Controversial Blus: The Final Terror from Scream Factory (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Here's one from Scream Factory where they answered a lot of fan requests by restoring and issuing this film on blu. It's The Final Terror, a creative backwoods slasher film, that's always been on the rare/ obscure side of things, but has had a devout following from those who've discovered it. Unfortunately, its only representation on disc had been a bunch of full screen, VHS-sourced cheapies from from the budget labels that tend to specialize in public domain titles. Some looked a little better than others, but none seemed to top the old tapes... that is until Scream Factory came around and did a fancy, HD restoration job. So what's all the fuss about? Well, I've got Scream Factory's blu-ray/ DVD combo pack here, and I've even got one of those old cheapie discs. So let's open 'em up and get to the bottom of this.
 
The Final Terror could easily get lost in the ocean of 80s slashers, but it's better enough than most of them to stand out if you've ever seen it. It's got a nice little cast, including some soon to be big names like Daryl Hannah, Mark Metcalf and Joe Pantoliano who create some strong characters. And the story manages to stay more compelling by avoiding some of the generic cliches, especially every character finding an excuse to wonder off alone and get picked off. Here, the group sticks together, and work collectively to survive. Instead of rolling your eyes at the characters stupidity as they move from plot contrivance to plot contrivance, you'll find these people do pretty much what you or I would do in that kind of situation, and you'll be genuinely guessing at what's still to come. It doesn't stray that far from the core elements of all slasher films, mind you; but it definitely thinks for itself. A solid score, a lavish location and some well directed set pieces all add up to a well above average slasher.
One thing we learn in the extras, though, is that this movie was re-cut and scored to really change the sensibilities of the film... effectively turning it from a gruesome character piece to more of a high tension thriller. The version we have here is certainly very satisfying, but it sure would've been nice if the original version could've been unearthed and included here as well.

Still, there's no way to know if any materials from that version survive at all... Scream Factory tells us right on screen at the start of the film that the original film elements, including both the negative and inter-positive, have been lost. So let's just focus on what we've got: a restoration of the of the existing version, created from the best of six film prints, finally giving us a proper, widescreen edition of this film.
Scream Factory's blu on top; their DVD mid, and East West's DVD bottom.
Once again, I've included the DVD version from the combo pack just to be thorough, but it's really the first and third shots that are interesting to compare. Now, I originally got the DVD from East West Entertainment [the double feature, by the way, is Christmas Evil, and I review that transfer here] because I read from online reports that it was an improvement over the past releases. So just imagine the others looking even a bit worse. To be honest, though, for what it is - a VHS-sourced full screen transfer, it's not so terrible. It's open matte, so it's got extra info on the tops and bottoms rather than missing info on the sides, and the daylight shots especially look reasonably detailed, and the flecks and scratches are there but relatively minimal. Ya know, for what it is. But Scream's new edition clearly blows it completely out of the water.

The sound here, DTS-HD 2.0, is much clearer here as well. And it has optional English subtitles besides. Another big step up over past versions.

It's not perfect, though. Firstly, I'm sure the colors and detail could look a lot more natural and impressive had the original negative been available. But even putting that aside, there is a very noticeable flickering issue. It's worst during the first reel of the film, where the print colors and brightness is really rising and falling distinctly frame by frame. It tapers off as the film goes on, never quite going away, but definitely getting to the point where it's no longer distracting. I see a lot of forum posts by people saying Scream shouldn't have issued this on blu (as in: making it a DVD only release) or issued this at a special, discount price; but for my review, I'd say that's pretty hyperbolic. It looks like a genuine effort went into making this look a lot better than it ever has, and even during its worst moments, still has a very pleasing, film-like feel. Sure, the film's age and treatment are certainly showing, but I really think fans should be very happy with this release.
A shot from East West's DVD missing from Scream Factory's set.
Except, maybe, for one little thing. I just covered a lot of the hub-bub around this blu-ray, but not all of it. See, besides having the on-screen title of Carnivore and a funky full-screen transfer, there's one other key difference between East West and Scream Factory's release. The old DVD is uncut - at least as far as any version that isn't the director's original unreleased version can be said to be uncut - which can't actually be said for the new blu. It's really just the one scene, pictured above, where the counselor and his girlfriend get surprise attacked while making love out in the woods. The attack happens in both versions, but it's been shortened considerably in Scream's cut. Frame are trimmed and a couple whole shots are removed to make the film's most shocking, graphic kill play much quicker; it's definitely a cut for censorship. I don't know if Scream just unwittingly used a censored print for that scene, if all their prints were censored that way, or if the director requested it (in the commentary, we learn this is his least favorite scene as he's not a fan of movie violence). But it's pretty disappointing.

