Halloween: The Documentaries - It's Time To Really See What's What

Naturally, there have been multiple documentaries on John Carpenter's horror classic Halloween over the years. But actually, not as many as I was expecting, given the number of times it's been released and re-released on DVD and blu-ray over the years. A couple keep getting reissued with nearly every disc, and one or two are only available as separate releases on their own. So this Halloween, I thought I'd break down each one of them, and see what's out there and what's really worth stalking down.

Essentially, I guess you'd say there are three full-length documentaries, and two to three shorter ones, plus a couple featurettes that might be worth mentioning. But you could really nerd out and haggle on what counts as what, because it's obscure. Now, depending on your degree of Halloween fanhood, your take-away could be pretty different here. If you're one of those people with a Michael Myers tattoo and a Halloween bedspread, you might just want to make sure you haven't missed any little thing for your collection. But for the rest of us, it might be worth getting into what each of them have to offer and picking & choosing. Even if you're not particularly a fan and just mildly interested in cinema, Halloween's legacy is interesting enough that it's worth figuring out which is a good one and seeing one of these docs.
Perhaps the best known is Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest, which debuted on Anchor Bay's 25th Anniversary edition in 2003.  This is a fairly good one, interviewing a collection of key personnel, including John Carpenter, Dean Cundey, Fangoria's Tony Timpone, producers Debra Hill, Joseph Wolf (executive producer of Halloween 2 and 3), Irwin Yablans and producer of the entire Halloween franchise, Moustapha Akkad, stars Jamie Lee Curtis, PJ Soles, Nick Castle and Charles Cypher, plus assistant director Tommy Lee Wallace. It's a solid history of the film, covering the score, the debut of the Panavision camera, a unique anecdote about how Carpenter met a kid in a mental hospital whose thousand yard stare inspired Michael Myers and tons more.
One of its biggest drawbacks, however, is its heavy use of clips from the film rather than new content. Especially since most of us watching the film got it as part of a DVD package, and thus had just watched the film, it gets tiresome and obviously takes away from time they could've used to show us more interview footage, etc. And the other drawback was that for most fans, there wasn't much new here. In 2003, this was a lot of covered ground and well-worn anecdotes. Now, you have to expect that to a certain degree - after all, how much can the same people say about the same film... and there's a lot of core facts you just can't really leave out of a stand-alone documentary. But one does hope for some new stuff amid the standard, and while Charles Cypher was a nice inclusion, it does feel pretty basic. Especially since some of the interviews consist of literally the exact same footage we'd seen before.
Most Halloween DVDs prior to the 25th Anniversary had Halloween Unmasked as its primary extra. It's a twenty+ minute short documentary narrated by Dee Snider that interviews many of the same people and who have a lot of the same things to say. It has John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Irwin Yablans, Moustapha Akkad, Dean Cundey, Tommy Lee Wallace at the Myers' house, Brian Andrews (who played Tommy Doyle), Jamie Lee Curtis (same "gave me a film career" clip in 25 Years of Terror), PJ Soles, Nick Castle and Joseph Wolf. So you'll notice it has a couple exclusive interviews, and even its much shorter running time covers a lot of ground because it doesn't waste so much of it on film clips. It's maybe not quite as thorough as Cut Above, but it comes closer than you'd think based on the running time and moves at a much brisker pace.
The 25th Anniversary also debut a short, 10 minute featurette called On Location: 25 Years Of Terror, which interviews only Debra Hill and PJ Soles. Like it's title suggests, it focuses a lot on the film's locations, showing how the infamous Myers house is now a chiropractor's office and the like. But diverges a lot, for example PJ Soles talks about how impressed she was with Debra Hill, how a woman could command so much power on a movie set. Soles doesn't have much to say about the films locations at all, really. Anyway, I wouldn't really count this as even one of the short documentaries, but it is an interesting featurette that's worth the watch.
Speaking of Halloween's 25th Anniversary, we had another Halloween documentary, a feature called Halloween: 25 Years of Terror, released in... 2006. So I'm not sure which three years they're saying don't count, but whatever. This one's narrated by PJ Soles and focuses on the entire Halloween series - i.e. all the films in the series, including the remake. It's a lot like Never Sleep Again or Crystal Lake Memories, except it's only 83 minutes long. So I guess it's more like His Name Was Jason. In fact, one of its producers, Anthony Masi, also produced His Name. So, naturally, 25 Years starts out on the first film, and covers almost all of the same ground, including repeating footage.
Does this interview look familiar?
It interviews a ton of exclusive people, and even though they're mainly from the sequels, there are a one or two from the first film that are only in this. The full line-up is: Irwin Yablans, Moustapha Akkad, John Carpenter, Dean Cundey, Bianca Kajlich (H8), Mark Shapiro (critic), Debra Hill, Nick Castle, Jim Winburn (stuntman from the original), Clive Barker, Chris Durand (Myers in H20), Dennis Etchison (writer of an unfilmed Halloween sequel), Brian Andrews, Sasha Jensen (Brody), a guy who lives near the actual Halloween house, Dick Warlock (Myers in H2), Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, Nancy Loomis (Annie, and Tommy Lee Wallace's ex), Greg Nicotero, Don Shanks (Myers in H5), British critic Kim Newman, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, Jeff Burr, Tom Atkins, executive producer Joseph Wolf, Lance Warlock ("boombox boy" in H2 and son of Dick Warlock), Alan Howarth (composer for H2-6), John Ottman (composer for H20), John Fallon (critic who says things like "I get more excited, frightened, what not if I see some hot chick being chased by a killer than if I see some, like, fat dude running around, 'cause, um, she's a hot chick!"), Jeff Katz (New Line guy), Pamela Susan Shoop (nurse in H2), Cliff Emmich (Mr Garrett in H2), Gloria Gifford (Mrs. Albves in H2), Tommy Lee Wallace, Rick Rosenthal, Tawny Moyer (Nurse Jill in H2), Garn Stephens (Marge in Halloween 3), Brad Schacter (Little Buddy Kupfer in H3), Jason Paul Collum (critic), fans, Ellie Cornell (Rachel in H4), John Carl Buechler (special effects on H4), Danielle Harris (Jamie in H4), Kathleen Kimmont (Kelly in H4), Julie King (critic), Paul Freeman (producer of H20), Beau Starr (Sheriff Meeker in H5),  Dominque Othenin-Girard (director of H5), Jeffrey Landman (Billy in H5), Wendy Kaplan (Tina in H5), Marianne Hagan (Kara Strode in H6), Daniel Harrands (writer of H6), JC Brandy (Jamie in H6), Nick Phillips (Dimension Films guy), Thomas Ian Nicholas (Bill Woodlake in H8), Brad Hardin (effects artist on H7), Chris Durand (Myers in H7), Larry Brand (writer of H8), Brad Loree (Myers in H8), Mark Ward of Anchor Bay, a guy who organizes a regular Halloween convention, the mayor of South Pasadena, a lot of fans and Anthony Masi himself.
It's a fun, very fast paced documentary.  But as you can imagine, trying to fit all of the above people into a movie that runs less than 90 minutes, a lot of those contributions wind up being little more than quick soundbites. Plus, a lot of these interviews are lower quality grabs at a convention, or even taken directly from convention panel discussions, rather than direct interviews. And another similarity to His Name: 25 Years has a ton more content that makes the proceedings much richer and more rewarding for fans on the second disc. There are lots of extended interviews and complete panels. So while it was also included in Anchor Bay's 30th anniversary blu-ray boxed set; I highly recommend tracking down the DVD for the over four hours of extras.

