Finally, Scorpion Unleashes the Ultimate Sect! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Oh, man.  How many years has it been since Code Red first announced their special edition of Michele Soavi's The Sect on blu?  Since that time, it's come out as a perfectly respectable edition in the UK from the fine folks at Shameless, Germany from Koch and Japan from Happinet, then switched hands to Scorpion Releasing, and come out as a budget single disc edition.  But I kept the faith and resisted all of those releases, holding out for the ultimate 2-disc special edition that was always just around the corner.  And now it's finally here!
Now, I'm going to hold off official, final judgement until all four of Soavi's "main" films get proper, special edition blus to really lock in an official decision.  But most of my life, I've always been in the minority, holding up The Sect as my favorite.  Stage Fright certainly has the style to set it apart from the bulk of the genre, but still plays too much like a generic slasher to top my list.  The Church is a blast, but a bit sloppy, and unluckily stands in The Demons' shadow.  Dellamorte Dellamore was my favorite when I was young, but since then feels a little too comic bookish (fair enough, because it's based on a comic, of course; but still not my ideal sensibility).
So they're all great films, but The Sect winds up nestled in that sweet spot for me, still a more adult horror movie, full of atmosphere and completely wild imagery.  It feels more unrestrained, free to go where ever it wants, as opposed to his previous films, where he pushed against the envelope.  The Sect doesn't have an envelope.  It's just whatever Soavi wants it to be at any given moment.  Is Satan a hippy?  Is your face a lock that needs to be opened with a key of giant scary hooks?  Will a rabbit lead you down a hole that contaminates your drinking water with blue alien slime?  Will a bug crawl into your brain and make you dream about turning into a giant before a crucified bird monster pecks you to death?  Sure, all that can happen in The Sect!
With all of that said, I can just as easily see why this is some fans' least favorite film.  If you want a coherent, logical plot, you're out of luck.  It's confusing, seemingly arbitrarily weird, a little too reminiscent of Rosemary's Baby, and let's face it, the Alice In Wonderland theme is obvious and heavy-handed, and for all it's creative imagery, it can get pretty talky.  But even if it's at the bottom of your list, I think you have to admit it's still got a lot going for it.  There are undeniably cool scenes, and Soavi's camera is always crawling around, hunting out exotic new angles.  We get a pretty nifty performance from Herbert "Inspector Dreyfus" Lom from The Pink Panther movies.  And Pino Donaggio's score pumps the film full of cool energy.  At worst, it's a fascinating failure, which is still more than you can say for most movies.
So, like I said, I've held off on buying the previous blu-rays of this film, but I do have the original 2002 Cecchi Gori DVD from Italy, which until recently was the definitive release of this film for fans around the world.  And so we'll do that comparison, and talk about the differences between this brand new limited edition (to 3000, mine's #1892) 2-disc set that came out just this month as opposed to the single disc release Scorpion put out last month.  The difference isn't just that second disc.
2002 Italian Cecchi Gori DVD on top; 2018 US Scorpion blu-ray bottom.
The Cecchi Gori DVD was pretty sweet it its day: uncut, anamorphic widescreen, with both English and Italian audio.  What more could you want?  Well, in this new era of HD, we want more.  Like for instance, not a soft, splotchy mess.  There's a weird kind of noise to the whole image, not interlacing, but this kind of pattern like you're watching the film through a screen door.  I remember the first edition of the Upstairs Downstairs DVDs looked like that too, until they corrected it with the remastered 40th Anniversary boxed set.  Or here, I've actually got an example of it already on the site with I, Claudius.  Look closely at the old screenshots from the original Image DVD.  All part of the ride in the olden days of DVD.

