Breaking Mrs. Dalloway Out of DVD Prison

Here's a perfect little case study for why everybody should go region free: Marleen Gorris's/ Viriginia Woolf's excellent Mrs. Dalloway.  And it's not just the fact that it's only available as a region locked import blu.  Even if you took a "I'm fine sticking with the DVD for this one," because for some reason people think the most important films to see in HD are big action films, even though explosions, movement blur, constant cutting and shaky camera actually hide lower resolution issues more than any kind of footage.  In fact, steady and languid shots that stay focused on close-ups of fine detail are where you're really going to notice unwanted compression.  But fine, Mr. Stubborn, you still insist you're fine with just standard def for dramas and comedy.  Even then, you're not going to be okay with the US option and you'll need to import a region 2 DVD.
Marleen Gorris is probably best known for her previous film, Antonia's Line.  That's the one that won the Academy Award.  Well, I haven't seen it since the 90s, and I remember it being a good movie, but my recollection is that it was pretty schmaltzy from an era where critics seemed to be singling out charming, cutesy foreign films along the lines of Like Water For Chocolate, Amelie, Little Voice, Chocolat, A Very Long Engagement and so on.  Maybe that's not fair; I haven't seen it in decades, and it's not like I'm trying to say those movies suck.  My point simply is: Mrs. Dalloway is not that.  If you're not super familiar with Virigina Woolf, you could be forgiven for expecting just another feathery, period romance, like Notting Hill for grandmothers starring hopelessly out of touch British aristocrats.  No.  The very first scene is a graphic, slow-motion depiction of a man being blown apart by a landmine, as if Morris is specifically saying to us: whatever delicate little box you've got this movie pigeonholed into, my film is not that.
Mrs. Dalloway, the film and the character, is packed with complicated layers.  Even the structure of the film is bouncing around three disparate stories, seeking out their unexpected connections.  A romanticized past, and an anything but romanticized present filled with regret and thoughts of a life lived wrong, and then a contemporaneous young WWI soldier suffering extreme PTSD returned to a genteel London.  The first is a young and wealthy Mrs. Dalloway and her friends, unwittingly making decisions that would set the course for the rest of their lives.  Then Vanessa Redgrave plays the Mrs. Dalloway who's lived out those decisions, now lost in revery and indecision for over what might have been, her greatest potential now being in a dinner party she endlessly frets over.  Will anyone attend?  All that's put into perspective when she observes Rupert Graves at the end of his rope, permanently traumatized by the sides of life she's never had to acknowledge in her carefully shielded experiences.

Perhaps inspired by Emma Thompson's break out success with Sense & Sensibility, not to mention her own involvement in the development of Upstairs Downstairs, Mrs. Dalloway's screenplay was actually penned by actress Eileen Atkins.  There's plenty of terrific, ever-reliable supporting players including Robert Hardy, Alan Cox, Cersei Lannister herself Lena Headey and a particularly sympathetic Michael Kitchen.  And it's all set to an unforgettable theme, with elegantly photographed English locations.
Mrs. Dalloway debuted on DVD back in 1999 from Fox Lorber Films, and if you're a regular on this site, you've probably learned to wince at DVDs that date as far back as the 90s.  They tend to be pretty grubby, and this is no exception.  I'm talking about non-anamorphic widescreen, the whole bit.  First Look reissued it in 2004, but unfortunately it's the same transfer in new packaging.  Meanwhile, over in Region 2 Land, Artificial Eye released a properly anamorphic edition with a little making of doc and the whole bit in 2003.  And that's been the whole story until the HD age, when one country released it on blu, Germany, courtesy of Alive and Alamode Film in 2013.  Of course, you know what region that makes it.
1) First Look DVD; 2) Artificial Eye DVD; 3) Alive BD.
Firstly, this might be a good time to throw in a reminder that a non-anamorphic DVD isn't just annoying for the extreme window-boxing, and the way it makes modern players distort its aspect ratio.  A non-anamorphic widescreen DVD is inherently lower resolution.  So while a DVD generally sits at 720x480 pixels, in this particular case, it has been shrunk down to 535x293, in order to fit the film's proper aspect ratio into the fullscreen box.  And if those numbers seem a bit off, that's because they still don't get the AR exactly right, coming in at 1.82:1.  Artificial Eye's disc not only doesn't have the non-anamorphic issues, it widens out the image to 1.86:1, most noticeably adding more picture on the left.  You'll notice only AE's disc has an extra tower to the building behind them in the second set of shots.  But there's a bit more on the left as well.  It seems to be slightly horizontally squished, however, since Alive widens the image a tad further, to 1.87:1, but still loses that extra info on the sides.  Frankly, they're all slightly off, and a fancy new restoration could probably fit all that info and slivers more into a proper 1.85:1; but these framings are serviceable enough.

