I Drink Your Stigma: Code Red Catch-Up, Part 2 (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I Drink Your Blood is a screwy, demented horror romp I dig more and more each time I revisit it.  It might be a bad movie, but it's also a great movie.  And if you're anything like me (and I hate to tell you, but if you've found yourself on this site, it's almost certainly too late to pull out of it now), you want to find more, some other film that taps all the same veins.  And what better place to search than the filmography the same writer/ director, David E. Durston?  Durston was a television writer in the 1950s, who graduated(?) into filming his own independent films in the 60s and 70s, including I Drink Your Blood, and another film very much like it almost immediately after: Stigma.
A lot of break-out filmmakers wind up imitating their initial successes.  Think of David Cronenberg following up Shivers with Rabid, or George Romero presenting The Crazies like a re-imagining of Night Of the Living Dead.  In fact, there's a lot of influence from all four of those films in Durston's Blood and Stigma pairing.  Really, Stigma just has one key detail that separates it out from the pack: it's not a horror movie.  There are a few moments laid out to instill tension or unease, and plenty designed to shock.  And, just by virtue of retreading so much of I Drink Your Blood's structure, it retains some of the trappings of a horror film.  But really, this is not a scary film - or a film trying and failing to be scary - and it's not a body count film.  It's absolutely an exploitation film, and I stand by my claim that if you really like I Drink Your Blood you're bound to like Stigma.  Just don't come in expecting horror or you're honestly going to bummed out.
So, if it's not horror, what is it?  Well, again like Blood, it's a genre-bending "something of everything" kind of flick.  It often gets lumped in with blaxploitation films, and it's certainly got some of that.  Philip Michael Thomas, Tubbs of Miami Vice, is a big city doctor who takes over a practice in a small, racist town, where everybody, including a very Boss Hog-like sheriff, is against him.  So there's a lot of that element.  But nearly as soon as he arrives, a powerful strain of syphilis breaks out, and much like the rabies in Blood, it starts making everybody in town go crazy... just a little less homicidal.  So Thomas has to investigate, who's spreading it and who's covering it up?  The crazy old lighthouse keeper?  The veteran just back home from the war?  The madam and her brothel?  The crooked cops or the hippy teens with their unbridled free love?  So that gives us sexploitation, action, melodrama... the film even stops to show us an educational film strip with gross-out medical photos.  Several members of the supporting cast of Blood and all of the wacky sensibilities Durston displayed in that film are on hand here, just with less of a violent edge.
Stigma used to be relegated to cheap, fullscreen DVD compilation packs of public domain, blaxploitation flicks from labels like Brentwood, Platinum and Echo Bridge.  But Code Red did it right in 2011 with a special edition DVD sporting a brand new, high def master from the original CRI, as well as some very cool extras.  Then, this time last year, Code Red did it even righter with a blu-ray upgrade sporting an even new 2k scan of the original CRI.  Just how much righter?
2011 US Code Red DVD on top; 2016 US Code Red blu-ray underneath.
With the way the descriptions were worded, and the fact that they both came from the same source, I was expecting a nearly identical transfer of the DVD on the blu-ray with just that subtle boost in clarity that comes naturally with HD.  You know, like Trick Or Treats.  Especially since - also like Trick Or Treats - Code Red's DVD was quite good, and not exactly in need of extensive repairs like a lot of DVD upgrades we tend to see here.  But no, Code Red has done more here, taking the opportunity to further improve the already strong PQ.  First of all, both editions are presented in strong, anamorphic 1.78:1 ratios.  But that doesn't mean the framing is identical.  It's actually shifted vertically, and comparing the two, the blu looks much more correct, with the DVD cropping very tightly along the bottom.
^See how the DVD crops chins and blows out the reds of skin tones?
The colors, which again already looked pretty well corrected, have been further improved on the blu, toning down areas that looked just a little over-saturated before, and making skin tones more authentic.  Plus, of course, it's that extra sharpness and clarity that comes with HD replacing SD.  In short, the DVD wasn't exactly calling out for any fixes, but it got some good ones anyway.

