Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman... Now In *Real* 4k!

So, everyone's talking about Candyman this month, both because of its brand new 4k restoration, which I'm about to tackle below, or because of the recent buzz of Jordan Peele being in talks to produce, and possibly script/ direct, a remake.  Now, you guys already know I'm a pretty big fan of Get Out, but still, even assume Peele takes a strong creative lead, I'm not sure I'm too jazzed on the idea.  Admittedly, like how this latest Halloween film was bound to be an upswing in its franchise given how the messy the last bunch of Halloween flicks were, I'm sure Peele would be guaranteed to improve upon where we left off with Candyman 3: Day Of the Dead.  But the original Candyman is just one of those films where all of the elements came together in just such a perfect alchemical way, that I just don't see any way for additional attempts but down.

Update 11/19/18 - 5/26/22: When Scream and Arrow released their new 4k scan on 1080p blu, some people, people clearly shrewder than myself, held off on purchasing it, saying it was surely only a matter of time until said scan was released on a proper 4k Ultra HD disc in full resolution and HDR. Of course they were right, and here we are, and I've just triple-dipped.  ...But at least I was right about Candyman 4.  😜
Because Candyman is a serious contender for the absolute best horror film of the 90s.  And it's got to be one of the very few films of any genre to actually improve upon and top its literary source material.  It's based, of course, on Clive Barker's short story from his stellar Books of Blood series.  But by transporting the story to America - specifically Chicago's Cabrini Green - and adding the very fertile topic of race to the already thematically rich tale, it manages to hit you so much deeper.  On the one hand, it really works as a classic ghost story, like those BBC ones based on classic literature (another post for another day), but then it's as contemporary and vivid as any modern film.  Tony Todd and his gruesome hook convey a surprising combination of earnest pathos and enough mean-spirited gore to satisfy any jaded horror fan.  In fact, it's first class performances all around, even when a lot of dramatic weight is placed on the shoulders of a young child actor.  You've got cutting edge photographic techniques, knock-out special effects that hold up to this day (Todd had real live bees in his mouth! You know they'd just animate that with CGI now) and Phillip Glass's elegant score.  Really, what's a reboot going to deliver that this film hasn't already provided?
So Candyman originally came out on DVD via Columbia Tri-Star in 2000, as a barebones flipper disc with a fullscreen version on the other side.  They upgraded that in 2004 with a proper special edition, which is the DVD I've got for us today.  Now, there was a blu-ray version before the current pair of 4k restorations.  It came out in the UK in 2009 from Paramount, but it's not highly regarded: barebones (yes, they dropped the DVD extras) with edge enhancement.  Still in HD and a genuine upgrade from the DVDs, but not pretty.  In 2018, though, it's getting released by Arrow in the UK and Scream Factory here in the US.  Apparently, they worked together on this, sharing most of the new extras (though there are key differences, which I'll address below) and the same "new 2k restoration from a new 4k scan of the original negative, supervised and approved by writer/ director Bernard Rose and director of photography Anthony B. Richmond."  I went with the Scream Factory edition; and when both labels released it again in UHD/ BD combo packs this week, I stuck with Scream.
1) 2004 Columbia Tri-Star DVD; 2) 2018 SF (theatrical cut) BD;
3) 2018 SF (unrated cut) BD; 4) 2022 SF theatrical BD;
5) 2022 SF uncut BD; 6) 2022 SF theatrical UHD; 7) 2022 SF uncut UHD.

To start off, the DVD would have you believe it's 1.85:1, but I've left the negative space around the first set of shots to show you that it's actually slightly windowboxed.  It's anamorphic, mind you, but still slightly boxed in, and those vertical bars actually crop the image to more of a 1.81:1.  The new blu has pretty much the exact same framing, but it's actually 1.85:1, because it lifts the bars to show the extra image that they're masking.  It also has a smidgen additional picture along the top and left.  But of course, the real story is the huge boost in clarity.  For one thing, the colors and contrast on the DVD are flat and dull compared to the blu, which really pops.  The DVD has a faded look, plus a bit of a red hue over the whole film.  Just look how completely different the color of the ground itself is in the first set of shots.  Grain is fine, if a bit light in areas on the blus, but only sort of hinted at on the DVD, which just looks sort of lumpy when you get in close.  The standard definition compression results in haloing that looks at first to be edge enhancement, but might just be the result of artifacting caused by too low bitrates.  Of course, the HD takes care of all of that, and the edges look crisp and unencumbered by any such digital noise.

