Forever Revisiting Blue Velvet

I'm always interested in what David Lynch is going to do next (which, as of this writing, looks to be the revival of Twin Peaks), but I'm not sure if he ever has or will topped Blue Velvet. It's sort of the perfect blend point between his conventional side and his self-exploratory art. It's a film that sets up one unreal little world only to poke a hole through it and lure you through into another. But it's all just relatable enough to be absolutely riveting. It's a film I've triple-dipped for (quadruple if you count VHS), with zero regrets each time.

Update 7/18/16 - 5/31/19: Okay, so now I've quintuple dipped for this flick, this time for Criterion's new 4k restoration, with a bunch of new features, most notably the feature documentary Revisiting Blue Velvet.  Am I still regret free?
Kyle MacLachlan is an all-American boy in an idyllic all-American small town, who's just beginning a picture-perfect relationship with a beautiful all-American girl, Laura Dern. But his curiosity, spurred when stumbling upon a severed ear in the woods, gets the better of him, and he can't help peaking behind the facade of this ideal life and discovering the dark current of humanity that runs underneath the veneer. He quickly finds himself between a mentally disturbed lounge singer, Isabella Rossellini, and her violent gangster boyfriend, Dennis Hopper. Both of whom pull him deep into their dangerous reality of S&M sex, drugs and murder.

Dean Stockwell, Brad Dourif, Hope Lange and Jack Nance all fill in highly memorable supporting roles (Stockwell especially), and we feast on just the right amount of surrealistic imagery, beautiful music without ever crossing the line into self-indulgent, or loosening our grip on the story's dramatic tension. One of my favorite scenes starts out very conventionally, when the high school varsity athlete and his pals are chasing after MacLachlan for stealing his girl - a typical 80s Hollywood scenario - but they're all immediately disarmed when Rossellini stumbles out on the street in front of them, naked and beaten. It's an eye-opening wake-up call that the world outside of their protected little microcosm is much larger and more complicated then they'd ever imagined.
Blue Velvet debuted on DVD in 2000 from MGM. No extras or anything, but at least it was anamorphic and widescreen, a particularly important feature for this highly composed 'scope photography. In 2002, MGM reissued it as a special edition with a remastered picture and a substantial 70-minute documentary. Then in 2011, it made its HD debut on MGM's 25th Anniversary blu-ray release, including the notable recovery of almost an hour's worth of footage previously believed lost. And most recently, just this week, Criterion has restored released a new 4k restoration on blu with even more special features.  I've got all four discs here, so let's get into it.
1) MGM 2000 DVD; 2) MGM 2002 DVD;
3) MGM 2011 BD; 4) Criterion 2019 BD.
So, what do we see? All four, of course, are anamorphic 2.35:1 images, thankfully free of interlacing or other issues. But despite there only being two years between them, there's a substantial jump in quality between the two DVD editions. The film got a nice, natural re-colorization, and the detail is much less pixelated. Then the blu keeps the general look of the 2002 DVD. They must have struck an HD master at that time, which they were then able to use for the blu in 2011.  But that said, the HD really pays off in detail and clarity. Look how much better you can make out the students in the background of the first set of shots. There's a big step up in quality with each of MGM's iterations; even the 2002 DVD looks far out of focus compared to the blu. But at least the 2002 blu doesn't have the edge enhancement haloing and splotchy compression of the old DVD.
1) MGM 2000 DVD; 2) MGM 2002 DVD;
3) MGM 2011 BD; 4) Criterion 2019 BD.
But now we come to the new 4k master, and it's mostly good news.  The AR is still 2.35:1, but this new scan pulls out a little further to reveal more information, most noticeably along the sides.  The colors have been re-timed, too, this time going for a more subtle, less contrast-y palette, which feels more natural, the result of a higher quality scan (and no, it's not green).  Speaking of higher quality scan results, this 4k transfer finally sets to work on capturing fine grain, with a sharper, closer look at the negatives.  But, unfortunately, this brings us to the bad news.  Looking closely at that grain makes it obvious there is some chunky macro-blocking going on, the result of less than stellar encoding.  It's not terrible, but it's definitely, but it's the kind of thing you wouldn't see from Sony or Arrow.  The pros still outweigh the cons, this is definitely not a "stick with the older disc" situation.  This surpasses the old blu even without taking the special features and other stuff into account.  But it's definitely an imperfection that would take some points off of its final grade for sure.
The original DVD had an English Dolby Stereo track and French Dolby mono, plus English, Spanish and French subtitles. The reissue DVD replaced the original stereo track with a new 5.1 mix, boosted the French mono to stereo and added a Spanish mono dub, plus added Portuguese subtitles to the other three. But the blu-ray trumps them all, not only in adding the obvious, lossless DTS-HD 5.1 track, but also providing DTS 5.1 tracks for the Spanish, French, German and Italian dubs, and additional Portuguese and Spanish Dolby tracks. It also has the most subtitle options with English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Dutch, German, Italian and Japanese.

