Disaster Averted: Tremors Salvaged By Arrow

Alright, gang.  If I didn't cover this release sooner or later, I'm pretty sure they'd pull my DVDExotica license.  Yes, today we're finally tackling the... "controversial?"  More like "infamous" blu-ray release of Tremors from Universal.  Yes, this release stands right alongside - or maybe even in front of - Predator as one of the most notorious DNR jobs in blu-ray history... made all the worse for it happening to two of the most beloved, crowd pleasing genre of films of their day.  And looking at it now, the DNR might not even be the most disappointing thing about this crummy disc.

Update 12/29/20: Oh, thank goodness!  The toxic spill that was all previous editions of Tremors on DVD and blu has finally been cleaned up, and trust Arrow to not only give us a fancy, special edition blu but a full-blown UHD.  Woot!
Tremors is one of those small big budget (11m in 1990) studio flicks that tends to have a short lifespan but was fortunate enough to generate a lot of good will.  You know, for every Mummy, there were four or five Relics.  Writer/ Director Ron Underwood would go on to make the Oscar-winning City Slickers right after this, and it feels like a lot of the spirit of that film germinated here.  It's a sort of family-friendly, PG-13 horror film that's still effective enough, in terms of effects, suspense sequences and attractive horror ideas (the concept of these monsters right beneath us under the ground, attracted to the vibrations we make, is pretty darn cool), to hold onto its base audience as well the mainstream viewers captured by its humor and ensemble cast.  And they really struck gold with that cast.  Kevin Bacon is their biggest name lead, but we've also got great turns by Fred Ward, country music star Reba McEntire, John Carpenter all-star Victor Wong and Family Ties' Michael Gross who made not seem like a big get on first appraisal, but who turned himself into the heart of the franchise.
Universal's presentation of Tremors may not show it much if any respect, but it's clearly one of their star selling titles.  Stores like Best Buy and FYE still put it out on display every Halloween to this day.  They first released it all the way back in 1998 and reissued it in 2000 and again as a double-feature with the first sequel in 2001.  They released an 'Attack Pack' in 2005 of the first four films, a 2009 re-release packaged with "movie money" for Land Of the Lost, an HD-DVD in 2007, the 2010 blu-ray, a 2013 blu-ray edition of the 'Attack Pack,' with a reportedly slightly better transfer, an 'Anthology' collection on both DVD and blu in 2016 of the first five movies, a 'Complete Collection' of the first six films on DVD and blu in 2018, and an FYE-exclusive steelbook release of the BD in 2019.  Finally, Universal let somebody else have a go at it, and in 2020 we got new 4k restorations on BD and UHD from Arrow.  I've got the original DVD, the 2019 blu and of course the latest UHD.
1) 1998 Universal DVD; 2) 2019 Universal BD; 3) 2020 Arrow BD.
To be fair, the blu-ray is clearly a sizeable improvement over the DVD.  But that's only because the DVD also looks like it has something seriously wrong with it.  Like, ordinarily, I'd look at a blu-ray of this low quality and say, that's such a pitiful HD bump, just hang onto your DVD.  But annoyingly, you can't even do that, because the DVD is nigh unwatchable on a modern television.  Right off the bat, the DVD is widescreen (1.85:1), but non-anamorphic.  That's typical of really old DVDs like this, which might make it more forgivable, but certainly not acceptable.  But even putting that aside, and the extra-compressed resolution that the inherently smaller image has to have, it looks awful, like the detail has been filtered away.  Where'd Kevin's mouth go, for instance?  It's also got some unattractive edge enhancement haloing going on, but given the state of the DVD presentation, I'd say that enhancement is actually necessary, as it's the only way viewers could make out what they're supposed to be looking at.

