The Freshly Remastered Anthropophagous From 88 Films (DVD/ Blu-Ray Comparison)

And we have another new, restored blu-ray release from 88 Films, this time it's Joe D'Amato's most successful horror flick, spelled here as Anthropophagous. I also have this on DVD, where it's spelled Antropophagus, but the most common spelling seems to meet those two in the middle with Anthropophagus. However the heck you're supposed to spell it, the word apparently means cannibal, which is certainly fitting for this nutty film.

Update 8/6/15 -  8/26/17: And we're back, with an all new Remastered Special Edition blu-ray release of Anthropophagus from 88 Films.  Wait a minute, didn't we just say 88 Films had come out with a blu-ray restoration in 2015?  Yup, but they felt they could do better, so as the final entry in their second indiegogo campaign (which also included the sequel to Anthropophagus, Absurd) we have a new version in 2017 with a fresh 2k scan, "extensive colour correction," new special features and some other improvements.
But this isn't your typical Italian "cannibal film" about a native jungle tribe... This is actually set in a very interesting little Greek island town. A couple of young tourists, including Tisa Farrow, sail over for a short vacation, only to find the entire town abandoned. Eventually they do find one or two inhabitants, or more accurately survivors, who seem to have gone a bit funny since of their locals, George Eastman, has turned into a completely insane and even somewhat monstrous killer. The film can be a bit flat and plodding, with a lot of these bland vacationers wandering around empty locations, but Eastman's character has a perfect, memorably horrible look. And when the film finally does come around to its shock sequences, they're rather effective and a couple are particularly over the top, giving this film a nice touch of infamy. It's one of those movies where people who've seen it probably won't remember it too well, but they'll be like, "was this the film where ____ happened?" And oh yes, it's that movie. Those few moments are certainly etched into the memories of everyone who's seen it and they're really what everybody who's interested in this release are here for. And at least there's some interesting scenery during all that time in between.
Now, a lot of people were naturally comparing it to Shriek Show's previous release of the film; but that's not the one I went with back in the day. I used to have an old German DVD from Astro that was taken from a VHS source, but when I upgraded from that, instead of picking up Shriek Show's cropped 1.78:1 DVD, I imported the Italian DVD from Beat Records. It's a two disc set with some extras, which I'll get into, and kept the film more open at 1.66:1. It's debatable which of the two DVDs is better, but the real question these days is how it the blus rate against the older DVD - how much ground did we gain?  And then, of course, how much does the new one really improve matters?
2005 Beat Records DVD top; 2015 88 Films blu middle; 2017 88 Films blu bottom.
So 88 has kept the more open, 1.66:1 ratio (or, to be more accurate, the DVD is 1.66 and both blus are 1.67), leaving all three discs slightly pillar-boxed. Despite having the same ratio, however, we see the framing is slightly shifted on all three versions, with tiny slivers of extra picture on the blu-rays. The colors are kind of flat plus a bit brown on the DVD and green, on the 2015 blu. 88's new color correction really pays off, definitely making this the best I've ever seen the film look, with nice shadows and natural, more vivid colors.
2005 Beat Records DVD left; 2015 88 Films blu middle; 2017 88 Films blu right.
There's still not a wealth of additional detail or anything here. It might strike viewers as a little underwhelming. But getting in close, we see maybe not new information, but even the 2015 blu isn't nearly so splotchy and messy as the grungy DVD. It's definitely a crisper, cleaner image.  But grain looks weird, somehow smoothed down yet digital.  This is definitely not the case on the new 2017 blu, which has very natural and distinct film grain.  I feel like maybe the people doing the 2015 master were worried about how grainy the film is and tried to fidget with the settings to tone it down.  It's 16mm, so the movie's only going to look so clear no matter what you do.  Certainly the image is very alive on the version, but now it's properly film-like, and it does allow small details to pull through a little more, or at least clarifies what was already there on the previous versions.
2015 blu left; 2017 blu right.