Personally, I think the pro of the huge improvement in the overall picture quality, despite all its imperfections, outweighs the con of the edit, but I can certainly imagine many horror fans going the other way in this decision. Even if all of Scream's prints were missing these shots, almost all of us would have preferred a composite cut taking and recoloring the clip from the DVD rather than just leaving it out. With a little effort, I believe they could have tweaked it so casual viewers wouldn't even notice the brief shift in quality. But what's done is done now, so it's just a question of which version you're going to get. Or you could be a serious collector and get both, but even then you'll ultimately be making the same decision each time you want to watch this movie and have to decided which disc to stick in your player.
One thing that might kick you in the butt to go with the Scream Factory option, though, is the extras. They put together a nice little special edition package with this title, which is something many fans of this film probably never thought they'd get to see. First off, there's the interviews with the editor/ post production supervisor of the second version of the film (the one we see here), and the film's composer. This segment is fascinating if you're interested in this film, a must see.

Then there's an audio commentary, which is nice to have for serious fans, but ultimately one of the worst commentaries I've ever heard. The director lapses into long silences, repeats himself ad nauseum when he does speak, and still manages to be an insulting jerk to his audience at the same time. There are a few tiny bits of info for the die-hard fans, and I certainly still appreciate Scream Factory getting it and including it; but I recommend most people spare themselves the experience.

Finally, there's a fun interview with two of the film's stars, Adrian Zmed and Lewis Smith, which is a breezy watch. And there's also a stills gallery and the theatrical trailer. All together, a very nice package. East West's DVD, of course, has nothing.
So, at the end, I have to side pretty heavily with this new release. Sure, I'll be on board for a double dip if Arrow or somebody uncovers the lost negatives; but I don't think we're likely to see this film any better than this. Fans should know about the missing footage, though; which to me was a bigger disappointment than the print-sourced transfer. But this is still probably the edition you'll want, if not both (the upshot of the East West DVDs is that they're dirt cheap) to make your own composite cut, which is what I'll probably get around to doing eventually.

The Four Lions With the Most Extras From Capelight (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

You have to be pretty daring to make a silly, yet almost warm - at the least, humanizing - comedy about Islamic terrorists in this day and age, and that's half of the fun of Four Lions. Writer/ director Chris Morris is no stranger to that kind of daring material, starting out on The Day Today, a kind of edgy news parody show in the UK, and moving on to similarly controversial UK shows like Brass Eye and Jam. But Four Lions is his first foray into proper feature filmmaking, and he certainly didn't play it safe. It's been getting critical acclaim all around the world, and made its way to DVD and blu by way of Drafthouse in 2011. But I've found the German blu-ray from Capelight might actually be preferable.
Four Lions is on the one hand a very typical comedy: a small group of bumbling friends with with big ambitions and naive plans bicker and struggle as they work together. They just happen to be Muslim terrorists living in Sheffield, England, bringing all the darkness and discomfort to the story that terrorism entails. They want to meet Osama bin Laden; their leader thinks it they should blow up a mosque to radicalize the moderates; they have to hide the fact that they're making bombs from their neighbors; they wind up running around in silly costumes as their plans routinely fall apart. It's a weird and hypnotic blend of "four guys start a small business" bro comedies and the most disheartening pieces on terror in today's news.