By the way, Masi also filmed another little short doc called Halloween: The Shape of Horror in 2006.  It features Rob Zombie, Alan Howarth, Malek Akkad (Moustapha's son), Nancy Loomis, PJ Soles and John Ottman, Again, you'll hear that the film was originally to be titled The Babysitter Murders, that the budget was $300,000, and mostly the same info you hear in all of these documentaries.  I don't believe it's been released on DVD at all yet, but I thought I'd throw it a mention.
And I wouldn't really include this as a documentary about Halloween, but since I'm being thorough, there was a 2013 short documentary called The Night She Came Home, which debuted on Anchor Bay's 2013 blu-ray. It's really not about the film, except tangentially, instead covering Jamie Lee Curtis's first horror convention, because she's never done them. She's being lead around by the Horror's Hallowed Grounds guy, and it's really self-indulgent and lacking substance. It's co-directed by Curtis's sister, and mostly consists of shots of her walking and driving to and from places. There's also a lot of soundbites from fans saying how excited they are to meet her. Only around the 38 minute mark, when we hear snippets of her actually speak at the convention, do we find any compelling content.  That lasts for two minutes, and then the last 12 minutes is her driving again, leaving the convention.  The footage of her actual talk would've been great, but I'd say skip this documentary. Or, if you've got the disc anyway, skip to minute 38 and watch for two minutes, then turn it off. It's 95% just convention footage, and we're almost never even let in on the conversations we see them having.
But that still leaves one more feature-length documentary. One that's not available in ultimate Scream boxed set or packaged with any other DVD or blu-ray release of the film. Halloween: The Inside Story. It's a 2-hour television movie that's all about the original; and while it naturally cover a lot of the same territory as A Cut Above and the others; it's got some exclusive interviews and tackles some individual scenes and other elements that aren't in any of the others. The line-up here is: Moustaphah Akkad, Tommy Lee Wallace, Dean Cundey, John Graham (Bob), John Carpenter, Tony Moran (the guy they show when Myers' is unmasked), Nick Castle, Irwin Yablans, Rob Zombie, Carrie Rickey, Anthony Masi, John Kenneth Muir (author of The Films of John Carpenter), Jeffrey Lions (critic), PJ Soles, Debra Hill, Brian Collins (critic), Nancy Loomis, Charles Cypher, Kyle Richards (Lindsey), Brian Andrews, Devin Faraci (critic) and Will Sandin (Michael Myers as a kid).  So even ignoring the critics and stuff, that's several original cast members debuting in this doc. It does admittedly feel a little stiff, like TV documentaries tend to; but I think it's got the best overall coverage, including the most unique bits... everything from brief glimpses of Carpenter's student films to a CGI 3D model of the Halloween house to demonstrate how the famous opening tracking shot was done. It also ends with a bit on the remakes, if that's a plus for anyone. Two of the interviews are archival footage from Halloween: Unmasked, most of them are all new... they even got an all new one with Jamie Lee Curtis! She's finally gotten an all new background and all new anecdotes; and she says more about the film here than in The Night She Came Home.
The documentaries that come packaged with Halloween sets naturally vary in quality and extras depending on which set you've got. But for the solo discs, 25 Years Of Terror is a 4:3 film (with some widescreen footage included), so it's naturally full-frame. It looks fine for standard def, and has standard Dolby 2.0 audio. I already mentioned the heaps of extras that exceed the film itself, but it also has a fold-out insert with notes by Masi and includes a cheesy, full-color comic book called Halloween Autopsis. Inside Story, which is a UK PAL disc by the way, is anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with Dolby 2.0 audio. It has no extras at all, not even the Halloween trailer; but it does come in a neat-looking slipcover.
There are of course other extras on different Halloween discs... a couple audio commentaries, a Horror's Hallowed Ground episode, TV footage, a few interviews. If you've got the discs, you should definitely check those out, too. But in terms of documentaries on Halloween, now that I've sat down and watched them all beginning to end, I'm surprised to find myself recommending Inside Story for the "if you only watch one" slot. I was expecting to like it the least, a stodgy TV movie some random British narrator... But it's really got it all. 25 Years of Terror is great for its coverage of the sequels, especially if get the 2-disc set; but for coverage of the first film, it falls behind most of the others. So get whichever Halloween DVDs or blus you like - The Scream box set is of course pretty sweet and includes most of the stuff covered above - but I recommend you snag these DVDs as well. They're worth it.