Both of 88's blus also have both the original mono English audio and the Italian mono audio with optional English subs. Unlike Zombie Holocaust, that's not so new - both Shriek Show and Beat Records' DVDs already had both options. But it's still the best way to present the film. I should note that the opening scene with the German tourists is not subtitled or dubbed into English on 88's 2015 blu. Beat's DVD subtitles the second half of the scene, after they sit down on the rocks, but not the first half as they walk down the beach. But thankfully, 88's new 2017 blu subtitles the whole thing. Yay! In fact, as you can see in the differences between the two shots above, 88 has gone through and re-translated all the English subtitles for this new version to be more accurate.
Now, labels have always had a hard time coming up with extras for Anthropophagus. Shriek Show just had an interview with Eastman and a general featurette on D'Amato's career, and that's pretty much the best anyone's achieved. The DVD I've got comes close to tying them, however. It its own Eastman interview, which is pretty fun; and a 12 minute D'Amato featurette, including a brief on-set interview where he's working on a film called The Monk. And since Beat Records is also a record label, there's a feature called "Best Of," which is a collection of music tracks from D'Amato soundtracks. Those are the main things, though there's also a useless photo gallery which just consists of stills from the film, but framed in a small, distorted "TV screen" image making the whole endeavor completely pointless, a text-only filmography and trivia, and the trailer. Oh, and it has a nice double insert with some cool poster images.
42nd St. Memories
And 88? Well, I think this is another one of the reasons they've gotten flack for the 2015 disc. There are practically no extras directly pertaining to the film at hand. There is, however, one big extra, which is pretty cool... it's just very indirectly related to Anthropophagus. It's called 42nd Street: The Rise and Fall of America's Most Notorious Block. They don't even mention Anthropophagus as one of the countless films that potentially played on 42nd St, so there's really no direct connection at all. It's not a topic I was particularly keen on, and it doesn't connect to the film you just bought, but it is a feature length film and they interview a heck of a lot of interesting people, including: William Lustig, Joe Dante, Lloyd Kaufman, Roy Frumkes, Frank Henenlotter. Lynn Lowry, Larry Cohen and a bunch more. I would've preferred to hear these guys talk about their films than the street, but it's still worth the watch. Besides that, there's just a couple trailers (including a bonus trailer for Zombie Holocaust, which is unskippable at start-up), an alternate set of opening credits in Italian, four neat little postcards with different poster art, some cool reversible art, and a sweet slipcover.
old content left; new content right.
So what does the Special Edition add to the proceedings?  Well, first and foremost is a brand new interview with George Eastman.  And I have to admit, after Beyond the Darkness and Absurd sharing the same George Eastman (and Michelle Soavi) interview across both discs, I was worried we'd be getting the same thing a third time.  But happily, no, this is an all new interview... or partially new, anyway.  The interview for Absurd was just under 15 minutes long, and this new one is over half an hour long, of two different interviews (he's shot from different angles and wearing different shirts, so it's obvious) intercut together.  One of those two is new, and the other is the old one, and the editing jumps back and forth between the two.  So basically, we get an all new one inter-spliced with with older content, though the older interview is the only one where he talks about Anthropophagus (as opposed to D'Amato, Laura Gemser and other films), so you can see why they incorporated it.
the deleted scene
Next up is an interview with film historian Alessio di Rocco.  A drier, academic look at Anthropophagus?  No, this is actually a very short (three minutes) set-up of the next extra they have on here, a "never before seen deleted scene."  So Alessi sets up why it was shot and why it's not in the final film, and then the scene itself is quick but pretty cool.  It's not in the same quality as the rest of the film (it's the shot above), but also in 1.66, Italian with optional English subtitles.  Then you get the alternate Italian opening and closing credits and a collection of trailers showcasing this film's multiple titles.  This 2017 version also has reversible artwork and a very nice, felt-like slipcover.
So, the new blu is a real improvement on the old one in pretty much every department.  Some of us were definitely questioning why 88 chose to remaster a title they'd just recently released as opposed to one of so many titles still needing a release, but the results speak for themselves.  This was more than worthwhile.  If you don't already own this film, this is no question the version to get; though of course, it depends on how much of a fan you are of this film, will determine if you think it's worth double-dipping.  Plus, you may want to hang onto the 2015 for the collectible status (limited edition slipcover, cards, etc) and even more so for the 42nd St. doc, which to be clear is not on the 2017 release. ...You can also find it on the Grindhouse blu-ray release of Pieces, though.  But 88 has really done a first class job here; I'm really pleased to have contributed to the campaign seeing these results.

