.