It's pretty effective and funny stuff, although admittedly, once you get past the outrageous audacity of the premise, a lot of it plays like a British sitcom. A smart, good sitcom; but still maybe a little light for the big screen. The whole film is shot in hand-held shakey-cam style, and a lot of the banter feels very improvised. Years in the future, when the world is focused on other threats, I'm not sure this will enjoy the critical darling status it has now, instead probably fading more towards obscurity. But even then, it will still be a good, smart comedy with engaging characters that's at least worth a watch.
German Capelight blu on top; US Drafthouse DVD on bottom.
Now, I'm just comparing the US DVD to the German blu, so don't get too excited about one having a better picture than the other. I'm sure if I compared the US blu to the German DVD, the results would be reversed. As a contemporary, shot on digital film (and an often unsteady, handheld one at that), I'd say the transfers are pretty identical across the countries' editions, with little emphasis placed on the quality of the image in the first place; and the only real distinction here to note is between standard and high definition.

But, it's the extras and other things that make the distinction more important. For one thing, the US release occasionally has burnt in subtitles, for when the characters aren't speaking English. The German discs have optional English subtitles for the entire film, which, considering the variety of strong accents on display in this film, I expect many Americans will appreciate.
And then there's the extras. Now, most countries' have more or less the same extras on their releases of Four Lions all around. Sometimes it's a little misleading with how they're titled. For example, you might see the Baraton Interview on the US disc and the Premiere featurette on the German disc and think the interview sounds more compelling and you'd rather have that... But now that I've got both discs in hand, I can tell you they're actually the same thing with different names. It's a short (4 minute) interview clip of producer Chris Baraton at Four Lions' premiere.

So, here's what pretty much every release has. That Baraton interview, 7 deleted scenes, two interview segments with real British Muslims that were used as research for the film, and a collection of some rather entertaining behind-the-scenes clips. Now, the behind the scenes footage seems to run about a minute and a half longer on the German disc than the US one, but after watching both, I didn't notice anything really missing from either one. They were shown in a different order, so I can't be sure I didn't miss a little clip that didn't carry over somewhere; but I think the difference in time is just how long the interstitial title cards stay on screen for.
But Capelight also took it a little further. Their first exclusive is an interview featurette called Filmstarts, which interviews Christopher Morris and star Kayvan Novak. This is the only extra that isn't entirely English friendly, but all the important content is. All the interview footage is spoken in English, but when they briefly cut away to clips of the movie, they play it with the German dub (the film itself has both the English and German audio tracks, of course, in DTS-HD 5.1). This is a film that really calls for a lot from Morris in the extras, but you get very little; so this extra interview segment is a nice addition, even if it feels more promotional than in-depth.

Next up is a short film uniquely titled My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117. This is Morris's first film, from 2002, a quirky little comedy that actually won him the BAFTA for Best Short Film. It was previously released by itself on DVD in the UK, but it's pretty sweet to just get it for free here, and upgraded to HD to boot, where it's only been available in SD before.

Finally, the Capelight disc has the theatrical trailer, conspicuously absent from the the US disc. And there's a bunch of bonus trailers that play on start-up. But basically, it's about those two features and the subtitles.
So if you haven't yet, I do recommend seeing Four Lions. And if you're thinking of picking it up on DVD or blu, I definitely recommend importing the Capelight release. I don't think there's any question it's the preferable, definitive disc, since it has everything every other release has, plus extra. However, if you've already got the film, I'm not sure I'd say the extra content is worth upgrading for. I guess only if you're a sure fan of My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117. But if you're looking to pick this up, yeah, the German disc is the way to go.