The Company of Wolves' European-Only Blu-Ray (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I'm a bit hot and cold when it comes to the films of Neil Jordan... I mean, the guy wrote a "woman has visions through the eyes of a serial killer" script in the nineties. But I love me some Company of Wolves. What a wild, fun, beautiful, creative meditation on the movie monster staple: the werewolf. Unfortunately, it's only available on a barebones, non-anamorphic, DVD from well over a decade ago. How could such a distinct and highly regarded film by a highly successful filmmaker be left in home video obscurity by a label called "Hen's Tooth Video?" I mean, this is a horror movie that was nominated for four BAFTAs; how often do you see that? What's it gonna take to get this film the respect it deserves? Oh wait, it has been treated right. There's a special edition blu-ray... only available in the UK.
If you haven't seen it, The Company of Wolves is kind of a mash-up of several werewolf stories. Heavy on the Little Red Riding Hood, the plot waves in and out through different werewolf tales, mostly in a sort of fairy-tale period setting. It's got a terrific cast including Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Terrance Stamp, Jordan regular Stephen Rea and the guy from Waiting for God. It's a perfect little storm of smart performances, stylish photography, lavish sets, and still delivering the gruesome goods for horror fans. Maybe the story's a bit confusing in the way it drifts dream-like from one situation to another, and there is the occasional moment of down-right abstract symbolism; but there's enough entertainment here for even the most art-phobic juvenile to let the medicine go down.
So yeah, you'd think every specialty label from Anchor Bay to Criterion would have had this film in their sites, but nope. Just the old Hen's Tooth DVD. But over in the UK, ITV maybe hasn't quite given it the ultimate Arrow boxed set with 3 discs and a 60-page book on a satin pillow. But they've managed to scare up a nice, HD transfer and the director's involvement in the extras department. And you really can't complain about any release that at least makes it that far.
US Hen's Tooth DVD on top; UK ITV blu-ray on the bottom.
I mentioned that the old DVD was non-anamorphic, so I left the black around it in the first shot to show how that looks on a widescreen TV. To be fair, though, the Hen's Tooth transfer wasn't too bad for an older DVD apart from that. At least it's widescreen. And in fact, the framing is pretty close: 1.73:1 compared to ITV's 1.78. It's missing a little picture on three sides: top, bottom and left, with a little extra on the right. Hen's Tooth DVD is also much more yellow, with ITV leaning red.
Unsurprisingly, when you get in close, ITV is much clearer and more detailed. I mean, the advantages were pretty unevenly stacked in the first place, so Hen's Tooth actually comes off looking like a respectably good effort for its time. But seriously, all non-anamorphic discs should be obsolete and replaced by 2015.

The blu-ray's audio isn't quite lossless, unfortunately; but it's still an okay 2.0 mix, actually pretty similar to the US DVD. And ITV gets the edge for also including optional English HoH subtitles.
Hen's Tooth DVD was basically extras-less, but they did at least manage to include two trailers (one of which is rather long, and must've been some kind of special one made for promoters or something) and a little photo gallery. The bare minimum at least. But ITV came to play, with an audio commentary by Neil Jordan himself. It's quite informative and engaging, and covers pretty much everything you'd hope he'd address. I was slightly disappointed to see they didn't include the trailer, but there's still no question who wins the special features award.
The Company of Wolves is a surprisingly great little werewolf film that's being a bit neglected. But while ITV's blu has room for improvement, it's a pretty decent catalog release. And it also has to be mentioned that ITV has more recently re-released their blu-ray as a steelbook combo pack with a DVD version as the second disc.  And they did include the trailer on that. So if you want to spend a little bit extra, that is the more definitive set. But the transfer and extras are otherwise the same, so the stand-alone blu-ray should be good enough for most viewers. But for goodness sake, replace that DVD.

Miranda July Videoworks: Volume 1

Miranda July made her feature film debut as writer and director of the intelligently eccentric Me and You and Everyone We Know in 2005, and followed that up in 2011 with The Future. But she'd been making independent short films at least as far back as 1996. And thanks to a curious little outfit known as the Video Data Bank, most of them are available on DVD.

Right off the bat, I should establish (warn you?) that these aren't traditional narrative films. These are more in line with, say, David Lynch's early short films, like The Alphabet, which were perhaps more intended to be seen in art exhibits than in traditional viewing environments. In fact, her shorts have played at The MoMA and Guggenheim. So if you're looking for something like her recent comedy short, Somebody, you're going to be disappointed. But if you're a huge fan of Miranda to the point that you're ready to see her early, developmental work - kinda like student films or those Cinema 16 DVDs - you're gonna love this.

The Video Data Bank seems to essentially be a distributor for mostly short and digital films by very independent filmmakers... browsing through their site, July is the one name I recognize in a very large collection. So mostly they're one of those outfits that charges exorbitant prices for DVDs to institutions with attached licensing fees, not really meant for the general public. So, you know, they'll charge several hundred dollars for a seventeen minute film on a no-frills DVD, because the real price is really meant to be for the rights to publicly screen them. But they have a very small run of "Home DVDs," which are sold to the general public at regular retail prices. And happily, Miranda July Filmworks: Volume 1 is one of those.
The menu screen.
Filmworks: Volume 1 (the only volume as of this writing) is a collection of four of her first short films, from 1996-2001. The VDB actually has five of her short films in their catalog, the last of which (2003's Haysha Royko) is only 4 minutes long, so you'd really think could've thrown it on here, too. Frankly, it feels a little cheap; but whatever. It seems like the least compelling of the five anyway - which may be why it was left out. Or maybe they're saving it for an eventual Volume 2. Anyway, let's not be negative and instead focus on the films that ARE included here.
Atlanta (1996) - 10 minutes: The wit of July's features is definitely on hand here, in a short mockumentary about a young Olympic swimmer and her aggressively supportive mother, played by July. It's basically two first person interviews (mother and daughter) edited together with some supporting footage. You can hear Miranda (in character) off-camera, reminding her daughter to say how much she loves her mother during her interview.
The Amateurist (1998) - 14 minutes: Things begin to get abstract as July plays, well, some kind of numerically obsessed expert who monitors and judges a seemingly trapped blonde woman (also July) dressed only in her underwear who she views through a small black and white television. There's definitely humor again, as Miranda struggles with insecurity while addressing the camera, but it might all be too disconnected to bring up any real laughter. Slowly, the film begins to hint at a darker, more serious meaning. 
Nest of Tens (1999) - 27 minutes: Next is the most ambitious of the bunch. Four casts of characters in separate situations are inter-cut between each other. Each set of people seem trapped in the mundanity of their lives. Miranda July is just one of the ensemble here as a woman in an airport complaining on a payphone at a coworker. Again, their are hints of humor in the characters interactions and inability to connect, but it's increasingly overshadowed by a strangeness and melancholy. The tone shifts as animation is added over the footage.
Getting Stronger Every Day (2001) - 6.30 minutes: This one feels almost like a sequel to Nest of Tens. Several characters similar to ones we met in that film are awakened from their dailies lives by visions of strange auras. It's an interesting mix of banal normalcy and a mood of transcendence.

