The Remains Of the Day In Full Bloom

You may've guessed what my second Twilight Time post would be, since I named this film in my Twilight Time #1 post.  Sony double-featured the two films on DVD in 2010, though they don't have much to do with each other apart from starring Emma Thompson and having come out only a couple years apart (The Remains Of the Day in 1993, then Sense and Sensibility in 1995).  But they were also two must have blus from Twilight Time, so here we are.

Update 6/23/19 - 3/26/23: Sorry, this update's been a little delayed... I've had to go through two defective copies to arrive at a fully functioning disc.  But looking around online, no one else has been reporting problems, so I assume it's just been my bad luck.  Anyway, I have it in hand now: Sony's 4k Ultra HD of Remains, released last month and looking stunning.
The Remains Of the Day is the second of two back-to-back films where Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson are at possible romantic odds with each other, directed by James Ivory, produced by Ismael Merchant, and written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala.  The other, of course, being Howards End.  Certainly, there's a lot to distinguish the two, but since neither title particularly sets its film apart (one is abstractly vague and the other's just the name of the house), my short-hand for differentiating them is that this is the one with Christopher Reeves.  That's somebody you don't come across in a lot of English films.  So just commit that little "Remains Of the Day = Christopher Reeves" formula to memory, and you'll never confuse the two again.
But let's get serious about Remains Of the Day, because it deserves it.  Based on a novel by Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, this film takes place in two timelines, before and after the second world war.  In the latter, head butler Hopkins has to come to grips with the fact that he devoted his life and everything he believed in to the lord of his house, who turned out to be an infamous Nazi sympathizer.  Mike Nichols was originally set to direct, and he stayed on to produce after he had to drop out, giving the film to the Merchant/ Ivory team as the material was obviously in their wheelhouse.  The whole cast is superb (yes, even Reeves), including pitch perfect supporting performances by Peter Vaughan, James Fox and Hugh Grant.
The Remains Of the Day has had a pretty simple life on home video.  It was released on DVD by Sony in 2001 as a pretty attractive special edition.  There was that double-feature disc with Sense in 2010, but otherwise that one DVD has been the whole story until 2013, when Sony released it on blu in the UK and other foreign regions.  Two years later, and Twilight Time brought it home to the US with their edition in 2015.  And now in 2023, Sony has upgraded it to a proper 4k Ultra HD disc in the US and several other regions.
1) 2001 Sony DVD; 2) 2015 Twilight Time BD; 3) 2023 Sony UHD.

Okay, I left the negative space around the first set of shots so you can see how the old DVD is slightly window-boxed.  Back in 2001, I guess that all would've fallen into overscan area anyway, but it does change the aspect ratio from 2.33:1 on the DVD to an even wider 2.39:1 now on the blu.  Curiously, even with those vertical bars and narrower ratio, the DVD manages to have slightly more info along the sides.  That's because the DVD is slightly squished, which the BD corrects.  Colors remain almost the same, although there is a bit of a red overcast that the blu-ray clears up (look at the sky behind Hugh in the first shots).  And while the DVD was anamorphic, non-interlaced and generally quite good for such an older disc, the blu is still a big win with crisp detail and finely rendered grain.  The DVD also shows some serious artifacting along its edges, which the blu happily removes.  All in all, Twilight Time gave us an even greater improvement than I was expecting to find in this comparison.

Now, Sony's announcement for their UHD described it as being "previously restored in 4k," and indeed it seems to utilize the same scan going back to 2013, certainly still 2.39:1 and almost identically framed to the 2015 BD seen here.  But this master has a new Dolby Vision/ HDR grade, approved by Mr. Ivory, and of course we're finally getting it in full 4k resolution (this is a 3-layer disc with over 76 GB dedicated to just the main feature itself).  And yes, the grain looks much more smooth and natural.  By comparison, it appears chaotic and digital on the BD.  That was a world above the DVD, but it doesn't look like TT gave it the kind of top quality encode Sony would have.  And that combined with the full res disc really enhances the naturalism of the image when you examine it up close, and even when you don't, small detail that gets blown out to pixelation or contrast is retained on the new UHD.  And the colors really pop now.  If there's any potential criticism of the new release it's that maybe they've gone a bit overboard, the grass from the windows behind characters indoors, for instance, is positively radiating green.  But it sure looks beautiful.  The blacks are deep, the whites are bright and all the colors look truer than ever before, and quite strong at that.
There was one minor disappointment with Twilight Time in the audio department as well.  The original DVD gave us the choice beween the original stereo mix and a new 5.1, plus French, Portuguese and Spanish dubs with English, Chinese, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai subtitle options.  Twilight Time unsurprisingly drops the foreign language options, but they also dropped the original stereo track.  So we just got the 5.1 (though now in lossless DTS-HD) and English subs.

