Too Many Blus: Argento's Inferno (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

1980's Inferno is officially my favorite Dario Argento film, and I've been itching to take a look at it on this site for a while.  Arrow put out a blu-ray, Blue Underground put out a blu-ray, and then a year later, Camera Obscura put out a blu-ray they'd been promising for years would be the superior, definitive edition.  Transfer controversies, unique extras, expensive imports.  How does it all shake down?  I can't live not knowing with absolute certainty, so let's break it down.
Inferno is the sequel to Argento's Suspiria, and it's a rare thing to rank a sequel above an original.  I doubt many of you would back me on that; and I'll admit the original may be a little classier, and it was more innovative for its time, just by virtue of having come out first.  Plus, that main theme by Goblin is possibly the greatest horror movie theme of all time.  But I prefer Argento stepping on the gas a little harder over the original's classier airs, and it's hard for me to get behind all those grown women playing roles written for little girls.  So for me it's Inferno all the way.  More dream logic, more adult characters, equally stunning visuals including the brilliant underwater sequence and a far-out ending.  Plus, Emerson Lake and Palmer provide just about the only score that could ever follow-up Suspiria's and not feel like a knock-off or a let-down.
Anchor Bay gave Inferno its DVD debut in 2000, with a pretty solid, anamorphic widescreen edition, with at least a couple of respectable extras.  Blue Underground re-released it in 2007, but it was essentially the same disc.  Nobody really stepped up to give Inferno the treatment it deserved until Arrow came out in 2010, with their 30th Anniversary 2-disc set (later reissued as a single disc version in 2013, and a single disc steelbook in 2014).  Then Blue Underground came through with their special edition in 2011, as separate DVD and Blu-ray releases.  Meanwhile though, since 2009, Camera Obscura had been putting out the word to fans to hold off and wait for their edition, which would be the ultimate.  And they finally came out with their 3-disc mediabook in 2012.  But is there really such a clear winner?
1) Anchor Bay 2000 DVD, 2) Arrow 2010 Blu, 3) Blue Underground 2011 DVD,
4) Blue Underground 2011 Blu, 5) Camera Obscura 2012 DVD, 6) Camera Obscura 2012 Blu.
Oh boy, where to begin?  Aspect ratio is usually a good place, I guess.  Every release is basically 1.85:1.  The original Anchor Bay DVD is a little extra-cropped, coming in at 1.83:1, and the framing is a smidgen off.  Arrow and Blue Underground, then, are the same, both at 1.85:1, but while Camera Obscura is also exactly 1.85:1, it actually has little extra picture on all four sides.  And admittedly, extra picture around the sides isn't always entirely good news, but in this case nothing seems wrong with it.  So I'll chalk it up as a small advantage for CO, but hardly a big deal.  Now let's talk detail and picture quality.
1) Arrow Blu, 2) Blue Underground Blu, 3) Camera Obscura Blu.
Okay, it goes without saying that the DVD versions are all softer and lower resolution (although the newer DVDs are distinctly sharper and clearer than the old Anchor Bay DVD; there is a very obvious distinction there), so let's just zero in on the blus.  And... there's really not a lot of difference, actually.  I'm guessing these discs are all sourced from the same root master, and it's just a question of how each label worked with it for their discs.  In that regard, Arrow loses, looking softer than the rest, even lightly DNR'd.  But the grain isn't exactly popping in any of these.  These aren't the fancy 2 or 4k scans newer blus have gotten us used to.  It's a strong master, but not on the same level as Arrow's recent Phenomena recent limited edition.  So, here Blue Underground and Camera Obscura are pretty much tied.  But I mentioned "transfer controversies," right?  Let's talk color.
1) Anchor Bay DVD, 2) Arrow Blu, 3) Blue Underground DVD,
4) Blue Underground Blu, 5) Camera Obscura DVD, 6) Camera Obscura Blu.
Some shots are pretty close, but the above is far from the only example where the colors vary wildly on certain editions.  And by "certain editions," I pretty much mean just Blue Underground's.  Suddenly that tunnel has a super strong green overcast.  Okay, sure, Anchor Bay's is also a bit red; but Blue Underground's shots look like they're from an entirely different scene.  And there are other BU scenes that make similar bold decisions.  And even in the times when all the editions more or less agree on the colors, Blue Underground's saturation and contrast are higher than the others.  Sometimes that makes the colors satisfyingly bold, but less naturalistic.  A lot of that starts to boil down to taste or preference without proof of "accuracy" for one edition or another.  But then it has to be noted that only Camera Obscura claims that their transfer was supervised and color corrected by the cinematographer, Romano Albani.  So I feel reasonably confident suggesting that Blue Underground is a little off-base with some of their judgement calls on this one.  Though I'll also say that Inferno is such a vivid, fluorescent film, that even turning a whole scene green or blue doesn't really distract from the proceedings.
Now, the old DVDs only offered us the English dub of the film.  They did give us a choice between the original stereo and a new 5.1 mix, but English was the only option, and there were no subtitles.  Happily, none of the blu-rays made this mistake, and all three give us both the Italian and English language tracks, plus optional English subtitles.  Camera Obscura, naturally, also includes German audio and subtitles as additional options.