Surrealist Horror Society Arrives From Arrow (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Speaking of 80s social satires aimed at the hollow lives of Beverly Hills' upper class, here's a fun stab at the topic from the horror genre, which actually came out the exact same year as yesterday's Scenes From the Class Struggle In Beverly Hills. Originally announced by Second Sight, Brian Yuzna's Society wound up receiving a very cool, limited edition blu-ray/DVD combo pack by Arrow Video. And thanks to their expansion into the US, it's available region free in both markets. I've got the USA version, plus Anchor Bay's long out of print DVD that had been getting awfully pricey before Arrow's new release came along. So let's open 'em up and let the shunting begin.
So it's probably true that Society is a look more at the collision of youth and adulthood and the divide between upper and lower class strata more than just being particularly anti-Beverly Hills. But you could say that about any of the satires, really; they're more about aspects in all of our humanity, rather than just a particular little group of people. But this is certainly set in Beverly Hills and full of Beverly Hills specifics. It just takes it to a whole 'nother level by introducing the surrealist visuals of Screaming Mad George to the story. Our hero Billy Warlock is a high school senior, who's right on the cusp of adulthood and high society, as his family seems to have been groomed into the local, elite culture, and it's time for him to follow in their footsteps. But he can't help noticing something's off - really off - about the upper crust and they seem to be hiding a very dark secret about how they treat the less affluent members of their community. Like I said, it's a horror film, so thing's get gruesome; but it's also a metaphor for something much less far-fetched.
The fact that this film works so well on two layers, even if it's not the most subtle take on the subject you'll ever see, is what makes this one of Yuzna's best films. That and the totally gonzo final act of the film, that rises to levels of fantastic cinema few horror titles strive for. The first two thirds can get a little flat, and some of the acting is very after-school-specialish, but the script's fairly clever, and the film's last act is a totally unforgettable mind-blower. Some aspects along the way don't seem to work as intended, like Billy's mute mother who eats hair and would even have John Waters telling the actress, "maybe we can tone this down a little." But the occasional too-silly moment is never enough to spoil the occasional brilliant moment. It's far from a perfect movie, but you'll definitely want to have seen it.

So, like I said, I've got the US version of this release, but both set's blu-ray and DVD discs are region free, so I believe the sole difference is that the UK release's DVD is PAL, while the US's is NTSC. Now, Anchor Bay originally released this in 2002 on DVD, and it was a very respectable edition. In 2003, they reissued it as a double-feature with Tobe Hooper's Spontaneous Combustion, which is the one I've got. It's a double-sided disc, where each side is exactly the same as they were presented on their original single-sided releases. And both remained quite desirable after they went out of print and became pretty collectible. But let's see how much better Arrow's new 2015 edition is.
Arrow's blu on top, their DVD mid, and Anchor Bay's DVD bottom.
So, Arrow's new release is a blu-ray/ DVD combo pack, so I've included both just to be thorough, and you can see the benefits of the higher definition; but it's really the first and third screenshots in each set that I think will be interesting. Arrow's got a fresh, 2k scan and it sure looks cleaner and more natural than the old disc, and obviously far less compressed. The first thing that caught my eye was how much more vivid the colors are, too.

One interesting change is that the old Anchor Bay disc is slightly letterboxed for an anamorphic 1.85:1 picture, while Arrow leaves the mattes open for a 1.78:1 image. But not only does Arrow have those strips of extra picture on the top and bottom, it's got more on the sides, especially the left. Look at that orange patch of ground on the left side of the Arrow scans in the second series of shots that's completely cropped out of Anchor Bay's. There are certainly a number of advantages to upgrading to the new blu, including a nice uncompressed stereo track; but even if this film really ought to be in 1.85 rather than 1.78, the otherwise corrected framing is one of the top improvements. And since this new transfer is Yuzna-approved, I think it's safe to say 1.78:1 was the director's preference anyway.
Anchor Bay's DVD. Note the "\\\" lines in the blue sky on the left hand side.

One detail, though. Blu-ray.com's reviewer pointed out a little technical flaw I have to admit I missed. But now that I've gone back to look for it, yup, there is some diagonal banding in a couple of shots. Well, one piece of information I can add to the discussion is that this same flaw exists in Anchor Bay's previous DVD as well, though a little less pronounced. Therefor I assume this must be an issue with the original film itself, not Arrow's disc or the new 2k scan they made it from. So I've got no complaints.  :)
Now, Anchor Bay's disc wasn't bare bones. It had the theatrical trailer and most importantly, an audio commentary by Brian Yuzna. But Arrow has come up with a lot more, including a brand new Yuzna commentary. Now I've got them both on hand and can confirm that means, yes, Arrow's commentary is a different, freshly recorded track. The new commentary is moderated by David Gregory, while the Yuzna flies solo on the old one. I'm not sure one is so much better than the other, and obviously there's a ton of overlap; but big time Society fans may want to hang onto their old DVDs just for the exclusive alternate commentary.
Anchor Bay's DVD; the Spontaneous Combustion flip-side.
For the record, the Spontaneous Combustion side of Anchor Bay's DVD looks pretty nice, too. I don't think it's one of Hooper's better films, but it's still a mildly entertaining 1989 B-movie about Brad Dourif as a guy who develops Firestarter like powers and winds up on the run from a government conspiracy to capture and control him. It's presented here in a nice, 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, but doesn't have any extras apart from the theatrical trailer. Fans of this film will probably be more interested in the recent blu-ray of this release from Code Red; but personally I'm happy enough just having it here as a bonus feature.