Meanwhile, each disc climbs in resolution.  Alive's blu looks like an old master, with only sporadic film grain and a bit of softness to it.  But it's certainly clearer and sharper than AE's DVD, which in turn preserves more detail than First Look's.  The colors also become increasingly less faded, with First Look appearing particularly low contrast with decidedly gray blacks.  The blu is single-layered, 1080p.
All three discs feature a fine Dolby stereo mix.  The back of the blu-ray case has the DTS Master Audio logo, and all the websites seem to credit this disc with DTS-HD, but what's on the disc itself seems to actually be a lossy AC3 encode.  None of the releases offer English subs either, so if you need those, tough luck.  First Look does, however, throw in Spanish subtitles, and Alive naturally has German, along with a complete German 5.1 dub, which is also in AC3.  So, no, that doesn't explain the DTS thing either.  😕
Extras are nothing special, but not nothing at all.  First Look just has the trailer, but Artificial Eye has the trailer plus a fifteen minute 'making of' featurette.  It's promotional and nothing amazing, but it's genuinely informative and worth the watch, catching interviews with many of the cast and crew filmed on location.  Thankfully, Alive keeps the featurette, but despite promising the trailer on the case, loses it, instead only offering a bunch of bonus trailers.  But the featurette's the main thing; as long as that's present, I'm happy.  AE's DVD also includes reversible artwork, and technically so does Alive, as they do that typical German thing, where the reverse is the same thing minus the garish ratings square.
So as you can see, it's not the most amazing blu-ray in the world.  But I think the odds of this getting a fancy 4k restoration are pretty low, and this is the best we've got.  More to the point, however, the US DVD is intolerably poor.  So if you care about this film (and you should), you've got to break those region 1/A chains.