And I think that's the big clue as to what's wrong with the old blu, which yes, is the exact same blu in the new steelbook as the first release (it's still got the "2010" on the label and everything).  Well, apart from the DNR, which smooths over not just the film grain but subtle detail like hairs and clothing threads.  I mean, look at Fred Ward's close-up a little higher up; it looks like they blasted him with Botox.  But the DNR, while a serious flaw and I realize this is an extreme statement, doesn't even strike me as the blu-ray's most egregious flaw.  It's that over-the-top edge enhancement.  It makes it look like someone drew crayon lines around random parts of the image, and creating random highlights (suddenly you can't take your eyes off that shovel in the background of the nighttime attack scene).  And like I said a moment ago, you see it in the DVD, too; but there you kind of need it because the image is so over-compressed and digitized.  It has no place in an HD image, but I assume that's what the problem is.  Universal struck their transfer from the same, ancient HD master they made way back in the time of (if not before!) their 1998 DVD.  So it's got all that junky tinkering because they applied it for low quality transfers of the era, not the modern HD age.  And even though Universal was still re-releasing this as recently as 2019, because it's clearly one of their top sellers, they've been unwilling to strike a new master, despite desperately needing one.
See how the edges of his jeans have a thick dark outline, with
a second bright, light outline around that? That's edge enhancement.
Anyway, besides all that, there's very sporadic dirt and print damage on hand, but it's just single frame stuff that flashes right by.  And the blu is at least also matted to 1.85.  They frame the image slightly higher than the DVD, which might actually be a slight improvement.  The colors and levels are essentially the same, because, again, it's surely the same master.  The fact that the Attack Pack disc reportedly looks the same except for being less DNR'd makes that the preferable, but still crappy, option.  But it also suggests the DNR was applied for the blu-ray after the rest of the tweaking to the master.  And after all, who would need to scrub away even more detail from that DVD.  One would've hoped Universal would've at least used that version for their recent BD reissues, but honestly, this whole mess is unacceptable in 2019.  And anyway, it's all academic now.

Because Arrow has saved us!  I wrote before that the DVD looked about VHS quality, and the BD was just barely the quality of a respectable DVD.  So is the new UHD the equivalent of a decent BD?  Honestly, I'd've been happy with that, given the history.  But thankfully, no, this is a first class 4k Ultra HD disc.  Everything that's wrong with the past editions has been swept away with no unfortunate repetitions of edge enhancement or other foolish tinkering.  Resolution takes a massive leap forward, with natural, unpixelated grain.  This is the darkest version yet - look at the sky in the second set of shots for an easily recognizable delineation of the shifting tones - but there are still moments of pure whites, so it's not overly dark... indeed the old DVD was over-exposed.  The colors are also fairly muted and subtle, though primaries start to pop in the second half of the film.  Tremors is just a dusty western film, and now it really looks it.
The audio situation has actually always been reasonably fine, with the DVD offering the original stereo mix in a solid Dolby track (though the Attack Pack dumped it for a remixed 5.1... one step forwards; one step back), as well as additional French and Spanish dubs and optional English and Spanish subtitles.  The blu-ray gave us the 5.1 mix in lossless DTS-HD, plus the French dub and English, Spanish and French subs.  My only complaint before the update is that it would've been nice to hang onto the original stereo mix, but the two tracks didn't strike me as terribly different to my ears, so it was a small quibble compared to the PQ drama.  Still, Arrow are perfectionists, so of course they returned the stereo mix to us, in DTS-HD, in addition to the 5.1 and a third 4.0 mix, also in DTS-HD.  And they still have the English subs; they just dropped the foreign language options.
As for extras, I never really had any complaints.  This is a big, popular sci-fi/ horror flick, so you expect some quality content, and we got some right from the get-go.  Primarily, there was a 'making of' documentary, which is a little under an hour.  It's fairly comprehensive and successfully entertaining, talking to the director, two writers and some of the effects guys.  We also get a handful of interesting deleted scenes, misleadingly labeled "Outtakes" (though disappointingly, they leave out a filmed but never released prologue where an earthquake unleashes the graboids and they kill a wolf), plus a couple very brief (2-3 minutes) featurettes and two trailers.  The blu-ray added an additional, roughly ten minute collection of behind-the-scenes footage of the various special effects, and the Attack Pack also includes extras for the other three Tremors films included in that set, but nothing else for the original.  So good but not great.  Until Arrow rolled into town.