Sony went all out on their new UHD, though, bringing back the stereo mix, now in lossless DTS-HD, retaining the 5.1 DTS-HD and introducing a new Dolby Atmos track.  All that truly matters is that stereo mix, but you can't be mad at more options, and techies will like the new, cutting edge track.  They've also added seven foreign language dubs, and nineteen subtitle options, including both standard English and HoH.  So whatever you wanted, you've got it here now.
Sony's original DVD was pretty nice with the special features, too.  It features a lively audio commentary with Ivory, Merchant and Thompson, which strikes a nice balance between the seriously informative and anecdotal.  There are several deleted scenes, also with optional commentary, and three substantial featurettes that add up to roughly 75 minutes of 'making of' content, including interviews with all the stars, writers and major players, and some B-roll glimpses behind-the-scenes.  We're definitely talking more than your standard promotional quickie.  You also got the trailer and an insert with chapter stops.

Thankfully, Twilight Time retains all of that.  They don't add much more, but that's alright considering how much we already got.  The 2013 foreign blus seem to have dropped the commentary, but it's back here.  And they do add their signature isolated score track, of course.  Plus they throw in a second, international trailer and an 8-page booklet with notes by Julie Kirgo.  But basically, all the good stuff comes from the DVD.

And the UHD stays virtually the same, too.  All the DVD stuff is here, including the commentary, but we lose TT's isolated score track and the booklet.  Their international trailer got to stay, however, and it now comes in a sleek, stylish slipcover.
So this is an easy recommendation.  A great presentation of a great film.  The Twilight Time release was nice for its time, but this is down-right definitive, with its new HDR 4k presentation and the original stereo track, lossless for the first time.  This is a real "put this in your system to impress your friends" disc, and a film that truly deserves it.

The Cinematic Catalog of Josh Kornbluth

If this is your first time reading the name Josh Kornbluth, let me introduce you.  The shortest of short descriptions is that Josh is a monologist, like Spalding Gray.  He mixes humor with autobiographical drama, but without all the kooky new age stuff; and like Gray, every so often he produces a new work about another new stage or event in his life.  Is he as good as Gray?  That's a tall order, but he certainly stands up as an artist in his own right with a distinctive style and his own preoccupations.  He's working in the same, especially narrow field as Gray, but he's in no way a knock-off.  The comparisons wouldn't even be made if there were more monologists getting their work turned into feature films.  This is theater stuff that rarely gets to make the transition, but we're lucky when it does.  And at least Josh's work is better cataloged on DVD than Anna Deavere Smith's.  That's an M.I.A. post for another day.
Haiku Tunnel is Kornbluth's first film, from 2001, about his time starting as a temp and going perm at a law firm.  Josh co-directs with his brother, Jacob Kornbluth, who also lends a hand adapting the screenplay from Josh's original performance script.  It's more of an overt comedy than the works of Gray (or Smith), and as we'll see, that he always applies a lighter, more comic touch to his works.  This is also one of the most movie-movies in his oeuvre.  I promise I'll stop comparing everything to Spalding, but just to give you a sense, think of Terrors Of Pleasure, where interspersed throughout his monologue, we see actors, filmed on location, depicting the scenes being described.  But this goes even further, allowing the actors to speak their dialogue and have full, traditionally cinematic scenes, interacting with Kornbluth and each other.  Yes, there are monologue segments, where our star stands in a small, white room with a blackboard and a few props to directly address the camera/ audience.  But the rest of the cast is really able to shine, which is great, because he's assembled some a terrific team of co-stars.  They're mostly unknown, apart from a small but hilarious appearance by Harry Shearer, but they all deliver smart, memorable performances.
2002 Sony Classics DVD.
Sony Classic's 2002 DVD slightly window-boxes the film to a rough 1.82:1 and looks pretty good for SD.  Yeah, it's a bit soft, and would surely look nicer boosted to HD.  It was shot on 35mm, so just imagine.  But it's anamorphic, not interlaced, and the colors and detail are clean and attractive for a DVD.  The audio's a clear Dolby 2.0 track with optional English (and French) subtitles.  Sony always does first class work, so if this film has to be DVD-only, at least we got this one.