And the new blu?  Actually, it scores back some of those fumbled points here.  Criterion restores the film's original stereo track, now in lossless DTS-HD, but gives us the lossless 5.1 as well.  So that's a win for the purists and the home theater kingpins.  And yes, it has optional English subtitles as well.
Now the original DVD didn't really have anything in terms of special features. It had a trailer, a nice little insert, and a kooky easter egg that showed a little montage of film imagery, but that's about it. The 2002 special edition, though, finally brought in some real extras. It has that great 70-minute documentary I mentioned, which interviews pretty much all of the key players looking back on their work, plus about ten minutes of deleted scenes, and Roger Ebert's original television review of the film. They also had the trailer, as well as two additional TV spots, a couple photo galleries, and a few easter eggs with interview outtakes from the documentary, plus another insert.

And, well, the blu-ray doesn't have any inserts, but it does have everything else from the DVD, including the doc, Ebert interview, easter egg outtakes, trailer and TV spots. But it also expands the DVD's short selection of deleted scenes to almost an hour of recovered footage, also restored in HD like the film. Some of it's pretty cool, some of it's hard to believe Lynch ever really thought it could fit into this movie; but it's all fascinating. Not all of the lost footage quite lives up to the hype that had been built around it (the "flaming nipple" is here, but it's nothing really amazing), but it's essential viewing for any serious Lynchian. The blu also includes about a minute and half of outtakes, presumably found with the lost footage, which is amusing.
A recovered scene found only on the blu-rays.
And Criterion's blu?  Well, it sure does have an insert.  More like a 30-page booklet with notes by Kristine McKenna, which excerpts heavily from Lynch's book, Room To Dream.  And almost everything from the previous discs are here: the complete collection of deleted scenes and outtakes, the documentary, including even an extra minute or so of outtakes with a white balance test chart... the only thing missing is the Ebert review, and actually, we see the most of that review footage in the documentary, anyway, so it's no big loss.  Oh, and we lose those little easter egg outtakes.  And the trailer for some odd reason.  But we get some pretty major new stuff to replace those odds and ends.

