Bride of Re-Animator: It Keeps Getting Better (DVD/ Blu-Ray Comparison)

Update 8/13/15 - 6/27/16: Adding Arrow's 3-disc limited edition blu-ray/ DVD set to the mix. Let's see wow does this stacks up against Capelight's own 3-disc limited edition blu-ray/ DVD set. Prepare for a crazy long list of matching screenshots...

A couple months ago, I posted about how the German blu-ray company Capelight brought Re-Animator back to life with a stunning new transfer. Well, they've done an equally definitive job for its delicious sequel, Bride of Re-Animator. Now, they didn't do an "Integral Cut" this time, because that wouldn't really make sense for this film (I'll explain that more later), but they issued Bride a beautiful new transfer that blows all past releases out of the water. It helps, this time, that this is Bride's only blu-ray release, so the competition is weaker. But this new transfer would impress regardless of what else was out there.
Brian Yuzna, producer of the original Re-Animator, takes over for director here, and he does a great job of matching the tone and level of Stuart Gordon's previous work. This never feels cheaper or hackier, although, as with almost any sequel, the story does rely on a little more spectacle and a little less heart. It helps immeasurably that lead actors have all returned to reprise their roles that they'd already mastered in the first film. Even David Gale is back, despite having been decapitated in the previous film. He's now got himself a fresh pair of bat wings to fly his head around in one of the more ingenious touches that make this sequel so worthwhile. He even opens the film by addressing the audience directly, in a macabre homage to the work of old school horror meisters like William Castle. Only Barbara Crampton, disappointingly, missed the reunion, but Yuzna does a good job of writing around her character, so the actress replacing her doesn't face a whole lot of scrutiny. He also goes back to Lovecraft's original story, using a lot of what happened in there that the original film skipped over, giving the film a very legitimate, sturdy groundwork. I can agree with critics that this isn't as great an all-around film as the first one; but I couldn't accept that this isn't another wonderful time at the movies.
So, Bride of Re-Animator has always been in the hands of Artisan and Lions Gate here in the USA, which isn't the most promising set of names. Artisan first released this in 1999 as a pretty nice double-sided special edition, which was a terrific step up from Image's generic, full-screen laserdisc. It had both the R and unrated cuts, in both fullscreen and widescreen, and a huge selection of extras. It was great for 1999, but unfortunately has remained our definitive edition well past its shelf life, when Capelight eventually stepped in last year. What was fine for 1999 looked pretty shoddy after the advent of widescreen televisions - Whoops! This disc isn't even anamorphic.
So there's your anamorphic picture, surrounded on all four sides by black, unused space. Artisan did that weird way of using the same encode of the film as both the wide- and full-screen version of the film by making the mattes removable bars like subtitles. So there's just two encodes of the film (R on one side, unrated on the other) on the disc, but the removable matting turns it into four versions of the film. If you look closely at the screenshot above, at the very top and bottom of the image you can actually see the film above and below the matting!

Artisan reissued the film in 2003 as a generic, fullscreen single-sided disc with none of the extras... Gee, thanks for that. And the film eventually became just another title in one of Lions Gate's Horror Collection multipacks in 2012. Suffice to say, this film was very much in need of a new blu-ray edition, but you know Lions Gate doesn't like to let their catalog titles out to breathe. So we have to look overseas for our upgrade. Capelight finally provided that with a fully loaded, 3-disc media book edition in 2014. Then Arrow came out with their own 3-disc set in 2016. So now we've got some dueling HD options to explore.
Capelight's R-rated blu 1st, unrated blu 2nd, and unrated DVD 3rd. Then Artisan's R-rated
matted version is 4th, R-rated unmatted 5th, unrated matted version 6th and unrated unmatted 6th,
Next, Arrow's R-rated blu is 7th, unrated blu is 8th and unrated DVD is 9th.
Whoo, yeah, just a couple versions to compare there. Maybe a bit excessive, but you know me, I've gotta be thorough, so I've included both R and unrated versions of the film in all the ways it's been presented on both the original Artisan DVD, Capelight's 3-disc set and Arrow's 3-disc set. Essentially, Arrow is using the same 2014 restoration transfer as Capelight, so they're awfully similar. They use a new 2k scan of a second generation intermediate interpositive for the R-rated version and almost all of the unrated version, but the excised unrated elements had to be sourced from master print, which looks almost as good, but those moments do wind up looking a bit flatter than the rest of the movie.

But just look at how much sharper and clearer the new blu-ray transfers are. Both Artisan and the newer blus matte the transfer to 1.78:1 (excluding Artisan's fullscreen versions, of course), but the blu-rays' new 2k scan of the original film elements manages to include a little more picture on the top and left sides. Their new color timing seems to be the most natural, as you'd probably expect, but what I was surprised to find out is how different Artisan's colors were between their R and unrated cuts. Look at the buildings in the first collection of shots - is the building red or yellow? Both seem too extreme, pulling in different directions, with Capelight and Arrow having found the happy middle that looks best. They also un-crush some blacks, uncovering hidden detail.
Now, Capelight has provided an uncompressed 2.0 English audio track, but unfortunately it seems a little troubled. There's some of fuzz behind it (on both cuts), that goes away during moments without dialogue or music, which suggests they've cleaned up a bad audio track with a noise gate or something. The German dubs are perfectly fine, if you care about those. The English track isn't unlistenable - it doesn't make dialogue hard to understand or anything - but it's definitely not clean, and therefore a disappointment. Optional English and German subtitles are also included.

