Dueling Blus: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane

Here's a nice, new release from a new DVD/ blu-ray label, Signal One. It's an early Jodie Foster thriller called The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane. This is an HD debut of a film that's been released a number of times on DVD, but never before on blu, and it's coming to us from the UK. It's also the first release with any substantial extras. So my hopes were cautiously high when I took a chance and ordered this, now let's see how happy I should be with my purchase.

Update 1/11/16 - 4/30/18: Signal One's UK blu was this film's HD debut, but a few months after I originally posted, it was issued here in the US by Scorpion Releasing, with some exciting special features.  How do the two discs stack up?
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is a smart, taught 1976 thriller based on a novel by Laird Koenig. An overwhelming majority of this film takes place in one room, so it's no surprise that this was later adapted into a stage play as well. It's also another one of those great Canadian films made in that tax shelter period where a lot of films, by directors like Bob Clark and David Cronenberg were created with a lot of creative freedom and often made to appear American. In this case, the film's meant to be set in Maine, and it passes fine enough so long as you're not intimately familiar with the locations.
Foster made this the same year as Taxi Driver, and she's perhaps even more impressive here as a 13 year-old girl who's somehow living in a large house all by herself. Naturally, people are immediately suspicious and start snooping around, from the local sheriff's deputy to a sleazy pedophile played expertly by Martin Sheen. But despite her age, Foster appears more than prepared to kill to protect her secret. Then again, she might not be the only one...
Everything about this film is surprisingly effective. The author of the original novel wrote the screenplay, so the story and dialogue is crackling. The score is subtle but effective, and the supporting cast includes 1940s studio star Alexis Smith and a particularly engaging turn by Bad Ronald's Scott Jacoby. It's very Hitchcockian in how it plays with what the audience knows or thinks it knows, and how it gets viewers wholeheartedly on the side of a killer. Horror fans expecting a a high volume of gruesome kills may be disappointed, but this certainly isn't kiddie fare either. In fact, it's pretty interesting how it's generally assumed that our society is ever-increasingly permissive; but I find it hard to imagine that this film could probably only have been made, or at least allowed into the mainstream with a PG rating and high volume of television broadcasts in this day and age. It's a unique product of the 70s.
Which brings me to the point that yes, this is the uncut "international" version on both blu-rays. The primary distinction between the international and US cut version being a brief nude scene of Foster's character (performed by a body double). However, almost all - if not entirely all - of the past DVD releases have also been the uncut version; so this shouldn't be a big revelation to most fans of the film. But it's good to know that this release is uncut.
2015 Signal One UK blu on top; 2016 Scorpion US blu bottom.
2015 Signal One UK blu left; 2016 Scorpion US blu right.
The first thing you'll notice from these screenshots is that they're virtually indistinguishable.  Which is okay, since the transfer they're clearly sharing looks great, with very natural looking colors, blacks and details. The framing is very slightly letterboxed to 1.84:1 in 1080p.  But if you really go pixel hunting, you'll see that they are different.  Signal One's disc is single layer, while Scorpion's is dual-layered.  And while Signal One's transfer takes up almost all of their their space, and Scorpion's just uses 26.1 GB (with the rest devoted to the extras), meaning it's not a very huge gap in file sizes... it still means Scorpion's just edges Signal One's out.  And I'm not just saying that based on the numbers, the grain is clear on both discs, but is just a bit more defined on Scorpion's disc, most visible in clear patches of sky, or in the shot above, pavement.  But honestly, this is a super hardcore nerd distinction I'm drawing here; I really don't believe anyone could spot the difference in motion during a blind taste test.

Signal One's LPCM and Scorpion's DTS-HD 2.0 audio tracks are similarly difficult to tell apart; both are lossless tracks are very clear and bold.  But here's the first place where one disc finally makes a clear step ahead: only the UK blu features optional English HoH subtitles.
No past release has ever had any extras apart from the trailer and/or bonus trailers. Well, the trailer is on these discs, too; and it's worth a watch in how they market this is more of a frightening horror film.  But Signal One finally started to make interesting with the inclusion of their exclusive audio commentary by Nathaniel Thompson and Tim Greer. Thompson writes for Mondo Digital and is fully prepared with a lot of information on the film, taking almost all of the weight of the commentary. Green chimes in when Thompson starts to run out of steam midway through to help keep things moving and playful. They do get a little lost, veering off onto the occasional self-indulgent tangent or two, but for the most part it's a good listen with a lot of the information viewers would want to know, like how the film differs from the book or what this film introduced to the closing credits of every major motion picture today.

So that commentary was a welcome addition to the film, but of course they couldn't top a commentary by the actual director, Nicolas Gessner, which is exactly what Scorpion managed to secure.  At first his accent feels a little thick, but you soon get used to it, and he has plenty of fun and interesting insight into his movie.  And just as impressive, if not more so, is the on-camera interview with Martin Sheen.  It runs just under a half hour, and he while yes, they do kind of slip into that career-overview lazy interview format, Sheen also has a lot of great memories to share The Little Girl.  Then the two are brought together in a brief featurette where Sheen talks to Gessner over Skype, which is nice, but short (about five minutes) and mostly fluff.  Still, it's nice they threw it on here; but the real special features are the commentary and interview.

Also, both blus have reversible artwork, each using the same two poster images.
So both discs are quite good, perfectly viable releases.  The biggest difference is definitely in the extras.  The UK commentary was nice, but Scorpion handily trumped it.  Coupled with the slightly better compression, I'd have to say it's the overall preferable options.  Unless subtitles are important to you, in which case you may be forced to go with Signal One, which again, is still a very fine disc.  For many fans, who don't particularly care about extras and whose hearing is fine, they can honestly just go with whichever release is being marketed on their side of the ocean.  And if you're wondering if it's worth getting both, unless TLGWLDTL is your absolute favorite film of all time (in which case, you'll be getting both no matter what), I'd say don't bother... the commentaries are certainly distinct, but largely redundant, repeating a lot of the same trivia and observations.  But, with that said, I double-dipped for the Scorpion disc after already having the Signal One; and I'm glad I did.

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