Especially since they gave this film a decent special edition.  There's an entertaining and enlightening commentary by both Kornbluths, some funny deleted scenes and outtakes and the trailer (and two bonus trailers).  It also includes an insert with chapter notes and a director's statement.  Unfortunately, the standards didn't stay this high.
2004's Red Diaper Baby is Josh's second film, made for the Sundance Channel, and it plays much more like Swimming To Cambodia, strictly as a one-man performance (or "concert film"), but filmed before an audibly present live audience and enhanced with moving cameras, colored lights, music and changing background images.  This one's less blatantly a "comedy," but still a quite comic reflection of his childhood, but with a little more heart and drama.  It's a more personal and mature work, not that Haiku Tunnel was lacking in these departments.  The title's a reference to how he was raised by devoutly communist parents in New York City, which would go on to inform his whole life (as we'll see in a later film).  Jacob Kornbluth sat this one out, which is instead directed by documentary director Doug Pray (Hype!, Scratch).  It took a while to get this on DVD, but Passion River eventually put it out in 2010.
2010 Passion River DVD.
Despite being a more modern disc, it's pretty problematic.  Maybe it's partly due to its television origins, or Passion River just being a less professional outfit.  But you can plainly see the issues above.  This disc is non-anamorphic (I've left the negative space around the first image to illustrate how it would display on a modern TV) and two out of every five frames are interlaced.  It's also window-boxed to an unusual AR of 1.64:1, which is certainly suspect.  Oh, and the left edge of the screen is colorless (presumably a part of the image that was meant to be cropped out.  Other than that, the image isn't too unattractive.  The picture seems clear when it isn't combed and the colors feel correct.  You could just about get away with it on a smaller fullscreen set, and I guess Passion River just took Sundance's broadcast master and slapped it on a disc, but it's hard to believe anybody would still try to pass this off in 2010.  Imagine the outcry if Netflix streamed something that looked like this.