The UHD is also 1.85:1, but film grain is so much more distinct and thoroughly captured than the blus; it's a strong distinction.  The increased color range doesn't necessarily "pop" out in a more dynamic way, but it gives the film a more natural look.  Just look at the garbage pile, for instance, where bright spots flared out to pure, blinding whiteness.  But on the UHD, you can see all the authentic shading and detail (and film grain) that was lost on the blu.  When I sat down to watch this one for the first time, it wasn't a "wow!" moment, but it's another step forward in picture quality.
theatrical cut top; unrated cut bottom.
At this point, I trust you've noticed two sets of shots for each SF disc.  That's because Scream (as well as Arrow on their release) have included both the widely released theatrical cut and the original unrated cut.  The difference comes down to only one scene, and about four seconds of footage.  Both cuts basically feature alternate shots of the same kill, so both cuts are the same length.  And the unrated cut is barely any bloodier.  But anyway, because the negatives contain the theatrical cut, they've had to insert "HD footage from a rare print."  I'll say this.  You definitely do notice the jump in quality in motion (visually and in the audio) on the BDs and UHD, particularly the thicker, unrulier grain; but the inserts look pretty darn good.

Anyway, the DVD gave us a nice, solid stereo mix with optional English subtitles, plus French and Portuguese dubs and subs.  Scream 2018 bumps the stereo mix up to DTS-HD, again with optional English subtitles, plus an even more boisterous 5.1 mix, also in DTS-HD.  And Scream 2020 keeps the same stereo track and subtitles, but replaces the 5.1 (on all three discs) with a Dolby Atmos track.
The special edition DVD was actually pretty sweet in terms of extras.  It's got a pretty ideal audio commentary by Bernard Rose, Tony Todd, Virginia Madsen, Kasi Lemmons, Clive Barker and producer Alan Poul.  Then they've got a fairly comprehensive little 'making of' doc that comes in at about 24 minutes and an additional, extended interview with Clive.  They also include an animation of some very colorful storyboards and a couple bonus trailers (though not the Candyman trailer itself).  All great stuff.

Now, before we get into where Scream and Arrow differ, let's get into what they have in common.  Both share a very cool collection of original special features.  First, there are two brand new audio commentaries: one with Bernard Rose and Tony Todd, which I'll talk more about in a moment, and an expert commentary by the always reliable Stephen Jones and Kim Newman.  Then, there are great (and rather tightly edited and paced) on-camera interviews with Tony Todd, Viriginia Madsen and production designer Jane Ann Stewart .  These are great, as is a featurette on the special effects featuring interviews with Bob Keen, Gary J. Tunnicliffe and Mark Coulier.  Then there are a couple more critical pieces, with Douglas E. Winter delving into Clive Barker's original short story, and a conversation about the racial aspects by writers and scholars Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes.  They actually talk about how the film might be done differently today... something we may wind up seeing for ourselves if that Peele project sees its way to completion.  Both blus also offer the trailer (finally) and a small image gallery.  All also great stuff.

But like I said, things differ.  First of all, Scream carries over all of that DVD stuff, right down to the storyboards.  Arrow does not.  And now I'll get into that Rose and Todd commentary, because they take it fairly lightly.  It's a very breezy, entertaining chat, that routinely drifts very far from Candyman.  They talk about other movies, like Avengers 3 and A Quiet Place (by the way, I agree with Rose on that one), current projects they're working on, Todd's childhood, Rose's greencard...  On the Scream Factory release, it's great, because you already have them doing a regular audio commentary, so you wouldn't want them repeating all the same anecdotes and observations.  But if you have the Arrow set, it's going to be a frustration that they barely say anything about Candyman.  So that's a big advantage for Scream.
The other Tony Todd on-camera interview.
Next, Scream has some really neat exclusive extras.  They have another, second on-camera interview with Tony Todd, and on camera interviews with Kasi Lemmons (who laughs a lot) and the guy who played the kid, DeJuan Guy. These are great, really fun interviews not on the Arrow set.  They also have another, fourth audio commentary with Rose and the guys from the Movie Crypt podcast.  This one's more light-hearted, too, but stays a lot more focused on the movie itself... in fact, it's probably the one where Rose gets the most in depth into many of the nuts and bolts.  So again, that makes the Rose/ Todd commentary a much better fit for Scream than Arrow.  They also have an additional TV spot.  So another advantage for Scream.