Controversial Blus: Psycho From Texas

Oh boy, I have been super excited at the prospect of finally getting Psycho From Texas since Dark Forces first announced it, and... I guess we got it?  PFT arrives for the first time on blu, as volume 6 of Dark Force's Retro Drive-In Double Feature series, paired with The Gates of Hell (I've also just updated that page, so for a proper comparison of Gates/ City Of the Living Dead, click that link).  Dark Force's response to fans' concern that this release could wind up being an upscale, "[w]e do not divulge our process but we create new high def masters from the best available remaining elements and have a team of the top technicians to restore and do the color correction on them resulting in what will be the BEST AVAILABLE VERSION ON THE MARKET. Trying to harbor on details of how we achieve that is immaterial," [my emphasis] does not exactly inspire confidence.  But advance word of their color correction at least seemed promising, and it's not like there's any other blu-ray release of this film on the horizon; so at the very least, their claim of this being the best version on the market is probably true.  So fingers crossed, this double-dip will be worth it.
2014 Code Red DVD top; 2019 Dark Force BD bottom.
Well, I guess the first hurdle to get over is whether Psycho From Texas is worth adding to your collection in the first place.  Originally released as Wheeler in 1975, Psycho is a bit of a hybrid slasher horror and crime drama.  It shirks the typical Hollywood story structure largely because it's actually based on a(n uncredited) true story.  On April 11, 1967, two middle-aged men in El Dorado Texas broke into the house of George James, then kidnapped him, forcing him to write checks before he eventually escaped and his captors were arrested.  And I have to say, once I learned that they were telling a true story, a lot of the filmmakers' decisions started to add up and it does make the proceedings more compelling.
2014 Code Red DVD top; 2019 Dark Force BD bottom.
Then things get even clearer once you know that additional scenes of sex and violence were shot and added to the film five years later to spice it up and take it from a PG to an R, hence the retitling to Psycho From Texas.  There's a great write-up over at Cool Ass Cinema that tells the whole story of how this film was also then taken from the director and re-edited by the production company.  And yes, it's this spiced up and recut version we have on disc today.  I'd imagine the original version was far more Fargo than Friday the 13th.  So that's another reason everything feels a little strange.  For conventional audiences, this can easily be dismissed as a flat-out bad movie.  But for the enthusiast, who will appreciate the quirks and shirking of conventions, there are enough positive qualities to make this film worth examining.
2014 Code Red DVD top; 2019 Dark Force BD bottom.
John King III clearly dived deep into his performance as the titular Wheeler, also the titular psycho, in a film that's primarily interested in exploring his motivations and inner workings.  This is partially a character study and possibly a study of how a true crime unraveled.  The guy who plays his partner is genuinely creepy, too, once things get dark; and this film isn't afraid to get as grim and sleazy as its real life counterparts presumably did.  But it has a sense of humor, too.  Plus, PFT is one of scream queen Linnea Quigley's earliest film appearances (she only entered the picture in the additional 1980 scenes).  But on the other hand, some of other performances have a clunky, amateurish feel, some of the humor is highly questionable, and the movie is saddled with a somewhat charming but undeniably cheesy country soundtrack that lays thick and heavy over the on-screen action.  Plus the fact that one character chases another through the woods for nearly a half an hour of screen time (admittedly, they do cut away to other scenes during this part) is a real test of audiences' patience.
2014 Code Red DVD top; 2019 Dark Force BD bottom.
Psycho From Texas more or less debuted on DVD in 2014, as part of Code Red's 2-disc Six Pack Volume 3 collection (follow that link for a more in-depth look at that release and the five other films).  I say "more or less" because, strictly speaking, Linnea Quigley has been selling autographed DVD copies of Wheeler (which I'm guessing is a rip of the old Paragon VHS) on her website long before that.  And now in 2019, Dark Force has joined forces with Code Red, and used their same master "featuring extensive scene by scene color correction," to deliver this film's blu-ray debut.
2014 Code Red DVD top; 2019 Dark Force BD bottom.
Both releases present the film at 1.78:1, although the DVD has minor pillarboxing in the overscan areas, and is very slightly squeezed, leaving 1.76:1 of actual picture.  Dark Force fixes that and shifts the image slightly, revealing an extra sliver of info along the top.  As you can see in the first set of shots, the credits suggests this transfer has been slightly misframed, so I guess that shift corrects that by 1% or so.  For anyone really curious about this movie's framing, like I was, I grabbed a shot of the fullscreen transfer from the 2011 documentary Screaming In High Heels[left], where you can see slightly more vertical information with the mattes removed, but it crops substantially more off the sides.  That's just as an aside.

Anyway, all the framing and the prolific print damage is identical across both releases because they've not only used the same source 35mm print, Dark Force has used the same scan Code Red made for their DVD.  The mystery is whether that scan was truly HD, which would determine whether Dark Force's blu is truly an upscale or not.
2014 Code Red DVD left; 2019 Dark Force BD right.
And to that end, well, I've gotta say, I don't see any restored detail on the blu, and it has the same, soft look.  Though grain is a little stronger in spots.  That said, there's no question that the color correction makes a big difference, and really enhances the quality of the image.  Everything from skies to flesh tones are much more natural, shadows are deep and what was faded is now (mostly) vivid.  It gives a nice, bolder separation to elements in the image that at least lends it the illusion of boosted resolution.  Dark Force is right that this is the best available version on the market, but that doesn't mean this isn't an SD image upscaled for an HD disc.  And as we can see when we get in close, there's some weird combing going on around the images (look at the hairline, or under the eye), like they used some kind of sharpening filter.  Perhaps that's the process they don't want to divulge.  Well, at least it's dual-layered.

