A Pair of Scorpions #1: A Pair of Unseen Blu-rays

In 2013, Scorpion Releasing put out the 1980 cult horror film The Unseen on blu-ray.  And in 2018, Scorpion Releasing put out the 1980 cult horror film The Unseen on blu-ray.  It's not often that a label puts out the same title twice without it being a change in format (i.e. first they released the blu, now they're releasing the UHD), at least not since the days of Anchor Bay pumping out Army of Darkness DVD after Army of Darkness DVD.  What's the story there?  This is a classic Scorpion case I've been meaning to delve into for a while, so here we go.
The Unseen is one of Kim Henkel's few horror movie scripts outside of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, and one of the few other films directed by Friday the 13th Part 5's Danny Steinmann.  It's a smart little thriller with some seriously dark psychology (the Henkel touch!) and an impressive cast, including a delightfully villainous Sydney Lassick of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest fame, Lelia Goldoni, Bond girl Barbara Bach and Animal House's Stephen Furst who really goes for broke and turns would could have easily been a corny B-movie turn into a shocking spectacle.  On the one hand, it's more of a thinker than a gore fest, but on the other, even by today's standards it's pretty twisted and not afraid to get trashy.  It would be hard to sell this film as high-brow, but there's more to it than your generic slasher.
Now, a note on spoilers: it's a big reveal late in the third act what exactly "the unseen" is.  It's been attacking our protagonists and kept secret by our antagonists, and even if you pretty much guess what it is, the actual look and characteristics are a surprise.  The film's trailer teases at it, the posters keep it a secret, but Scorpion seems to delight in stomping through the garden, revealing the film's secrets at all turns.  Katrina shows it very clearly and deliberately in her video introduction, and the 2018 slipcover and artwork draw it explicitly.  I've only shown the reverse artwork here and won't reveal it in this post, but Scorpion is apparently supremely confident that whoever purchases their discs will have already seen the film.  So I'm not a big worrier over spoilers - I don't avoid film trailers, and I rarely feel the viewing experience of a film is ruined if you know any plot points going in.  But this is a rare and true "spoiler" in my book, so if you've never seen the film, I suggest you watch it online or elsewhere before getting either of these discs and having the big reveal ruined for you.
2013 Scorpion BD top; 2018 Scorpion BD bottom.
According to the back of the case, the 2018 blu is a "Brand New 2K Scan of the Original Negatives with Over 45 Hours of Color Correction," and indeed the difference is obvious.  Both discs are presented in 1.78:1, but the framing is different... both from each other and from shot to shot.  In the first set of shots, the new blu is just framed slightly lower, but in the second set, the new blu pulls out to reveal more information along all four sides.  And it's a little weird how Code Red, Scorpion and Dark Force evaluate color correction by hours, but there's no denying the results.  The older blu looks pale and leans pink compared to the more robust 2018 version where each element is more distinct.
2013 Scorpion BD left; 2018 Scorpion BD right.
Grain and fine detail-wise, the new scan doesn't make a huge leap forward.  In some areas, grain is more distinct, but in other areas (say, the red curtains above), it's still smoothed away.  But there are other improvements.  The older blu displays constant areas of blocking and pixelated edges, which has has been cleaned up in the new transfer.  Dirt and damage has also been cleaned up this second time around - look at that white spot on Sydney Lassick's temple in the left-hand image.  A 4k scan on UHD would've really nailed the grain, but this new 2k edition is still much more naturally filmic experience than the earlier, more digitized image on the old blu.

The audio sounds essentially the same, the original mono track in a strong DTS-HD mix.  But another improvement with the 2018 disc is that they've added optional English subtitles, which the original version neglected.
But if we're really determined to find the motivation between the dual blus, I think the answer is to be found here, in the special features department.  Before it fell to Scorpion, Code Red had released the previously definitive 2008 two-disc DVD set of The Unseen.  Until then, it had been nothing but barebones, fullscreen grey market junk.  And when Scorpion took it over for blu-ray, well first of all, they issued it as the longer, uncut version (apparently Code Red's cut was two and a half minutes short).  But Code Red had compiled a pretty packed special edition, and Scorpion carried it all over... with a few issues.
First of all, there's an excellent audio commentary by producer Tony Unger and star Stephen Furst, but on the original blu it skips, goes out of sync, and repeats a couple minutes of footage.  This is probably because they're applying the commentary recorded for the shorter cut to the now longer cut, and nobody really tested the commentary all the way through on the blu.  Well, now this new 2018 blu fixes it, so that's nice.  Second, Code Red had a 38 minute interview with effects artist Craig Reardon, which on the 2013 blu cuts off the last two minutes.  The 2018 blu fixes that, too.  Code Red also had two stills galleries, both of which Scorpion technically ported over, but clicking them on the menu wouldn't work; they were dead links.  Technically, the galleries were on the disc, but you needed to open them on a computer or find another clever work-around.  And, this is a lesser issue, but still one more quirk for the fire: the on-camera interviews on the 2013 disc (there are great ones with Doug Barr, Stephen Furst and effects artist Tom Burman) play in a different order than they're listed on the menu.  Basically, the 2013 menu was hastily compiled and full of errors.
So the 2018 clears up all those embarrassing mistakes... although, one step backwards: they fix the second stills gallery error by dropping it entirely.  Good thing it's just a stills gallery, or that would be really frustrating.  And hey, even as I'mdetailing all these glitches, you have to be picking up on the fact that, hey, this is an impressively packed special edition.  They also include the trailers, and Scorpion added their own Katrina's Nightmare Theater wrap-arounds.  And to entice fans who already copped the 2013 blu to double-dip, the 2018 blu added one more on-camera interview with editor Jonathon Braun.  This is a film with a lot of mysteries behind it: scrapped previous productions, uncredited writers and disputes over who truly designed the final creature, so getting all these interviews and perspectives is uncommonly elucidating.  ...The 2018 blu also comes in the aforementioned spoiler-heavy slipcover and reversible artwork.
So is the double-dip worth it?  I'd say yes if you're a real fan of this film.  Superior transfer, subtitles, new interview and annoying glitches fixed.  That's a lot of upgrade for your buck.  If you're just kind of "meh" about The Unseen, and you only bought it in the first place because you often blind buy every cult horror title labels like Scorpion releases, then maybe it's less crucial.  The 2013 blu is still perfectly watchable and genuinely HD, with an impressive collection of extras.  I've seen the older blu selling for pretty cheap in a few spots, so this might be more of an opportunity to score that one for a nice price.  But if you want the best edition, this is of unquestionably it; and if you do double-dip, you won't feel like it was a waste.

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