But the precise audio options do vary.  Arrow offers three: the English in 5.1 and stereo, and the Italian in mono, all in DTS-HD.  Blue Underground has roughly the same options except they also throw in a 7.1 English mix (in addition to, not instead of, the 5.1), or a 6.1 on their DVD.  And CO gives us the English, German and Italian all in 2.0 DTS-HD.  As a purist, I could give a toss about these 5.1 (and up) remixes; I'd only really be concerned if any version left off the stereo tracks.  But if you are big on those multi-channel remixes, that's one thing you might want to count against the CO and let push you towards one of the other blus.
Now, it's time to talk about extras, and those are quite interesting in this case.  Each version has its own, unique set of extras that vary pretty strongly.  There is a bit of overlap, which I'll of course point out as we get to it, but almost all of it is not only exclusive to each release, but very different.  Like, in most cases of the same film being released in different regions with unique extras, it's still usually the same person or two being interviewed and saying almost all the exact same things.  But here, there's a lot of strong distinction.

So, originally, Anchor Bay's main feature was a brief (eight and a half minute) featurette inter-cutting interviews with Argento and Luigi Cozzi, basically giving you the bare minimum essentials.  Argento also did a quick intro for the film, plus they had the trailer, a stills gallery, and an insert with a text interview with actor Leigh McCloskey.
Then Arrow, like I said, blew it up into a 2-disc set.  They kept the Anchor Bay interview, but lost the Argento introduction, replacing it with a newer one by Daria Nicolodi.  Then there are a couple featurettes on the first disc: a new interview with Argento, an interview with Nicolodi, and curiously an interview with Cozzi about the making of his film, The Black Cat.  Bizarre because it's only tangentially related to Inferno, but I was happy to get it, as it seems like The Black Cat will never get its own proper release, so this will be our only chance at Black Cat special features.  Anyway, those are all okay, but a little on the cheap side.  The interviews mostly seem like they were quickly grabbed at conventions (except Cozzi is in his usual store), and they all have those long, animations that Arrow always used to do, where they would play out for like 2 minutes before each interview could start.  There's also a half-hour Q&A with Tim Lucas, Irene Miracle and Keith Emerson at a film screening, which is cool but very shaky, low quality camera and sound... but still very much worth the watch!