First and foremost is the feature documentary Revisiting Blue Velvet.  This film played theatrically in 2017ish, and happily Criterion licensed it for their blu.  It's very different from the other doc that comes from the DVD.  That one's a pretty traditional 'making of' retrospective, but this one was made by a German filmmaker who filmed the whole thing on location as Blue Velvet was being shot.  It's all super 8 and photos, though, so a lot of it is silent, except for the original score.  There are interviews and fun on-set exchanges in it, too.  But I'd say four fifths of it are silent... Hardcore fans will be delighted for all of the behind-the-scenes exploration, but casual viewers should make sure they're in the mood to watch something ethereal and artsy if they're going to make it through to the end.  It's definitely a unique take.
Besides that, there's a great new featurette that revisits the filming locations and interviews the "little guys," that the other special features overlooked: the props guy, the steadicam operator, the non-actor who played The Yellow Man, etc.  It's a lot of fun, moves at a brisk pace, and shares stories we haven't heard anywhere else.  There's also a long interview with Angelo Badalamenti that does rehash some of his interview from the doc, but also expands into more detail and new territory as well.  And finally, there's a roughly 15-minute audio-only clip of Lynch reading from his book about the making of Blue Velvet, which basically plays as a standard director interview, and a pretty good one at that.  Criterion's put this out in a nice little digibook package with an other slipbox that, for whatever reason, opens from the left as opposed to the standard right-hand side.  One last little quirk for the pile, I guess.
So, it's pretty much all for the win column here.  The 4k scan is a nice upgrade over everything that's come before it, despite some questionable encoding.  The recovered stereo mix and all the new extras, including the complete Revisited documentary, help make this an easy recommendation.  I suppose you could hold out hope that a foreign label will put the new 4k scan out in another region with better encoding, like how Studio Canal managed to out-do Criterion's 4k release of Mulholland Drive.  But this is still going to be a tough release to top, and nothing's been announced... unless we start seeing Lynch classics getting released on UHD, this may be the peak.

Something Funny About Funny Games...

1997's Funny Games may not be Michael Haneke's best film, but it's certainly his most infamous.  So it's about darn time that it made its way to blu-ray in the US, by way of The Criterion Collection.  And they seem to really be delivering the goods with a brand new 2k restoration from the original negatives, overseen by Haneke, with an attractive set of all new special features as well.  This promises to be one of the most exciting releases of the year, unless Criterion manages to screw it up somehow.  Surely Criterion wouldn't do something stupid to screw it up somehow, would they?
Funny Games is Haneke's deconstruction of the contemporary thriller that's also crafted to work as an effective contemporary thriller in its own right.  You know, like how a horror send-up could still be scary.  Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Mühe star as a seemingly idyllic bourgeois couple who arrive at their summer home only to encounter two equally bourgeois young men who stage a home invasion.  But rather than murder, robbery or any other conventional motive, they only seem to be interested in sadistically toying with their captives, as if they're operating on an entirely different set of existential parameters.
I was very surprised - although it also made perfect sense - when I learned that Haneke added the deconstructive element to his screenplay last, meaning that this project started its life as a more conventional thriller, with the meta-textual elements coming in late in the game.  So while this is an "experimental" film that questions the genre and challenges the audience directly, this is still a powerful emotional experience at its case.  The cast, including Arno Frisch (Benny in Benny's Video), is superb, and the film is as tautly staged and photographed as any of Haneke's work.  And though the "message" of the film might be a little intellectually simplistic, it's still a kick to experience viscerally in the heat of the moment.
Funny Games debuted on DVD as a new release in 1999 through Well Spring.  It was non-anamorphic, completely barebones, and frankly, best forgotten.  In 2006, Kino rescued it, releasing it anamorphically, with a substantial on-camera Haneke interview.  Since then, there have been a variety of overseas releases, including blu-ray editions.  But we never got it in HD over here until now, with Criterion releasing their brand new BD special edition this month.
2006 Kino DVD top; 2019 Criterion BD bottom.
In all fairness, I have to start off by stating that Criterion's blu is a massive improvement over Kino's DVD, even above and beyond the jump in quality inherent in moving from SD to HD.  Criterion's new scan corrects Kino's 1.76:1 aspect ratio to a proper 1.85:1, revealing more information along the sides while only shaving off a very thin sliver along the bottom that probably shouldn't have been there anyway.  Also, Kino's DVD has a big flaw - it's heavily interlaced, presumably because due to a hasty PAL to NTSC conversion.  Of course Criterion's blu is free of that problem.  What's more, Kino's DVD is a rather fuzzy, over-saturated and light on detail affair, while Criterion's new scan neatly cleans all of that up and restores a ton of detail to the image.  Oh, and Criterion's booklet specifically points out, besides simply overseeing the new transfer, that Haneke worked on the new color timing, so presumably any differences between this and not only the Kino DVD but any other previous release (i.e. any of the overseas blus) is more correct here.