Anyway, that's where Anchor Bay's release ended. Arrow has plenty more to offer, starting with an additional video interview with Yuzna that runs another 17 minutes. A second, more fun featurette interviews four of the film's leads: Warlock, Devin DeVasquez, Ben Meyerson and Tim Bartell. Another featurette, then, takes on the all-important special effects crew, including Screaming Mad George himself, as well as David Grasso and Nick Benson. And then Yuzna comes back for two more features, a 2014 Q&A from a film festival and a vintage interview with him backstage at Society's premiere. Finally, there's the theatrical trailer and a music video which incorporates many of Screaming Mad George's wild creations, including a couple from Society.

The limited edition package also comes with a few extra physical bits and pieces. Besides coming in a wild fold-out digibook and sleeve representing this film's nutsoid climax, there's a nice invitation card, which includes the film's original poster art. Then there's a standard Arrow card with the same artwork and a nice 22-page booklet, which I'm guessing will also be included in the non-limited version to follow. The Anchor Bay DVD, to its credit, also had an insert with the poster art and chapter titles. But the biggest inclusion to the limited edition, surely, is the complete reproduction of a two-part comic book sequel to Society, called Party Animal, originally published in 2003. Interestingly, the first and second issues are drawn by two very different artists; and it's presented here on very high quality stock and a squared spine. It looks great.
This film looks great, and all the extras and everything really add up to a great package. Anchor Bay's DVD was nice for the time, but this is one you'll want to upgrade for sure. The film itself has its flaws for sure, but even if you're unsure about it, I think Arrow's made it more than worth your while.

Paul Bartel's Scenes From the Class Struggle In Beverly Hills in Anamorphic Widescreen

So Eating Raoul's received a rank in the glorious pantheon of the Criterion Collection. It even included the early short films: Naughty Nurse and Secret Cinema as extras. Shout Factory made a loaded special edition of Death Race 2000, Blue Underground handled Cannonball, Anchor Bay put together some nice packages for Lust In the Dust and Not for Publication. Warner Bros and MGM put out respectable, if not special, editions of The Longshot and Private Parts. Except for the very rare Shelf Life (which I'm also interested in), it seems like all of Paul Bartel's cult classics are accounted for on DVD in some good quality, fan-accessible releases. Except, it would seem, for one of his biggest and most infamous: Scenes From the Class Struggle In Beverly Hills. But I'm happy to report that, after some serious international poking around, I've found one.
Scenes, which naughtily takes its title from the very earnest and "important" political documentary Scenes From the Class Struggle in Portugal, is Bartel's most out there social satire. Not at all attempting to be naturalistic or provide nice, appealing characters; I can see many viewers, not familiar with Bartel, really disliking this. But if you're a fan, this is the goldmine. First of all, yes, it reunites cinema's most perfect perpetual couple since Cassavettes and Rowland, Bartel and Mary Woronov. They're not married in this one, so they don't combine their chemistry quite the way they did in films like Raoul, Mortuary Academy or even Chopping Mall. But they both have nice, sizable roles to play, which is all you need for a great time. And it's not just them; Bartel has assembled his greatest cast ever in this, including regulars and newcomers Robert Beltran (Raoul), Wallace Shawn, Ed Begley Jr., Jacqueline Bisset, Ray Sharkey, Arnetia Walker and even Paul Mazursky as a ghost.

