Soavi's Masterpiece, Dellamorte Dellamore

Ah man, it's been a long wait for a proper HD release of Michele Soavi's Dellamorte Dellamore, the demented comic book adaptation that's often called the last great Italian horror film.  It had some fine releases on DVD, and I've owned a few of them over the years, but on BD, they were both rare and uninspiring.  You'd be happy to pay to import a German, barebones disc with the old DVD master just because it wasn't compressed to 720p.  We were all excited when Shameless finally announced a BD special edition for 2018 until somebody asked them for the specs and it turned out the frame-rate was botched.  Still, a lot of desperate fans bought it anyway.  But happily, you can put all that behind you now.  Severin has a brand new 4k restoration from the negative with a whole ton of special features on BD and 4k Ultra HD with Dolby Vision HDR, fancy packaging and everything you could want.
Dellamorte Dellamore is based on Italian horror comic Dylan Dog, or more precisely Tiziano Sclavi's prototypical novel about a similar character in the DD universe, Francesco Dellamorte.  Both characters were drawn to resemble Rupert Everett, so it was quite a coup for Soavi to cast him here, not just for the coincidence, but the pitch-perfect performance Everett was able to deliver in a film where, after all, a lot of the cast is dubbed.  And it's not just Everett who's pitch-perfect here; the stylish direction, score, practical effects, supporting cast and the writer's clever blend of humor and genuine ennui are all operating on a level I'm not sure the original source material even fully deserved.  The elements have aligned to lift up an above average graphic novel to a bit of a cinematic masterpiece.
1) 2006 Anchor Bay DVD; 2) 2012 Shameless DVD;
3) 2023 Severin BD; 4) 2023 Severin UHD.

Each of these discs pretty much preserve the slightly pillar-boxed aspect ratio of 1.66:1, though if you look closely, you'll see Anchor Bay's disc is cropped a little tighter and really framed at 1.62:1.  I only replaced the AB DVD with the Shameless because it subtitled the Italian commentary for the first time, but I never realized until I started doing this comparison how they improved the picture.  It's not just the framing, which the 4k restoration has mirrored, but they've got more natural colors and toned down the edge enhancement/ contrast.  Of course, that's all academic now.  The colors are even more natural now and fine detail, like the mayor's hair, has been restored.  Of course, we're comparing UHD to DVD, so they have a huge advantage; but happily they didn't blow it.  Grain is still tough to discern, which seems to be a thing with Severin - are they lightly DNRing their UHDs (or is the Italian company that owns the film materials)?  Because the feature's only about 100 minutes and they've given it nearly 80GB, so it shouldn't be a compression issue.  Not that this looks like Predator anything.  And everything else, like the black levels (especially considering how much of this film is set at night) and the naturalism of the 4k are quite strong.

We're given a surprising amount of options for the audio: a Dolby Atmos track, a 5.1 and a 2.0, both in DTS-HD, all of which sound bold, clear and frankly rather similar.  We also get the Italian 2.0 in DTS-HD, and optional English subtitles for both the English and Italian audio tracks.  I'd recommend the English audio, since Rupert is speaking English in his own voice, but a number of supporting characters are dubbed, so both are valid options.
As far as extras?  Oh boy, Severin has us covered.  But they're not the only special features in town.  Anchor Bay had a nice half-hour featurette, which talked to a number of the key players, including Soavi, screenwriter Gianni Romoli, Sergio Stivaletti and Anna Falchi.  Shameless dropped that, but they preserved that aforementioned commentary from the 2008 Medusa DVD, and they added English subtitles for the first time.  It's Soavi and Romoli together, and it's pretty great.  They go at a good pace and cover a lot, including a few details that don't pop up in other extras.  Both discs also included inserts with notes, the trailer and a bunch of bonus trailers (especially Shameless, they have like fifteen!).
Thankfully, Severin keeps the commentary, too; though they almost don't need it, since the new interviews they conducted are pretty comprehensive and cover just about every topic mentioned and ignored by that commentary.  Romoli's interview goes for a good hour.  And they manage to get a great sit-down with Rupert Everett, which is impressive.  They also got a new interview with Falchi, plus cinematographer Mauro Marchetti, Stefano Masciarelli who played the mayor, Fabiana Formica who played the mayor's daughter, composer Riccardo Biseo, set designer Antonello Geleng and of course Sergio Stivaletti.  There's also a brief interview with Alan Jones to fill in the last few informational details, though he clearly doesn't know what he's talking about regarding the comics.  He goes into a whole explanation of "why hasn't there ever been a Dylan Dog film," when of course there was.  It's no Dellamorte Dellamore, but it has its qualities.  Jones also points out that "in Dylan Dog, the sidekick is based on Groucho Marx.  Here, I don't quite understand what he was doing."  I've never read an issue, and even I know Dylan Dog's sidekick was Groucho, not Dellamorte's, so of course he's not doing the Groucho schtick.  But hey, he's a film guy, not a comic book guy; what do you want?
Also on here is the old featurette that also used to be on that Medusa disc, though this one had subtitles even at the time.  It's good because it was made during production, so it has on-set footage and interviews with a couple people, including the editor and François Hadji-Lazaro, who couldn't contribute to the new features.  The Anchor Bay featurette wasn't so fortunate to make the transition, but that's fine, since nobody says anything in that that they don't also say in these other extras.  There are also two theatrical trailers, the complete soundtrack CD, a glossy full-color 50 page book, and a stylish slipbox.
So this is unquestionably recommended.  A fantastic film that's been in dire need of a fully loaded special edition since the concept existed, finally gets one.  This and Spider Labyrinth in the same month has Severin taking some serious cracks at Italian Horror fans' want lists.  What could be next... Demons 5?