But here's where things get messy.  See the film grain?  You might need to squint, because yeah it's visible, but surprisingly light for brand new 2k scan.  It's even surprisingly soft when compared to those preexisting blu-rays.  They seem to have DNR'd the whole thing.  Then, to keep fine detail from being lost in that process, it looks like they used some edge enhancement to pull it back out again.  Now, this isn't a total DNR disaster like the infamous cases of Tremors, Predator or Moontrap, but it's enough to take an easy A rated transfer down to a B+, or more pragmatically, below the French or German blu-rays that have already been out.  And it's disappointing, because all Criterion had to do was... not do that.  And in 2019, every label should know better.

Things are simpler in terms of audio.  In the US, we've only gotten a stereo mix, but overseas, even on DVDs, this film has had a 5.1 mix.  Well, Criterion finally brings that 5.1 mix home, in DTS-HD, with removable English subs.
Okay, we're out of the sticky part of the marsh now, so let's cheer up and talk about extras.  Kino basically just had the one quite good on-camera interview with Haneke (plus the trailer).  Criterion did not carry over that Haneke interview, but replaced it with their own, new one shot in HD.  As you'd expect, the two interviews cover most of the same ground and answer most of the most common questions viewers would have of this film.  Each interview does have some unique little observations and tangents, though, so completists might want to hang onto their old DVDs.  Criterion, however, moves on with more goodies, including a fun interview with Frisch.  Then there's a lengthy but dry talk with critic Alexander Horwath, which spends a lot of time restating the obvious, but starts making some interesting points towards the end.  Now tragically, three of the four leads of this film passed away well before their time, so Criterion couldn't talk to the other stars of this film.  But they did include the full, vintage press conference from the film's premiere at Cannes, which at least gives Lothar and Ulrich Mühe, and also allows us to hear more from Haneke and Frisch (the producer is there, too, but the poor guy's never asked a question or utters a single word).  Then, yes, Criterion has the trailer, too, as well as a cool fold-out booklet with notes by Bilge Ebiri.
Now, you might've been saying to yourself, wait, I thought Funny Games starred Naomi Watts and Tim Roth?  Well yes, strangely, Michael Haneke decided to make a nearly shot-for-shot English language remake of Funny Games roughly ten years after his original.  American producers had been wanting to make one for years, as they are wont to do with any moderately successful foreign picture, but Haneke had refusal rights.  And he ultimately decided he would let them only if he could direct it himself and retain final cut, because he felt the message of Funny Games was always intended for a broader mainstream audience than his subtitled effort had been able to reach.  Unfortunately, the remake seems to have pierced even less of the American market than the original, but who cares about box office when judging art?  How is the film itself?
Well, first of all, yes, this film really is shot for shot and line for line.  2007's Funny Games was shot in America with an American crew and American actors, but except for the spoken language, they set out to duplicate the original as closely as possible.  The locations were carefully chosen not only so they could stage the same plot points (i.e. they needed big gates in front of the houses and lakes with docks in the back), but so they could frame the shots as closely as possible.  A few details did need to be changed... for example, in the original, the family didn't know the number of the local police since they didn't live in the neighborhood, and had to dial a relative.  In this version, they can just call 911. In one line of dialogue, a character also makes a brief reference to a game show that didn't exist in the 90s.  And there is one surprising editorial change.  In the very long, single shot after the two boys leave the house, the Austrian version holds on Lothar for a couple minutes before she moves.  Here, the shot starts about when Watts starts to move... I guess assuming American audience didn't have the attention span for that dramatic moment?
Otherwise, though, it really is the exact same movie.  I slightly prefer the original, because I think Frisch's performance is a bit scarier, and Lothar digs a little deeper than Watts (I wonder if they had a shorter shooting schedule?).  But both sets of casts are top notch, and honestly, if you've only seen the remake, I wouldn't say you missed out.  It's not like watching The Ring or City of Angels, where the stupid American version fails to deliver on what made the original foreign version so successful.  Impressively, Haneke manages to take you on the same roller coaster ride both times, with the same music, tension and pathos at every single beat.  So it's a fine film.  The only problem it faces is an existential one: if you can watch the original, what's the point of getting this one, too?  The film has a fair amount of merit on its own, but what value does it offer beyond what the original's already given us?  Unfortunately, not much beyond a little novelty.
So Warner Bros released this version on DVD as a new release in 2008.  It's a flipper, with a fullscreen version on one side and wide on the other, but otherwise quite barebones. And in America, that's all we've ever gotten, because any potential demand for this is overshadowed by the original.  Still, if you go overseas, you can find a few blu-rays.  I've gone with the Halcyon blu from the UK, because it comes with a some nice special features.  Oh, and fun bit of trivia, the UK release changes the on-screen title from "Funny Games" to "Funny Games U.S."  But anyway, if you're looking for this, be careful, because it was reissued in the UK by Artificial Eye, minus the extras, in 2015.  That sucks!
2008 WB DVD (full) top; 2008 WB DVD (wide) mid; 2008 Halcyon BD bottom.
I'll start off by pointing out that WB's fullscreen version is 1.33:1, and mostly open matte.  It trims the sides a little, but reveals more vertically.  Still, it's boxy and clearly the wrong composition, so outside of a little extra novelty value, we don't want that.  The widescreen side is an anamorphic 1.78:1, which is much better.  But the blu-ray gives it to us best in its proper 1.85:1 AR.  Detail is a lot cleaner on the BD as well, which is interesting since both these discs are from 2008, so you'd think they'd just be putting the same master on both discs, and the only difference would be the SD vs HD compression.  But the BD has better details, a cleaner image and the fixed framing.