In a way, these shorts, especially as they move forward, evoke a lot of the same feelings later found in her feature work. They may be less relatable, and they're not the thorough cinematic entertainments her features are, but you can definitely feel Miranda's hand on every frame. These feel like Miranda July films.
Everything's 4:3 and I presume accurate to the low budget way they were shot and intended to be seen. There are no extras, subtitle options or anything apart from the four films themselves, improving in quality as they go forward.

Filmworks: Volume 1 is dated 2005, so ten years later, Volume 2 isn't looking too likely. One of the short films from this set, Getting Stronger Every Day, was also released on a DVD titled Peripheral Produce - All Time Greatest Hits, but certainly for July fans, you might as well skip right over that and get this, which includes three of her other shorts. It would be an understatement to caveat that this film is not for everybody. It's not for most people. But July fans will definitely find the value in this collection. So if that's you, check it out.

Demonoid Is Bad-Ass! A Halloween Homerun By Vinegar Syndrome

I don't do many blind buys anymore, so it's nice to be really pleased with one when I make it. I mean, I did check out the trailer before-hand, but I was also told Demonoid really doesn't live up to its trailer and awesome cover. And to be fair, in a big way, it doesn't. It kinda sets you up for that wild devil monster to be running around taking heads like Rawhead Rex with a giant sword at least part of the time, but nope. That sword-wielding devil is an image you see in the film, but that's all. Still, it's a pretty fun early 80s horror flick with fairly high production values.

Demonoid is a Mexican film, but don't let that put you off. It's English language, has British/ American stars and mostly set and filmed in America. Director Alfredo Zacarías (The Bees) talks in the extras about he finally had a big budget for this one and it shows. Impressive locations in Mexico, Las Vegas and California, nice sets, big stunts, and star power with Oscar nominees Samantha Eggar and Stuart Whitman. It's also tightly paced and relatively smartly written.
Eggar comes to Mexico to be with her husband who owns a silver mine. Deep inside, she uncovers a hidden chamber that once belonged to Satanic cultists who worship the hand of the devil, which they kept in a convenient, hand-sized little coffin. Of course the brash foreigners ignore the locals' superstitious and set the hand free. It runs around from time to time in classic crawling hand fashion, but spends most of its time becoming other peoples' left hand, giving them power but turning them evil. The good guys want to destroy the hand, the possessed have their own plans for the hand, and the hand has plans of its own. This leads to great scenes like one where a cop throws a handcuffed Eggar into a plastic surgeon's office, pulls his gun on the nurse and demands, "cut my hand off or I'll kill you!" Good times.
Or he just says "I want you to cut my hand off," depending which version you watch. Yes, there's two distinct versions of this film; and thankfully, Vinegar Syndrome has included both. Let's break it down.

The "main" version, in that it's the one that plays if you just press Play Film at the start menu, is the US version with the onscreen title Demonoid. It's 80 minutes long. But if you go to the Special Features menu, there's the option to play the International version with the onscreen title Macabra. That one's 90 minutes. So that's the uncut version, right? Oh, it's more complicated than that. It's sort of like Re-Animator, where the shorter version is the bloodier one, and the softer cut has a bunch of extra content. And these versions are quite different, more so than the two Re-Animator cuts.
A scene and character that only appear in Macabra.
For example, here's how the opening scene plays out after Eggar meets her husband's assistant:

"He's sorry he couldn't pick you up at the airport, but uh, he couldn't leave the mine. Mines are very jealous, like most females."
"Is a mine a female, Pepe?"
"Yes.
That's why men risk their lives to have them. And no matter how hard you try, a mine won't surrender its treasure... if you're not lucky."
"Has Mark had any luck yet?"
"Mr. Baines is a good miner and knows the trade will. But, uh... in Lacemada..."
"What about Lacemada?"
"It's cursed."
"Come on, Pepe. Come on, let's go to the mine right away."

...The bolded text is how the scene plays out in Demonoid, while all of the text is how it goes in Macabra. That kind of thing happens all throughout the film, but that's only one kind of change on hand here. Another is that the film has alternate takes. So it's not about missing or included footage, but scenes played different ways. Most notably, the most violent scenes are played differently between the two versions. In Demonoid, a guy uses the hand to grab a woman's face and crush her skull. In Macabra, he does a traditional Hollywood neck snap move.
Another big difference is the pre-credits sequence. Macabra doesn't have one, but Demonoid has a whole, involved scene where ancient cultists fight and kill each other over the hand. Directed by Jim Wynorski, it has the only nudity in the movie (a female cultist has her shirt torn open) and is the only scene that takes place in this time period. Also, if you think about it, this adds 3-4 minutes to Demonoid, meaning Macabra doesn't have 10 minutes of additional footage, but 13-14.
In Macabra, the zombie (yeah, there's a zombie in this, too) slowly digs and pulls himself out of his grave. In Demonoid, he flies out of his grave in a brilliant explosion! The final, climatic shot of Demonoid isn't even in Macabra. In Demonoid, every time the devil exerts his influence (which is often), the screen flashes an image of the devil with his sword aloft; in Macabra, the scenes just play normally. The entire soundtrack is different. Macabra has a bombastic soundtrack with a vocal chorus, while Demonoid has a mellower, key-heavy soundtrack. They're so different.