But it's not all so one-sided.  Arrow has a couple of exclusives, too.  Namely, they have three short films by Bernard Rose, made when he was a young man in the mid 70s.  They also have a brand new interview with Clive Barker.  From what I've been able to gather, it sounds like he covers a lot of the same ground he did on his old DVD interview, which Scream has; but it has to be noted that Arrow's is substantially longer.
And now, in 2022?  Basically, all the extras are the same as in 2018 (yes, it still has all four commentaries, despite some online listings to the contrary), except Scream has added one new interview.  It's with Vanessa Williams, probably the most conspicuously absent face from the 2018 collection of extras, so this is a very satisfying addition.  She's probably here in part because she was brought back for Candyman 4, which she discusses; but most of her talk is dedicated to the original.

In terms of packaging, the 2018 Scream has reversible cover art with the original bee on the eyeball poster image and a cool slip cover.  Also, the first 2000 copies ordered directly from their website include a second slipcover and two rolled (not folded) 18" x 24" posters. For 2020, the artwork is not reversible, but it has new slip with the eyeball cover and if you ordered it directly from their site, it came with another rolled poster.
So okay, all you smarty-pantsers who saw the exciting new blu of the long-neglected original Candyman in 2018 and still had the fortitude to wait.  Now is your moment, the real UHD sets are here, and as expected, are the definitive way to go.  Arrow has a fancy new box with more swag, but Scream has the new interview, which clinched it for me.  Either way you go, though, it's a banner year for Candyman.

Is Paramount's New Blu of Top Secret Any Better Than the Australian Disc?

For whatever reason, Jim Abrahams, David and Jerry Zucker's next film wasn't such a hit.  In fact, it was a flop, and I even remember in 1984 when it came out thinking that Top Secret! was a serious let-down.  Most of my friends & family did, too; only one kid I went to school with seemed to really get it and revere it as the film everyone hoped it would be.  And this isn't just localized anecdotal evidence, because it was a surprising flop at the box office, that pushed the trio into more conventional comedy afterwards.  And it's really weird, because looking at today, Top Secret! absolutely holds up as one of the trio's best works.  I even re-watched it with my parents, and they were laughing with it this time just as hard as Airplane!  I don't know why we couldn't see it back then, but whatever the cause, that's probably why it's only available on blu-ray in Australia.

Update 8/9/20 - 5/23/22: Well, it's available in the US now!  It would be pretty egotistical, I suppose, to take credit for that just because of what I wrote here in 2020, but I think I will anyway.  😁  It's good news for those who never imported; but for those who did, is this new release any better?  It couldn't possibly be any worse, right?  In fact, you might think it would be almost exactly the same, but no...
A then-unknown Val Kilmer got his very first role as the lead, playing a old school pop singer who gets caught up in an international spy conspiracy.  He really hits it out of the park, nailing everything from the dry delivery of the absurd humor to the genuinely impressive musical numbers he has to perform.  As we've come to expect from Abrahams and the Zuckers, there's another strong supporting cast including Omar Sharif, Michael Gough and Peter Cushing; but this time the weight's really on one man's shoulders, and Kilmer carries it expertly.  The film is packed with as many great jokes as any of their best work; I really wonder what put so many people off back in its day.  Perhaps many of the "meta" jokes about the filmmaking itself were ahead of their time?  Or maybe general audiences' unfamiliarity with the Elvis-style star vehicles they were spoofing this time were less familiar, and therefor less resonant, to 80s audiences than the disaster, kung-fu and cop shows of their previous endeavors.  Whatever it was then, in 2020, Top Secret! really due for a rediscovery.
Top Secret! may be rare on blu, but the market's sure been flooded with DVDs.  Paramount first released it as a widescreen special edition in 2002, and they've repackaged it with alternate covers, double-features, triple features, banners along the top, no banners along the top, ugly "I Love the 80's" slipcovers, boxed sets... but it's always the same disc.  Not until 2020, in Australia, were we finally presented an HD option.  And yes, it's from Via Vision, once again rescuing catalog titles from Paramount's big box of neglect.  But lately, Paramount's been turning a kinder eye to their titles under-represented on home video, including a brand new blu-ray edition of Top Secret!  But it doesn't seem like they sprung for a brand new master.
1) 2002 Paramount DVD; 2) 2020 Via Vision BD; 3) 2022 Paramount BD.

