Back To Burial Ground, Severin Imports Another 88 Films Restoration (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

It's been long delayed, but 88 Films' restoration of Burial Ground has finally landed in the USA! If you contributed to their indiegogo campaign at the end of 2014 (it was DVDExotica's very first tweet!), you should be getting your copies now. And if you didn't, it's in stock and shipping. So it's available for all. Now, I suppose, the only question is... was it worth it?

Update 10/27/16: And now it's time for another blu-ray edition of Burial Ground, this time from Severin Films. This isn't the first time they've followed closely on 88 Film's heels with a US release of one of their Italian restorations (for that, see Zombie Holocaust, which was in the same Indiegogo campaign). That time, Severin won a lot of fan favor for their improved color timing, alternate cut of the film and impressive set of special features (though disappointingly, they lost the Italian subtitles, forcing Western audiences to stick to the English dub). But can they snatch the crown a second time?
Admittedly, Burial Ground is a B-movie. I mean, even within the realm of horror movies and 80s zombie films, it's a B. No one's ever going to refer to this film's taste or class. But it's such a fun flick. It's an Italian film that doesn't shy away from the blood and guts, provided by Fulci effects regular Gino de Rossi, and it's shot in a castle! So it's got that European Gothic flavor, including a creepy little incestuous subplot, sprinkled over essentially another Zombi knock off sequel. In fact, it was released in Japan as Zombie 3. Burial Ground's a little on the cheaper side - some of the zombies look a little more mask-y than Fulci's undead - but this film certainly delivers the mayhem, giving it a replay value many of its peers lack, even if they're maybe technically, objectively better films.
So, Andrea Bianchi's Burial Ground's been around the home video block. There are lower quality DVDs from your usual suspect labels like Vipco and Laser Paradise, as well as a non-anamorphic Italian Shock DVD. At least pretty much every release has been uncut. But probably the first really respectable release was Shriek Show's 2002 DVD, which was an anamorphic widescreen special edition, which I've got here for comparison. Shriek Show bumped it up to blu-ray with a new but mildly received transfer in 2011, and about two minutes worth of controversially missing frames. Essentially, damaged frames were removed whenever the picture cut, similar to the issue we saw on Blue Underground's blu-ray of Hell Of the Living Dead. And as in that case, the loss of visual frames is less the issue itself than what it does to the synced audio. So I held off on upgrading to that disc.

And my patience was rewarded - we hope! - with 88 Film's fresh restoration in 2016.  Their blu-ray features two transfers: a new 2k scan from a 35mm print done in the USA, described as their "alternative grindhouse version," and a new HD master taken from the original 16mm negative in Italy.  Severin's blu-ray uses that same, latter master.  Fingers and toes are crossed that this latter version fixes all past issues; I'm almost afraid to look.
One of the many frames missing from Shriek Show's blu, restored on 88's.
Before we even get into the comparative picture quality, let's talk about the trims. I can't even think about the other stuff until I answer these questions for myself. 88's running time is 85:11, as opposed to Shriek Show's 83:24, and there's no 88 Films logo or anything at the beginning padding it out; so that's a very promising sign. Unfortunately, the review that detailed all of the missing shots between the DVD and blu-ray is gone. The whole site, wtf-film.com has closed.  :(  But the post on Kentai's blog lists a few of them, and shows some of the missing frames, so I'm checking the new blu against the time codes there. And... oh thank goodness! The missing frames are there at 14:25. You do hear the chandelier exploding at 16:09, and see the shot of the zombie starting to emerge from the planter at 25:51. 88 Films came through!
Shriek Show's 2002 DVD first; 88 Film's 2016 grindhouse blu second;
88 Film's 2016 restored blu third; Severin's 2016 blu-ray fourth.
hehe  Look how some form of scratch removal
removed Mariangle's flowing white scarf in this frame.
Boy, I even prefer 88's "grindhouse" version to Shriek Show's DVD, even though the contrast is through the roof. The grindhouse version has lots of dirt flecks, especially in the beginning; but at least it preserves the film's 1.66:1 ratio. The DVD is slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1, mostly cropping the top of the image. It's also faded, soft and washed. Plus, the DVD is interlaced.
Shriek Show's 2002 DVD.
On the other hand, The new 1.66 version from the negative is clearly the best this film's ever looked. Of course, the deck was stacked against the other versions I'm showing here - in fact, the whole reason 88 included the print version may've just been to make the other look better by comparison - but no matter what context you put it in, I'm surprised the 16mm footage could look this good. It's crisper than I was expecting, and the grain looks natural and un-tampered with. I was a little nervous when I read the second transfer was coming from Italy, as opposed to the scan of the print, but I think even cynics will be pretty pleased with the results.
88 Film's 2016 restored blu left; Severin's 2016 blu-ray right.
But now in October, the question of the day is which 1.66:1 16mm negative transfer is better: 88's or Severin's?  Severin has again done some more re-timing, going for some slightly more vivid colors and higher contrast. This is definitely going to come down to personal preference, as it's essentially the same root transfer.  Myself, I like the richer colors, but the increased contrast does begin to give very slight crush to the details in extreme whites and shadows in select shots.  It's still my pick, but you really can't fault anyone for preferring either, since the margins, as you can see in the enlargement above, are pretty slim for the most part.

More good news: 88 Films has provided both the English and Italian audio tracks in LPCM 1.0, with optional English subtitles. Past releases, including Shriek Show's DVD and subsequent blu, only featured the English audio and no subtitle options. And this time, Severin has wisely followed suit, including not only both audio tracks, but this time they remembered the English subtitles!
Now let's talk extras. This is where I said hang onto your Shriek Shows, because they had a couple exclusive interviews not on 88's release. There are roughly 10 minute talks with producer Gabriele Crisanti, and actress Mariangela Giordano. Besides those Shriek Show also has a photo gallery, the trailer, some bonus trailers and an insert with liner notes by AV Maniacs' Charles Avinger and European Trash Cinema's Craig Ledbetter. Plus, on their 2011 blu-ray - but not their original 2002 DVD - they have 9+ minutes of outtakes without sound.