But which is better? It's hard to say; they both have pros and cons. VS probably made the right choice in making Demonoid the default version. First of all, horror fans usually want the bloodier versions. Demonoid is also faster paced, has the nudity, and some cooler moments. On the other hand, Macabra isn't just all excess exposition. There's some fun severed hand high jinx with it crawling up Eggar's shower drain(!), and a creepy scene where someone with the hand pets and talks to the bodies he's got tied up in his office. And even when it is extra exposition, it kinda helps the story make more sense. I also prefer Macabra's soundtrack (it's the one VS used for the menu screen). But then again, there are at least two points I noticed where the Macabra scenes seemed edited incorrectly, so the scenes made a little less sense. Minor details, but still noticeable. So I can't really declare one better than the other; it kinda makes me want to whip out the editing software and make an "Integral Cut." But they're different enough that you can just watch both.
Vinegar Syndrome's new blu-ray/ DVD combo pack isn't quite Demonoid's debut on DVD. There was an uncut, widescreen DVD from Laser Paradise, but it only had German audio. And there's a Spanish audio-only DVD from Laguna. Both of those were the Macabra version, for the record. So this is its HD debut, the complete debut of the Demonoid cut, and most importantly it's the film's English language debut, so this is going to be most American's introduction to this film, and it's a first rate presentation.
Demonoid blu on top' Macabra blu 2nd, Demonoid DVD 3rd, Macabra DVD 4th.
When I read that Macabra was being included like an extra, I was expecting a cheap "VHS rip" type transfer, like some other discs have done (Retribution comes to mind) when they could only find proper film elements for the cut version. So I was delighted to see that both versions of the film are proper 2k restoration from the 35mm original camera negative. I can't even really tell them apart if it weren't for the fact that I labeled them. And since this is a blu-ray/ DVD combo pack, we've got four transfers to look at. All are 1.78:1 and look fantastic. Grain comes and goes depending on the shot, but I put that down entirely to how the film was shot, not the transfer. Besides the obvious compression splotchiness on the DVD versions, there's not much to point out. It's a top notch transfer all around.

Both versions of the film have DTS-HD audio and optional/ removable subtitles. Macabra also has a French dub, which I guess also makes this Demonoid's French debut.
Extras-wise, this isn't a splashy special edition, but it does have some good stuff. Besides Macabra, which I'd say is more than an extra, the main thing is a 15 minute interview with the director. He's pretty interesting, enthusiastic and answers most of the questions you're likely to have after watching the picture. So I'm really glad to have it. There's also two trailers, one for Demonoid and one for Macabra, each with very different narration. There's also a very short TV spot and a stills gallery of some cool promotional artwork. This release also features reversible artwork with the Macabra title, but the Demonoid cover is just too sweet to ever flip around.
Mind you, this isn't likely to be anyone's favorite horror film. And while this is technically an 80s horror, it's 1981 and foreign, so it retains a lot of that 70s atmosphere. Don't come in expecting a Hellraiser or Nightmare On Elm St.; but this is a pretty well-crafted, fun horror film that keeps things entertaining, without getting juvenile or cheap. In other words, a perfect little package for Halloween.

The Definitive Army of Darkness (MANY DVDs and Blu-Rays Compared!)


Update 10/13/15: Hail to the king, baby! Scream Factory has just released the ultimate, most definitive Army of Darkness set yet! It's a 3 blu-ray set with 4 cuts of the film, an all new 4k scan and all new extras, as well as all the legacy stuff! It's been added to end of the comparisons below, so read on or just scroll all the way down to the new content.
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Oh boy, here we go. It's about to get real now. I have recently landed the 5-disc Definitive Collection of Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness from Madman, the Australian DVD company. The set has 2 blu-rays and 3 DVDs, and no, it isn't the case where two of the DVDs are identical to two of blus, except for one being in standard def and one in high def. They're all different. What's more, Army of Darkness is infamous for being possibly the most frequently re-issued film on DVD and blu of all time; and I've got a bunch of other versions on hand. There are a ton of different cuts of the film, sets of extras, and quality of transfers. I've also got info on other releases, including an alternate Ultimate Edition from Germany. Now, the fact that each set has at least a little bit that the other doesn't tells me neither is quite fully definitive; but they've both got more Army of Darkness than even a serious fan will ever need.
Notice some print damage (on her forehead) in this shot from the US blu-ray.
Army of Darkness, of course, is the third - and as of this writing, final - in the Evil Dead series of films, originally meant to be titled The Medieval Dead, and in some markets, unfortunately known as Captain Supermarket. The delightfully ludicrous ending of Evil Dead 2 seemed impossible to follow up, with our protagonist (Bruce Campbell, of course) having opened a portal to send the demons back to their time, centuries ago, but accidentally getting sucked in with them. So we begin with our character taken from a contemporary "cabin in the woods" horror film trapped in the 1300s with knights and kings, still battling the evil dead. Like Evil Dead 2 shifted the tone from the original Evil Dead to be more humorous and crazy, this one shifts the tone even further, to be a bizarre, darkly comic fantasy adventure. And it's one Hell of a good time.

Because it was a bigger, and less of a scary, film, the studio seemed to envision a broader audience for this film, selling it not just to Evil Dead fans, or horror fans in general, but to the mainstream market. And so they chose not to market it as Evil Dead 3, and meddled an awful lot in the creative process, resulting in a very short film with an alternate ending and all kinds of changes. Consequently, we have that version, a very different director's cut, and various alternate cuts with missing or additional scenes that were sold in different parts of the world. And it's also been incredibly popular in the home video market. So we've wound up with a whole ton of releases of this film. Anchor Bay in particular seemed to go completely hog wild releasing and re-releasing this and other Evil Dead films over and over. Some editions were completely redundant and unnecessary, but others had real, compelling reasons for fans to up- or side- grade. Which are which?

