The Latest Chapter of H.P. Lovecraft's Necronomicon

Here's one I've been eagerly anticipating!  Necronomicon is a severely under-appreciated 1993 horror anthology based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft, produced and partially directed by Brian Yuzna.  It's struggled long and hard to find its way to us, as you'll see, but Germany's Wicked Vision is finally getting their new 3-disc (blu-ray/ DVD + bonus disc combo pack) edition into fans' hands around the world.  It's a mediabook, which is fitting for a film named after one of the most infamous books of all time.
Yuzna's work seems to be going through a bit of a revival lately, with fresh fans discovering the demented brilliance of films like Society and Return Of the Living Dead 3.  And Necronomicon is one of his absolute best.  The idea here was to create a more international flavor, so this ambitious anthology features a French segment directed by Cristophe Gans (Crying Freeman) and a Japanese segment by Shûsuke Kaneko (the Gamera and Death Note films) in addition to his American one.  These guys add a slightly artier, more stylized feel to Yuzna's fun, gory romp, creating a collaboration somewhat reminiscent of his work with Stuart Gordon.  It's a great blend, especially with the Lovecraft source material as well.  It's got a great little cast, including Richard Lynch, Bruce Payne, David Warner and Return Of the Living Dead's Don Calfa, plus a whole bunch of wild, practical effects.  Jeffrey Combs even appears in the wrap-around (also directed by Yuzna) to play Lovecraft himself, sporting a fake chin that gives him a surprising resemblance to Bruce Campbell.
I remember desperately trying to track down a copy of a crappy, fullscreen DVD of Necronomicon from Brazil.  And then I remember how happy I was when I could give up the search in 2004 because Metropolitan came out with a stunning, widescreen 2-disc special edition in France.  Plenty of much bigger and better known horror films weren't getting releases that nice from major studios in the US.  That DVD was all you needed to know about Necronomicon through the whole SD era.  Then ten years later, Metropolitan turned their one and only DVD release into a one and only blu-ray.  But something's finally come along to dethrone it: the new, 2019 3-disc mediabook release from Wicked-Vision.  First announced back in 2016 for a 2017 release, it's obviously run into a few hurdles along the way, but it's finally here.
One of those hurdles actually came after the film's release, when it turned out the blu-ray had a mastering error.  So everyone who had this pre-ordered got a bum disc.  But full credit to WV, they jumped on it quick and started a replacement program and have already issued corrected versions to stores.  Those who ordered it direct from the label were automatically issued a replacement, and everyone else can fill out a form for a free one here.  If you bought this and aren't sure if you've got the faulty or corrected disc, it's easy to tell the difference, as you can see in the photo above.  That's the original faulty disc on the left with the blue and red tentacles, and the corrected version on the right, with the purple and green. 
1) 2004 French Metropolitan DVD; 2) 2019 German Wicked Vision DVD;
3) 2019 German Wicked Vision BD.
So, we're obviously looking at the same master here; the new release hasn't changed anything in that regard.  Metropolitan and Wicked Vision even share the same wonky pillarboxing that shifts from shot to shot in the overscan area... notice how it's all on the right in the first set of shots, then split thinner onto both sides in the second?  The film is essentially presented as 1.78:1, but usually hovers around 1.76:1.  Otherwise though, for an older master, it holds up on a modern blu fairly well.  Grain is a little patchy and a little digital-looking, the exact sort of thing a 2 or 4k remaster would fix up nicely; but I've seen plenty of newer blus looking worse.  So as long as you're not expecting anything cutting edge, you should be pretty happy.  The two DVDs look nearly identical, though WV's has a ever so slightly more contrast, and the HD blu genuinely does reveal more fine detail that you couldn't make out in SD.

So if they're virtually identical, what makes Wicked Vision's release superior?  Well, to start with, the Metropolitan DVD had forced French subtitles when you played the English audio track (it includes both the original English and a French dub, both in 5.1).  I believe they did fix that on their blu (and bump both tracks up to DTS-HD), but the subs are still forced on many of the special features.  Also, neither Metropolitan disc has English subtitle options.  Wicked Vision, on the other hand, has the same English 5.1 mix, with an German stereo mix instead of the French dub (both in DTS-HD on the blu) and this time, Both German and English subtitles are optional on the film and the extras.   So that already puts it in the lead, but the best is yet to come.
As great as it was to see Necronomicon restored to widescreen, the biggest surprise of Metropolitan's release was that it was packed with extras.  There aren't a lot of fully loaded, completely exclusive special editions in France, but here was one.  For starters, there's a lively audio commentary by Christophe Gans and Brian Yuzna.  Then there's an hour long documentary that's packed with great behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes and some surprisingly funny anecdotes.  That's followed up by five more featurettes, which are basically just like another hour's worth of documentary broken up into smaller bits.  But it does bring in some more people, like composer Joseph LoDuca and the other international producers.  Then there's also a vintage promo featurette, the trailer, two galleries (including one that shows a full set of storyboards for a deleted fourth segment!), and a 12-page booklet (in French).  It also has a pretty sweet easter egg: Gans' student 15-minute student film called The Silver Slime.  It's all style and no substance, and in some ways feels as clunky as you'd expect a student film to be, but it's got a great look and pays homage to Mario Bava.  Metropolitan also added the complete soundtrack as another extra on their BD.
The Silver Slime
And Wicked Vision?  They carry over everything from the French releases, except unfortunately, for that easter egg.  But they make up for it by creating a bunch of new special features.  For starters, we get a brand new, hour long(!) interview with Brian Yuzna.  Actually, that's the least valuable, only because he mostly just repeats what he says in the previous features, often verbatim.  There's also a fun new, on-camera interview with effects artist Steve Johnson, who only worked on one quick effects scene on the film, so he talks about that for three minutes and spends the rest of the time chatting about the nature of physical vs. CGI effects, etc.  The best of the new interviews, then, is screenwriter Brent V. Friedman, who's an important voice who'd been left out of the original French features.  There's a second audio commentary by two German experts, too, but that's the only thing that isn't English friendly on their discs.  They've also added a couple additional trailers, which is nice, a bonus trailer for Highway To Hell (that annoyingly plays on start-up) and their book is 24-pages (in German).  It's also worth noting that Wicked Vision's mediabook comes in three variant covers, each limited to 333 copies.  Mine, shown above, is cover B.  And they're planning to release a standard edition, but that'll be a single disc release, minus most of the extras, including the doc, which was easily the best feature.
So, I do kinda miss The Silver Slime, but overall, Wicked Vision's is a more flush and satisfying edition that's also free of those pesky French subs.  Yeah, it's the same transfer, so if you already have the French blu and aren't fussed about extras (the DVD had forced subs on the film, but the BD only has 'em on some of the special features), it may not be worth double-dipping.  But if you're picking up the film for the first time, the Wicked Vision is the one to get.  It's also region free, which is more than can be said for the B-locked Metropolitan.

1 comment:

  1. Nifty little horror film. They don't make 'em like this anymore. David Warner R.I.P
    A Fantastic genre actor who will be sorely missed.