Deadtime Stories Reborn Thanks To Scream Factory (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Deadtime Stories is a movie I enjoy, but I'm not sure I can recommend, very much along the same lines as Deathrow Gameshow. It's something I discovered as a kid, and I think that's definitely a huge part of why I'm able to appreciate a lot of its ambitions despite its questionable executions. But I don't know. Maybe it is good. I can't tell anymore. But I tell you what it's not. It's not the TV series of the same name on Nickelodeon, it's not the direct-to-video George Romero anthology called Deadtime Stories, and it's not the dark, scary movie the random stock image and art design of this DVD cover make it feel like. It's a silly 80's horror anthology based on traditional fairy tales with a lot of goofy humor and varying tones.

Update 9/3/15 - 2/10/17: Wow! Scream Factory really came through and changed the whole game for this film.  I've just got my hands on their new, 2017 special edition blu-ray, and it's like looking at an entirely different movie.  I know this isn't one of their popular, flagship titles; but this right here is why I love Scream Factory.  Read on.
The film opens with a wrap-around on an uncle telling a child bedtime stories, which we naturally dive into, a la Princess Bride. This actually came first, though. Anyway, he winds up telling three stories, the first I guess loosely based on Hansel and Gretel? That's a stretch, but it's the only one that's tricky to ascribe to a particular fairy tale, though it's definitely got all the classic elements. TV's Scott Valentine stars as a young and very naive assistant to two medieval witches. He's blissfully happy being their stooge until he spots a young maiden and falls in love. They obviously don't give him their blessing, and conflict ensures. The second story is an updated Little Red Riding Hood, with the title character being a modern day. "hot lookin' high school senior." "That's not the way mommy tells it," the boy interrupts. "Shut up, that's the way I tell it." The wolf in this story is a junkie werewolf who tracks her down when they get their prescriptions mixed up at a drug store. And finally, the third story is Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where Goldilocks is a murderous telekinetic, and the three bears are a family of escape mental patients. This last story really veers off into screwball territory.
There's some decent effects in this and some genuine efforts to be creative, fun and original. It gets bogged down by its low budget and can get pretty juvenile, but it a lot of it worked for me on cable TV as a kid.  The last story was still a little too goofy, and the first story seems to take a while to get started, but it's got solid production values, including some cool effects and a terrific opening credits sequence with a rockin' 80s theme song (by Taj).  It's never going to top anybody's lists, but at the same time, you've got to be a real stick in the mud not to be able to enjoy at least parts of it.  And if you grew up with this movie on cable like I did, you're going to need this in your collection, if only for a little kick of nostalgia.

Until now, there had never been a decent release of this film to really give it a proper, fair viewing.  Image originally released this film on laserdisc.  I haven't seen it, but I know it's barebones fullscreen CLV. And they eventually wound up releasing this on DVD, too.  That I've got right here.  And there has also been a bunch of junky no frills releases of this, since nobody seemed to be defending its copyright.  So, yes, I've got another one of those Mill Creek editions (from 50 Chilling Classics, again) to compare the Image disc to.  But of course the super big deal is the new Scream Factory special edition, which gives us a new HD transfer from the original camera negative.  And there's also an SD version of it, as it's a combo-pack.  Just wait 'till you see the difference; it's night and day.
1) Image DVD 2) Mill Creek DVD 3) Scream Factory DVD 4) Scream Factory blu
I actually thought this might be the first time a Mill Creek budget disc might come out ahead in this comparison, because Image's disc is so troubled and disappointing. But no, they still somehow managed to be even worse. Both transfers are clearly from VHS sources, and not even good quality ones. They're dark, swampy and smeary. Yuck. But Mill Creek's disc is even softer than Image's, has interlaced/ ghosting frames and crops the image - albeit only slightly - on all four sides. Mill Creek has higher saturation, which I can't even call whether it's better or worse. More like just two different kinds of ugly. I guess I slightly prefer Image's colors, since they don't bleed as much as Mill Creek's; but it gives the film an even more faded, joyless look. Plus Mill Creek is too red.

But who cares anymore?!  Look at that Scream Factory release.  Deadtime Stories actually looks like a real movie!  It's now slightly matted to 1.85:1, and we do lose some excessive headroom and vertical space, but we gain that back with restored picture on the sides.  And more importantly, it's actually attractively framed now.  Again, it looks like a real movie as opposed to an ugly, boxy mess.  We've got natural grain, detail we can finally decipher and beautiful colors.  Look how that red cat clock finally stands out from its surroundings.  Scream also gives us the original mono audio in lossless DTS-HD with optional English subtitles.  Take a guess whether Image or Mill Creek bothered with subtitles.
All three versions are the same cut, too.  I mention that because there's also a UK version with a different edit.  You can click here to read's article comparing this Image DVD with an old British VHS.  There's some alternate shower footage of Goldilocks (though the distinction seems arbitrary, since both include nudity), and most notably, there's a shot of Valentine ripping out the witch's heart which is missing from all these discs.  There's a noticeable clip where it happens, too.  I was hoping Scream's return to the original negatives would mean this shot would be naturally reinstated, but nope.  Oh well.

Technically, I suppose, the Image DVD does have one editing difference, though: the closing credits. Yeah, their disc is so no frills, it even cuts out just as the final credits begin.  Mill Creek at least lets them play all the way through, along with the closing song, and of course Scream Factory does.
A shot from the alternate edit of the first story
Oh, and naturally, both of the previous DVDs are completely featureless. Old Image releases usually had at least a trailer on their discs, but not this time.  But Scream Factory sure turns that around.  They list some cool, new stuff on the back of the case; but happily, once you put in the disc, you find even more.  So the first thing you'll notice is that the director Jeffrey Delman is heavily involved, which is great.  He provides an audio commentary, which is great, because this kooky movie raises a lot of questions.  He also provides a 16 minute on-camera interview to fill in the rest of the story.  Then there's a fun, 16 minute featurette interviewing some of the stars: Scott Valentine, Cathryn DePrume (Goldi Lox) and Melissa Leo (Mama Baer).  There are two deleted scenes, one from Red Riding Hood and one from The Three Baers, both of which are sourced from video tape and have explanatory introductions by the director.  And probably this release's biggest surprise, an alternate version of the first story that they started putting together to possibly exist as a stand-alone if the anthology never got finished.  It's got a bunch of new footage, alternate music, is missing some stuff from the final film, and doesn't have the final act.  But it's a heck of a lot of deleted scenes.  It's also sourced from video and has an introduction by the director.  Plus there are two theatrical trailers and a photo gallery.
Thinking about it now for this article, I guess a lot of my indifference towards this film's qualities today probably stemmed from the hideous videotape transfers this film is stuck with. I mean, look at all these blah screenshots. If someone actually put out a quality, widescreen film-based edition with all the footage from both the US and UK versions, and some good extras, I could see this being a pretty engaging movie, at least for people who don't mind a healthy dose of goofiness. Scream Factory has definitely released worse. So how about it, labels, anyone want to be a bit of a hero and give the people a blu-ray release of this film? I'd buy it.  Look, they did!  Well, apart from rounding up the European footage - it would've been nice if they also grabbed those cut British scenes, at least off the VHS tape, as additional deleted scenes.  But honestly, who could've expected such a thorough, packed special edition as we've gotten here?  Fans of this movie should be over the moon.

1 comment:

  1. Great Review. I will be picking up the Scream Factory release when I can.