Well, let's compare twelve different versions of this film and start finding answers.
Anchor Bay's 1999 DVD, the director's cut. 1.64:1.
Anchor Bay's 1999 DVD, the theatrical cut. 1.66:1
Anchor Bay's 1999 DVD, full-screen version of the theatrical cut. 1.33:1.
These first three shots are all from Anchor Bay's original, limited edition 2-disc set from 1999. Now, this is not the first time the film had been released. Universal released a disc first in 1998. But it didn't have the director's cut, it didn't have any extras. This Anchor Bay set had plenty, and has kept a place in my collection right up to my getting the Definitive Collection. The transfer's not so hot, and curiously in an anamorphic 1.66 ratio (Sam Raimi may've had a hand in that decision, since he's a bit notorious with making creative decisions in the Evil Dead trilogy's early releases). It also has a full-screen version of the theatrical cut, which is pretty unique to this edition, and is at least interesting for being somewhat open matte and therefore showing us more picture in the top and bottom. But it's also pan & scan. Notice how it gives us the full right side of the picture, which even the widescreen director's cut transfer fails to do (it being tragically zoomed in on all four sides), but cutting more of the left side off.

This edition also has some great extras, including a commentary by Raimi, Campbell and Ivan Raimi (who joins the proceedings near the end). These guys always do great commentaries, and this is no exception. It's always fun, informative and insightful. And their commentary also carries over to four deleted scenes, which you can watch with the commentary or not. The scenes aren't featured in either cut of the film, and are quite worthwhile. There's also storyboards, the trailer, the original ending (which is already there on the director's cut, but here so you can watch it separately as well), and some bios. Oh, and perhaps most importantly (for reasons we'll come to later), a very good and fairly substantial 18 minute featurette called The Men Behind the Army, which is narrated by Bruce Campbell and focuses on the work of KNB Effects for the film. And while this film was technically "limited" to individually numbered copies, they made 30,000 of them (mine's #16229), so this version is still not too hard to find today.
Anchor Bay UK's 2003 DVD, 1.64:1
So, like I said, Anchor Bay took a lot of stabs at subsequently releasing this film, like the Boomstick Edition and the Bootleg Edition. Specifically, between 1999 and 2003, they put out four, not counting the original 2-disc set above. That's more than one new edition every year. And the differences were really minor, like one was released just because they added THX sound. Another was a single disc release, and then the Boomstick edition was just them going back to 2 discs again. So some had just the director's cut and some had both; but they all presented them in the same 1.66:1 transfers (technically, the director's cut is more like 1.64). And they all basically had the same extras... but only the original 2-disc set above has that Men Behind the Army feature. For whatever reason, that was an exclusive.

But if you read the caption, you already know the screenshot we're looking at here isn't from any of those four Anchor Bay releases, it's from an Anchor Bay UK's release. Specifically, it's the disc from their 4-disc Evil Dead Trilogy boxed set, brazenly labeled "The Definitive Evil Dead Collection." Their treatment of the film isn't any better: it's still the zoomed in, 1.64:1 transfer of the director's cut. It's got the same commentary and deleted scenes, and no Men Behind the Army (even though a previous, 2002 Anchor Bay UK release did include it). But it's a pretty compelling set because it has a bunch of exclusive extras that are only available in this set only to this day. Almost all of them pertain to the previous Evil Dead films, though, so I'll save those details for another post. But one exclusive doc, called The Living Love the Dead, does cover all three films, so a lot of talk is dedicated to part 3. It's pretty poor, though, and doesn't include anybody involved with the making of the film.
MGM's 2003 Hong Kong DVD, 1.79:1.
Yay! Now we're talking. Anchor Bay stopped putting out DVDs of Army (they were getting a lot of flack for it, plus the rights reverted), and it started coming out from other studios. And this official MGM Studios release in Hong Kong was the one to own! First of all, as you can see, it looks better than any of Anchor Bay's versions. And this isn't the theatrical cut, this is the director's cut. They've got that version without that ugly zoomed in effect. And it's got the most accurate aspect ratio to date. The box claims 1.85:1, but it's more like 1.79. That still trumps all the 1,66's, though, and the picture is so much cleaner and less compressed. Oh, and it's even a little bit more complete than the previous director's cuts, including a shot of Embeth Davidtz's dress being torn that Raimi decided to cut out from his cut for Anchor Bay (though it's in the theatrical cut). To be fair, I can see why he would want to cut it, and it's really not that important... but besides just being generally better for being more complete, the shot is valuable because it makes the subsequent wide shot, where her dress is visibly torn, make sense. In the past editions, the top of her dress just disappears from one shot to the next.

The MGM disc also has the commentary, the deleted scenes, the trailer, photo gallery and the alternate ending. In this case, that ending is the theatrical cut's supermarket ending, because this disc features the director's cut with the original ending. It's just a first class DVD from MGM, that just didn't make it to the US because they didn't have the rights to put it out here.
Universal's 2009 DVD, 1.85:1.
Universal's 2009 blu-ray, 1.85:1.
So now we jump ahead six years. Army of Darkness releases were finally dead, even though the US never got anything like Hong Kong's MGM disc. But in 2009 we'd entered the blu-ray age, so it was time to bring Evil Dead 3 back. And who had it now? Universal. So they released the Screwhead Edition from a new HD transfer. I was a late adapter to blus, so I picked up their DVD edition back then. So now I've wound up with the DVD and blu versions of the Screwhead edition to compare, even though they were simultaneous separate releases, not a combo pack. So we get to look at both. And unsurprisingly, they're identical, except for one being in standard definition and one being HD. But even the DVD looks better than MGM's. And it's finally fully matted to the 1.85 OAR. Just one problem, though; Universal has only released the short, theatrical version. So, naturally horror fans have felt a little unfulfilled with this release, despite it still being the only blu-ray edition released in the USA.