They've given us a super-packed, 2-disc set.  Fortunately, they used a 100GB disc, because the UHD is packed, as is the bonus blu.  First of all, everything from the old releases is here, the DVD stuff and the blu's additional featurette.  And so much more.  There are two audio commentaries, a robust one with the director and his two co-writers, and one with an expert who, frankly, doesn't add much to the conversation.  Then there's a new, half hour documentary called Making Perfection, which talks to a number of key players including, yes, Kevin Bacon and even Jamie Kennedy, who was only in a couple of the sequels.  Then there are great, high quality interviews with co-producer Nancy Roberts, DoP Alexander Gruszynski, the second unit producer, all the major effects guys and both composers (who are pretty frank about the issues they had over the replacement).  And there are a bunch of small things, like radio spots, TV commercials, a VHS promo, a collection of the audio edits where they overdubbed curses with clean language for television and a massive stills gallery.  Oh, and a nice touch I appreciated: a trailer gallery for all the sequels.
Library Report
And that's just disc 1!  Disc two starts out with extended interviews from Making Perfection.  That was just over half an hour, right?  Well, the extended interviews run over five hours, so that's a massive collection of new material.  Yes, as you could probably guess, they talk a lot about their early careers here, but there's a bunch more about Tremors, too.  Then there's a fun collection of actual outtakes (not just mislabeled deleted scenes) with optional director's commentary.  Then there's a Q&A from a 2015 reunion screening, which runs over 70 minutes and is worth your time because it includes some of the secondary cast members that were left out of the other special features.  And finally, there are three short films by the filmmakers: one is a fun student film, and the other two are educational shorts they created before they made it to Hollywood.  All three feature a bunch of cute stop motion, although only the student film is really entertaining... sitting through 25 minutes about how to write a library report is a lot to ask of an audience even if it does have silly robots and a nod to Demon Seed that comes out of left field.  There's so much content here, it's almost overwhelming.
Plus, there's all the swag.  You get a full-color 60-page booklet with writing by Kim Newman, Jonathan Melville - the expert from the second commentary, and a vintage Fangoria article by Marc Shapiro.  Also a double-sided poster, a double-sided Paradise sign, six lobby cards, a mock coupon for Chang's Market, and one of Arrow's usual cards for one of their upcoming releases.  It all comes in a thick slipbox, and the amary case has reversible artwork.  But what's truly important is that Tremors has finally been done right.  This went from one of the worst HD releases ever to one of the very best.  This may well be the #1 release of the year.

Like Santa Himself, Warner Bros' Christmas Story Update Flew Under Folks' Radars

Physical media may be dying, but I think A Christmas Story is going to be one of the very last titles to go.  Every December, all the Best Buys, Walmarts and Targets across the country put it back up on the shelves, even local supermarkets.  Tons of people have seen, and truly love this film.  But I think even many of its most ardent devotees are unaware that Warner Brothers quietly updated their blu-ray release for one particular, collectible edition, which they since washed over with a series of repackagings of older, lesser discs.  In fact, since its earliest days on disc, there have essentially been 5 different versions of the film itself; and the best one seems to be the least distributed of all.
I can still vividly picture the trailer and television commercials, specifically the image of Santa kicking the lead kid in the face for daring to ask for the wrong present, and how transgressive the whole thing felt.  If I ever had the wherewithal at that age to put together that A Christmas Story was by Bob Clark, the writer/ director of Porky's - a.k.a. the number one most shockingly pornographic, whispered-about films on our school grounds - it all would have come together like a perfect epiphany.  "Of course!  Now it all makes sense."  Of course, unlike Porky's, I actually got my parents to take me to see A Christmas Story, and it wound up becoming a family favorite.  I mean, to the point that my parents would play Jean Shepherd tapes in the car on vacations, watch him on television, and play Christmas Story every December to this very day.  Consequently, I cannot stand to watch a single frame of this film anymore and have actually only gotten all these screenshots and everything from the various editions my family owns or has owned.  Because I will leave the room at the first intonations of Sheperd's voice like it's a dog whistle, it's all just been so overplayed over my lifetime.  But I don't blame that on the film; and I understand, objectively, it's probably pretty great.
It's a bit shamelessly nostalgic, and it heavily relies on that sort of bland relatability from trite family moments that are so cliche you're not sure if they're actually resonating with your actual lived experience, or just your experience of seeing them in a million other pieces of media before.  You know, that Father Of the Bride, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Dave Berg's Lighter Side Of "oh boy, teenage daughters sure spend a lot of time talking on the phone!" schtick.  And in retrospect, it might be a tiny bit racist.  But there's also a lovely madness to the film: a young boy whose one wish is to shoot people, larger than life bullies, daydreams that twist into nightmares, painful childhood recollections, riffs on the corporatization of American culture ("drink... your... Ovaltine?!") and ritual humiliation.  All the performances are iconic, right down to the bit parts.  I really wish I could watch this with fresh eyes again.

