Controversial Blus: Argento and Fulci's Wax Mask, Finally! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Yay!  I can finally cross another of the few remaining non-anamorphic titles in my collection of the list.  One 7 Movies has just released Sergio Stivaletti's Wax Mask on blu-ray!  This is my first One 7 Movies disc, and to be honest, I wasn't sure how much faith I had in this outfit.  I wouldn't have been at all surprised to find out this disc was an upconvert of the old Image DVD.  I still would've taken it, though, just because it would at least fix the anamorphic issue - that's how desperate I was.  But I might as well tell you now, since the following screenshot's about to give it away anyway: this is actually a brand new, attractive HD transfer!
So 1997's Wax Mask was a pretty well-hyped late-era Italian horror title.  After a bit of a rivalry, even if it was mostly made up by/ for the press, maestros Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci were finally going to collaborate on a film together!  But tragically, Fulci didn't live to see it through.  So instead long time special effects artist Sergio Stivaletti stepped in to make his director's debut.  Fulci still gets a writing credit, though, Argento still produced, and the production values are surprisingly high for a '97 Italian horror title that wound up going essentially direct-to-video in most markets.  It's not a masterpiece; it gets pretty silly at points and it has a very bad and very 90s case of the Unfortunate CGIs.  But if you can get past its weaknesses, its strengths are pretty compelling.
Wax Mask has kind of a dual spirit to it, which is probably an intentional result of the combined styles of Argento and Fulci.  On the one hand, it's a lush, romantic throw-back to classic horror: a veritable remake of early Hollywood wax museum terrors The Mystery Of the Wax Museum, House of Wax, with similar ambitions to Argento's Phantom of the Opera and Dracula (although a league above those two movies!).  It's a period piece with fantastic locations, impressive costumes and a complex mystery plot.  But it's also happy to go to extremes with very modern, gruesome kills and effects heavy thrills.  It's sad that this film really dives headfirst into the early CGI movement with some very obvious, tacky sequences, because apart from those, the practical special effects are plentiful and look great.  This film looks and sounds beautiful, and you can tell they really threw in to not just make a respectable horror flick but a truly great movie.  This makes the boner missteps even bigger tragedies, but if you can come this with even a portion of an open mind, there's still so much showmanship on display here that viewers should have a blast.
So, for years and years, we pretty much just had Image's 2000 Euroshock Collection DVD of this title to work with.  It was widescreen, but barebones, non-anamorphic and looking pretty grubby by modern standards.  There were similar DVDs in other markets, but none were anamorphic, some were fullscreen, and all were barebones.  That's why this movie has sat on my short list of titles I've been desperate to replace (Marat/ Sade and Happiness, sadly, are still on it).  So I jumped on the pre-order as soon as I heard this blu-ray was coming, and I'm super glad I've got it now... despite some imperfections.
2000 Image DVD on top; 2017 One 7 blu-ray below.
Look at that!  You can't help but notice what a huge upgrade that is right off the bat.  It's a whole different viewing experience compared to the old DVD.  One Seven's 1.78:1 framing seems to recover a sliver of extra picture compared to the DVD's 1.74:1 picture, too.  But, some of those details look a little too sharp.  And look at the crazy autopsy tunnel shot a little further up the page, what are those edge halos all around the pipes and stuff?  It looks like Unsharpen Mask as been used heavily on the picture, giving the film an unnatural edge to its details... not in every shot, but a lot.  It's not that offensive; I've certainly seen worse, but you certainly notice it, and you feel all the more disappointed because it would've looked better if they just didn't deliberately mess with it. 
More curious is the audio.  We're given two strong 5.1 mixes - both the English and Italian tracks, plus lossy versions of the stereo and 5.1 mixes in each language (yes, that's six audio tracks total).  But at a couple small points in the English audio tracks (and yes, all three; I checked) the audio reverts to Italian.  Just for a couple lines and it doesn't prevent you from following the story, but it's distracting and weird.  Especially weird because the Image DVD has the English dub for those moments, so it's not like those bits were never dubbed with the rest of the picture or anything.

And to add to the frustration, there are no subtitle options!  Therefore, the Italian audio options are useless for non-Italian speakers.  Now admittedly, both dubs are equally mediocre.  They both feature a lot of flat readings, and even for the opening scenes set in 19th century Paris, nobody bothers to attempt French accents for any of the characters.  So if you're disappointed by the English dub, I can at least assure you're not missing much better on the Italian side.  But it's pretty stupid - or more accurately cheap - not to have subtitles here.
At least One Seven comes through in the extras department.  Nothing massive, but a little good stuff at least.  Image's old DVD had nothing but a stills gallery.  That's gone and I don't miss it.  In its stead, One Seven gives us two collections of edited behind-the-scenes video footage.  The first runs a solid 23 minutes, and gives us a glimpse of filming nearly every sequence in the movie.  Then there's a second one, 13 minute one that focuses more specifically on the creation of the special effects.  We learn that Dario Argento was often on-set and hands on, and that Tom Savini contributed his head to this film(!).  We see some pretty impressive set pieces and clearly expensive camerawork, and the featurettes are judiciously edited, moving from one scene to the next at a rapid pace, so it's never boring.  Subtitles for some of the incidental conversations would've been nice, but still, these are cool to have.
So yeah, this isn't a five star, perfect little blu-ray.  It's overly processed and light on care (like subtitles).  But it's a very fun movie and by far the best way to view it.  You could try holding out for someone like Arrow to really do it justice in another market, I suppose.  But considering the neglect Wax Mask's been shown on home video all these years prior, I wouldn't expect any fancy special editions anytime soon.  Just like the movie, the blu-ray doesn't need to be impeccable to be thoroughly enjoyed.

2 comments:

  1. Was holding off on buying this until on of the more respectable sites gave it a thorough run through. Thank you!

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  2. Would be interested to see comps on how this compares with the German Blu.

    ReplyDelete