Granted, the target of this satire - the shallow rich of Beverly Hills - is easy and played out. Especially since this came out shortly after Down and Out In Beverly Hills and the same year as Troop Beverly Hills, I don't think this was going to grab mainstream audiences. But if you're in the mood for a black, cynical yet campy and frisky romp with Troupe Bartel, then you need this movie in your life.
For a long time, fans have been living with old, VHS-sourced, full-screen crap DVDs of this film, imported from countries like Germany, and I think Spain. But a few years ago, this was issued again, with the translated title Scene di lotta di classe a Beverly Hills in Italy from Passworld Pictures, and holy cow - it's got a clean, high quality, anamorphic widescreen transfer! Is the image soft? Yeah, much of the grain looks natural and this may well've been shot on cheaper film stock; but I'm sure the lines and detail should be stronger than this. It's not blu-ray quality, that's for sure; it's not even a cutting edge DVD. But somebody seems to have gone back to some kind of film elements (from a print, I'd guess, since there are some minor but visible flecks and scratches) to restore this film to its OAR for home video (the back of the case sells itself short as being 1.85:1 in 4:3; but luckily that's wrong, it's actually 16x9 anamorphic), and I'm thrilled. And yes, it has the original English audio, in addition to its two Italian tracks.
Unfortunately, there are zero extras here. I mean, I wouldn't have expected much, particularly from a random Italian label. But at least the trailer would've been nice, especially since it's a very amusing one with original dialogue from Bartel, as himself, directly addressing the audience. I suggest you find that online. And the Italian subtitles can be a bit tricky. The menu wants to force you to play the film in Italian without subtitles, or English with Italian subtitles, and the subtitle button on your remote seems to be disabled. So depending on your player, you might be stuck watching this with Italian subs along the bottom... although, for the record, they're not burnt into the picture and I was easily able to disable them on my PC.
It would be great if Criterion or another label (Kino? Olive?) would shine it up some more and release this in America with some nice new interviews. Maybe they could even package it up with Class Struggle In Portugal... In a very weird way, they do make a fitting, if perverse, double feature. But I wouldn't hold my breath. And at least for now, this can be imported fairly inexpensively, giving us a very watchable edition of the film.

Night Train To Terror, Vinegar Syndrome's Nutty Masterpiece (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Here's a blu-ray I never thought I'd see... a loaded, special edition restoration of Night Train To Terror. There have been plenty of DVD releases of it in the past, but they've all been generic, no frills full-frame transfers, often in big compilations of public domain horror titles. But Vinegar Syndrome has raised it up out of the pit, given it a new 2k scan from a 35mm print, and a surprising collection of extras.

Part of why I'm surprised to see it get the special edition treatment is because it's such a goofy movie. On the one hand, I suppose it's pretty terrible. I'm sure plenty of people have caught some of this movie on cable or video and shut it off like it was total garbage. And it kind of is. But it's also delightfully insane; a movie I used to rent repeatedly as a kid (when I wasn't accidentally taking home Terror Train instead) and can still go back to and have a blast today.
Night Train To Terror is an anthology film, telling individual horror stories within the context of a little  wrap-around plot, a la Tales From the Crypt. In this case, though, the stories come in varying degrees of incomprehensibility. And that's mainly because, instead of being three original tales shot for this compilation, Night Train is made up of three totally separate films in varying states of completion and release. So it's three movies edited down into short films, which means cutting out roughly two-thirds of each movie and trying to have them still make sense. What's more, the director of the original wrap-around plot, that takes place on the titular train, has also shot new footage, involving new stop motion effects - which aren't realistic, but still quite entertaining - into the older footage, mixing things up even further. So things may not make 100% sense, but the spectacle and the creative weirdness never stops. And if the worst sin a movie can commit is to be boring, than this one's downright angelic.

And the divide between the divine and the Satanic is an apt comparison, 'cause that's what Night Train's all about. See, the most 80s band in the world, a troupe of pop rockers and break dancers, are on board the same train as God and the devil. The band is living a constant music video while God and Satan debate who gets to keep their passengers souls. And somehow those decisions hinge on the outcome of three stories, which are of course our three features edited down into short films.
 