So the question for 2016 is: did Arrow fix the audio fuzz? Yes! But their LPCM stereo track still isn't perfect. I guess the original audio elements are just messed up. So Arrow had to clean up noisy audio, which sounds a lot better, but not as clean or dynamic as audio that wasn't damaged in the first place would. It's certainly superior to Capelight's, though. If you have the Arrow set and are curious how the Capelight sounded, listen to the Brian Yuzna solo commentary. There are a few moments where he pauses and they boost the volume of the film to normal, and you can plainly hear that they've got the Capelight fuzzy audio track playing. English subtitles are also included.
Far less trivial is the excellent collection of extras. It's not quite as fully-loaded as the original on the one hand, there's a distinct lack of on-camera interviews, but on the other hand, there are two audio commentaries that bring in pretty much all the relevant personnel: Brian Yuzna, stars Jeffery Combs & Bruce Abbott, and the incredible special effects roster of Tom Rainone, John Buechler, Mike Deak, Bob Kurtzman, Howard Berger & Screaming Mad George. There's also a 23+ minute making of featurette, two behind-the-scenes clips, and the trailer. All of that was on Artisan's disc and all of that has been ported over to Capelight's edition. Capelight has also added a couple extra bits and pieces, including an hour-long radio play of the Lovecraft's original Re-Animator story. There's also a podcast, but that's in German only. Everything on Capelight's 3 discs is English friendly except for this podcast and a couple bonus trailers. Then the only other extra is a restored version of the opening credits of the original Re-Animator, which... yeah, I have no idea why that's here.
And Arrow? Do they have any cool features? Ha ha, what are you nuts? Of course! They have everything Capelight has, except the German podcast, radio play, bonus trailers, and the credits from the original film. For English speaking audiences, the only loss worth noting from that list is the radio play, and even that's not a big hit. But they've also added some cool, new content. First, they have a new audio commentary by Yuzna. Now, he was already on the one older commentary, but he didn't get a lot in compared to all the effects people. So there are a few repeated anecdotes, but most of his commentary his new and insightful - one thing he fills us in on a lot is how Bride compares to the Lovecraft stories. Then there's a new on-camera interview, where he talks a bit about the House of Re-Animator idea and some other interesting tidbits. Again, a little repetition, but also plenty of new content. And finally, there's a featurette on the effects which talks to just about everybody who worked on any of the many wild gags in this film, and any more time spent with Screaming Mad George is a big plus in my book.

So that's it for disc content, but as you can see in the photo above, Arrow also went all-out on the deluxe packaging, including some serious physical content. Primarily, there's an attractively bound copy of the Dawn Of Re-Animator comic books from the 90s, including the full color covers. There's also a 24-page booklet on the film with notes by Michael Blyth, one of Arrow's traditional postcards of the film, and it all comes in a cool (if a un-sturdy) slip-cover box. Plus, if you ordered this from Diabolik, you also got a very neat Bride of Re-Animator pen, designed to look like a hypodermic needle full of green re-animation fluid.
So, why no integral cut this time? Well, for one thing, the original film was an unusual case where both the unrated and R-rated cuts had some exclusive, great - nearly essential - footage. In this case, the two editions are much more similar, with the R just being the traditionally slightly censored version. So the unrated already is the definitive version of the film. Also, what changes that were made for the R-rated cut isn't a question of extra or missing shots, but alternate shots. So scenes wouldn't make sense if you combined all the footage together. So, that's what's cool about the 3-disc media book editions; they give you the R-rated cut for the serious completists who want to have it for the minor variations. But otherwise, the original unrated cut is the only version you need.
Both Bride of Re-Animator's blu-ray releases are pretty sweet, but unless you only speak German, I'd say Arrow's wins. It has better audio and some nice, new extras. Artisan's old DVD still gets minor novelty points for having the open matte transfer, for those curious to see the extra information the film has in the wrong aspect ration. I'm slightly disappointed neither Capelight or Arrow opted to sneak another old VHS version transfer as an easter egg; but of course, it's really a trivial matter either way.

I should also point out that Arrow and Capelight both offer regular versions of their 3-disc limited edition sets. Capelight's is a single disc release of just the unrated version, and all the extras. And Arrow's is a combo-pack of the unrated blu and unrated DVD. That has almost all of the extras (not including the physical stuff, of course), except for the fifteen minute reel of behind the scenes footage, which is only in the limited set.  In both cases, the R-rated cut is only available in the 3-disc sets.

So, ultimately, Arrow's is the superior set, but not by a large margin. The transfers are the same, though they cleaned up the audio a bit better. And their extras package is better, but the older editions were already pretty loaded. Fans should be pleased with either set, and while you might consider replacing your Capelight set with the Arrow set, I'd rate that as a low priority. But if you haven't gotten any yet and are deciding which way to go, Arrow's the easy and correct choice.

3 comments:

  1. Will you do a comparison with Arrow's release? :)

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    Replies
    1. It took me long enough, but yep, it's here now. :)

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  2. I never upgraded my Capelight release to the Arrow release. Kind of glad now. Doesn't seem like too much of a difference where I'd really want to get it now.

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