The basic Dolby stereo track is fine, but subtitles are no longer an option.  And there are absolutely no on-disc extras.  The menu screen consists of nothing but a Play button.  They do at least continue the tradition of including an insert with a director's statement (and chapters).  But just that's pretty paltry.
Next up is 2012's The Mathematics of Change, about Kornbluth's falling in and out of love with math at Princeton University.  In a sense, as we're following Josh from his childhood years now to his college years, this can be taken as a pretty straight-forward sequel to Red Diaper.  It's another straight monologue, in the sense that there are no actors or dramatizations, just Kornbluth performing for another live audience (who we get to see this time and, curiously, they all seem to have papers set out in front of them).  It's performed, appropriately, in an actual mathematics auditorium at Berkley, and there are fewer theatrical effects (no alternating backgrounds, just a chalk board, and the lighting rarely changes, save for a few key moments).  Interestingly, it uses the same music as Red Diaper Baby and Jacob Kornbluth is back as director.  Mathematics was released directly to DVD and streaming by Quixotic Projects, which is essentially a self-release by the film's production team.  As of this writing, it's still for sale.
2012 Quixotic Projects DVD.
But these guys seem to know how to do DVDs better than Passion River, though.  It appears to be a properly pressed disc (not a DVR as I was expecting).  It's anamorphic and properly progressive, openly framed at 1.78:1.  It's the one that could most pass for a blu-ray of the three we've seen.  It has a 5.1 audio track and the menu screen at least has a Chapters menu, though disappointingly there are still no subtitles or any kind of special features.  There's no insert this time either, not that that's important, but I was starting to grow fond of the director's statements.
Finally, Josh Kornbluth has made one more feature film (to date), 2017's Love & Taxes.  You might think it would be his first title available on blu, but sadly it veered in the other direction, and is streaming/ direct download only.  I see Love & Taxes as the fan favorite, if not the best film, as it brings us full circle.  It's another movie-movie, even bringing back several of the cast members from Haiku Tunnel (yes, including Harry Shearer) for all the scenes where Kornbluth isn't standing alone, live on stage.  There's a romcom element to this one that lays a little flat, but otherwise it's everything you could want.  It documents the period of Kornbluth's life when he finally had to hire accountants and deal with his many years of tax avoidance (thanks to his communist upbringing).  It even brings us around to him filming Haiku Tunnel.  Jacob Kornbluth is back as director, filming scenes with another actor playing Jacob Kornbluth.  He even introduces a few of the real people from his life that we've seen throughout his work in the closing credits.  It's a really good film on its own terms, but even better if you've followed Josh on his journey through the previous films.
Unfortunately there's no disc to detail of this one, so I'll leave it at that.  This isn't strictly speaking the entirety of Josh Kornbluth's film work, as he also works as a character actor, appearing in films as diverse as Jack and Teknolust, and perhaps most significantly in the atypical documentary Strange Culture.  But these are the four true Kornbluth films, the creative visions he's written and starred in.  I would love, love, love it if Criterion or any other label out there boxed these four up in for a sweet little blu-ray set.  Even a halfway decent restoration to SD would benefit Red Diaper Baby.  But I wouldn't hold my breath.  I'm a little surprised nobody even put out a barebones Love & Taxes disc as a new release.  No, I'll keep hoping for more, but this is probably all we get.  But I highly recommend these, and hopefully we'll get a fifth film.  He's still active on Youtube and stuff, so I don't think we've seen the last of him.

Hell of the Living Dead Done Right

Anchor Bay originally released Bruno Mattei's Hell Of the Living Dead and Rats as two separate releases in 2002, and then reissued them as a double feature in 2003. Blue Underground than acquired them and put both titles out individually again, under their own banner, in 2007. Always with the same transfers and extras. But finally in 2014, Blue Underground has released them, again together as a double-bill, on blu-ray with all new transfers and features.

Update 2/21/15 - 3/10/23: 88 Films has reissued Hell Of the Living Dead on BD/ UHD, and it fixed the broken sound in the SWAT sequence!  Let's hope they got everything else right...
I've always been amused by both, but Hell of the Living Dead was the film I'd been a fan of since owning the old VHS release under the title Night Of the Zombies in the 80s. It's an Italian zombie film that fully delivers on everything you wanted from those films, an at the same time is totally bonkers. And unlike most knock-offs and retreads, it's quite ambitious in its scope. This isn't four teenagers in a cabin beset by zombies; our cast travels practically half the globe, having adventures in the jungle, high rises, power plants, suburban homes and abandoned missionaries. It's got a big cast, bolstered out even further by a generous helping of stock footage, which is creatively integrated into the film, even if its effectiveness is uneven. And it was pretty damn impressive to see Dario Argento's infamous scorers Goblin had done the soundtrack to this film... until I grew to realize it was just their previous work carried over from previous films, mainly Dawn Of the Dead.  And that's not all that's been carried over from Dawn; this film replicates so many key scenes that, if it weren't for the cannibal stuff, this could almost be classified as an unofficial remake.  But that's all part of Hell's charm.
I did see Rats back in the day, too; but remembered it mostly as a pretty average horror film that was basically 90 minutes of generic build up for an admittedly pretty great ending. But that was never enough to compel me to pick up any of the DVD releases, especially since Hell and Rats shared the same Bruno Mattei interview on both discs anyway. So I picked up the very first Hell disc and then just sat it all out from the outside, until I found out Blue Underground was creating an all new documentary on the making of Hell Of the Living Dead, compelling me to upgrade to the blu-ray. But I have to say, having gotten it now as part of the package with the Hell upgrade, the film has grown in my estimation, and I've come to appreciate the silly, colorful comic book tone Mattei applied to both films.
1) 2002 US Anchor Bay DVD; 2) 2014 US Blue Underground BD;
3) 2023 UK 88 Films BD; 4) 2023 UK 88 Films UHD.