Paramount continues to frame a 1.85 film for 16x9 televisions at 1.78:1.  The DVD is actually 1.77, with a slight vertical pinch that the BDs correct.  They also pull out ever so slightly to reveal slivers of additional picture along all four edges.  The Via Vision blu does leave something to be desired... it's sharper, but instead of revealing the film grain that the DVD failed to capture, we just see pixelated digital noise.  That DVD really is too soft, though, even by old DVD standards; so it looks like they tried to sharpen the same old master rather than scanning a new one.  Well, the end result is a clear improvement over the DVD, but compared to other BDs, it would score pretty poorly.

And it looks like someone at Paramount has done the best they can to correct all this... shy of actually springing for a new scan and the updated master this film really calls out for.  This is no fancy, high end edition.  But it's still better than the DVD and even corrects the old BD's most frustrating issues.  Starting small, the framing zooms in ever so slightly, about two pixels on each side, cropping some distortion along the very edges of the Via Vision frame.  You'd never spot it in motion, but it does make screen shots look more professional.  It also cleans up dirt and noise.  That big hair on the frame of the first set of shots has been mostly cleared up.  Everything showing against the smooth wall has been digitally altered, but the bit that's on her eye, which would take more time-consuming personal work to correct, is still there.
1) 2020 Via Vision BD; 2) 2022 Paramount BD.
Most critically, though, the disc doesn't have that over-sharpened digital effect, and a little more original picture information is retained.  It's more than just a better encode; or, if it is down to the encoding, it's a lot better.  Instead of pixelation and overly smoothed areas, we see soft grain.  Soft, because it's still the same old master, but more film-like and natural.  So, overall, it's progress, but would still score rather fair (as opposed to poorly) compared to other BDs.

Paramount kindly gave us both the original stereo mix plus a new 5.1 with optional English subtitles on their DVD.  Oh and a French dub, too.  And happily, though Via Vision drops the dub, they keep both English tracks, in lossless LPCM and DTS-HD, respectively, as well as the English subs.  And Paramount's new blu?  It may look even better at first... they've got the 5.1 in DTS-HD, plus French, German and two Spanish dubs.  They've still got standard English subtitles, plus English HoH, German, French, Japanese and two sets of Spanish subs.  That's a lot, but if you're paying attention, they've dropped the original stereo mix.
More good news: Paramount loaded up their special edition pretty dutifully.  First there's an audio commentary with Abrahams and the Zuckers, plus producers Jon Davison and Hunt Lowry.  It loses steam a few times, but they point out a lot of fun behind-the-scenes information and obscure jokes all with a healthy dose of self-deprecating laughs.  In fact, they're self-deprecating in all their commentaries, but here it's compounded with the fact that they're still clearly wincing from the sting of rejection this film received in 1984, so they're good sports for still supporting this film here.  We also get a look at four of the film's deleted scenes, which just add a little more fun to the pot.  Finally, there are three sets of storyboards and the theatrical trailer.

All of these have been carried over to Via Vision's blu, and it's mostly the same on Paramount's.  The new blu has everything except the storyboards.  But in their place, we get the famous backwards scene played in reverse, so we can see how it was originally performed.
So it's a bit of a side-grade in terms of extras, and a bit of a step backwards in terms of audio (unless you have a use for those new foreign language options).  But it's a step forward in terms of PQ.  It's still not great, but it's better.  Overall, I'd say that adds up to an upgrade, but not a major one.  Paramount's blu is now the one to own, but if you already got the Via Vision, this is going to be a pretty unexciting double-dip.  You'll probably want to replace it eventually, but I'd prioritize it pretty low.