Ghostkeeper, Back To Haunt You (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Code Red has rapidly been re-releasing their DVD catalog onto blu (and I really hope they don't stop before they get to The Carrier!), the latest of which is the atmospheric Canadian horror Ghostkeeper.  And just to amuse myself, I decide to change the format of this review a little bit as a throwback to my coverage of Redeemer, my very first DVD/ Blu-ray comparison on this site, which was another unusual Code Red quasi-slasher.

1981's Ghostkeeper is in a lot of ways, a low budget version of The Shining.  Three characters get snowed in at a giant, closed down lodge, only to suspect that they may be sharing the space with some unearthly staffers.  And like The Shining, it's a question right up to the end of how much of the menace is supernatural, and how much of it is their mental health and them being a danger to themselves.  But it's not only akin to Kubrick's film in terms of premise.  Like The Shining, Jim Makichuk's film is a slow burn, getting a lot of mileage out of a terrific location and surrounding snowy landscapes.  And as with that film, the bulk of the weight is placed on the dramatic performances rather than effects or shocks.  Not that this cast is quite on par with Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duval, but they're pretty strong for virtual unknowns; and the film veers far enough away that this film manages to stand on its shadow as something different and more than just a Shining knock-off.
2012 Code Red DVD on top; 2017 Code Red blu below.
Despite the back of the blu-ray case claiming 1.85:1, both versions are 1.78:1.  But there's more going on here than just the same master being upgraded to blu.  The original 2012 30th Anniversary DVD gave us a "brand new master from the only surviving 35mm print," and the new blu describes itself as a "2016 HD Scan of the only surviving vault element."  Looking at the framing, you can tell it's a new scan because it has slightly altered framing (the blu is a pulled out just a smidge further).  That "vault element," though, appears to be the same print as the DVD, as it shares a lot of the same print damage.  But then again, a lot of the print damage has been cleaned up, and as you can see in the second set of shots, a few bits of damage are unique to the blu-ray transfer.  In short, though, the blu-ray is a lot cleaner with substantially less chemical marks, dirt, scratches and pops in the soundtrack than the DVD had.

While the HD naturally sharpens some softness and clarifies edges (grain is very natural here), there isn't a whole lot of new detail pulled out of this fresh scan.  The biggest difference you'll notice between the two versions is actually the color timing.
DVD left; blu-ray right.
The DVD has a definite greener push that the blu-ray corrects.  Hey, just like with Redeemer!  The green push wasn't quite as bad on the Ghostkeeper DVD, but it's still a pretty pronounced difference comparing the two formats.  The white of the snow makes it pretty obvious and easy to spot the difference, but actually it plays an even more important role in the dark scenes, of which there are many.
DVD left; blu-ray right.
This movie has some issues with the black levels.  I'm not sure if it's due to the aged print or if they just had trouble shooting it, but a lot of this film is super dark, and in order to see what's going on, the filmmakers clearly brightened the shots to the point where the blacks are very grey.  And on the DVD, they often looked downright yellow.  So the blu's new color timing really makes the film look better in these scenes.
DVD left; blu-ray right.
In the regular daytime scenes, it's not such a critical difference.  In fact, there are a handful of shots where I might've actually preferred the DVD's colors.  But very rarely.  For the most part, it's a consistent, solid improvement.  In fact, if anything, I think they could've taken it further.
DVD left; blu-ray right.
To be fair, the above is the worst shot in the movie, and it never again looks quite this bad.  But the blu-ray's colors here just barely help.  It can be a tricky line, deciding when it's okay to tamper for a DVD label to tamper with a film's look in a creative way, versus just presenting it accurately, warts and all.  But I can't help but think a label like Synapse might've been brought down the darks in scenes like this.  Pre-digital, it would've been a lot harder, but these days, you can really bring down the darks without necessarily darkening the whole shot and losing what image there is.  Seeing Ghostkeeper with genuine blacks - and blacks that match shot to shot - would really help the film, I think.  If they had access to the original negatives, none of this would likely be an issue anyway.  But as it is, even for a transfer taken from a print, it still feels like we're watching a slightly damaged product here.
