Finally, The Warlock Films from Vestron (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Yes, I have been waiting for this one for a very long time!  Warlock is a pretty major horror film.  Maybe not quite on the level of Dracula or The Exorcist; but certainly one of the best known, highly regarded, successful horror flicks that's still never had a special edition.   In fact, in the US. all we've had is a hideous, fullscreen, barebones DVD (more on that below) from Trimark.  But finally, thanks to Lions Gate Vestron line continuing to do justice to their long-neglected catalog titles, it's a packed, special edition blu-ray.  And it's packed with the sequels, too!
1989's Warlock is as much a fantasy adventure as it is a horror film.  You really feel the production values as two 17th century nemeses chase each other into modern times in this thoroughly eccentric battle of good and evil.  The star power is evenly split between Julian Sands (Boxing Helena, A Room With a View) as Satan's cunning servant, and Richard E. Grant (Withnail & I, Twelfth Night) as his sort of Van Helsing expert witch hunter.  Caught between them is Footloose's Lori Singer as a cheerful valley girl who's forced to pursue the warlock across the country after he curses her with an aging spell.  Besides, if they don't stop him, he's going to end the world.
Sands is super cool as one of horror's great villains, and there's so much fun to be had from a smart script that plays with a wide variety of witchcraft law, from hex signs to nailing footprints.  It stays a little darker and more serious than director Steve Miner's previous horror masterwork, House, but there's more than your usual dollop of humor in both the characters and the situations.  But thankfully everyone's smart enough to play it with a straight face, particularly Grant, who brings enough talent to keep a character grounded that would veer much too far off into the silly in another actor's hands.  And speaking of great actors, we've also got Mary Woronov (Eating RaoulScenes From the Class Struggle In Beverly Hills) in a great cameo as a psychic who Sands pays a visit on to get acclimated in the modern world.  There's just too much to enjoy in this film; you don't want it to end.
a glimpse of the deleted scene from the trailer
Now, speaking of Woronov's character, we fans have to ask with every Warlock release if this will restore her lost death scene.  There's only ever been one cut of the film released, theatrically or on home video, but it's well known that Miner shot a wild, effects-heavy death for Woronov that had to be cut out for their R rating.  Pictures were posted in Fangoria, heck, there's a snippet of it in the film's theatrical trailer.  Well, before this set's release, I reached out to Michael Felsher, head of Red Shirt Pictures, about this scene and he responded, "[w]e looked extensively for this scene but could not find it, but the Bluray does contains several photos and behind-the-scenes FX video that show images from that sequence.  Wish we could have found the whole thing."  So no, sad to say that scene's not here; but at least we now know that footage is truly lost, and it's not just a case of Trimark being too disinterested to reinstate it.  ...And we get a pretty good look at it now in the special features.
So, like I said, here in the US we've been suffering with Trimark's 2000 fullscreen, barebones DVD as our sole release of Warlock.  I mean, just look at it down there below.  At least, overseas, there were some equally barebones but restored widescreen editions.  In fact, I've got Second Sight's UK DVD from 2011, so we can add that to the comparison.  There have been barebones blu-rays, too, in places like Australia and Germany.  But those have been rendered fairly obsolete now, thanks to Vestron's fancy, 2017 2-disc 3-film Collector's Series blu-ray set that's just being released this week.
2000 US Trimark DVD top; 2011 UK Second Sight DVD mid; 2017 Vestron blu bottom.
So wow, yeah.  For anybody who can't or won't import, this couldn't be any more essential of an upgrade.  Look at that ugly, dark, 1.30:1 Trimark disc.  It looks like it's ripped from a fuzzy laserdisc that was itself pulled off a tape.  The only positive thing to say about it is that, because it's fullscreen, the vertical mattes are lifted and we get more picture information on the top and bottom.  But it's all excessive, with crazy headroom, boxy framing, and all at the cost of lost information chopped off the sides.  This new Vestron blu, though, is clearly not sourced from a new master.   It's a respectable HD picture, but not on the same level as the fancy 4k masters we've been getting recently like with Arrow's Phenomena and Studio Canal's Mulholland Drive.  Comparing it to the Second Sight DVD, it seems to be the same 1.85:1 master that all the modern discs have been sourced from.  Of course, Second Sight's release being a DVD means Vestron's is superior by virtue of being a cleaner, stronger image.  The only other difference seems to be that Vestron's looks to be a bit better color corrected, which is nice.  But yeah, Vestron seems to have a strong "if it ain't broke" policy to their transfers, so this is perfectly fine but short of impressive.  Unless you're comparing it to the Trimark DVD, of course, in which case it's a friggin' revelation.

