Devil Times Five: Code Red Vs. Mill Creek Vs. Code Red Again! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Update 7/30/15 - 6/10/16: Oh boy, it's time to step it up again! Code Red has just re-released this movie (making it their third time), with an all new blu-ray edition. Is it worth the double-(or tripe- or quadruple-, depending where you are with this movie) dip? Let's get into it, people!

I've figured it's time to reach back into the vaults of Code Red to pick out another cool, cult release; and when I stumbled across the same title in one of those Mill Creek 50 packs, I knew this would make a great comparison piece. The film is 1974's Devil Times Five, one I was particularly interested in since it features my favorite kind of movie monster: children! Code Red released this all the way back in 2006, when they were working with Media Blasters, and later re-released it in 2009, but I'll come to that later. Mill Creek, meanwhile, has included this in a number of their jumbo horror movie collection sets, but the particular one I've got is their Chilling Classics box of 12 double-sided discs. Now, the Chilling Classics box technically came out first, but Mill Creek has this strange habit of swapping out some titles for others over the years (presumably as rights ownerships change) but without changing the set title or online listings. So I'm not sure if Mill Creek got a hold of it before or after Code Red, and more importantly, if you order Chilling Classics from Amazon or someplace, there's about a 50/50 chance you'll get the version with Devil Times Five, as opposed to another which replaced several titles including Devil with others.
So, I wasn't kidding when I said kids are my favorite movie monster. Forget zombies, forget vampires. Give me little kids turned rampant murders any day. The obvious mainstream examples would include Village Of the Damned and The Omen, which I'm all for, but I really love the crazier indie ones like Who Can Kill a Child, The Children, Bloody Birthday, Cathy's Curse, Bad Ronald, or Julie Darling. Heh, I think I just gave you hints of about six or seven reviews you can expect to see on this site in the future. Oh man, I'm so on board for a bunch of cute little kids on the rampage. And Devil Times Five? Well, it's not as good as any of those movies... in fact, objectively speaking, you probably couldn't call it a good movie at all. But it's got its moments, and those moments are enough to make this worth seeing, especially if you're predisposed to the obscure killer children subgenre like I am.
There's a scene with a mentally challenged character, ham-fistedly overplayed in an Of Mice and Men "aw, shucks" kind of way. And when this attractive married women visits the house, she randomly decides to invite him into her room to seduce him, laughing as she tells him to pull down his pants. Lord knows why, the only explanation seems to be that she's an alcoholic so this sort of activity is in her daily wheelhouse. Anyway, as the guy strips down to old western movie style long underwear, an attractive blonde woman walks into the bedroom and demands to know what's going on. The brunette says, "I've had him before, and I can have him any... time... I... want." So the blonde woman yells, "you bitch!" grabs her, and they wrestle on the floor as very dramatic action music with blaring horns kicks in. Then a third woman walks in (the long underwear guy has just quietly stepped out of the room at this point), and at this point the two fighting women's robes have opened in the standard, sleazy exploitation kind of way, and the fight stops and the blonde goes, "we were just having a little... fun?" And the third woman says, "whatever turns you on honey," brushes her hair and leaves the room. End scene. And none of that has any bearing on the rest of the story whatsoever. Did I mention that this wasn't an objectively good movie?
Anyway, eventually some kids - who've been wandering around the woods since the bus taking them to an asylum crashed - show up and start killing all the people who stay at the house one by one. Again, this isn't anywhere near the same level as, say, Who Can Kill a Child, which is a genuinely pretty great film. It's all kind of amateurish, but it gets entertainingly weird, with some great kills and odd-ball scenes. There's a bit of a Neon Maniacs feel to things, as each of the kids as an over-the-top identity: one boy acts like a soldier, carries a toy gun and has his own military marching band theme in the soundtrack, another one dresses and acts like a nun. A third is child pop star Leif Garrett who turns out to have a weird cross-dressing fetish. Of course, there's five all together, hence the title. It has a low budget, almost home made feel much of the time, despite featuring a number of recognizable television actors like Sorrell Booke, a.k.a. Boss Hog on The Dukes of Hazard. But for my money, it's not the campy laughable moments that make this movie (though there's some fun to be mined from there, too) but the dark, demented moments that really stand out as genuinely powerful despite the goofiness of the rest of the film.
Mill Creek DVD on top; 2006 Code Red DVD middle; 2016 Code Red blu-ray bottom.
So, I don't think it's exactly a photo finish here, in terms of which label beats out which. Both DVD transfers seem to be from the same print, as evidenced by the weird bit of damage that pops up in a single frame in the top set of shots. But only Mill Creek has the very serious interlacing problem, as seen in the second set of shots. There's actually very little print damage on hand, by the way, that frame is a rare instance of anything bigger than a small speck, but it shows both companies started at the same place. And the back of Code Red's case tells us their transfer is from "original 35mm elements." Mill Creek's looks dark and murky, while Code Red's is much more colorful and clear. Detail is lacking in both though.
2006 Code Red DVD top; 2016 Code Red blu-ray bottom.
Check out just these two Code Red shots, of the 2006 DVD and the new 2016 blu-ray. It almost looks like Leif Garrett is wearing mittens on the DVD because the distinction between his fingers is lost, and his face is all blurry. I guess a lot of that's down to the print, because Code Red's DVD is clearly a new scan far ahead of Mill Creek's, which certainly doesn't have any better detail. But the new blu, which we're told is a new 2k scan of the original negatives and looks the part, is so much more alive and photo realistic! I was really impressed; the film has come a long way in HD. Visually, I'd put this transfer right alongside the best work of Arrow or any other label that's on the cutting edge of blu-ray restorations at the point. And maybe this shot looks a bit blue (though that big ol' snowflake only now stands out from Lief's blonde hair on this version), but overall I'd say the new blu-ray also has the most natural color timing of varying editions.