Anyway, both films are presented in 1.78:1, although the DVD has a bit of feathered edging around all four sides and despite the DVD case claiming 1.66:1.  But despite the same AR, we see Scorpion has unveiled a healthy amount of information around all four sides.  The case tells us that this is a brand new 2017 2k scan (so a fresher one than even the 2016 blus?) with over 45 hours of color correction.  And that color work really pays off, because it's beautiful.  I mean, it's clearly superior to the blander DVD, but even on its own terms as a contemporary blu, it's an attractive image.
2002 Italian Cecchi Gori DVD left; 2018 US Scorpion blu-ray right.
Detail is a little light, but at this point I think that's down to the film itself.  This is a 2k scan rather than a 4k, so the grain isn't quite as individualized; but I think it's safe to say we're seeing all the pores of the actors' skin now that we were ever meant to see.  Compared to the DVD, it's a massive boost in quality.  Look how photo realistic the HD image is compared to the noisy SD above - you can actually recognize the Ford logo as a Ford logo on the blu.
And if Zeder had you worried, here's a shot of the subtitles.  They're perfect, and no they're not dubtitles.  And that's the first big distinction between this 2-disc release and Scorpion's single disc that came out last month.  That version didn't have subtitles, only the English audio.  This disc gives you the full language options with both the original Italian and English mono tracks in DTS-HD 2.0.  And this is a film where you want the Italian audio option; it has the better performances.  Try comparing the scene where Lom collapses in Kelly Curtis's house and she starts shouting for help.  In English, she sounds like a disaffected high schooler reading Shakespeare in a classroom.  In Italian, it's a convincing performance.  Admittedly, Tomas Arana's part is better in English; but overall, the Italian rules the day.

And this may be the first time most of us are really getting to appreciate the film in Italian, because while yes, I did say that the Cecchi Gori DVD had both audio tracks (in fact, they have both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 options for the Italian track), it only has Italian subtitles.  So we English speakers had to stick to our dub.  It was nice to be over to switch over to the Italian and get a taste of the Italian dub, but now we can finally make proper use of it.

Finally, I have to point out that there is some hiss to Scorpion's audio tracks.  It's not bad; and shouldn't bother you at all once you've grown accustomed to it.  The nearly wall to wall soundtrack covers up most of it.  But it's there and you won't exactly need to be wearing high frequency headphones to pick up on it.  And the old DVD doesn't seem to have it.  It's fine, though.  I guess Scorpion decided it would be more destructive or revisionist to run it through some noise filtering.  Cecchi Gori was happy to remix the whole thing into 5.1's after all, so they're hardly being true to the original mix like the blu is.
But language options aren't the only difference between the two Scorpion blus!  There's a whole wealth of new extras.  Now the old DVD just had the trailer and a negligible stills gallery (and a cool looking insert).  Scorpion already topped that with their single disc edition, which included on-camera interviews with Soavi and Arana, plus the trailer and some bonus trailers.  Well, that stuff's carried over, of course, but we also get an audio commentary by Troy Howarth, who did an excellent job on Arrow's Phenonema disc, and an on-camera interview with Dario Argento.  As you can see, while this is definitively a Scorpion release now, Code Red still gets credit for the extras they created.  And these aren't cheap, no frills interviews.  They're well shot in HD, cleanly subtitled (as opposed to the mess on that Zeder disc) and thoughtfully edited with clips from the film.

And that's just the first disc!  The second disc gives us two and a half hour's worth of additional interviews with cinematographer Raffaele Mertes, set designer Massino Geleng, screenwriter Gianni Romoli, Pino Donaggio, Giovanni Lombardo Radice and film historian Fabrizio Spurio.  And yes, these are all the same high quality as the ones on the first disc.  The only difference is the subtitles are removable here, but burned in on disc 1 (the extras, not the movie!).  Just something I noticed.  Anyway, this 2-disc set comes in a nice slipcover and features reversible artwork, utilizing the same poster image you see on the Cecchi Gori cover.
Scorpion has clearly set their sites on the very top A-list releases by companies like Arrow and Criterion and is playing to win.  And the result is Soavi's films finally get the treatment they've always deserved.  I mean, it's amazing The Sect never even got a standard Anchor Bay DVD back in the day.  It took until 2018, but I've finally gotten The Sect release I've always wanted.  And you can still get the single disc release if you're more of a casual viewer.  But there was no way on Earth I was going to miss out on this edition, and now that I've got it, I'm grinning ear to ear.

1 comment:

  1. The picture quality is fantastic on the Scorpion release compared to Shameless. But it is frustrating that Shameless' has much better sound.