On the other hand, the film's opening text has been really neatened up.
Unlike Redeemer, Code Red's DVD of Ghostkeeper had some terrific extras, and thankfully they've all been carried over.  There's an excellent audio commentary with the writer/director and the two main protagonists, Riva Spier and Murray Ord.  Then both versions list a "featurette" on the case, but really give us two separate interviews, one with co-star Georgie Collins (the ghostkeeper herself), and an audio-only one that plays as a sort of mini-audio commentary over select footage by the DP, John Holbrook.  Both versions also include a couple bonus Code Red trailers (including Cut & Run on the blu).  But the blu-ray adds something new to the mix, too.  An opening scene that was tacked onto the home video release of this film, depicting an unrelated character getting chased and killed, presumably by the Windigo, outside the lodge.  It's clearly just taken from a video source, full-frame and interlaced; and the director never wanted this scene added to his film.  But it's very cool to get to see it as a special feature.
So the blu-ray is a nice upgrade of a nice little film.  It still's not quite showroom floor material, but it's probably the best Ghostkeeper will ever look, and I'm really glad Code Red stuck on that alternate opening.  I was on the fence about upgrading this one when it was announced, because the DVD isn't that old and still looks pretty good.  But I'm glad I bit the bullet.  It's not the 100% ideal restoration I was picturing in my dreams with natural, silky shadows, but it's a nice improvement.

M.I.A.: The Best Unreleased Horror Anthology, The Willies

To be clear, I'm not saying The Willies is the best horror anthology ever.  I'm not saying it's a greater artistic achievement than Tales From the Crypt, Black Sabbath or Creepshow.  But I am saying it's the best horror anthology yet to be released (and no, the Echo Bridge DVD doesn't count, for reasons you're about to see); and even more than that, I'd say it's better than a lot of the amusing but weaker anthology flicks we've been enjoying from labels like Scream Factory and Code Red lately, i.e. After Midnight, Nightmares, Encounter With the Unknown or Screams of a Winter Night.  Those are all fun, but The Willies is more fun.  I think some people are put off by the fact that it's PG-13.  It's even been packaged with children's films.  But that is just flat out wrong.  The Willies is actually the darkest and most twisted of all the films I've mentioned so far.  Its low budget does show, but apart from that, it's a kick.
The Willies is written and directed by none other than Scuz of Return Of the Living Dead fame, Brian Peck (and for those of you whose hands just shot up in the air, I know, and I'll come back to that).  And it's pure EC Comics: entertaining and gross stories of human weakness culminating in twist endings, poetic justice and monsters.  It's got a simple but effective wrap-around where a bunch of kids - including Samwise himself, Sean Astin - out camping at night telling each other spooky stories.  Then the structure gets a little unusual.  Instead of an film evenly divided into three or four stories, they build up in length.  So we start with little short vignettes: i.e. an old lady's poodle gets wet and she decides to dry it off by putting it in the microwave.  That's it; runs about two minutes, but it does set a more honest tone of the kind of stories kids would tell each other.  Then you've got a standard-length story about a kid who finds a monster in the school bathroom, reminiscent of Stephen King's tiger story in Skeleton Crew.  Then, finally there's a surprisingly long story that takes up more than half the film's running time.  Fortunately, it's pretty great; about a maladjusted kid who makes dioramas out of flies.
One thing that helps set this 80s anthology apart from many of its peers, besides its writing, is it's excellent cast.  The kids give surprisingly strong performances for unknown child actors, and some dependable veterans show up in supporting roles, including fellow Return Of the Living Dead alums James Karen and Clu Gulager, Twin Peaks' Kimmy Robertson and Dana Ashbrook, Kathleen Freeman and a whole bevy of television sitcom and character actors, including Kirk Cameron and Tracey Gold in one of the most surprising, how-were-they-able-to-clear-that? cameos in horror history.  Every minor role has an extensive resume, though you'd have to have been watching television in the 80s to recognize most of them.  But even if you don't, it still gives the production a solid, professional air that's only countered a bit by the film's special effects.  And it just has some weird vibes.  For example, you've got a farmer dressed up like something out of Hee-Haw, suggesting they're trying to make a safer Goosebumps-like "entry horror" film for younger audiences, but then it's mixed with more adult sensibilities.  I actually kind of like this unusual mix-match of tones, but then it's genuinely disturbing when you let yourself consider who made it.