Now, I said there are 5 versions of Christmas Story on DVD/ Blu, and in terms of what's actually on disc, that's 100% true, and we're about to explore each one in depth.  But there have actually been a slew of alternate Christmas Story releases over the years where nothing but the packaging's changed.  There was the original 1997 DVD, fullscreen and barebones, released by MGM before the rights went to Warners.  Then WB put out a 2-disc 20th Anniversary special edition DVD in 2003 in a fancy red slipbox, which included an alternate fullscreen transfer and a widescreen transfer.  Those are the first 3 of the aforementioned 5 versions, the other two are on blu.  But in between there was also:
  • The same fullscreen transfer as MGM, still barebones, but now from Warner Bros, released in 2000, in a snapper case
  • The old fullscreen version reissued in 2006 in a regular case
  • The 2-disc set 2008 reissue in a white slipcover
  • A Target exclusive Limited Edition Holiday Giftpack that paired the old fullscreen version with its disappointing sequel, A Christmas Story 2
  • A Christmas Comedy Collection that pairs the old fullscreen version with Elf and Christmas Vacation
  • A String of Holiday Classics set that packs the old fullscreen version with DVDs of Jack Frost and The Year Without Santa Claus 
  • A Holiday Family Collection that pairs the widescreen version with Happy Feet and The Polar Express
  • A 2003 2-disc set boxed with a Ralphie bobblehead
  • A 2008 Ultimate Collectors' Edition that put the 2-disc set in a limited edition tin with a recipe book, a chef's apron and photo prints
  • A limited slipcover edition with a Walmart-exclusive postcard inside
  • A 2018 limited slipcover edition of the old fullscreen version with a snow globe pop-up
  • A (I think widescreen?) 2019 DVD packaged with a cookie cutter and Funko pop keychain

...And probably one or two more I've missed.  And that's just in the United States alone.  Then come the blu-rays.  First released in 2006, it's naturally version #4 as the first HD entry.  That disc has been repackaged almost as many times as the DVDs, including:

  • A 2008 reissue with a white background cover (the original was red... that seems to be the only difference) 
  • The Essential Holiday Collection 2008 set, which pairs it up with Elf, Christmas Vacation and Polar Express
  • The 25th Anniversary Ultimate Collectors Edition, which comes in a green tin and includes a string of leg lamp Christmas lights, but still just uses the same disc as the previous editions
  • A 2012 Triple Feature BD set with Happy Feet and The Polar Express
  • A Target exclusive "ugly sweater" slipcover edition
  • Another Target exclusive with a lenticular cover and postcards
  • A blu-ray version of that 2019 cookie cutter and Funko pop release
...And a 2013 30th Anniversary BD/ DVD combo pack (the DVD is disc 1 from the 2003 special edition set) steelbook, which alone includes an updated version of the blu-ray disc: version #5.  That's right, even the releases that came later use the older, inferior blu-ray rather than the updated 30th Anniversary edition.
1) 2006 DVD; 2) 2013 DVD (full); 3) 2013 DVD (wide);
4) 2008 BD; 5) 2013 BD.