Audio-wise, both DVDs have fairly basic Dolby stereo tracks.  Trimark at least gave us optional English and Spanish subtitles, which Second Sight neglected.  Vestron bumps that stereo mix up to lossless DTS-HD and, as always, provides optional English and Spanish subtitles.  I think the Spanish subs are new for Vestron?
Extras is where Vestron is really playing to win.  Trimark's DVD was barebones with nothing but the trailer and a pair of bonus trailers, and Second Sight didn't even have that, managing to take that extra step backwards.  But Lions Gate has again brought in the excellent Red Shirt Pictures to create something really great.  We get a terrific audio commentary by director Steve Miner, moderated by Nathaniel Thompson, and another one of their patented score tracks, which plays the film's soundtrack for the first half and interviews the composer.  Though in this case, the interview is with author Jeff Bond, who writes books about film scores - an understandable substitution, since Warlock has a score by none other than Jerry Goldsmith.  Then Steve Miner gives us an additional on-camera interview, as does star Julian Sands (who totally spoils Warlock 2, so watch that first!), as well as make-up effects artists Carl Fullerton and Neal Martz.

Then there's the aforementioned "behind-the-scenes FX" stuff Mr. Felsher mentioned.  In fact, there's a wealth of vintage material here: vintage effects featurette, vintage making of featurette, vintage on-set interviews, behind-the-scenes footage...  And you might think, okay, little throw-away promo featurettes, big whoop; but one of these runs as long as 41 minutes(!), so they cover a lot of ground.  There are also two different trailers, a couple TV spots, and a photo gallery.  The only frustrating thing about all this archival material is if the studio already had all this, why wasn't any of it on the DVD?  FFS, Trimark.  Oh well, the past is past, and now we've got all this great old and new Warlock content.
Our favorite male witch returns in 1993's sequel Warlock: Armageddon, directed by Anthony Hickox.  Hickox seems to take a lot of flack from horror fans, but his films are always a lot of fun without shying away from the dark side, so I'm a fan.  And he does a great job with the warlock character.  Unfortunately, Richard E. Grant wasn't interested in sticking around for sequels, but Sands is more than able to shoulder the extra weight and carry even more of the film himself.  This time around, he has to collect some magical gems to resurrect Satan, and Hickox manages to make each trip feel like a distinct little film: the high-end fashion world, the crazy circus world.  It's almost like an anthology film all tied together by a through-put narrative of Sands' quest and our heroes training to stop him.
That does bring us to Armageddon's weakest spot.  The elders who reunite once they hear of the warlock's return are fun, feeling a lot like Patrick Macnee's gang in the Waxwork films.  But their young charges, including Hellraiser 3's Paula Marshall, are on some awful milquetoast teeny bopper Dawson's Creek vibe.  You just want them to die horribly, but you know they won't.  So this film isn't as consistent as the original Warlock, but the original film's tone meshes perfectly with Hickox's sensibilities, and the high points really are great.  I mean, Sands' introduction in this film may owe a small debt to Xtro, but it's fantastic, even outshining anything seen in the first film.  And it's topped off with a great cameo by Zach Galligan.  Warlock: Armageddon is like the dictionary definition of "worthy sequel."
Like the first Warlock, Trimark released part two as a barebones DVD 2000, though at least it was widescreen this time.  And again, that was all we ever got in America.  Germany did put out a barebones blu-ray in 2015, but by the time that started making its way stateside, I think most of us were holding out for this Vestron set.
Trimark 2000 US DVD on top; Vestron 2017 US blu-ray below.
So Trimark did better with this film, giving us an anamorphic widescreen transfer.  But looking at it recently, it's pretty murky.  It was slightly windowboxed to a ratio of 1.82:1, losing a bit on all four sides compared to Vestron's 1.78:1 blu.  Again, it's a little soft and looks like an older master with a slightly dull palette.  I haven't seen it, but I assume the German blu is from the same source, which Lions Gate probably made even years earlier than that.  But again, hey, compared to the DVD we'd been stuck with, it's a huge leap forward in terms of clarity and color.  The Trimark disc looks like you're viewing the Vestron disc through wax paper.

Trimark again gave us a good Dolby 2.0 stereo mix with optional subtitles (including English, Spanish and French).  And Vestron again bumps that stereo track up to DTS-HD and gives us optional English and Spanish subtitles.  A lot of labels skimp on the subtitles, so I'm happy to see Vestron being so consistent on that front.
Red Shirt really poured all their love into the first Warlock, but not so much the sequels.  But since they already recorded commentaries with Hickox for the Waxwork films, I just knew they couldn't leave us hanging here.  And thankfully they didn't.  It's another fun (and in this case funny) audio commentary from Hickox, who's surprisingly forthcoming about what he feels doesn't work in this film, which is a lot ...and in the case of some of those prehistoric CGI shots and dippy teen "Jedi" scenes, it's hard to disagree.  But that commentary's all the new content we get.
However, we do get more vintage material.  The old DVD featured nothing but the trailer, and that's been ported over here.  But we also get a vintage 'making of' featurette, on-set interviews, behind the scenes footage, TV spots and a stills gallery.  Again, I can't help but wonder why we never got this stuff on the DVD.  Heck, I probably would've coughed it up to import the German blu if they'd slapped it on there.  But oh well, we've got it all now, and that's all that matters.
Now, I was tempted to refer to these films as the Warlock trilogy in this post title, but I couldn't bring myself to do it because of this film.  1999's Warlock III: The End of Innocence's most overt crime is carrying on without Julian Sands.  That would be like making a Freddy Krueger film without Robert Englund or a Pinhead without Doug Bradley.  Yeah, I know they actually did both of those things, but looked how they turned out.