Alright, ugh.  I guess let's just address this now and get it over with.  I'm a big believer in separating the art from the artist and have zero interest in celebrity gossip or the filmmakers' personal lives.  But whenever I see fans on forums wondering why we haven't gotten a decent special edition of The Willies yet, it's hard not to assume at least part of the reason is that the film's writer/ director is a convicted child abuser.  Now, admittedly, we still get plenty of quality Polanski discs, and nobody seems to be boycotting the X-Men movies, but Scream got some blow back recently with their Jeepers Creepers editions, and frankly, I can't exactly say those reactions are unwarranted.  So I would still like to see this film get a quality release.  After all, it represents the work of a whole ton of talented artists who never did anything to anyone, and again, if we can get fancy blus of everything from Chinatown to Dark House, and Scuz can host the More Brains documentary, there's no reason to single The Willies out.  But you can certainly understand why DVD artisans don't rush to this one as opposed to any catalog title.
So The Willies isn't technically unreleased, but as you've been seeing in the screenshots, what we've got looks like a fuzzy, old VHS tape.  It's an old barebones DVD from Echo Bridge, and they've reissued it many times, but it's always just a repackaging of the same product.  There's the standard solo disc, the aforementioned Kid-Approved Collector's Set, a version paired up with a film called Under Wraps, and a version that comes with a CD of scary sounds.  I kind of regret not going for the one with the CD.  But as far as The Willies itself, there's really only one option, and it's not pretty.
2008 Echo Bridge DVD
So yeah, it's a boxy ol' 1.31:1 fullscreen transfer.  It doesn't look terribly well shot, with lots of flat, boring close-ups; but maybe seeing the film restored would fix that to some degree.  It wouldn't be the firts horror film people assumed was shot poorly due to a terrible transfer.  But for now, it's just ugly on top of ugly.  And let's see, what else can we throw at it to make it be worse?  Interlacing?  Yes, it's got that, too.  But hey, the picture's so soft, it almost smudges that out.  Um, yay?  Also the colors are faded with plenty of grey blacks.  The audio's not as fuzzy as you might expect looking at the screenshots, but it's not exactly high fidelity.  And of course there are no subtitle options, alternate audio mixes or special features of any kind.  No trailers, no nothin'.  This is as no frills as it gets.
On the upside, these discs aren't exactly rare.  They're all over the place, plentiful and cheap as dirt.  Unfortunately, that's not all they have in common with dirt.  These are nothing more than place holders and they've been holding this film's place long enough.  Somebody's got to come around and restore this film already; it's killin' me!

The Return Of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre 4: The Next Generation

It was only a matter of time before I posted about this film.  Kim Henkel's Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (originally known as Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre; look and you'll see it still has that title at the end of the closing credits) is the fourth and last film in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre films.  Afterwards, there were reboots, and an even an unofficial sequel to this installment known as Butcher Boys (Henkel's original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 5" script, but with names changed since the official Chainsaw rights went to another studio), but strictly speaking, this is the final installment.
That said, there's not a whole lot of continuity between the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films after the first two, anyway.  Part Two is still by Tobe Hooper, and all the family characters persist.  But after that, the infamous Leatherface just keeps winding up with new families of murderous cannibals, and new groups of dweebs keep stumbling onto them.  But at least this entry has the added pedigree of Henkel behind the camera, the man who co-wrote and produced the original with Hooper.  Plus, of course, it sports some major star power with early starring roles by Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey, not to mention an uncredited cameo by Marilyn Burns, who's only billed as "Anonymous" in the closing credits.
Hooper and Jeff Burr added a lighter touch to their still gruesome Chainsaw entries, but Henkel takes it right back to the grim and nihilistic tone of the original, right down to the unlikable leads.  Besides it's celebrity cast, it's probably best known as the one that cements Leatherface's transvestism and for having the most unexpected, out of left field conclusions to any major horror franchise ever (and yes, it is followed up on in Butcher Boys).  The protagonists are such awful characters, and we spend so much of the first half of the film alone with them, that this film has earned a lot of detractors.  And I can't blame them a bit.  But on the other hand McConaughey is perfect as Vilmer, and if you're looking for a chainsaw massacre, this is the authentic Texan goods.