I never actually realized the fullscreen versions differed until I started work on this post.  The old version is framed at 1.32:1 while the new one is 1.33, but there's a bigger difference than just that slight sliver in AR.  The new fullscreen version zooms in tighter, shaving off information on all four sides, and the older version exhibits noticeably more film damage, which has then been corrected.  The colors are also duller and flatter on the old fullscreen release, but consistent across every version after that.  The fullscreen versions are open matte (and again, the older discs show a pinch more), so that's slightly novel; but apart from that, they have nothing going for them, so let's move on to the widescreen editions we really care about.

The widescreen DVD is unmatted 16x9 at 1.78.  Interestingly, the blu-rays are slightly pillarboxed to 1.77:1.  Every version after 2003 is clearly using the same old master, with identical colors, contrast, etc across all the releases.  The BDs benefit from the much higher bitrate, so they are sharper and resolve more fine detail.  But the blu-ray masters are old as dirt and look it.  Grain is soft apart from the times when you can't see it at all.  Admittedly, parts of this film are meant to look soft with filters applied to the footage, but the majority of the film could look sharper and more film-like; and even those filtered scenes would surely look better with a modernized transfer.  Because yes, to be clear, the 2013 blu looks exactly, 100% identical to the older blus.  Why did I say it was an updated fifth version if there's absolutely zero upgrade in PQ?  Because the upgrade comes in other departments.

The audio, for one.  Real quick, though, let's start with the DVDs.  The original DVD had the original mono plus French and Spanish dubs with optional English (standard and HoH), French and Spanish subtitles.  The updated DVD (for both the full and widescreen versions) is the same except it chucked the Spanish dub.  And that also holds true for the original blu.  One more thing the blu has in common with the DVD?  The audio is still lossy.  Only the 2013 30th Anniversary edition bumps the original track up to lossless DTS-HD.  It also changes some of the language options, dropping the French dub for two Spanish dubs (Latin and Castilian), adding the second Spanish subtitle track, and dropping the English HoH (but keeping the standard English subs).  But yeah, even though WB has put out newer blu-ray releases, like the "Ugly Sweater" version and all that; only the 2013 steelbook has the full uncompressed audio.

The other, perhaps more interesting area where the 30th BD got a shot in the arm was the special features.  Starting from the beginning, though, the original DVD featured nothing but a fullscreen trailer.  After that came the special edition, which introduced almost all of Christmas Story's legacy extras, and replaced the fullscreen trailer with a widescreen one.  The most noteworthy by far is the audio commentary by Clark and star Peter Billingsley, it's a nice, through discussion which carries almost all of the supplemental weight.  Because besides that, the next fullest feature is an 19-minute feature that brings back Clark and Billingsley but also a couple of the other former child actors to share some light anecdotes about the filming process.  Then there are two five-minute featurettes: one about the Red Rider BB gun depicted in the film, and other about a guy who makes leg lamps in the style of the one in Christmas Story.  These are all cute but very light extras.

So any additional material on the 30th Anniversary release was very welcome.  And I don't want to oversell it - what we get isn't all that much more.  Everything from the old discs is carried over, and they've basically just added one more featurette.  At just over 21 minutes, though, it is the longest one yet.  Ostensibly, it's about the home used to film most of the Christmas Story movie, it's still around today as a tourist attraction, where you can pay for tours.  That's as light as anything on the previous discs, though amusing enough, but there's a bit more to it because co-owned and run by Ian Petrella, who played Randy.  So a lot of the featurette really works more as an additional cast interview that gets more in-depth about the film than any of the extras short of the commentary.
So the film still could really use an updated transfer, and the added featurette still doesn't quite transform this into the fully loaded special edition a long-beloved film like A Christmas Story deserves.  But it at least got us closer.  It's unquestionably the one to own now: the only edition with lossless audio, better extras, plus the fancy steelbook packaging takes a little of the sting out of double-dipping.  And unless you think a UHD is right around the corner, it's probably worth it, especially since it isn't a particularly pricey or hard to find disc.  Just be careful which version you're getting, because Warner Bros keeps putting that older, inferior disc out in stores with new packaging gimmicks.  You have to spell out "30th Anniversary Steelbook" on your Christmas list, or there's no telling which one Santa will bring you.

