A Pair of Scream Factories #1: Don Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-Tep (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Okay, and we're back with the first in my second set of "Pair" posts, this time for Scream Factory releases.  This pair was always going to happen in one form or another, because they've always needled me as the two biggest "holes" in my Scream Factory coverage on DVDExotica.  Until today, Don Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-Tep held the crown as the most glaring omission to me for several reasons.  Because it's Coscarelli's most essential film that I haven't already tackled, because it's such a fun, favorite film that I just personally want to recommend on the site, and because the whole situation of the UK import DVD having its exclusive extras is precisely the kind of thing this site is here to document.  Plus, despite the current blu-ray being only a couple years old (it came out right at the end of 2016), I have some very 2019 thoughts about it that I think it's time to bring up.  So let's go!
2002's Bubba Ho-Tep is, like its title sounds, a delightfully nutty film and a welcome highlight in a pretty drab period for horror films.  Boy, did we need this film when it came to us.  First of all, I think you could be quickly forgiven if, at the time, you believed like all the "masters of horror," that by the 2000s, all his great works were behind him.  Instead of any more masterpieces, we'd be lucky to shake out another direct to video flick or two that wasn't heart breakingly awful, right?  In the same way that we hope Argento's next film will at least be closer to The Card Player than Dracula, or Landis's will be more like Innocent Blood than Susan's Plan... we already know not to keep hoping for another Suspiria or American Werewolf In London.  But then, boom!  He dropped it on us: another genuinely great film rivaled in his catalog only by the original Phantasm.
It's an adaptation of an outrageous short story by Joe R. Lansdale, where Bruce Campbell plays an aging Elvis Presley, still living in secret in a quiet, Southern retirement home.  Nobody else cares enough to raise any questions, but their mortality rate seems a little high; and Elvis deduces that people are dying because an ancient Egyptian mummy is hiding nearby and leeching off their life force.  Who's the only man who will believe Elvis and help him battle the mummy?  JFK, of course, who also happens to still be alive, tucked away in the same retirement home, played by Ossie Davis.  It's obviously a boldly original story (despite one scene rather shamelessly lifted in whole from The Singing Detective), filled with novelty and humor.  It's pretty brave to settle on a hero who's too lazy to get his ass out of bad for the first half of the picture.  But what's especially impressive is how much sincerity and genuine character they manage to fill such a superficially goofy plot with.  There's actually more relatable humanity and touching drama in this than, say, Nicole Kidman's recent The Destroyer, which in some strange ways, shoots for the same sort of targets.  It's there in Lansdale's story, preserved through Coscarelli's subtle care, and thanks in no small part to the impressive cast.  Campbell is perfect for his role, it's through the grace of the gods that they managed to rope Davis into this, and then they have a wealth of supporting players like Roc's Ella Joyce, TV legend Larry Pennell and of course Reggie Bannister.
So Bubba Ho-Tep debuted on DVD as a pretty nice Collector's Edition from MGM in 2004.  This same disc was later reissued in 2007 as a Limited Edition - the only difference being a new three-dimensional slipcover designed to look like Elvis's cape.  Oh, and they dropped the booklet.  Meanwhile, in the UK, they introduced a more substantive upgrade.  2005 saw Anchor Bay UK debuting a special edition of their own, which came with its own nice little slipbox.  But more importantly, it was a 2-disc set with all of the special features from the US, plus several, new exclusives (detailed further below).  In 2010, it was time for HD, and Anchor Bay released their version on blu-ray with everything.  Everything, that is, until 2016, when Scream Factory came out with the US blu-ray, which included all of the MGM features, and more, new stuff they cooked up.  But... not all the Anchor Bay ones, most of which remain exclusive to the UK (and Germany, as the blu-ray EMS put out there in 2010 has everything the AB disc had, too).
1) 2004 US MGM DVD; 2) 2005 UK AB DVD; 3) 2016 US SF blu.
So, ah, okay.  Not the most impressive HD transfer I've ever seen.  Not only would it appear that Scream Factory didn't make a new master to update the previous, 2010 blu-rays, but it looks like they're using the same master as the original DVDs.  Now, don't misunderstand; I'm not calling "upconvert." You can see the slight increase in clarity when you flick between the DVD and BD screenshots; we're not getting SD compression slapped onto an HD disc.  We're just getting the same old master, slightly less compressed.  The framing also shifts slightly, starting out at 1.84:1 on the original DVD.  Then, Anchor Bay slightly squeezes the image to 1.86, and finally Scream Factory goes back to 1.84, but with a micro-sliver of extra pixels around the rim, that the old DVDs sacrificed to over-scan fade-out.  So, yes, it's a slight but legit upgrade over the DVD.  But this film was shot on 35mm; grain is barely visible when it is at all, and fine detail is soft and hazy.  Essentially, what I'm saying is, this film is dying for a new scan.