Then, the bulk of disc two is the Argento documentary An Eye For Horror.  It's a great little doc, but it's been released many times before, so there's a good chance fans already have it.  There's also an Argento trailer reel, which runs for almost forty minutes, a couple international trailers, two easter eggs of extra interview clips where Argento talks about Mario Bava and the film's title, a stills gallery, and some pretty elaborate packaging.  It comes in one of those windowed sleeves Arrow used to do all the time, with reversible artwork essentially allowing you to give it four different possible colors.  It includes a wicked double-sided poster, 6 art cards, and an 8-page booklet with notes by Alan Jones.  The single-disc reissues ditched the poster and art cards.
Then, Blue Underground comes in rather quietly with a surprisingly slim package.  In the literal sense, that means no booklet, let alone reversible artwork, cards or posters.  But even in actual disc content, it's surprisingly light.  They carry over the Argento/ Cozzi featurette from the older releases, plus the original Argento intro from the AB disc, plus the trailer.  Then all they have new or exclusive are two interviews, with actors Irene Miracle and Leigh McCloskey.  But, in BU's favor, they're both highly produced, much tighter pieces.  The interviews are quite interesting and decidedly higher quality than Arrow's stuff; I just wish there was more of it.  It's a little underwhelming for their "Special Edition."

Then we come to Camera Obscura, and they easily have the most.  It's a mediabook, and the text is all in German, but it's mostly about the cool artwork anyway.  And this is a 3-disc set, though disc 2 is just a DVD copy of disc 1, the blu-ray.  So, on those discs, they have an all new intro to the film by Argento, a photo gallery and an audio commentary by film critics Christian Kebler and Marcus Stiglegger.  Yes, that commentary is in German, but there are also optional English subtitles for the commentary track.
The real meat, though, is on the third disc.  First up is a full-length (98 minute) documentary called Of Fire and Darkness, where they talk to Romano Albani, Lamberto Bava, Luigi Cozzi, effects artists Fabio Traversari and Pierantonio Mecacci.  It goes quite in depth, but with just those five guys, not any of the major players you might expect.  That's good for serious fans who usually wouldn't get too so much from these guys, but kind of dry for casual viewers just looking for the big names, like Argento or Nicolodi.  But some of those guys do turn up in the next featurette, where we get Dario and Claudio Argento, plus actors Eleonora Giorgi and Leopoldo Mastelloni.  Then there's a featurette called Critics On Fire, which is naturally a couple of film critics dissecting the film.  But interestingly, one of them is actually Antonio Tentori, screenwriter of such films as Cat In the Brain and Island Of the Living Dead.  Then there's a brief but cool comparison of the film's locations in the film versus how they look today.  It's not quite a Horror's Hallowed Grounds episode, but I'm a sucker for these things.  Then there's the same Lucas/ Miracle/ Emerson Q&A that was on the Arrow set, and a couple of trailers.  And finally, CO throws in a bunch of easter eggs.  There are a couple of additional/ outtake interview clips from the Of Fire and Darkness doc, a weird one where Argento praises a modern indie (and clearly very Argento-influenced) giallo called Come Una Crisalide, and another weird one where two Italian filmmakers introduce the trailer for their zombie film, Eaters.
So, it's a little frustrating that it's so convoluted, without a clear all-around winner.  Like, in terms of extras, each release only talks to some people who aren't on any of the others.  CO has the most, and a lot of interesting side personnel, like the supporting actors.  But only BU has the main stars (except for Miracle's appearance in that Q&A).  But then, if you don't get the Arrow, you miss out on Nicolodi, who's one of the most important voices to hear from on this.  Tough choices!  So my personal recommendation would be the Camera Obscura set.  Ultimately, I think it has the ideal presentation of the film, plus probably the best features overall.  Plus, if you get that blu-ray for watching the actual film, you can pick up just the DVD versions of the Blue Underground and Arrow sets cheaper than buying their blu counterparts, because you'd be getting those just for the extras.  So first priority: the CO set, then one or both of the other DVDs, depending on how die-hard a fan you are.  For me, again, this is my favorite Argento, so I had to get all three, but I wouldn't expect most people to go that far.  I wish there was one release that would pool all these features together...  However yes, now that I've totally dug in and gone through the full comparison, Camera Obscura is the one I'll be watching every time I revisit the film from now on.

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