Both discs give us the same 5.1 mix, though the blu presents it in lossless DTS-HD.  One shortcoming this blu has, though, is no subtitles, whereas the DVD has English, Spanish and French.  My understanding, by the way, is that the Artificial Eye blu doesn't have subs either.
But here's why I got this Halcyon blu.  I mean, honestly, I think the extras might be more compelling than the film itself.  First, there's a very long (37 minutes) interview with Haneke, who gets into his reasons for making the film, the shooting experience, etc.  Pretty much everything viewers would be dying to ask.  It's exactly what you want.  But then there's also a very interesting Q&A with the film's producers filmed at an early UK screening of the film, and it's very worthwhile to get their perspective, both in how they didn't get it (changes they wanted to make) and how they did (they were determined not to follow in the missteps of The Vanishing and undercut the intent of the original film).  And we get some interesting backstory to this project, like how one of the producers was courting Wes Craven to direct this, before Haneke became directly involved.  The audience Q&A gets a bit silly, when the producers start asking them if they liked the picture and why because they're not getting many questions.  But it's worth watching for their takes.  There's also a series of four trailers for the film.  Meanwhile, the DVD had nothing but some bonus trailers.
So, perhaps appropriately, it's a bit of a funny situation with Funny Games that raises a bunch of questions: how much rewatch value is there once this film has made its big surprise move on you?  Is the remake worth your time at all?  Or, if you came across the remake first, is it important go back and seek out the original?  Does Criterion's baffling decision to filter their transfer render their edition more or less desirable than one of the imports?  It's one of those frustrating situations where every answer entails compromise or a judgment call you can only make for yourself.  Personally, I can live with the cons of Criterion's release to enjoy the pros - it's not that bad - so I'm more or less "fine" with it, just annoyed that it could've been better if they didn't feel the need to muss with it.