Both discs feature the original mono track, though it's in uncompressed DTS-HD on the blu.  There are no subtitles on either release.
The Gates Of Hell
There are no real Psychos From Texas extras, but of course we get more than just the one movie.  Code Red's Six Pack, of course, features the five other movies and a bonus trailer.  And Dark Force's is a double-feature with The Gates Of Hell.  Again, you can see a proper comparison to multiple other releases of that film on its own page, but here's a quick screenshot.  In brief, it's a decent scan of a 35mm print.  It's fairly damaged, with lots of green chemical lines, and it leans pretty blue.  Naturally, it falls short of Arrow's recent restoration of the OCN, and has none of the special features or alternate language options, but at least it has a naturally filmic transfer that's clearly a higher quality scan than PFT is sporting.

The only other feature on the disc is the option to watch this in "Damon Packard's Drive-In Mode," which plays both movies in a row as a double feature.  And in between the two films, this feature adds about fifteen minutes worth of vintage drive-in ads and theatrical trailers.  This release also comes in a very attractive, glossy glow-in-the-dark slipcover.
2014 Code Red DVD top; 2019 Dark Force BD bottom.
So, when all's said and done, how happy am I with this?  Well, the color correction really does help a lot, so this is a genuine upgrade.  But considering how expensive this release is, I really can't recommend it to anyone except die-hard Psychos From Texas fans (all four of us).  The Gates From Hell half of this double-bill really is pointless considering the film's already been restored from the OCN, but the fact that it's a higher resolution scan just points up how frustrating this situation is.  Imagine if they'd spent that money to re-scan Psychos instead.  Even if there's no better source than the print Code Red used in 2014, it would still look better than what we've just been given.  But what-if's aside, this is less of a jump from DVD to Blu than it is a jump from one DVD to a better DVD.  If you need the best available version on the market, this is it.  But in Wheeler's case, that ain't sayin' much.

Update Week Concludes... Beyond All the Doors! The Beyond the Door Trilogy

It's time to go beyond all the doors!  The Beyond the Door movies are three unrelated Italian horror films that just so happen to be sequels to each other.  Ones a pretty well made Exorcist knock-off, one's an atmospheric ghost story, and one's about a coven of Yugoslavian witches on a train.  They're all a good time, though; and they do share some coincidental themes.  Thankfully, they also have pretty decent DVD releases.

Update 9/4/15 - 8/23/19: And one of them even has a blu-ray release.  Amazingly, the sequels still don't, but in 2017 Code Red upgraded their DVD to BD.  It's been requested a couple of times, so I just had to include it before I closed out Update Week.  Otherwise, could we really say we went beyond all the doors?  😜
The original Beyond the Door, released in 1974, is the directorial debut of Ovidio G. Assonitis, who also directed a couple other films we've looked at here on DVD Exotica: Super Stooges vs the Wonder Women and The Visitor. Like I said, it's a pretty blatant Exorcist rip-off - it's got the head spin gag and everything - but it also goes in some pretty original directions. Where Exorcist was about a mother whose little girl becomes demonically possessed, here the mother is possessed by Satan himself, who actually opens the film by directly addressing the audience. While the bulk of the film focuses on the possession and following in the Exorcist's footsteps, the plot goes off in some different directions towards the end, which I won't spoil, but definitely doesn't march in line with Friedkin's film. I also don't remember him having any scenes with an aggressive nose flutist.
Beyond the Door's pretty well made. It's got high production values, is stylishly shot, and stars two very credible British actors: Juliet Mills and Richard Johnson. It's got some effective sequences, only about half of which are derivative, and it easily out-classes most of the Exorcist clones that popped up around its time. It might strike viewers as boring, as it can get a bit dry in the middle considering so much is entirely "seen it before" stuff; but it's held aloft by the novelty value of some two badly dubbed children who curse like sailors.
Beyond the Door debuted on DVD in Japan, from JVD, which was a pretty nice import. It was widescreen and featured an international cut about ten minutes longer than what had been released on VHS in the US. Unfortunately, it wasn't anamorphic, and the only extra was a trailer. But Code Red took care of that, releasing a loaded special edition in 2008. I used to own the JVD disc, and I think it had the same core transfer, but Code Red made it anamorphic, and like I said, had a bunch of extras. But that's not all. Code Red made a 2-Disc Collector's Edition exclusive for Best Buy with some bonus goodies.  And that was all until 2017, when Code Red reissued the film on blu with a "Brand New 2016 HD Master."
1) 2008 Code Red DVD; 2) 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
So this master starts off correcting the slightly off 1.83:1 of the DVD to a proper 1.85:1, and the newer framing is actually slightly tighter around all four sides.  Film grain on the blu is still a bit light, but generally present and film-like, and it clears away the unfortunate compression artifacts and combing that was present on the DVD.  You can read much more of the lettering on the book behind the kids now in this clearer HD presentation.  The colors have also been re-timed, and overall it's a nice improvement, but at some points, like that first set of shots with Gabriel Lavia crossing the street, I prefer the color timing of the DVD.  But there's no way anyone in their right mind is going to look at that close-up and say, "no thanks, I prefer the standard def version."