The Jim Cummings Trilogy

Alternatively, some say the "Officer Jim" trilogy concluded with Halloween Kills.
IFC Films just recently released the latest feature film by actor/ writer/ producer/ director Jim Cummings on home video.  It's often referred to as a trilogy, but really it's just an arbitrary designation for the fact that he's now made three feature films in a row, this being the third.  There's no story or character continuity across them.  And he's made other films in the past... a series of short films, as well as working on other peoples' work, perhaps most notably Greener Grass, as the ex-boyfriend forced to deliver a eulogy at the candlelight vigil for a woman he barely knew.  According to the imdb, he actually has a visual effects credit on Captain America: Winter Solider.  But for now, until he makes his fourth film, this is the trilogy.
Thunder Road starts us off in 2018 with Cummings expanding his 2016 short film, also called Thunder Road, into a full-length drama.  Or dark comedy.  All three of his films, and all the shorts I've seen from him, walk a thin, empathetic line between comedy and drama, finding the humor in painfully honest moments, without losing sight of the powerful, emotional beats for any cheap laughs.  It all comes out of character, which Cummings (and the rest of his consistently strong casts) fleshes out, dancing right up to the edge of going over the top, but never quite losing its footing.
In Thunder Road, Cummings is a police officer named Jim, whose mother has just passed away.  He struggles desperately to keep a lid on things, but grief and bursts of volatile anger continue to chip away at everything in his life, from his relationship with his ex wife to his career.  It's both a comedy of manners, as Jim relatably says one wrong thing after another, to a heart wrenching tragedy watching somebody who spends his whole life fighting and losing.
The original short runs just over twelve minutes and is comprised of a single take, a trend in many (all?) of Cummings shorts.  It takes place during the funeral for Jim's mother, who goes up to speak, telling us amongst other things that Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" was a pivotal song in his mother's life, inspiring her to move out of her hometown and start a better life for herself.  He then plays the song on a small, portable CD player and sings/ dances along to it in a disastrously earnest way.  The feature recreates that opening performance, mostly still in a single take, but with a new opening and several differences throughout.  But because the short film was presumably only operating with "festival rights" for the song, in the feature, the CD player doesn't work, and Jim has to perform an even more awkward, emotionally naked performance.  I could imagine the producers panicking initially when they couldn't get the rights, "how can we make Thunder Road without 'Thunder Road'?"  But it winds up working.  I've seen the short, and it's great too; but the scene in the feature is no worse for the change.

Now, Passion River released Thunder Road as a barebones US DVD in 2018.  Thankfully, they saw the light and later released a special edition blu-ray in 2019.  And its since been released on BD in many other regions around the world.
2018 Passion River DVD top; 2019 Passion River BD bottom.
The film is presented in its proper 2.00:1 aspect ratio on the blu, but is stretched slightly taller to 1.96 on the DVD.  The framing's exactly the same, nothing different is included along the edges of the frame or anything, it's just stretched a bit.  Apart from that, this is a SOD film, so we're not looking at film grain or anything, but the jump from SD to HD is obvious on close inspection, with its increased resolution and clarity.  Only on the blu, for instance, could I read on the flag behind Jim, "we are dedicated to excellence!"  Everything's just that little bit softer and smudgier on the blu.