A Fresh Stab At Code Red's Just Before Dawn

One of Code Red's earlier forays into blu-ray, from their second batch after Redeemer and Voices From Beyond), we have the eerie man vs. nature vs. slasher film Just Before Dawn. The film not only makes its HD debut here, but also includes a second, extended cut that runs about ten minutes longer. We're still on the single-layer disc stage at this point in Code Red's blu-ray legacy, unfortunately, but now we've proper menus with selectable options. It's tempting to say you can throw away any previous editions once you've got this one in your mitts, but unfortunately it's missing all the great extras from Shriek Show's previous 2-disc special edition.

Update 3/9/15 - 5/16/19: Four years later, and Code Red has come out with a new special edition of Just Before Dawn.  We've moved on from the single- to the dual-layer disc stage, which is nice since there are two versions of the movie on these discs, with promised clean-up on the extended cut, plus all new special features.  Sounds good; let's see.
This is another in a short line of compelling Deliverance-inspired slasher movies, a la The Final Terror, Rituals or more recently the Wrong Turn films, where they essentially say, "what if we made the first half of Deliverance the whole movie?" Maybe that sounds hacky, but it's a damned effective idea and has resulted in some quite compelling horror films, including this one. A large part of what works about this film as well as the others I've named is that beautiful, exotic locations become an integral and dangerous part of the story. Being way out in the forests somewhere, they've got amazing, natural production values.

So an idyllic location and a haunting theme by Brad Fiedel (Terminator), effectively raise up what is otherwise a fairly generic slasher film to greater heights. A group of typical horror movie kids go off to camp and explore a very remote area of land one of them has inherited. George Kennedy stars as the film's bankable name and also a ranger who tries to warn them off, and must later try to find them while there's any left to rescue. Most of his scenes are by himself and the plot could probably be told just as well without his character, but he does help to keep the plates spinning. What he knows and the campers slowly discover, is that the woods is also inhabited by a family that's gone a little weird in their isolation; and one of them seems to have grown homicidal.
So like I said, the film's got the location and the music as definite pros. In the cons, you've got some slightly hokey acting, although everybody's fine for the most part, and the difficulty of trying to represent a group of people who live outside of society without them coming off as just silly. Most movies fail, and while this film makes a pretty earnest attempt, I'm not sure they succeed either. However, they make the wise choice of giving them as little screen time as possible, instead spending it with the much more relatable and plausible campers.

The last thing to really tip the scale in the right direction is some really effective scare scenes. Clever moments with lighting and camera angles really make scenes work much better than similar scenes in other slashers. I won't spoil the ending, but it's a real crowd pleaser for horror fans, no question. So overall, while I don't see this pulling in mainstream audiences even if you did convince them to give Just Before Dawn a shot, anyone who has a predilection for 80s slasher films will definitely enjoy this a lot.
And which version of the film is the one to watch? Well, there have been multiple cuts of this film, actually, and it's been pretty confusing for fans to keep track of. You basically had two VHS versions, one which was cut and one which was generally considered to be uncut that ran 91 minutes. Then you had the Shriek Show DVD, which was almost uncut at 90 minutes, but had a few brief trims, and a German disc, which restored the biggest trim to the Shriek Show disc (but not the others). And finally a UK DVD which was more heavy cut but also featured a bunch of footage not seen in any previous version, even the original "uncut" VHS, running about 100 minutes. Well, Code Red has thankfully cut through all of that excess and made our decision much easier by giving us the two best cuts, including one never before released.
I think it's safe to say nobody watching a serious horror movie wants to watch it with any of the violence censored, so Code Red gives both "uncut" versions. We have the version everybody used to consider uncut from that old VHS, and we have a super extended version with everything in it, all the trimmed gore and all the extra scenes from that UK release, that runs 103 minutes. And for my money, that latter version really is the definitive version to watch. While the extra footage doesn't include anymore scary or shocking moments, it does contain bits that really should just never have been cut in the first place. The main arc of the film is Deborah Benson's slow transformation throughout this film, and the extended dialogue really fleshes that out. Perhaps even more importantly, or at least less subtly: the cuts, which were clearly designed to just speed up the pace, make the film awkward and less sensible.

