Stuart Gordon's Longer, German Lovecraft Adaptation

This post has been a long time coming.  In 2006, when Masters Of Horror first hit DVD, I was excited to pick out my favorite episodes as individual special edition DVDs.  When they were later upgraded to blu-ray, I held off.  They ditched most of the special features, and people were complaining that they were 1080i instead of 1080p.  And there were foreign releases with similar issues.  Were they interlaced, in the wrong frame-rate, or was this just the inherent to their broadcast television roots?  I wasn't sure.  My DVDs weren't interlaced, reviews for the BDs were all pretty mediocre (I was a little put off that only season 1 made it to the US), and I was never all that impressed with most of the series anyway, so I just decided to steer clear of the whole quagmire.  That is until I discovered that some of the episodes, including my absolute favorite, were longer overseas!
As you can see, my fave is Stuart Gordon's Dreams In the Witch House.  It's a Lovecraft adaptation, co-written by his usual Lovecraft collaborator Dennis Paoli.  And it's really pretty great, even better than some of their features, though it probably helps that I've been able to see it in its fuller, uncut form.  I reckon I'd rank this between From Beyond and Dagon, definitely above Castle Freak.  It helps that they have mostly all practical KNB EffectsDagon's Ezra Godden returns as a Miskatonic student who moves into a cheap boarding house, only to discover that the very specific, weird convergence of angles he's researching because he believes they represent a connecting point between dimensions actually exist in the corner of his room.  And it's this very angle that's allowed a witch to live there for hundreds of years, preying on the local children.  This is a deranged, gruesome little story that adeptly captures Lovecraft special blend of sci-fi and fantasy horror.
So yes, this is a happy reunion: Gordon, Paoli, Lovecraft and Godden.  Even Richard Band is back to provide a suitably orchestrated soundtrack.  Apparently, Jeffrey Combs was set to co-star in this, too, but had to drop out two days before shooting.  It's a shame in the sense that it would've been an even bigger reunion, but the actor they replaced him with is great, more age appropriate, and probably better for the film, overall.  Also back, essentially, is the rat with a human face creature, that Paoli had originally written into The Evil Clergyman segment of Pulse Pounders, which at the time had been thought to be lost to history.
And in Germany, it's longer.  I'm not sure if this was strictly slimmed down for Showtime's air times, but scenes of sex and gore have both been abbreviated, so it might've been outright censorship.  Either way, it's better longer.  Some trims are almost arbitrary, but there's some great dialogue restored in this version, too.  It's not drastically different, but it's superior.  The nightmarish sex scene is even madder now and the ending is even bloodier.  Even the closing credits are more stylish, laid out over a series of images from the film, as opposed to the US cut, which just runs them over plain black.
2006 US Anchor Bay DVD top; 2018 DE Splendid BD bottom.
I'm happy to report, too, that the 1080i does not mean the blu-ray is interlaced.  We remain interlacing free.  We do have PAL speed-up, though, which is why the running times of both cuts are so similar despite one version having all the footage restored.  So take off a point for the speedup, but it's not really noticeable outside of a direct comparison, as opposed to the boost to HD, which is distinctly sharper than the DVD.  Both discs are between 1.77 and 1.78:1, but the DVD has a slight stretch vertically, that the BD fixes, therefore adding a pinch more information along the tops and bottoms.  It's not the greatest PQ either way - the BD is macroblocky and absolutely missing film grain - you'd never know this series was shot on 35mm looking at these discs.  But it's still a genuine step up from SD to HD.

