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.

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