For example, there's one scene where the campers follow the sound of singing to find a girl in the distance and call out to her, "hello down there!"  And one of the guy shouts. "I say: do you live around here!" Now, when I originally saw the film, the non-extended version, I always chalked it up to a little moment of bad acting, just a weird unnatural way to say the line. But now having seen the 103 minute version, there's a couple lines between the ones I quoted. The guy asks "do you live around here?" and another camper shouts, "you sing beautifully!" The girl looks at them but doesn't respond, and NOW, with the subject having been changed and the girl not responding, it makes sense that he says the line, "I say: do you live around here" like that. So on it's own, you wouldn't look at that deleted scene and think, "gee, I'm sure sorry I missed that moment where the guy repeats himself and his friend shouts 'you sing beautifully!'" But what it does is turn a slight, jarring flaw in the film into a smooth, natural moment. And the six or seven seconds you shave off the running time definitely isn't worth that awkward hiccup in the movie, that just makes you think less of it. Maybe if you have a short attention span you'd disagree, but even in its longest incarnation, the film really doesn't drag. If anything, the whole film works as a bit of a slow burn no matter which version you're watching, and the longer cut makes that the most effective.
1) 2005 SS DVD; 2) 2015 CR BD extended; 3) 2015 CR BD edited;
4) 2019 CD BD extended; 5) 2019 CR BD edited.
Unfortunately, the longest version of the film is not the best looking, transfer-wise. Code Red's new blu-ray of the "uncut" 91 minute version was absolutely the best this film has ever looked. But they had to use a more beat up print to get the fully uncut 103 minute version. So if you want to see the film looking its best, you've got to watch the 91 minute version, though at least that cut's still an improvement over Shriek Show's 90 minute version. But the best cut looks noticeably poorer. It has the inherent advantage of being in HD, but that's about it. It's the softest, probably in part because it's clearly zoomed in and lacking information on the bottom and right side compared to the other cuts, despite all four of Code Red's transfers being exactly 1.78:1 (Shriek Show's is slightly window-boxed to closer to 1.85:1). The extended cut is also worn, with flecks and scratches on it. It's not as bad as some of Code Red's most infamous "grindhouse prints" they've released, but it's a lot worse than the other versions.

If Shriek Show's transfer were in HD, it might give Code Red's a real run for its money, certainly trampling the extended cut. But it's not, so Code Red's 91 minute cut is handily the best the film has ever looked, with the smoothest, most lifelike image. Look at the clearing in the trees over Deborah (the standing blonde)'s shoulder. In both the Shriek Show DVD and the 103 minute cut, it's a burst of bright light. But in the 91 minute cut, you can see all the leaves in branches that've been flared out of the other two. Shriek Show and Code Red also have a bit of a difference in coloring, but that's more open to personal preference. Grain is natural on both of Code Red's transfers, though, because the issue with the extended cut is the source material, not the scan.  So you could say the extended cut is a fine presentation of a print that just happens to be in substantially lower quality than the internegative they used for the shorter edit.
1) 2005 SS DVD; 2) 2015 CR BD extended; 3) 2015 CR BD edited;
4) 2019 CD BD extended; 5) 2019 CR BD edited.
So how is the new and improved extended cut in 2019?  Well, some clean-up has definitely been done, but it's still the same rough source.  Looking at the gang setting up camp here, we're still zoomed in with the colors washed and contrast blown out, and that same green chemical line is still running up through Jamie Rose.  But look at the additional chemical damage around Ralph Seymour's head - it's gone.  Similar flecks and spots in the upper left-hand corner of the first set of shots have also clearly been swept up.  And yes, the extra dual-layer space does smarten up the compression.  So hey, progress has been made; it's a step in the right direction.  I don't know if it's a substantial enough restoration to really alter the viewer's experience, though.  You're still watching a rough print.  But given the choice between the two, yeah, hey, I'll take the new one, thanks.