88's blu does not have those interviews, but they did make their own new extras, just with experts rather than any of the filmmakers. There's an audio commentary by UK critic and author John Martin, who's surprisingly negative about the film and spends most of the track ignoring it to talk about his own personal history. And there's a nearly half hour on camera interview with Mikel Coven, who wrote a book on Bianchi's films, which has a lot of interesting information. Coven really gets into Bianchi's other films, and I'm glad to have these extras (though you can really skip the commentary); but you can't top the people who were actually there.
Now so far, Severin has been running neck and neck with 88 Films, but here's where they really pull ahead. They have a bunch of new special features, and they've actually got people who worked on the film.  Most excitingly for most fans is an interview, recorded before an audience at a 2013 screening, with the one and only Peter Bark!  They show clips from some of his other work, and it's definitely a fun, if a little brief (7.5 minutes) piece fans will want to see.  There's also a nice interview with actor Simone Mattioli, and a pretty in-depth featurette about the film's dramatic villa, filmed on location.  It turns out there's a ton of film history there.  All these new extras are great, and you should definitely check them out.

And Severin has also imported the Shriek Show extras... mostly, kinda sorta.  Where Shriek Show's on-camera interviews with Crisanti and Giordano were nine and a half, and eleven minutes long, respectively, Severin has made an odd choice. They edited them together into one nine minute and twenty second featurette that cuts back and forth between them.  And it's not even like the cut out all the clips from the film; those are still in there, plus about 30 seconds worth of newly added credits.  So, on the one hand, it is a more tightly edited piece, which some viewers will prefer.  A lot of what was cut was the interviewer asking his questions.  But on the other hand, we lost about 12 minutes, which is more than half of the interviews, including a lot of the subjects' thoughts; and that's a little bit disappointing.  Now it's like, uh, do I still hang onto my Shriek Show disc?  But if you've got the Severin disc, I'd say really don't go back and double-dip for the complete interviews unless you're a super fan with a poster of Mariangela up on your wall.
from the outtakes on 88's 2016 blu.
Happily, all the blu-rays also include the outtakes, albeit without sound. They've each got the theatrical trailer, too, and 88 includes a bonus trailer for their other indiegogo restoration, Zombie Holocaust. Severin also includes the alternate Italian opening credits, which 88 has on their "grindhouse" version. 88's disc includes a postcard with alternate artwork, a 16-page booklet with liner notes by Calum Waddell (who also moderated the audio commentary), reversible cover art and an exclusive slipcover if you're one of the people who donated to the campaign.  Meanwhile, the first 3000 copies of Severin's blu come in a slipcover, and all copies have reversible cover art with the traditional giant skull face or lumbering zombie images.
And one more thing about the Severin blu-ray!  It has an alternate set of Italian language opening and closing credits tucked away on the disc.  I suspect maybe the idea was that if you selected the Italian language option in the Set Up menu, it would also branch out to give you the Italian language credits.  However, the menu is mis-programmed, so that when you select either language option from the main menu, it just leaves you stuck on the menu with no power to navigate, and playback still defaults to the film with English credits.  If anyone can get this to work on their player, let me know in the comments; but I tried it in several with no luck (in fact, my Seiki refuses to play this disc at all).  But, even if it doesn't work at all on any player, you can still get to the Italian credits by jumping to the appropriate title, so you can at least consider them another extra.
I'm quite happy with the restoration. I was confident this would give us the best version of Burial Ground to date back when I donated, but I wasn't at all sure how much better. I was prepared for just slightly less noise. Thankfully though, all of the issues seem to have been fixed, the picture's a nice upgrade and we get some fresh extras and the Italian track, all in an attractive package. I'm glad I donated.  Either of the restored blus is definitely worth upgrading to.  Which one, though?  Well, if you care about special features, then I'd say definitely Severin.  If you don't watch extras anyway, though, then the difference is so minimal and academic, I'd say just go with whichever is more local to you (88 is B locked, while Severin is all region); save yourself the import costs and region changing hassle.  It's essentially the same restoration on either disc.

7 comments:

  1. I'm holding out to see how Severin's upcoming Blu compares, but I'm ecstatic a decent version of this now exists. Easily one of the all-time Eurotrash greats.

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    1. Yeah, I'm curious to see what Severin comes up with, too. I read a comment from 88 that Severin couldn't get their transfer, but it came from Italy, so I don't see why not. Just not the film print one. So I could see them maybe getting that transfer + using the Shriek Show extras. Hopefully some new stuff as well.

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  2. I know David did a bit of filming at Villa Parisi last year -- so we should at least see a location featurette!

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    1. Oh nice! Wonder if I'm going to have to double-dip for extras.

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  3. Fantastic review as usual. Been on the fence about which version to get and now I can finally put the money down. The k you very much for the detailed review.

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  4. The Italian credits at beginning and end, can't get to therm at all, even trying what you said. Maybe I misunderstood you. Great review, site, it helps so much, I visit it all the time now (since I found it some months ago) hell, I love to see a new post whether I own or plan, at some point, to own the release in question.

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    1. Thanks! :) Yeah, those Italian credits are weird. They're definitely on the disc - you can find them easily enough if you have a blu-ray drive on your PC - but I'm not sure how they're *supposed* to be accessed. Maybe a branching option they changed their minds on at the last minute?

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