Though both are 1.78:1, the framing is a bit different even between the two Code Reds. Neither is really preferable, but the blu is pushed a little to the left and up, while the DVD has a bit more ton the right and bottom. I'm pointing it out because it's there, but it's pretty trivial.

As for audio, Code Red's blu has a some soft fuzz to it, but the mono audio track is otherwise very distinct, with clear, easily discernible dialogue and music. This is one area where it doesn't live up to Arrow and the like, who would've cleaned it up and remastered it to sound new, but there's really nothing to object to here. It just sounds like an older film.
One more mark against Mill Creek's version is that they've added a watermark (boo!) that occasionally fades in and out of the lower right corner of the picture. Yuck. I understand Mill Creek has given up this practice, but it's common on their older discs.
Mill Creek DVD on top; 2006 Code Red DVD middle; 2016 Code Red blu-ray bottom.
About the only thing Mill Creek has going in its favor is that it's open matte. Mill Creek's is full-screen, while Code Red has matted the picture down to an anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen on both their DVD and blu. It's not a question of additional info gained on the sides, but rather lost on the top and bottom. And I guess there's some contention about the aspect ratio being either 1.78 or 1.33, because people complained, and in 2009, Code Red re-released Devil Times Five open matte in a double bill with Mark Of the Witch, but missing all the extras.
And Code Red came up with some great extras for this. There's a terrific audio commentary by producer Michael Blowitz, co-director David Sheldon and actresses: Joan McCall and Dawn Lyn. They're all enthusiastic, have some good memories of the production, and thanks to a good moderator, answer a lot of the questions viewers will be bound to have after watching this film. A key thing we learn is that the original director was deemed to be shooting too slow, so was taken off the film and replaced by another director, and big sections of the script were "torn out," leaving key plot points and things unexplained. So that's why you have stuff like that crazy cat-fight I described earlier that doesn't fit into the story - it was filmed later in LA and not part of the original screenplay. I think it's safe to say all the good, compelling content was by the original director and the campier, more laughable stuff was the later guys. It's too bad... I would've loved to have seen the film completed as it was originally intended; but I can't deny that some of the new stuff isn't entertaining in a different way, and the mish-mash of the two makes for a more bizarre, possibly more memorable, film.
Then there's on-camera interviews with all four commentary participants plus actor Tierre Turner. They're all edited into a featurette that runs a little over twenty minutes and is pretty informative, plus it's neat to see the little soldier boy all grown up and laughing about this crazy film he made. Then there's an alternate opening title using the Devil Times Five title card (which is the one on the Mill Creek transfer), since the one on the film uses The Horrible House On the Hill. Plus there's also a cool theatrical trailer ("The Devil Times Five leaves nobody alive!"), a very short poster gallery and six bonus Code Red trailers. AND there are three easter eggs with extra footage from the interviews, which are fairly substantial by easter egg standards, so be sure to hunt those down (they're not hard to find). The Mill Creek set, of course, has no extras.

Code Red's blu carries pretty much everything over from their special edition DVD. The commentary's here, the interview's here, the trailer's here, and the Easter Eggs are now plainly on the menu as "Bonus Interviews." The only things missing are the alternate title card, gallery and Code Red bonus trailers. Everything important is here.
The infamous, slow motion black and white sequence.
Man, I don't know who complained about the matting (well, actually I think I do... there are a couple Amazon reviews and a guy who posted on the Latarnia forums). Surely the film was shot full-frame with the intention to matte it to 1.85 or so for theatrical exhibition, like pretty much every movie from that time. So, sure, there's a bit of curiosity value for the hardcore film lover to see the fullframe version and discover the odd little detail here and there. But I'll take the widescreen OAR any day. Couple that with the surprisingly compelling collection of extras and vastly improved transfer, and that makes the Code Red's new Devil Times Five the new definitive choice by a wide margin. Though I guess it's nice that the full-frame versions are out there as an option. Maybe there are a couple hardcore fans out there who feel they need both. And if that's you, I'd recommend the Code Red double bill over the crummy Mill Creek discs unless you're buying one of their boxed sets already anyway.

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