Both editions only offer the English mono track, with no subtitles, but the blu-ray does bump its track up to uncompressed DTS-HD.
Before we get into the extras proper, one of the goodies the Best Buy 2-disc set features is the shorter, US theatrical cut, taken from a funky looking, fullscreen (1.32:1) source. There's nothing exclusive to the US cut, it's only missing stuff, so this version only really has curiosity value. Especially considering the quality of the print, you're definitely going to choose to watch the main version on disc 1.  I think this was only included to show off how much better Code Red's main transfer looked.

Now as far the regular extras, there are two audio commentaries, one with Juliet Mills and a really good one by Ovidio himself. Both have multiple moderators to help things along. There's also a terrific 35 Years Later featurette, which includes interviews with just about everybody and is very engaging. There's also a fun, on camera interview with Richard Johnson, plus the trailer, a TV spot, stills gallery and some bonus trailers. And the first 2500 copies pressed featured a cool looking slip cover, pictured above. The Best Buy edition never came in the slip, but did feature an on-camera interview with Juliet Mills (who was seen on disc 1 in the 35 Years Later featurette), where the focus is on the rest of her career rather than Beyond the Door.
And the blu?  That's got everything from the single-disc DVD, but not the Best Buy exclusive stuff.  The fullscreen, edited version of the film is no loss, but it's a shame they didn't squeeze on Juliet Mills' interview, if only so we don't feel like we're moving backwards when we upgrade.  But if I had to lose one of the old DVD's extras, that would be it.  And for our one step backwards, we get to take two forward, because we also get something new and better: an on-camera interview with co-star Gabriel Lavia, in Italian with dense English subtitles.  He's funny and has some unique anecdotes we haven't heard in the previous extras.  The blu-ray also includes reversible artwork and a cheesy, illustrated slipcover.
Ovidio had nothing to do with 1977's Beyond the Door 2, released on DVD in the US under the title Shock, and has said in interviews that he doesn't approve of the title borrowing. This Beyond the Door is actually the final film by Mario Bava, and it's based on an original script by Dardano Sacchetti and Mario's son, Lamberto Bava, who also got his start directing by shooting a few scenes in this movie. It's the story of a small family who move into a new house, which turns out to be sort of haunted. Everything seems great at first, of course, but we soon learn the father isn't the real father, he's just "mom's new boyfriend," because the real father killed himself years before, in this very house. And somehow that's causing their young son to behave pretty horribly towards his mother, who's having enough problems dealing with flying furniture and visions of the dead.
Unsurprisingly for Bava fans, Beyond 2 is a very well crafted film. It's well shot and full of the the kind of ingenious camera tricks he's known for. It also has a bold score by Goblin and stars Dario Argento's former wife and collaborator, Daria Nicolodi and Ivan Rassimov, who was unforgettable as the devil in The Eerie Midnight Horror Show. And by sheer coincidence, the possessed child in this film is the young actor who played Juliet Mills' son in the first Beyond the Door. He never acted in anything else before or since, just these two movies, and he's definitely not playing the same character. But once again he's badly dubbed and behaving diabolically. In fact, that's this film's greatest weakness or appeal, depending on your attitude. The child is basically this film's Freddy Krueger, but he's so badly dubbed, running around cursing and things, that he's downright comical. Only a really die-hard Bava fan will be able to see past it and take this film seriously as the atmospheric horror it's meant to be. But on the other hand, he's a real hoot (like he was in the first film) if you take it all as camp. But this is a film that wants you to take it very seriously.