Audio-wise, things aren't too different, but it sounds like the background hiss on the DVD has been reduced for the blu.  Both disc's tracks are reasonably clean and robust, though.  And of course, neither have subtitle options.
But one of the most exciting aspects of Code Red's restoration of Stigma is the fact he's given it a special edition in collaboration with David Durston.  If you watched either of Grindhouse's I Drink Your Blood releases, you know that he's quite a character.  And while he doesn't go quite so far as to sing an impromptu song about thrilling audiences as a horror director, he certainly comes off as a charmingly eccentric personality here, helpfully explaining things like, "you are born with so many female hormones, and so many male hormones.  And if it's a little over the top on the female hormones, you become a homosexual."  He provides a very fun and genuinely informative on-camera interview that's just under twenty minutes long, and a fun audio commentary track where he chuckles along with moderator Jeff McKay.  The DVD also included two trailers, a TV spot, and some bonus trailers.  The blu-ray retained everything except one of the trailers, the TV spot and the bonus trailers (despite still listing them on the back of the case).  It's no crushing loss, but it seems like an arbitrary disappointment to drop off the TV spot and second trailer.  What for?  Oh well.  It's a minor nitpick; we're just talking about secondary trailers.
Stigma is certainly not for everybody, including horror purists.  It's downright goofy and you can find its picture in the dictionary next to the word "dated."  But there's an audience out there for this picture, and they should really know about it.  And in particular, they should know about the excellent treatment Code Red's given it.

Extra Rare: Herzog On Music

Now this is the kind of release I really made DVDExotica to cover.  Yeah, I'm following up my last post with some more imported Werner Herzog, but features some even rarer films, on this very cool, widely overlooked release.  It's a little boxed set called Herzog On Music from 2008, only released in Australia, and at this point out of print and a little hard to find, but a must for serious fans. It's a two-disc set of three Herzog films, one of which isn't particularly rare at all.  But the other two?  That's where things get exciting.  No, they're not in Shout's big boxed set, or BFI's, or even the one Herzog sells directly from his own website.  They've only ever been released by Shock.
So let's start with the not-so-rare one.  The main feature on disc one is a 1995 documentary called Gesualdo: Death for Five VoicesCarlo Gesualdo was a 16th century Italian composer who was apparently an insane murderer as well as a musical genius.  Herzog spends most of the time exploring the Gesualdo castle, interviewing locals, filming concerts and yes, pursuing a woman who claims to be Gesualdo's wife resurrected.  Sure, you'll enjoy this documentary more if you have a real interest in this centuries old music, but you know Herzog infuses a lot that will be of interest anyway.
Gesualdo was originally released on DVD in the US back in 2002 by Image, a disc I used to own.  Unfortunately I sold it off long before started this site, but from memory it was essentially the same as the Shock disc: anamorphic widescreen and barebones.  Then Shock released it in 2008, of course.  And more recently, Art Haus released it on DVD and blu in 2016.  It's a blu I was seriously considering getting myself until DVDTalk revealed that it was an upscale and that the audio commentary promised on the packaging doesn't actually exist and it's as barebones as ever.  Apparently, it has better audio options, but in this economy, that ain't enough.
The packaging lists this film as 1.33:1, but happily, it turns out to be properly anamorphically widescreen at about 1.73:1 when you actually play the disc.  I never did a proper comparison, but I did stick the Image disc and the Shock disc in my player one after the other and concluded at the time that they looked identical for all intents and purposes.  This disc is not interlaced or anything like that.  It does look soft and compressed, just like the Image disc, which is why I had high hopes for the blu-ray.  But if it's an upscale of the same transfer, might as well just stick with this disc set.  Especially since you'll want to get this release for the other two films, anyway.
Also like the Image disc, Shock's DVD features just the English audio track, with Herzog oftentimes translating the Italians' spoken dialogue as part of his narration.  That's where Art Haus apparently excels, including the English track, the German track where Herzog does his narration in German, and a third track that leaves off his narration and lets you hear the original speakers uninterrupted.  The subtitles are only in French and Spanish, though, so really the additional audio choice is more of a novelty than a worthwhile way to view the film.