The reason why I said it was only a matter of time before I posted about this film is that Texas Chainsaw 4 is pretty much the first film I wrote about online in the DVDExotica fashion.  Back before movie-censorship did it even better with pictures, I broke down every single difference between the US and Canadian cuts of the film, by time-code.  I'm pretty sure I posted it on the AVManiacs forum, but searching for it now, I can't find it.  Anyway, yes, there are two distinct versions of this film available on two different DVD releases: the US and Canadian discs.
a scene only in the Canadian version
The Canadian release seems to be the original cut, and the version released in the US and elsewhere is a slimmed down tighter cut.  It doesn't appear to have been cut for violence or a rating so much as trimmed for pacing.  You can tell which version you're watching right from the opening scene: either Zellweger is getting abused by her stepfather as she tries to leave for prom, or in the US, it jumps right to the kids at the school.  It's a substantial scene right at the very beginning, so this is how most people tell them apart, but it's far from the only difference.  First of all, dozens upon dozens of scenes have had frames trimmed at the beginning and end.  Nothing's really cut; except for one or two establishing shots or cutaways.  Some editor was clearly just trying to shave another minute or two out.  Also, when the kids split up and are chased around, the order of some of the scenes has been changed - I can't really say either version is better in that regard; it feels very arbitrary.  But then, even more critically than the opening scene, some of the highly dramatic "family" footage with Zellweger trying to negotiate her way through surviving the family dinner is missing from the US version.
So mark those DVD covers well.  Though they look very similar, what's on them is very different (you'll see even more so when we get to the comparison below).  The one on the left is the Canadian DVD, released by Lions Gate in 2001.  And the one right, with the LA Times quote, is Columbia Tri-Star's 1999, double-sided US DVD: widescreen on one side, fullscreen on the other.  Lions Gate re-released their disc here in the US in 2003 [pictured, right].  Now, I don't own that one for a full comparison, but my understanding is that it's exactly the same as the 1999 DVD, but single-sided (losing the full-frame version).  And you might be asking, who even cares about the US discs if the Canadian DVD has the preferable cut of the film?  Well, unfortunately, as you're about to see, there's reason to want both.
2001 Lions Gate DVD top; 1999 Columbia Tri-Star DVD fullscreen side mid;
1999 Lions Gate DVD widescreen side top.
Yep, the Canadian DVD is fullscreen; so fans have to choose between seeing the film uncut or widescreen (not unlike the Return Of the Living Dead 3 situation until Vestron came around to fix it).  And looking at Tri-Star's fullscreen version, we see the Canadian disc is even more cropped all around.  Great.  Plus the colors are all off, giving it a more video tape-like look with messed up white balance.  But wait, there's more bad news, look at the shot below.  It's interlaced!  And there's no winning here; both discs are interlaced, and on the US DVD, it's on both sides.  
The Canadian just gives us 2.0 Dolby Digital audio, and it's got a slight buzz to it.  The US DVD has basically the same track without that buzz, plus a Spanish dub and English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Thai subtitles.

Disappointingly, both discs are also essentially barebones.  The Canadian DVD is quite literally barebones, while the US DVD at least has the trailer and a 2-page insert with liner notes.  That's still basically nothing, though.  However, you can sort of assemble your own special edition if you get the Return Of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Documentary DVD, which is a pretty neat behind-the-scenes doc I wrote about a couple years ago.
Look.  This is Texas Chainsaw Massacre, one of the originals.  Not the original, of course, but it's got a dedicated fan base.  And unfortunately, this is all they've got to work with.  The uncut version is only on an out of print Canadian DVD, and you still have to get a separate version to get the film in widescreen.  And even then it's a pretty old, standard def picture.  And they're all barebones.  It's a big part of a major horror franchise, so we're always hoping for a big, special edition blu-ray, but with rumors of the stars' agencies working to suppress the film, let alone contribute to special features, who knows if that'll ever happen.  It's 2017, and we don't even have a DVD with a basic featurette on it yet.  So, in the meantime, it's a collection of old DVDs like pieces of a puzzle.