So let's get into the transfers.  Each disc is matted to roughly 1.85:1...  AB's DVD is more like 1.84:1, and 88's BD is 1.83:1, though their UHD is 1.85.  The difference between the two 88's being that the BD reveals slivers more along both sides than the UHD.  But the shifts in framing across all four editions are very minute, and nothing you'd ever notice outside of a direct screenshot comparison like this.  But you will notice the boosts in clarity.  BU's blu-ray is distinctly sharper and more detailed than the old DVD, and even 88's blu is another substantial advancement, with grain only softly hinted at on the 2014 disc now clearly and cleanly captured.  And fine detail that looks just a little clunky on the BD, like the clip in Margit Newton's hair, looks far smoother with natural gradation on the UHD.  But even more eye-catching than any of that is the color-timing, so let's get into that.
1) 2014 Blue Underground BD; 2) 2023 88 Films BD; 3) 2023 88 Films UHD.
First of all, I'm noticing that the two shots I selected to compare for the UHD look very flat and low contrast.  So here's one more screenshot from the UHD, just to show that it's how those two particular scenes look, not the whole film.  Of course it's still darker (a gentle reminder: all HDR screenshots are darker because a proper 4k set will display them with more nits), but the colors are vibrant, looking very close to 88's BD on an HDR display, including the shots from the two earlier comparisons.  But what should still stand out to you is how different BU's looks from the others.  It has a very cool blueish cast; 88's transfer is back much closer to the old AB timing, albeit a little better separated.  Overall, I prefer 88's colors.  There are scenes where I prefer BU's - occasionally, 88 feels a little over-saturated or unnatural.  But for the most part, 88 wins.  This is the best the film has ever looked.

But the look isn't what the controversy around the 2014 blu is about. What you don't see in those screenshots is the sound, or the film's running time. So is this new blu-ray cut? No, not really... but technically yes. No scenes have been removed or graphic imagery censored, but their have been micro trims to a LOT of scenes. Basically frames have been removed regularly, throughout the film (only Hell; it's not on Rats), between shots. Essentially, it's the exact same problem that plagued Shriek Show's infamous Burial Ground blu-ray. And as with Burial Ground, the problem is not on the older DVDs, just the newer blus. To be fair, you don't generally notice it in most cases... In fact, I don't think I could even locate the instances without ripping both discs and syncing them up to find the moments where the they go out of sync. But when the cuts happen during music, you do hear it. You don't hear pops or drop outs, because the shots have been buttressed up against each other, but the score skips notes. And it always happens as the video shot switches, which makes it seem like Mattei was some kind of amateur who couldn't edit the audio and video on separate tracks... it's the kind of error you find in student films. Except in this case, it's not a problem with the original film, only the new blu-ray.
It's most obvious during this scene.
So I contacted BU back when a forum member on first pointed this out and another member followed up by uploading comparison footage, and here's what they said:

"We became aware of the issue with HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD after the Blu-ray was released. We brought it to the attention of the Italian licensor who supplied the new HD master to us. They informed us that there was damage at several of the cement splices in the original negative, necessitating that they remove one frame on each side of the cut so that there wouldn’t be noticeable frame damage or picture jumps during those cuts. Please keep in mind that this is a 30+ year old, extremely low budget film. We're confident they did the transfer as best they could with what they had to work with. Hopefully this does not impede in your enjoyment of the film. We believe that the positives of this new HD transfer far outweigh any negatives. As there is no way to fix the damage to the negative, we are not able to issue replacement discs."

And yes, unless you're really searching for the problem, you won't notice it when the score isn't playing, which is most of the time. I think BU is right about the positives of the HD outweighing the negatives for sure. I wouldn't go back to the DVD. But happily, this issue can now be put behind us forever. 88 has fixed the problem! They don't appear to have done anything dodgy, like upres SD frames from the DVD to fill the gaps (though, in a pinch, I might've preferred if BU had tried that instead of leaving it like it was).  The running time is back.  Both discs state they're scanned from the original negatives on their back covers, so presumably they're from the same source.  So I don't really know how they did it, but they did it.  It looks great, and the music no longer skips.  Huzzah!

