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.

1 comment:

  1. Considering there's like a 40 posts on the Dark Force blu-ray.com thread debating whether or not this is an upscale, this is an underrated review.

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