Also, the shorter edit's been tweaked a bit - this time in the color department.  Look up at the first set of shots again and you'll notice Mike Kellin's skin tones are a little less red, and a bit more on the orange side.  The grass is a shade darker while the brights are lighter on his sleeve.  And in the second set, the pinks, reds and oranges are all a bit brighter.  It's not an obvious change, but it does give a little more pop and separation of the characters from their backgrounds.  It's a pretty subjective call, but I think it's a smidgen better on the 2019 than the 2015.

All versions preserve the original mono track, uncompressed on the blus, though a bit noisy on the extended version.  The DVD also throws in a 5.1 mix.  One nice advantage of Code Red's new 2019 edition is that they've added subtitles (albeit to the shorter version only) that neither of the previous discs had.
But now let's get to what was a real shortcoming on Code Red's initial disc: the extras. The Code Red blu gives you two theatrical trailers for the film, which is at least better than nothing. But the Shriek Show set has not only those two trailers but an audio commentary by director Jeff Lieberman, and it's a pretty good one. And what's more, there's a 67 minute long documentary which interviews a whole bunch of the people involved, including Lieberman, producer David Sheldon, the writer Mark Arywitz, and stars Chris Lemmon (yes, Jack Lemmon's son), Jamie Rose and John Hunsacker who played the killer. Oh, and there's also a really interesting section where they talk to Brad Fiedel. So it's really a fantastic special edition that's worth holding onto - or going out of your way to pick up - just for the extras. There's also a photo gallery and a bunch of bonus Shriek Show trailers.
But now Code Red's come back with a special edition of its own.  First of all, they carry over the documentary from the Shriek Show DVD, though it's somewhat shorter here, clocking in at just over 50 minutes, because for whatever reason (at a guess, licensing fee?), they've cut all of Lieberman's interview segments.  And unfortunately, in that hasty editing process, they did threw off the sync.  This isn't the first time Code Red's had a syncing problem recently, which makes me wonder if anybody's bothering to watch their releases for QC before selling them.  But anyway, it gets a bit out of sync pretty quick, and then slowly gets more out of sync as the feature progresses, eventually getting to the point where we're not even hearing the same sentence the people are speaking.  So if you've got your old Shriek Show DVD, don't throw it out.

You'd want to hang onto it anyway, since the audio commentary has not been carried over.  But the better news is that Code Red has created a bunch of new special features, and the syncing and everything is all good with those.  We get four new, on-camera interviews which roughly follow a consistent formula of talking about the film for the first half, and going over the rest of their career in the second.  We already heard from David Sheldon, Chris Lemmon and Jamie Rose in the Shriek Show doc, but there's definitely some new content to be found in the fresh interviews.  Sheldon and Lemmon's interviews are roughly a half hour each.  Then we also get an on-camera interview with star Gregg Henry, who's never been on a Just Before Dawn disc before, so that's a real treat.  There's also an amusing intro to the film, where Henry and Rose meet The Banana Man, plus a bunch of Code Red bonus trailers.  This edition also comes in (one hell of an ugly) slipcover, with reversible artwork.  The official JBD trailers, despite being listed on the box and having been on the previous Code Red blu, have been dropped - another little reason to keep your Shriek Show discs.
So at the end of the day, a lot has changed and very little has changed.  The ideal JBD experience is still the Shriek Show DVD for the extras, and the Code Red blu for the film itself.  The 91 minute cut's transfer still looks the best, while the 103 minute cut still has the best version of the content.  And by including both cuts, Code Red still gives fans both options.  What's changed is that we've added some fun new extras to the pot and some slightly improved transfers with this 2019 edition.  Code Red 2019 is definitely now the best edition even with its botched presentation of the Shriek Show doc.  Whether it's enough of a step forward to warrant paying for a double-dip is up to you, but the new blu pretty well renders the old one obsolete, even if it doesn't manage to take the old DVD down with it.