The Wait Is Finally Over: Massacre At Central High!

Wow, I never thought this day would come.  Subversive Cinema announced a special edition DVD of Renee Daalder's notorious Massacre At Central High well over a decade ago.  It never materialized, and eventually the rights wound up with Dark Sky.  Fans got excited, waited and well, nothing came of that either.  Then in 2013, Cult Epics announced special edition blu-rays of two Daalder films: Hysteria and, yes, Massacre At Central High.  Well, Hysteria happened, but for mysterious reasons, Massacre's release was cancelled.  Finally, in the summer of 2015, when Synapse announced it, I said to myself that I'd believe it when I saw it.  Now, Synapse has a history of taking their time with titles, but it's been over five years.  It was really looking as if Massacre was some kind of cursed film... until, lo and behold, it's actually here!
But before everyone gets too excited, I should warn anyone considering blind-buying this that Massacre At Central High is not for everyone.  Anyone expecting a traditional high school-based slasher film along the lines of Prom Night or Graduation Day better be ready for Animal Farm in a high school instead.  Except, of course, it's a completely bonkers, wonderfully 70s Animal Farm with outrageous kills that wound up providing the structural skeleton of Heathers years later.  Massacre isn't scary, but it is inventive and funny, even if it's hard to gauge just how intentional all of the laughs it inspires are.  What is clearly intentional is the ambition: from the major stunts and set pieces to the allegorical storyline that's cramming in as many ideas as it possibly can into their distributors' mandated premise.  It's an art film masquerading as an exploitation film that also fulfills its every exploitative promise and then some.  But it's all so untethered from realism, shamelessly dated (we're talkin' bell-bottoms, hippies and a student lounge that looks like my grandmother's old living room) and unbothered with tone that conventional audiences will be repelled like opposed magnets.  But ever since I saw a print of it at an Exhumed Show in 2003, I was in love.
Now, I've detailed the crazy history of this film finally getting the special edition it's always deserved.  But that's not to say it's never been on DVD at all before.  There's actually been a plethora of fullscreen, barebones gray market discs in just about every region around the world.  Unfortunately, I sold my first edition off long before I started this site, but I still have the 2004 German DVD from X-Rated I replaced it with.  It's as barebones and fullscreen as the rest of them, but at least it wasn't interlaced with macro-blocky night skies, so it was a step up.  They pretty much all shared the same master, but I'd read at the time that the limited edition (666 copies) X-Rated DVD made the best use of it out of any disc around the world.  And you can see below how that looks.  But now, of course, it's been completely trampled by Synapse's progress, as they've just released the world's first HD edition in a DVD/ BD combo pack, limited edition (4000 copies) steelbook.  And it's a whole new experience.
1) 2004 X-Rated DVD; 2) 2020 Synapse DVD; 3) 2020 Synapse BD.
The one thing you can say for the DVD: it's open matte.  Synapse does reveal a little bit along the sides, but it's mostly about correctly framing the film by matting it down.  As you can see, the DVD is boxy with a lot of dead vertical space; the blu is smartly composed.  Maybe not perfectly composed, though.  The DVD is clearly wrong at 1.31:1, but Synapse's 1.78:1 should probably be a little wider, too.  Their booklet explains this, stating that the masters were given to them by Daadler himself, who'd supervised the transfer "of the 35mm element used" himself, and that "the delivered files were composed in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and Synapse Films had no access to the original, uncorrected/ unrestored full-aperture film scan."