Madman's 2013 DVD, director's cut, 1:64.1.
It has new extras, though, which made me a little happy. Only a little, because there really isn't much. The main thing is a new featurette called Creating the Deadites. This focuses on KNB's work for the film, very much in the same vein as The Men Behind the Army. In fact, a lot of the same anecdotes are told and footage is shown. They're different, though, and they do have some good, unique content, so fans will want to have both. But one is sort of like a remake of the other. And since it was recorded to fit the longer director's cut, the commentary is not on this version, and neither are the deleted scenes. Really, all the Screwhead edition has is the Deadites feature, the trailer, and the original (director's cut) ending, plus some bonus BD Live trailers and a silly "U-Control" thing which makes production photos pop up throughout the movie, if you have the blu-ray version.
Madman's 2013 blu, director's cut, 1.78:1.
Madman's 2013 blu, theatrical cut, 1.85:1.
Madman's 2013 DVD, theatrical cut, 1.66:1.
Madman's 2013 DVD, TV cut, 1.33:1.
Finally we come to the Definitive Collection, and it's pretty sweet. There's some kinda stuff going on here, though. Two of the discs are the director's cut on blu and the director's cut on DVD. So you'd think they'd be the same transfer, just one in SD and one in HD, right? Nope. Totally different transfers, with the director's cut DVD going back to the old, zoomed in transfer of the old Anchor Bay discs. Weird, but I guess it's preferable to duplicate content... Basically, if you want the old 1.66:1 transfer of the theatrical cut, that's here, on the DVD. And if you want the 1.85 one from the Universal discs, that's here too, on the blu-ray. That's why this is a Definitive set, folks; you're getting all the options.
Madman's 2013 director's cut blu left; MGM's DVD right.
The director's cut blu-ray version - the one the majority of us are probably most concerned with - is 1.78:1, like the MGM DVD. And like the MGM DVD, it has the dress tearing scene intact. Now, cynically yet nervously, you may ask, is the new blu really just the MGM disc slapped onto a blu? Happily, no, this is a legit upgrade with an all new transfer of the director's cut. The image is cleaner, the colors are better, and it doesn't have all the SD pixelation it would have if they just took the DVD as their source, and that the MGM does have. This is the best the director's cut has ever looked.

Now, does it look as good as the theatrical version looked on the Screwhead blu? That's debatable, I suppose. The Screwhead edition seems sharper and has more vivid colors, but it also seems to have been tinkered with more in post, using maybe some edge enhancement and unsharpen mask. I'd say the Director's Cut is objectively better. I suspect the theatrical will please many fans, however, while leaving purists preferring the less doctored director's cut. But hey, this set's got the theatrical cut on blu, too; and it's exactly the same as the Screwhead disc. Like, literally, it's the same disc with a new label on it. So you don't have to choose.

This set also introduces the TV cut into the mix. It's full-screen and basically matches Anchor Bay's old full-screen framing, but with the brighter colors of the more modern transfers. It's got a little ghost framing going on, though; I guess it came from a PAL source. But it's a TV version, you kinda expect it to look crappy. Anyway, the TV cut is what it sounds like, with lots of language and stuff edited for television, and it's missing some things. But what makes it interesting and worth including, besides maybe the novelty of overdubbed lines being made clean, is the fact that it also includes some deleted scenes and footage not in the other cuts. And the scenes are in much higher quality here than they have been on past discs, when they were just deleted scenes, which had all kinds of marks, fading and print damage on them.
And extras? It's definitive, baby - it's got everything! Yes, the commentary is on the director's cut, and yes the deleted scenes are here with the optional commentary, too. Yes, Creating the Deadites is on here AND the elusive Men Behind the Army. The trailer, galleries, and even the silly U-Control feature from the Screwhead blu is on here. Oh, and there's more. There's a short, clip-heavy 'making of' documentary, and a series of interviews with Raimi, Campbell and producer Rob Tapert. The 'making of' only features clips from the film and clips of these interviews, though, so if you don't want to watch the same content twice in a row, I'd say just watch the interviews. There's more in the interviews that aren't in the 'making of,' too.

Also, the original ending is on here as a separate extra (even though it's also in the two director's cuts, of course), and there are additional trailers. Oh, and it's not listed on the back with all the other extras, but there's also a "Behind the Scenes" featurette made of footage shot during the making of the film. It's short but interesting and noteworthy, because it looked like that was one thing the German Ultimate Edition had that the Australian one here was missing. But, no, it's on here, too; they just forgot to list it.
Yeah, the German set. I don't have it, but I've read up on it, so I can explain the differences fairly well. The German set is from Koch Media and actually six discs. The two sets have mostly all the same stuff (yes, their director's cut also has the dress ripping shot), but there are discrepancies. Most notably, the German set has a whole additional cut of the film, known as the International cut, which is kind of a mix of the director's and theatrical cuts, but with some little details that make it unique as well. For me, I had to ask myself, how many times am I going to watch just slightly different versions of the same film? Another cut at this point is just overkill. But obviously some collectors won't feel that way at all and will want that sixth disc; and I totally understand 'em. The German set also has a very brief animated "tribute" extra, which apparently comes from the internet. And they have a nice (German only) booklet.