In the first, a man gets into car wreck, killing his new bride, and wakes up in an asylum. Of course, the asylum is run by a mad scientist and his wife, who's using patients for experiments or something. But they kind of get side-lined by the orderly, played by Night Court's Richard Moll, who likes to chop people up. There's some killing, conflict, sleazy nudity, and it all comes to an entertaining conclusion.
Next, a guy meets a girl at the fair, and thinks she's nice and pretty. But if you want to party with her, you have to join her little circle of friends. And her friends just happen to be the most eclectic collection of eccentrics in the world, and they love playing Russian roulette. But they don't just play with a revolver and a single bullet, they expand the general concept out to demented scenarios that involve letting giant killer insect creatures out in their midst or strapping themselves to giant, computerized electric chairs. This entry's less about "how far will you go for love?" and more about look at the crazy scenarios we've contacted, sort of like the Saw movies before the Saw movies, but campier.
Finally, Richard Moll returns - as a totally different character - in the final and longest story, about an author makes a deal with the devil. This results in people getting killed by a demons, and only tough police detective Cameron Mitchell is on the trail. Even though a lot of the coolest demon stuff seems to be the new stuff added for Night Train, this still feels like it would be the strongest stand-alone film in its uncut form.

Now, like I said, this film's seen a number of budget DVD releases over the years; and they all share roughly the same video cassette-based transfer. So let's see how much better Vinegar Syndrome's new, widescreen scan looks. And since that's a blu-ray/DVD combo, we can compare those, too.
Vinegar Syndrome's blu on top, their DVD middle and Mill Creek's DVD on bottom.
Vinegar Syndrome's blu left, their DVD middle and Mill Creek's DVD right.
So, naturally, the two Vinegar Syndrome transfers are virtually identical, slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1. The print's grainy and soft enough that there might not even seem to be much benefit in the HD boost. But on closer inspection, as you can see in the close-up, the DVD has a pixel-y splotchiness that cleans up nicely on the blu. They're certainly both leaps ahead of the old, smeary DVDs, not the least in terms of their fresh, vibrant colors and of course the framing. The old DVDs do give a little more picture along the top and bottom, but they compromise in cutting a good chunk off the right and left sides. And looking at the blank head room on the old discs, Night Train was clearly meant to be framed the way Vinegar Syndrome has it. Sure, maybe if the original negatives available, this film could look even better; but this was always a rough little film, and I doubt we'll ever see it looking any better than VS was able to get from their print.

And the extras are exciting and very illuminating. Especially considering what a curious hodge-podge this film is, even the most informed cult film scholar certainly had a lot of questions. And they're largely answered between the film's two commentaries. One is by producer/director Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, who put the whole project together, directed the train sequences and also created the new footage inserted into the three other films. Unfortunately, he uses the commentary as more of a biography than a scene-specific way to talk about Night Train, but he does eventually get to the film and explains a lot about how these strange films were funded and lensed in Utah with the help of some church groups. The second one is by The Hysteria Lives podcast guys, and while they unfortunately waste a lot of time joking at the film's expense, and of course don't have any first-hand experience with the production of these movies, they are pretty informed and manage to point out a lot of facts and even differences between the separate films as they were originally released vs. how they appear in Night Train. There's also a substantial (about 30 minutes) interview with the film's assistant editor Wayne Schmidt, which fills in the commentary's gaps, and a pretty cool theatrical trailer.
And best of all, Vinegar Syndrome has included the entire full-length film Gretta, the very rare film that made up the second segment (about the Russian roulette cult) of Night Train! This was one batty film, where the cult winds up playing almost a small in the extended tale of the guy seeing a girl in stag film and falling in love with her, only to track her down in real life and discover she's completely crazy. When they first meet, she's been in the bathtub for two days because she thinks she's a fish. It's kind of a goofy love-triangle between those two and the older guy we saw running the cult in Night Train. It's hard to even determine what kind of movie the filmmakers were going for; but I guess they figured as long as they included enough nudity, they could get as self-indulgent as they wanted. It's a very different movie than Night Train, and not at all horror, but still strangely interesting.
Vinegar Syndrome's blu on top, their DVD second, Mill Creek's DVD third and VS's Gretta on bottom.
Gretta was apparently sourced from a 1" tape, but it doesn't look too bad. Softer, but with strong colors. It's certainly preferable to the clips we saw of it on Mill Creek's Night Train DVDs. As a bonus feature, you definitely can't complain. It almost makes you wish VS had rounded up the other two films, maybe just for a limited "ultimate edition" or something. But as it is, it's already a pretty amazing package, and certainly way more than I ever would've guessed we'd see for that silly, nonsensical movie I used to rent as a kid. You won't see many labels do better than this.