So this may not be the ultimately perfect 4k restoration of our ideal dreams, but it sure is a beauty far beyond anything we've ever been able to see before.  The DVD has all sorts of issues like edge enhancement, too much contrast and film damage dancing in and out of nearly every frame.  Synapse of course corrects all of that, but even if you don't allow for previous editions' faults, this is a gorgeous transfer with very natural colors and authentic grain.  In fact, the production notes explain the years long wait for this edition with the extensive restoration they did to Daalder's imperfect scan in a massive effort akin to their celebrated work on Tenebrae.  And the screenshots posted above speak clearly to the success of their endeavor.

Apparently a lot of restoration work went into the audio as well, and the new DTS-HD 2.0 presentation of the original mono sounds cleaner and less compressed than X-Rated's track.  Synapse also includes all new, optional English subtitles, which none of the old DVDs ever had.  One small thing X-Rated has going for it, though, is an alternate German dub, if you're at all interested in that.
And that's about the only thing it's got, because like all the other DVDs, it certainly doesn't have any worthwhile extras.  All we get are trailers for an admittedly whopping 46 films in X-Rated's catalog... not including Massacre itself.  Synapse actually has the trailer, and a TV & radio spot.  But it also finally delivers on the long-promised special edition.  First of all, there's an excellent, 43-minute documentary by Red Shirt Pictures that interviews almost all of the main cast members as well as the first AD and DP.  It's full of fun anecdotes about the filming, and yes, they discuss the infamous Sexy Jeans version.  Then there's a series of audio interviews that play as an audio commentary with stars Andrew Stevens, Robert Carradine, Derrel Maury and Rex Steven Sikes.  We're warned up front that the first two don't remember much about Massacre (though they seemed to in the doc), so they talk more about their careers in general.  But we still get some interesting stories and unique tidbits about Massacre that didn't make the doc.  The only short-coming is that they don't have a lot of insight into the ideas behind the film itself and can mostly just reflect on their fond memories during the shoot.

For the headier stuff, we only have two things to rely on.  First is an audio interview with Daaler himself.  This plays as a second audio commentary, but only runs for the first twenty-five minutes.  He definitely solves a few mysteries fans will have wondered about, but the interview spends as much time asking him about his other film work and history as Massacre itself.  But since Daaler has passed, this is all we get, and it's a lot better than nothing.  The other insightful thing we have to work with is the booklet with liner notes by famous Fangorian Michael Gingold, who gets into this film's recognition from several important critics and even quotes the screenwriter of Heathers on his influence.  Besides all that, this release includes a stills gallery and comes in an impressive looking steelbook and slipcover.
Oh yeah, this release also includes Synapse's latest catalog, which still promises The Kindred and an all new 4k restoration of The Deadly Spawn as "coming soon."  If they match the level of quality they've reached with their last couple of releases, that'll be amazing.