There had been a couple underwhelming international DVDs of this title out there for years (i.e. barebones, non-anamorphic), but the first worthwhile release came from Anchor Bay in 2000. This featured a high-end 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and an interview with Lamberto Bava, as well as a couple trailers and this cool insert[right] with the Beyond the Door 2 poster art. Blue Underground re-issued it in 2007 when the rights went to them; but it's the same disc. It also featured English, Italian and French audio tracks, which was great except for one problem: no subtitles! So, unless you're fluent in the other languages, you're still stuck with the English audio. And that's a real shame, because I checked out the other tracks, and the kid is dubbed much better in the other versions. In the US version, he's dubbed by an adult attempting to sound like a little boy, and it comes off as really cheesy; but with the other tracks, you could finally take this film seriously. That's how this film needs to be seen!
I'm actually really surprised, this being the final Bava film and all, that we've yet to see a blu-ray release of this anywhere in the world. The DVD print isn't bad, as far as DVD prints go, but it could still benefit nicely from an HD transfer. That, plus the Italian and English audio options (I could take or leave the French dub; but the kid sounds much better than the American voice actor there, too) with subtitles would be terrific. Interview Daria, get a Tim Lucas commentary... how isn't this a thing already? It's a no-brainer! But, in the meantime, this DVD isn't so bad so long as you're on board for the kids' dubbing. And frankly, if they released a version without the US audio, no sale! As hokey as it is, I'd really miss it; it's become a critical part of the film's history. But we need the Italian version, too.
Anyway, after that, it took another twelve years to get another unconnected sequel. Except the series returned to Ovidio Assonitis. This time he's just the producer, but based on interviews, he seemed to be the driving force behind this project. But his original title for the film was Train, and he says it was the distributors' idea to use the Beyond the Door title, an idea he was against. Because, once again, it has nothing to do with the other movies,
Bo Svenson stars in this one, a story of a bunch of American college kids who travel to Yugoslavia and run afoul of a coven of witches who want to sacrifice them all.  The bulk of the film takes place on a runaway train, hence the film's original title.  This movie's from a whole different generation than the first two and feels very different. It's very 80s, less serious but gorier. and much less interested in psychology than kills.  But it's got a good look to it, and at least someone gets possessed in this, so there's a thematic connection to the other Doors.

It's kind of a dumb movie.  It has dialogue like:
"What is it you love about me?"
"I don't know, your hair?"
...But it delivers the goods.  There's plenty of special effects, exotic locations, action, production values (they got extensive use of that train), and a whole bunch of crazy, entertaining stuff happening at all times.  The cinematography's back to workman-like after the Bava entry, but it's well shot and there's plenty of interesting stuff in front of the camera, so it still looks pretty impressive.
There was a cheap Dragon DVD first, but the Shriek Show release is the one to own. It's got a nice, anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer... although, to be honest, the framing looks pretty tight. I wonder if it wasn't really meant to be 1.85? Anyway, Dragon's wasn't even anamorphic, so I'd say Shriek Show wins whatever the case. It's also got some nice extras, including a long interview with Assonitis and another interview with the cinematographer. There's also a couple trailers, and an easter egg of an alternate title card with the title Amok Train, which is also what's on the case (the on-screen title is Beyond the Door III).
I'm actually surprised none only one of these films have hit HD yet, since the first two at least are some pretty major horror titles, especially in the annals of Italian genre history. But for now, these Code Red, Anchor Bay/ Blue Underground and Shriek Show editions are pretty satisfying. And you know, maybe these labels will be nudged into upgrading their titles on that fateful day the long-rumored Beyond the Door 4 finally appears.