And that's not the only win in 88's audio column.  AB's DVD just gave us the English mono dub with no subtitle options.  BU bumped that track up to lossless DTS-HD and threw in optional English, French and Spanish subs.  88 dumps the foreign subs, keeping the English, but most importantly gives us both the English and Italian audio tracks (to be fair, 88's 2017 BD did this, too) in LPCM, giving us the option to watch the film with either track.  The Italian seems to at least sometimes match the actor's lips, i.e. that's what they're actually speaking; though I will say the music sounds decidedly more robust in the English mix.
2014 US Blue Underground BD.
Meanwhile, Rats looks pretty good on BU's disc, too. I never got the DVD to compare it to, but the image here looks great. Once again, it's been slightly letterboxed to 1.85, and it's a very attractive watch with bold colors that's probably part of what helped me come appreciate the film more this time around.  It also has the English mono track in DTS-HD with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.

But like I said, the biggest selling point for me to upgrade from my old DVD back in the day was actually the special features. First of all, the original Bruno Mattei interview, which has been on every release of both Rats and Hell from Anchor Bay and Blue Underground has been carried over here, too. And that's great, because it was an upbeat yet very forthcoming chat, and the only time we'll hear from Mattei on any of these discs. There's also trailers and galleries for both films, that have been with us since the earliest release. Some of the trailers are worth checking out, though, since you get to see the films marketed with different titles like Virus and Blood Kill. The DVD did have a unique insert, which included an interview between Fangoria's Michael Gingold and filmmaker Scooter McCrae; but I'm really not at all sorry to see their "Shatter Dead is a much better film than Hell of the Living Dead" trash talking fest go.
But then there's a new, 50+ minute documentary film called Bonded By Blood, which really focuses on Claudio Fragasso and his involvement. He's as forthcoming and engaging as Mattei was, but with an extra sense of humor, talking us through Hell Of the Living Dead, his marriage (his wife is also his collaborator who cowrote most of his films) and touching on the rest of his and Mattei's careers. Margot Newton and Franco Garofalo are also interviewed to share their side of things. And at first it seems like it's going to be all about Hell, but then we travel to the studio where they shot Rats and Fragasso talks to us on the old sets, along with stars Ottaviano Dell'Acqua and Massimo Vanni.

Unfortunately, none of that makes it to 88's release, but they've come up with a ton of their own, mostly excellent material.  I say "mostly," because boy is the audio commentary skippable.  It's by the usually reliable Troy Howarth, along with second expert Eugenio Ercolani, and it starts out fine.  But maybe 20 minutes in, they just change the subject and stop talking about Hell Of the Living Dead altogether.  They start drifting into other Fragasso films, but soon they're just free-wheeling into whatever springs to mind.  They go on tangents from other tangents.  Troy goes over the whole spiel of how Romero changed zombie films, which I'm sick to death of hearing repeated on every zombie commentary ever.  At the very end, Howarth admits he's not interested in Hell; it's not a film he likes very much.  Yeah, no shit!  But you should at least talk about the film you're doing the commentary of, no?  A few references to other, related films, sure.  But this was a real piss take, like that AB insert turned into 100 minutes of audio, except at least they were trashing the film instead of ignoring it.  88 should demand their money back.
But all of 88's other extras are quite worth while.  First of all, their exclusive interviews with Fragasso and Newton are back, and they're both top notch.  Then there's all new stuff for this release, starting with another Fragasso interview.  Don't worry, they ask him all different questions, so he doesn't repeat across both interviews.  Then there's an excellent interview with Mrs. Fragasso: Drosella Drudi, which is a real must-watch.  There's also an interesting but less essential interview with two experts on Hell's history on VHS in the UK.  Personally, I'm a little burned out on "Video Nasty" talk, but it's a good piece.  88 also has the trailer, a 12-page booklet with notes by Francesco Massaccesi (so not the same notes or author as 88's 2017 booklet), a fold-out poster, reversible artwork an a slipcover.
So 88's new 4k set is really satisfying.  Fans may still want to hang onto their BU discs for the exclusive Mattei and Garofolo interviews (plus their Rats coverage, if you're a fan of that movie, too).  But this release finally gets Hell right.