Oh and no, none of the releases of this film ever had any extras, not even a trailer.
Well, unless you consider the fact that it has the second film of the set, a never before or since release Herzog documentary called Pilgrimage on the same disc as an "extra."  Then it has one of the greatest extras of all.  And before you get concerned about two films taking up too much space being on the same disc, Gesualdo is only an hour long, and Pilgrimage is a short, clocking in at just over eighteen minutes.  So that's not a problem.

Pilgrimage is what it sounds like, a documentary look at people going on religious pilgrimages in Mexico and Russia, made for the BBC in 2001.  True, it has nothing to do with music, so if you're wondering why it's in a set called Herzog On Music, it's because this is an entirely word-less film, and all we hear is the music of BBC Symphony Orchestra.  But there's some gripping footage of people crawling across lakes of ice and traveling miles on their knees, and you know Herzog is a master at marrying image and music.  It's definitely reminiscent of pilgrimage sections he'd later capture in Wheel Of Time.
Pilgrimage is widescreen at 1.77:1, but unfortunately, as you can see in the first shot above, it's not anamorphic, so it's a small SD image floating in a sea of dead space.  But what're you gonna do?  Watch this on another company's release of Pilgrimage?  It doesn't exist, so like it or lump it.  Otherwise, the picture's not too bad.  Some scenes have interlace combing throughout every frame, as you can see in the second shot, but other scenes don't have any at all.  This leads me to believe it's just a question of cheap, low quality camcorders having been used to capture some of the footage on location.  It's a documentary shot on the spot in some far corners of the world back in 2001, so you're gonna get that sometimes.  Still, there's no reason the footage couldn't have been encoded anamorphic.

Anyway, there's just one basic audio track and no subtitles, since, again, there is no spoken language in the movie at all.  Also, there are zero extras.  It's almost more of an extra in itself.
Finally we come to the third film, a feature length film that hasn't been released anywhere else in the world.  It's called The Transformation Of the World Into Music, a 1996 documentary made for German television.  It's a behind-the-scenes look at the production of three Wagner operas at the Bayreuth Festival.  You can see Herzog is a great enthusiast as he interjects himself behind the scenes, interviewing the actors and directors, intercutting rehearsal and performance, snooping around the theater after dark with a flashlight and even surreptitiously whispering with the crew hunkered down in the dark during major productions.  It almost feels more like a Wiseman documentary, except intrusive with a healthy dash of Driving Me Crazy thrown in.  Even if you're not fussed about opera, the impressive set-pieces and Herzog's enthusiasm will keep you entertained.
The back of the case again claims to be 1.33:1, which I guess this time is technically right if you count the non-anamorphic dead space.  But really the film presentation here measures an unusual 1.62:1.  It's a bummer this one's non-anamorphic, but otherwise it's not bad for DVD.  It's not interlaced or anything, and the picture looks like a fairly faithful capture of the original film image.  The film is presented in the original German with optional, removable English subtitles.  A few scenes, where the interviewees speak English, have burnt in German subs, but those moments are few and far between.  Again, there are no special features.
Now, as I've said, Pilgrimage and The Transformation Of the World Into Music are only available on these OOP, region 0 discs from Shock.  But, strictly speaking, they're not only available in this Herzog On Music set.  In 2009, Shock released a big, 10 disc boxed set called Werner Herzog: Documentaries and Shorts, which included these two discs repackaged along with 8 other discs worth of Herzog docs.  But that's equally out of print, plenty more expensive, and you'd mostly only be adding a bunch of other Herzog films which have seen much better releases.  So it's certainly not a bad set - very much like the box Herzog sells directly from his site, but with a slightly altered selection and fewer international language options.  It even has a couple of unique special features.  So you might want to spring for that if you're a completist.  But for most people, especially anyone who already owns a lot of the other films, I'd recommend picking up the smaller, cheaper Herzog On Music box for the exclusives, and then getting the other films via other releases.  But either way, to get Transformation and Pilgrimage, these Shock discs are your only option; and they're really good films, so it's worth the trouble.