But it's not all Advantage Germany. The con to their set is that they're missing the Men Behind the Army feature. And their DVD transfers are identical to their blu-ray counterparts (besides the SD/HD difference, of course), so you lose out on the 1.66 and 1.64 transfers. I'm not sure how keen fans will be for those, especially in old standard def transfers. But if Raimi prefers the 1:66, that could be a good reason to hang onto those, plus it's definitely Raimi's choice to have the dress tearing scene out of the movie, so the director's cut DVD indulges that as well. So, technically, the Australian set has more versions (5) than the German set (4). The German set consists of 2 blus and 4 DVDs. So they have the same two editions on blu, and both their TV cuts are DVD only, as is Germany's unique International cut.
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Update 5/23/15: Now Scream Factory has entered the race and kind of killed the debate over the most definitive of the foreign sets. Scream Factory's set is only 3-discs, but all three are blu-rays, giving us the three major cuts - Director's Cut, Theatrical and International - in HD, as well as another low-fi print of the TV cut. It's got fresh, new scans, all new extras and the old ones. It's still not 100% perfect, as we'll see; but it's easily the preferred option out of everything.
Scream Factory's 2015 blu, director's cut, 1.78:1.
Scream Factory's 2015 blu, international cut, 1.78:1.
Scream Factory's 2015 blu, theatrical cut, 1.78:1.
Scream Factory's 2015 blu, TV cut, 1.33:1.
Mmm, that's an all new 4k scan from the inter-positive on the international cut. And it mostly is on the theatrical cut, too. Scream seems to have used their 4k of the international cut for all of the footage that's identical in the theatrical cut (which is most of it, after all) and just used Universal's weaker transfer for the missing bits. That's why the two shots above look identical. And the director's cut looks similar to the previous director's cut blu-rays (which was quite good... in fact the best up until this new scan). The back of the case says that the director's cut is matted to 1.85:1; but actually it's at 1.78:1 just like the others. Well, except for the 1.33 TV cut, of course, which looks pretty much like it did on the Madman set except even softer.

Scream's director's cut is also a little lower in contrast than Madman's, which brings up the occasional hint of detail in the shadows that was crushed out of the older scan.
Scream's 4k scan left, Universal's theatrical print middle, and Madman's director's cut right.
Getting in close, you can see how this new scan looks even clearer and more defined than the best HD transfers before it. It has the stronger, warmer colors of the previous theatrical cut, though a bit more natural. And it's free of the edge effects and compression junk, giving it the best of both previously available worlds.
Scream Factory's 2015 blu, international cut, 1.78:1.
Scream Factory's 2015 blu, theatrical cut, 1.78:1.
Madman's 2013 blu, theatrical cut, 1.85:1.
Still, like I said, Scream's Theatrical cut does still use some footage from Universal's older master. So here we can see that difference in quality, even though this theatrical version does look better than the older theatrical blu-rays. But it's still splotchier, more contrast-y, over saturated and just less natural looking overall than the fresh scan of the international cut. It's also a bit over-cropped, zoomed in to miss a little info on all four sides compared to the new 4k. The 1.85:1 version has similar vertical cropping, without any on the sides. And the colors look a bit more natural, at least (Bruce's face is downright yellow on the older theatrical). ...By the way, considering this shot is in both the theatrical and international cuts, I'm not sure why they didn't use the 4k scan for this shot, too. But, whatever.

All three cuts have excellent, DTS-HD 5.1 and 2.0 stereo options (the TV cut just has 2.0), and they each (again, minus the TV version) have optional English subtitles.

And extras? Scream has added a brand new, feature-length (97+ minutes) documentary on the making of the film, interviewing pretty much all of the principle players. This far, far, far outshines any of the previous featurettes on any of the past editions. With that said, all those past featurettes are on here, too. Yes, The Men Behind the Army is included here. So is the Creating the Deadites one, the vintage 'making of,' the extended interviews, the deleted scenes with optional commentary, the alternate endings isolated, the audio commentary for the director's cut (that's an important one), plus the multiple trailers and galleries. Basically everything. And remember that short "behind the scenes" footage feature from a couple of the past releases? Well, Scream's blown that out to a 50+ minute collection of KNB's behind-the-scenes footage, which includes all of that plus infinitely more. So that's another pretty sizable addition.
shot #1 (left) missing from theatrical cut; shots #2-3 missing from international cut.
A few more important details: The director's cut on the Scream set is the more complete one with the dress tearing scene intact. That's great. Not so great, however, is that the theatrical and international cuts are missing a couple brief shots. I can't take credit for this discovery; it's been pointed out on the blu-ray.com forums... but I can confirm that it is present on my retail copy. When Ash is being chased through the woods and comes upon the windmill, the shot where he jumps over a small stone wall is missing from the theatrical cut. And when he's fighting the mini-Ashes inside the windmill, two shots are missing from the international cut. To be honest, I did notice something was off with this scene, but since the mini-Ashes scene is so notorious for being poorly edited in the international cut, I just chalked the choppiness up to that. But apparently, the international cut's scene wasn't that poorly edited, and those two shots should be there. Well, Scream has said they'll address this soon, so we'll see.
Update 12/15/15: We've seen! Scream started a replacement program in November. If you bought the set, you can fill out this form on their website, send them proof of purchase in a separate email (yes, even if you're an international customer), and they'll mail you the corrected versions in a cardboard mailer and paper disc envelopes - good show, guys! All of the missing shots mentioned above have been restored. The triple screenshot above was taken from the replacement discs, so that's 100% confirmed. And you can tell the difference between the two discs by looking at the product number on the edge of the disc itself. The new versions have added "-V2" at the end, as shown in the picture above.

It's also worth mentioning that Scream's set has reversible cover art, however I actually kept the front one this time, as I actually like their new art - it doesn't have that cheap, independent comic book vibe like some in the past. It also has a slipcover and if you order it directly from Scream Factory, comes with a poster of the same image. And if you order it in October like I did, you also get a free set of horror movie drink coasters.
After a little hemming and hawing, I chose the Australian set over the German one because I really wanted to get the Men Behind the Army so I could finally retire that old Anchor Bay set. Little did I know that if I just waited half a year or so, a new champion would enter the arena and let me retire everything. Even after owning the "Definitive Collection," I had to upgrade to Scream Factory's new release. Best transfer, new terrific extras, the legacy extras, all three major cuts in HD plus the TV one. And though it now pales to the new full-length Medieval Dead: The Making of Army of Darkness, it's even got Men Behind the Army on it, too.