Dive Right In To The Dead Pit

1989's The Dead Pit is an odd duck.  I mean, sure, it's not as weird as some other movies we've looked at here, but it's weird in terms of where it falls in terms of quality.  Like, if someone said to me, hey, I've never seen The Dead Pit, is it any good?  I wouldn't know how to answer.  It's almost a good movie.  In some ways it's an awesome movie.  But it's just too amateurish and crappy to cross that "Good" finish line.  So yeah, it sucks.  But it really delivers the goods, in terms of its imaginative aspirations and in the slick level of quality it manages to reach, that horror fans are looking for.  In other words, it's a real quagmire, just the kind of off-beat flick we cult fans turn to Code Red for.

Update 1/14/20 - 3/8/23: This post was originally titled "The Dead Pit Quagmire" due to some compromises fans had to accept in this film's releases.  But there's a brand new version that solves just about all of that stuff.  Would ya believe Code Red/ Dark Force have gone UHD?
So let's dig into it.  What is The Dead Pit, a zombie movie?  Well, technically, but they don't really show up until the end to up the ante and turn the finale into a wild, The Beyond-like spectacle.  For the most part, the film is a little more subdued, with a single Freddy Krueger-like supernatural slasher committing all the villainy through the bulk of the story.  It all takes place in a mental hospital, with our leading lady convinced that an evil, dead doctor is persecuting her.  She spends the majority of her time in comically exploitative underwear, and the film occasionally dips into "women in prison" territory, replete with a scene where a cackling nurse blasts her top off with a powerful fire hose.  It's all interspersed with some awfully wooden dialogue read by actors who are clearly struggling to remember the last few words of their sentences, which is what pulls the film down to suckage levels. 
But then there's all the stuff that makes it neat.  The hospital location is pretty spooky and expertly lit, with eerie green lights peaking up from The Haunting-like spiral staircases.  The film's directed by Brett Leonard, who went on to direct more mainstream fare such as Hideaway, The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity.  None of those are what I'd regard as highly respectable films either, but you can see the qualities in here that would've lead New Line to give him those shots at the big time.  And it's full of great kills, from dental drills through the eye to melting faces and flying decapitations, all made with the classic 80s style physical effects fans trawled their video stores for back in the day.  If they'd just paid as much attention to the rest of the film as those sequences, we'd have, if not a Re-Animator level classic, at least an endearing entertainment like The Curse.  Instead, it's a more frustrating experience where cool scenes are ruined by the grind of joyless tedium you have to sit through in order to get to them.  In the end, is it worth it?  That depends on your level of patience and willingness to overlook serious flaws.  But I think this might actually work better on younger viewers who are still thinking less critically as the whole experience just washes over them, in the same way that an adult sees a man in a zippered rubber suit clumsily stepping on cheap models while a child just sees Godzilla rampaging through a decimated city.  That's why I think a lot of us are nostalgic for the old Dead Pit VHS with the novelty light-up box.
But for a very long time, it was largely academic whether you were fond or wary of The Dead Pit, because you couldn't get it on DVD if you tried.  At best, die hard aficionados were able to import hard-to-find budget discs that were barebones and fullscreen from random European territories.  Code Red finally arrived to do the film justice in 2008, releasing two versions of a proper widescreen special edition: a single disc DVD and a Best Buy exclusive 2-disc set.  It was everything you could've wanted until the HD age.  So in 2019, Code Red, this time in conjunction with Dark Force Entertainment, released a blu-ray upgrade... at least in terms of picture quality.  We'll get into it.  But any issues with that release are old news anyway, now that in 2023, Dark Force has released a brand new BD/ UHD 2-disc set with a "BRAND NEW 4k Scan with HDR and Color Correction." 
1) 2008 Code Red DVD; 2) 2019 Dark Force BD; 3) 2023 Dark Force UHD.