To be fair, this film was made in the murky period of 2002, when major directors were shooting films in standard def and working under all kinds of sub-par, frontier-pushing digital conditions.  Again, this film was shot in 35, but I don't know how the CGI effects were rendered... maybe it would be a more-costly-than-usual endeavor to capture this film in 2 or 4k?  But what we've got is a late 2016 blu-ray using an early 2000s master, and it looks the part.  I wouldn't even say the upgrade to HD was worth double-dipping for unless you'd already replaced almost every other DVD in your collection.
Audio-wise, things are looking a bit brighter.  The MGM DVD just gave us a nice 5.1 mix, plus optional English, French and Spanish subs.  AB dropped the foreign subs (keeping the English), but also gave us a Dolby stereo mix in addition to the 5.1.  And Scream Factory?  Well, they finally did get something from Anchor Bay.  They hung onto both the 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, both now in lossless DTS-HD, plus the English subs.  So that's ideal, at least.
But now's where it really gets complicated: the extras.  MGM started us off really nicely.  In fact, to be honest, it's a very satisfying edition right off the bat, and if nobody added anything more to the mix, I'd still be pretty satisfied.  We start out with a really fun and information-packed commentary by Coscarelli and Campbell.  This is the most essential feature, and it's no every release.  So whatever happens moving forward, we're pretty safe.  There's also a second commentary with Campbell doing the whole thing in character as Elvis, which I would recommend skipping entirely - the novelty wears off after you've read the listing on the back of the case.

After that, we also get a pretty solid, 25 minute 'making of' featurette, followed by three additional featurettes focusing on Bruce's costumes, creating the mummy, and the score, which play like extensions of the main doc.  Then there are three deleted scenes, with optional commentary and about seven minutes of Lansdale reading from his original story.  Finally, there are a bunch of additional odds and ends, including a music video, photo gallery, the trailer, a TV spot and some bonus trailers.  The original 2004 disc came in a slipcover and included a nice booklet of behind-the-scenes photos and notes by Bruce Campbell himself.  Again, the 2007 reissue scrapped the booklet and replaced the slipcover with the fancier one.
The UK-only deleted scene.
Now, crossing oceans to the UK, Anchor Bay gives us pretty much all of that stuff, even the booklet - though their slipbox is different than the US slipcover, and they do drop the TV spot - plus new exclusive content.  They basically add six new things.  One thing you'll notice the US disc might seem a little light on is on-camera interviews, although there's certainly plenty of that in the 'making of' doc.  But AB makes sure to give us new, exclusive on camera interviews with both Campbell and Coscarelli.  They also include a 20-minute Q&A with Coscarelli from a UK screening of Bubba Ho-Tep.  Anchor Bay also has a special intro/ video message from Bruce, a short but fun assembly of behind-the-scenes footage, and perhaps most interestingly of all, a fourth deleted scene not included on the US disc.  And where some of the previous deleted scenes were more like outtakes, this is a solid minute twelve of Ossie and Bruce cut out of the film.

Now, like I said, Scream Factory kept all the MGM stuff but loses most of the Anchor Bay stuff.  However, they cooked up some pretty impressive new stuff that would make even somebody with one of the 2010 blu-rays seriously consider adding this edition to their collection.  First off is an all new audio commentary by Joe Landsdale.  He's pretty enthusiastic, and an important voice we didn't hear so much of in the previous editions.  Then they add three brand new on-camera interviews: one with Coscarelli, one with Campbell and one with effects artist Robert Kurtzman.  You could say the first two basically just work to replace the Coscarelli and Campbell interviews they didn't get from AB, with the added bonus that these are in HD, but the Kurtzman one feels nice and fresher.  And, what's more, they add 35 minutes of additional, vintage Campbell interviews.  This includes his special message and his on-camera interview from the UK disc, plus even more.  Yes, some of these do get redundant, but one thing's for sure; you'll get your Bruce Campbell fix here alright.  You'll also get reversible cover art and a frankly rather ugly slipcover.
So, the Scream Factory edition is probably the best edition going.  It's got all the new extras, some of the UK ones (to be clear, the ones it's missing are 1) the screening Q&A, 2) the Coscarelli interview, 3) the behind-the-scenes footage and 4) the deleted scene) and the same old HD presentation you'll find anywhere else, but which is still at least a marginal improvement over the old DVDs.  It might be cost prohibitive (or not, who knows?), but a new 4k scan would be super welcome and probably a major improvement.  And licensing AB's exclusive extras might not be worth it, but they could probably at least get that missing scene.  Considering how quickly they released upgraded transfers on the heels of Lifeforce and whatever Carpenter titles they reissued in 4k... I know it's annoying to have a label ask us to double-dip on a title they just released not that long ago, but in this case, I think we'd all happily forgive them.

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