So we've got a better cut of the film now, with better picture.  How else can the blu be preferable?  How about sound?  Yes, the 5.1 audio has been upped to lossless DTS-HD on the blu, now, too.  They've also added a DTS-HD German dub and German subtitles, too.  It does lose the optional English subtitles, though.
A big part of this discussion has to be about extras.  Anchor Bay's DVD had a lot of great stuff.  There's a fun and informative commentary by Gordon and Godden, though to start to run low on stuff to say in the end.  There's also an interview with Gordon which is okay, but repeats most of the stuff from the commentary, so it's fairly skippable.  Unmissable, however, is a new retrospective documentary on Gordon's work, featuring interviews with his most famous collaborators, even if they weren't involved with this episode: Brian Yuzna, Jeffrey Combs, Ken Foree, Barbara Crampton and more.  There are also interviews with co-star Chelah Horsdal and Howard Berger, a short collection of behind-the-scenes footage, a look back at the few CGI visual effects, outtakes, a stills gallery, a storyboard gallery and trailers for a bunch of Masters Of Horror episodes including this one.  It also came in a slipcover and included an insert and even a Stuart Gordon trading card.

Unfortunately, the blu-rays drop almost all of the original special edition DVD extras.  They just keep the commentaries.  But the German blu-ray has something the US blu-rays and even the original DVDs never had: a ton of behind-the-scenes footage.  There are glimpses of this in the DVD extras, but there's almost an hour's worth of footage here.  We see rehearsals and filming, more or less uncut, and well mic'd, so we can actually here Gordon giving direction, the animal controllers calling to the live rat, etc.  It also has reversible artwork so you can hide the tacky ratings logo.  So we lost a lot, but at least we gained something.  And of course, if you just keep your DVD, you've simply increased your collection of extras with this new stuff.
A scene only in the extended cut of Incident.
So let's talk quickly about the other episodes on here.  Don Coscarelli's Incident On and Off a Mountain Road is another fun reunion, where he's reunited with writer Joe R. Lansdale, who of course wrote the delightful Bubba Ho-Tep.  And Angus Scrimm may be a bit shoe-horned in (his character's not in the original story), but he's still the best thing about his episode.  It's also a creepy, nasty story with a strong premise, though the leads are pretty milquetoast and they really botched the ending.  The good news is, this is another episode that's longer on the Splendid blu than it was in America - score!  And it still has the great commentary with Coscarelli and Lansdale in conversation, and more exclusive behind-the-scenes footage.
The other two episodes are Tobe Hooper's Dance Of the Dead, which I'd classify as an interesting failure, adapting a rather extreme story by Richard Matheson, and Dario Argento's Jenifer, starring Steven Weber, which was a decent but unexceptional episode.  Again, we get commentaries and behind-the-scenes footage, plus these also have some interviews with Argento, Weber, and the Mathesons Jr and Sr.  Both of these episodes are the same length as their US counterparts, apart from the PAL thing.  Anyway, I'm here for Dreams, but I'll take these as fun bonuses, sure.
I can't leave you, though, without explaining that not every Splendid version is the preferred longer version.  No, unfortunately things have to be more complicated.  Norio Tsuruta's episode, Dream Cruise, is actually feature length at 87 minutes on DVD, but 57 (the length it originally was on Showtime) on blu.  Also a couple of Splendid's episodes are cut shorter (John Carpenter's Pro-Life and Dario Argento's Pelts), though they're uncut in the Nameless box set.  The Nameless box set is a now very hard to find German collection of the full series that was mostly a straight-forward reissue of the Splendid discs in fancy packaging, except that it fixed those cut episodes.  It still has the short version of Dream Cruise, though.  All the Splendid discs are available separately, but the Nameless versions are only in the full set.  This complication can make it daunting, and frustrating, to collect the whole series.  But if you're just interested in a couple of the stand-out episodes like me, anyway, it's easy to pick and choose the ideal editions so long as you're informed.
For the particular episodes on this disc at least, the Splendid is highly recommended.  I'd still hang onto the DVD for all those first class extras, but this longer cut makes a German version essential.  The HD boost, lossless audio and new extras sweeten the deal.  And if you haven't revisited it in a while, seriously, go back and watch Dreams In the Witch House again.  It really is something special.

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