The blu wasn't 4k; it had a "Brand New 2k Scan from Original Negative with Extensive Scene-By-Scene Correction."  And it's certainly an obvious enhancement over the DVD transfer, with a far less muddy image and more natural colors.  Just look at the first set of shots; it's like you're trying to view the DVD through a sheet of wax paper, which has been lifted for the blu.  But the inconsistent, patchy and sometimes pixelated film grain falls a bit short of what we expect from a brand new 2k scan.  It feels like an older master, though maybe it's just troubled compression (this is a single layer disc, after all) or a side effect of their correction process.  Both are shown in 1.78:1, but the framing has shifted a bit between versions, so it's definitely not the same scan.  But I'd say most of the credit for this blu goes to the color correction rather than any great gain in resolution.
1) 2008 Code Red DVD; 2) 2019 Dark Force BD; 3) 2023 Dark Force UHD.
Happily, that is not the case with the new disc, which by the way has now been properly matted to 1.85:1.  Grain is now very distinct and fine detail is really improved, even over the blu.  Naturally, I was expecting an upgrade, but this is a surprisingly first-class UHD.  It helps that this time, they sprung for dual-layer.  The HDR is nice and subtle, giving the "normal" scenes more natural and authentic, while feeling even more supernatural for the abnormal sequences; a surprisingly attractive image.  Seriously, the jump from BD to UHD looks as extreme as the jump from DVD to blu.  The Dead Pit looks really attractive now.  There are still little flecks of film damage here and there, but nothing distracting.  In fact, they feel like they belong more than ever now that Dark Force has captured a perfectly filmic look.

For audio, we just get the original mono track (which is all I ask for), bumped up to DTS-HD on the BD and UHD, though it's still a little fuzzy.  There are no subtitle options on any of these.
Now, here's where the blu loses ground.  The special features consist of four really quite good on-camera interviews with Leonard, writer/ producer Gimel Everett and stars Cheryl Lawson & Jeremy Slate.  Neat.  We also get the trailer.  But the DVDs not only also had these interviews; they had considerably more.  There was a fun audio commentary by Leonard, Everett and Slate, and brief introductions by Slate and Lawson on the single disc edition.  Plus some bonus trailers.  Then, the 2-disc edition also included over half an hour of behind the scenes footage, and another half hour of special effects test and creation footage with effects artist Ed Martinez.  And there's a rather unusual "mini movie," which edits the film down to roughly 20 minutes, but includes alternate effects shots, particularly in the final scene where the villain suffers a completely different, gruesome fate.  Oh, and there's a stills gallery.
the 1.31:1 mini movie.
Now, I thought all that behind-the-scenes footage was pretty neat, giving you a real fly-on-the-wall vérité style peek behind the curtain of this film.  But, while it's a little disappointing, I can see why Dark Force decided not to carry all of that stuff over (the mini movie especially feels like they were just trying to find stuff to fill up that second DVD), especially if they weren't willing to spring for a second layer.  But it's just baffling to me that they decided to drop the audio commentary.  It's good natured, with a lot of laughing and back and forth, but never getting off track and failing to be informative.  Oh well.  One thing Dark Force did do is create two much-hyped glow in the dark slipcovers.  Mine, pictured above, is #2.  The first one uses the zombie artwork you see on the DVD, with the more cartoonish face.

But the 2023 release comes correct here, too.  The audio commentary is back on the UHD.  And, since this is a BD/ UHD combo-pack, it comes with a copy of the 2019 Blu-ray, so we still get the extras and the trailer.  Yeah, there was still more on the DVD, mainly Best Buy version.  But now we've got all of the best, high quality stuff.  Plus, we get another signature Dark Force slipcover (especially appropriate for this film, since it's famous for its special, VHS cover).  This one is both embossed and glow-in-the-dark.  That's a photo I took of it with my phone in the dark[left].  I'm not a big swag guy, but this is pretty bad-ass, I have to admit.
So yeah, I was a little underwhelmed by this one in 2019, but not anymore.  I was okay with, but a little disappointed by, the 2k transfer.  But the new 4k scan on UHD exceeds my expectations.  And I was annoyed by the loss of the commentary, which is now back.  A couple months ago, it leaked that the new UHD wouldn't feature the on-camera interviews, which had me pretty frustrated since I'd already pre-ordered and wasn't looking forward to losing stuff.  But that was before we learned this would be a combo-pack, so they're still secure.  Die-hard fans will still want to track down a copy of the Best Buy DVDs, but for most of us, this is all you need.

R.I.P., Banana Man.