Curiously, the DVD has 5.1 audio, plus English, Spanish and French subtitles.  But the blu has 2.0 stereo audio, though it's lossless PCM, and no subs, despite the back of the blu-ray case listing 5.1 and all three subs.  So that's a little funky.
Now, when I said Passion River's DVD was barebones, I mean, it doesn't even have a menu.  But the blu-ray has some goodies: specifically an on-camera interview with Cummings, which runs a good 20+ minutes, talking about the making of and ideas behind the picture, and a short film.  This sounds like a perfect opportunity for fans to see how the funeral originally went, but I suppose they couldn't include that on the disc for the very same reasons the song couldn't be in the feature.  So instead we get a different short, written and directed by Cummings, but not starring him.  It's another single take film, even more ambitious, about a young woman who asks a Uber to wait outside while she robs a liquor store.  It's pretty great, although fans will still want to track down the 2016 Thunder Road online.
Cummings probably got on a lot more film fans' radars with his second feature, when he ventured into popular genre territory with The Wolf of Snow Hollow.  But Thunder Road fans were delighted (and possibly relieved) to see Cummings was playing much the same character, another stressed out cop named Jim with anger issues.  But now he's in an entirely new setting, a small vacation town seemingly beset by a murderous werewolf.  His performance is just as compelling the second time around, and this time he's joined by the great Robert Forster and comedienne Ricki Lindhome, who are both pitch perfect in their supporting roles.
Wolf walks a similar tightrope to Thunder Road, where that one found the perfect balance between genuinely funny comedy and emotionally compelling drama, this one teeters carefully between the beloved tropes of a classic werewolf tale and the realism of its characters.  Again, there are real dramatic stakes as well as effective moments of horror (the werewolf effects are practical and first rate), while still finding moments of humor.  Thunder Road probably remains the definitive masterpiece, but Wolf is a close second, and also the more mainstream crowd pleaser.  Warner Bros released it on DVD and blu in December of 2020.
2020 Warner Bros DVD top; 2020 Warner Bros BD bottom.
Warner Bros presents the film in 1.85:1 on both discs; no more of that indie label funny business.  Again this is a digital film, and it looks like their might be some subtle edge enhancement here, though that might be the director's choice on the original output film, and nothing to do with the home video release.  The boost in clarity is even stronger here than on Thunder Road, almost looking like the DVD is slightly out of focus.  So the BD is a much more satisfying option.

Both discs have 5.1 audio tracks this time, with English and Spanish subtitles, though the blu-ray bumps the audio up to DTS-HD.
A more surprising difference between the two format releases is in the special features.  The DVD just has one, decent but very short 'making of' featurette - the standard promotional kind of thing that mixes film clips with on-set interview clips and a little B-roll.  Nice to have, but unsatisfying by itself.  But it's not by itself on the blu, which carries it over and adds three more featurettes, which are all also quite short and still pretty unsatisfying in total.  Two of them are super short, about 90 seconds, although we do get a few extra soundbites from the cast and crew.  But the best of them is over five minutes and has no film clips, instead giving us behind the scenes looks at the special effects and production design.  It's nice, and an improvement on the DVD, but still not the kind of special edition attention this film deserves.

Finally, we have The Beta Test, the latest film that was just released on DVD and blu by IFC Films.  This time Jim's not a cop, but in some ways a similar character, this time thrust into an erotic thriller.  He's a Hollywood agent, even more weaselly than his previous roles, who winds up cheating on his fiance after receiving an anonymous proposal, seemingly forwarded by a shadowy organization with sinister designs.  Cummings performance is as delightful as ever, even more amusing as his paranoia and desperation grows as mysterious forces put the screws on him.  On the other hand, the thriller aspect isn't as satisfying as Thunder Road's drama or Wolf's horror.  There are some satisfying murder sequences with a well executed tone that separates this film from Cummings other works.  And while Hollywood agents are an easy target, Cummings manages to turn what would otherwise be well-worn, stale satire into something fresh, funny and all too relatable.
The mystery is compelling enough to keep you wondering what's going on until the end, too.  And I won't get into spoilers but the logic of the story is ultimately pretty loose... perhaps an intentional affectionate replication of erotic thrillers past, but it's still a weaker story at the end of the day.  The concept turns out to be underwhelming, and its final message about relationships is sort of a nice surprise, but also feels a little shallow to stand an entire film on.  Still, if this is the worst Cummings can do, I'll be delighted to watch his future filmography for many years to come.  He's still captivating to watch, and the film is endlessly entertaining, attractively shot, often quite funny and at times downright brilliant.
2022 IFC Films BD.
IFC Films presents The Beta Test in 2.32:1, which I guess is correct.  You'd think it should be 2.35, but these days with digital, any film can be any AR, so maybe not.  Anyway, 2.32 is close.  Again, this is a digital film, and shot in 2k, so there's no use holding out for a UHD.  This blu looks very satisfyingly crisp and detailed.  It offers us the choice of 5.1 or 2.0 mixes, both in DTS-HD, with optional English subs.  Unfortunately there are no extras at all, not even the trailer.  It's a fine presentation of the film, but that's it.

All three films are really great, though, and while none of these blus are packed editions, they're very highly recommended... at least until the Criterion Collection releases a Jim Cummings 20-film boxed set in some new high-tech format special editions twenty years from now.  Now, bring on film #4!  I've heard it might be a Victorian ghost story...!