But actually, Sands' replacement Bruce Payne is the best thing about this film.  He's not quite as good as Julian, but he comes reasonably close enough, or at least as good as they could've hoped to manage.  No, what's so off-putting about this film is just about everything else.  It's a lame story that feels as much like a Skinemax softcore flick as a tale of witchcraft.  It's got the worst bunch of wannabe MTV rejects for character fodder, and it's all set in one lame, haunted house set to try to deal with its budgetary problems.  This was shot in a foreign country trying to pass for America, and it certainly shows.
In fact, it was shot in Ireland, and I think they should've owned that.  Run around, shoot all the interesting and old world-y locations they could.  That would've at least given this film some production values and unique character.  All they used was a tiny bit of woods, which frankly, I could match just by shooting next to the railroad tracks in my hometown.  This movie has no direct connection to the previous Warlock films anyway (another failing), so why not make it an Irish warlock with some unique lore to spice things up a bit?  Instead they're tucked away in an obvious set trying to look as generic as possible, so Blockbuster Video patrons in America don't get a whiff of it being foreign.  Seriously, Ashley Lawrence walked away from the Hellraiser films to make this?  And Mikey?
Honestly, though, until now, I'd only ever seen this film on VHS.  And seeing it on blu, in its proper aspect ratio and decent picture quality, actually helps it some.  The film actually has a decent, if modest, look to it that was lost on the fullscreen video, and even the special effects look better than I remember them.  They're not amazing, but like that fire effect and all?  Not so shabby.  It's not a good movie, but it's not as offensively bad as I remember.  It's more just mediocre, but kind of nice to have in this set if you think of it as more of an extra itself rather than a whole third movie.  You know, watch it as a curiosity piece for Warlock fans and round out the collection.

No comparisons here, because I never copped Warlock 3 on DVD because it's Warlock 3.  But Trimark did put it out in 2000 (in fact, they issued all three Warlock films on the same day: September 12th).  And from what I've read online, it was non-anamorphic widescreen, and absolutely barebones.  And there are no HD imports for this one.  Vestron's set is The End of Innocence's blu-ray debut.
Vestron's 2017 US blu.
Like Armageddon, The End of Innocence is open matte at 1.78:1 instead of 1.85:1.  It looks like a slightly older master, too, like the other films (and most Vestron titles), but maybe a little nicer... possibly just because it's a slightly more modern film.  Grain resolution still isn't what one would hope, but it's a bit better than Armageddon.  Nothing amazing, but nothing's wrong, and they still certainly trump DVDs.  Especially Trimark's crap, which it's a delight to replace with this set.

Ever consistent, Vestron again gives us the Dolby Stereo track in DTS-HD with optional English and Spanish subtitles.  Again, no DVD to compare it to, but it all sounds quite good and clear here.
Warlock 3 has no new Red Shirt features, which is understandable but disappointing.  A commentary or a few interviews where the a couple of the cast or crew gave an honest retrospective about this film might've been more interesting than the movie itself.  But we do get another nice collection of vintage EPK stuff again, at least.  This time, their on-set interviews run almost 45 minutes long!  Yeah, it's a lot of fluff, softball promotional Q&A, but at least they cover some extra ground, and some interesting moments pop up here and there.  There's also a brief but interesting bit of behind-the-scenes footage, plus a trailer, a promo video, and a stills gallery.  Oh, and like all Vestron releases, this set comes in a spiffy slipcover.
So at the end of the day, I'm grinning to be holding this set.  I've been waiting decades for a special edition of the Warlock films, and it's finally here.  And while the HD presentations warranted a little nitpicking, they're far from cutting edge, but they're still respectable blus.  Like if I was in the business of giving letter grades, these would be in the B-range, not in danger of failing ...unlike those dirty Trimark DVDs.  Thank goodness we're replacing them.  I hope this Vestron line never ends, because there's so many more titles Lions Gate is sitting on, including a couple I've written about already, like Nightwish and Eyes of Fire.  But today I'm just happy the Warlock films have finally come home.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review!

    I share your frustration that none of the material made before the films release was ever put on any of the previous dvd's.

    As a huge fan of this movie, this release is a dream come true. Though it's unfortunate they could not find any of the deleted scenes.
    It looks like they didn't even have all the photos any longer either. There are quite a few more that I have that were not on this release.
    It even looks like they had to scan in the one photo of the channeler's broken body from the Fangoria that covered the film at the time of it's release.
    There are also a few supplemental trailers and tv spots that are missing from this release.
    Along with that, I wish they had done a new scan of the trailer's.
    Still, I'm beyond thrilled that this release exists!

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