Every Once In a While, They Still Get It Right: The Children

Not every deliciously nasty killer kids movie dates back to the 70s and 80s.  Sure, that was the apex, when The Bad Seed grew teeth and cult films were at their grittiest; but if you're not already familiar, please allow me to introduce you to 2008's The Children.  Many horror hounds may've passed over it because it's part of Sam Raimi's largely disappointing line of Ghost House Underground films.  Apart from Raimi's own Drag Me To Hell, even their more lavishly produced theatrical line of Ghost House Pictures have mostly fallen somewhere between mediocre and embarrassing, so fans should be forgiven for not panning through every single one of their goofy DTV titles to find an elusive gold nugget.  But here one is.
Of course, Raimi had nothing creatively to do with this film.  The Children is a British film, which Ghost House just scooped up to distribute in the US.  And it also has no connection to 1980's The Children apart from the shared title and fitting into the same creepy subgenre.  That Children is campy, demented fun with grown men chopping the hands off radioactive tots so they don't receive lethal hugs that turn adults to dust.  This is an earnest, and more successfully disturbing horror story that embraces the drama and moral challenges raised when a few parents have to decide what to do when their innocent babes slowly turn unmanageably violent.  Monsters and psychos can be ethically done away with quite mercilessly, and even in zombie films the protagonists usually deduce rather quickly that their loved ones are genuinely deceased and can be shot in the head with maybe some nostalgic anguish, but no moral quandary.  But you can't really retaliate against your own little children.  And this film adds the extra complication of a teenager, untrusted and adrift somewhere between the two factions.
It's also a Christmas movie!  And you can never have too many quality Christmas horror flicks.  It's written and directed by Tom Shankland, whose career has since diverted into prestige television (The Leftovers, House of Cards, etc).  He made one horror feature previously, the somewhat promising but ultimately silly WAZ, but this is a marked improvement, making one long for the day he finds his way back to a third endeavor.  He strikes a nice balance between a slow burn, as the kids gradually turn against their families while still keeping a gripping, tight pace.  This isn't one of those horror thrillers where nothing juicy happens until the last act, but it's also one of those rare horror films that doesn't lose sight of its emotional core for the sake of following its premise to its schlockiest logical conclusions.  There's some solid gore with well crafted special effects, but Shankland never forgets that each scene is first about the characters and performance.  Admittedly, most of the adults feel like they've been plucked directly from Central Casting, and it's obviously a challenge to draw true menace and gravitas out of a pack of toddlers during a short shooting schedule.  The ending could've stood to be a little more personal rather than grandiose, but overall this is incredibly effective, and Shankland makes it all work far better than anyone has a right to expect.  Every time I revisit this film, I'm pleasantly surprised.
2008 Lions Gate DVD top; 2008 Lions Gate BD bottom.
Now, when a label (in this case Lions Gate) releases the same movie on DVD and BD at the same time, you don't expect many surprises when doing a comparison.  The same identical transfer, struck from the same DCP, except softened up for SD on the DVD and looking crisper on the blu...  That last part's certainly true, but here's something interesting: the blu is in 1.85:1, but the DVD is 1.83:1.  Now, that's no big deal, right?  The DVD is probably ever-so-slightly squished; we've certainly seen that before.  But no, look at those caps.  The DVD is zoomed further out, revealing a noteworthy amount of information along all four sides.  I can only guess that the BD is more likely to be correct purely by virtue of it being the BD, where more care ought to have been taken... maybe?  I realize that's pretty thin, but honestly, what else is there to go on?  It's very odd.

Anyway, assuming the AR's right, the blu's pretty solid.  And even if it's not, look at those screenshots - it's not exactly a disaster either way; both framings look pretty fine.  According to the imdb, this film was shot on 35mm (as opposed to digital), and assuming that's correct (not always the safest bet, relying on imdb info), then it could look better.  Grain isn't explicitly retained, like, at all.  But as a lesser known, lower budget 2000s film whose time has come and gone, I wouldn't hold my breath for a 4k restoration.  As it is, the HD is certainly a nice improvement over the DVD, and the 5.1 mix is presented in lossless DTS-HD on the blu.  Optional English - both standard and SDH - and Spanish subtitles are also included on both editions.
Ghost House hasn't given us the fully decked out special edition we expect for our cult favorites, but there is a decent little extras package here.  We get a few interlaced deleted scenes including an extended ending (the shorter one already on the film is better, but it's interesting to see what they were considering) and five behind-the-scenes featurettes, which don't quite add up to a full-on documentary, but provide considerably more substance than your basic EPK piece.  There's also the trailer, some "micro videos" (partial heavy metal songs set to clips from Ghost House Underground films) and a series of bonus trailers that play on start-up.  A director's commentary would've rounded out the package nicely, but c'est la vie.
So if you're looking for a worthwhile modern horror movie you may've overlooked, another rare entry in the rather select killers kids genre, or just a respectably grisly Christmas horror flick, Ghost House surprisingly delivered.  And it's the kind of disc you can pick up nice and cheap now that it's gotten a little old, plus that are similar editions released in nearly every region, though this one's already region free.  Treat yourself!