Barbara Crampton Takes Us Back To Miskatonic In Suitable Flesh

If you're not familiar with Suitable Flesh, allow me to bring you into the fold.  In brief, it's an HP Lovecraft adaptation (specifically of "That Thing On the Doorstep") Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli had been trying to get funded since the 90s.  Think of his Shadow Over Innsmouth project if Dagon never finally got made.  Well, apparently, Barbara Crampton, who's been having a very gratifying scream queen comeback thee days, has enough pull with Shudder now to get a project funded.  So she reached out to Paoli, who gave her the screenplay, which she is now producing and starring in, along with Brian Yuzna, who's executive producing.  It played in a bunch of horror festivals last year, went to Shudder and just now came out on a special edition blu from RLJ (formerly Image) Entertainment.
But, of course, Gordon didn't get to actually direct this.  Instead they enlisted Joe Lynch, who frankly, I was worried about when I saw his name attached.  I mean, Mayhem is perfectly watchable if you don't go in expecting too much, but this is the guy who turned Wrong Turn into a cornball reality TV parody, did that ridiculous hitman flick with Salma Hayek where she breaks the fourth wall to make lame quips and the title Knights of Badassdom speaks for itself.  I was worried.  But Joe Lynch has proven an excellent steward for Stuart's vision.
That's not to say this is 100% the masterpiece that Re-Animator or From Beyond were, but it's better than Castle Freak and absolutely worthy of their company.  Heather Graham, of all people, stars and proves willing to go as far as out as this movie needs her to.  If you know the Lovecraft story, you can anticipate some of the body-swapping hi-jinks everybody gets up to, but of course Paoli and Co. have to crank things up a notch or two before the show's over.  A lot of this plays like a fun Tales From the Crypt episode, with whole cast having fun with its murderous premise.  But then it pushes the envelope with the sex and violence... maybe not quite as gonzo as Gordon would've taken it, but definitely in that same, demented direction.  And they manage not to lose the thread and get silly, helped by composer Steve Moore, who does a nice job capturing the spirit of what Richard Band would've done, if perhaps just a little more subtle.
2024 RLJ BD.
RLJ's blu preserves Suitable Flesh's very wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio.  This is a new release, presumably taken right from a DCP; so there's not a lot for this blu to have gotten wrong and happily they don't.  Things actually look kinda soft, but that may just be down to the look of the film itself (i.e. to look less digital and hue to its 80s predecessors).  Because this is a lot clearer than when I watched it streaming in 1080p, and we've been given a dual-layer disc for a relatively short flick, so I don't think compression would be at issue.  It's always a little tougher to gauge without film grain, how much detail is missing from a modern digital transfer.  Heck, I'd love to see a UHD of this, even without HDR, but generally I think we're lucky to even be getting BDs of these Shudder titles, so I have no complaints.

And we get a nice, bold DTS-HD transfer of the 5.1 track with optional English subtitles.  There's even an audio descriptive track, as well as Spanish and French subtitles, so RLJ has us covered.
And definitely that includes the special features department.  For starters, there's an audio commentary by Lynch, Crampton and co-producer Bob Portal.  Lynch, of course, is co-host of the Movie Crypt podcast, so he's great at doing commentaries, especially with Crampton and Portal to bounce off of.  Then there's a making of, which is fairly substantial.  I was expecting one of those ultra-brief promo featurettes, but this is a good little retrospective with Lynch and most of the cast, reminiscent of the featurettes Scream Factory creates.  Good stuff.  There's also a Zoom-style interview between Lynch and Steve Moore, a look at the storyboards (with a video intro by Lynch), a blooper reel and a couple of bonus trailers (though not the trailer for Suitable Flesh itself).
So this is a really satisfying release of a really satisfying little horror flick: the kind of thing they don't make much of anymore.  Admittedly, if you come in holding this to the extreme expectations of Gordon's all-time greatest moments in cinema, I suppose this could be a little disappointing.  But if you're not at least having fun with this title, you've brought the wrong attitude.  Everybody involved got it right and managed to deliver us one more exciting chapter from what we thought was a long finished necronomicon.

Get Lost In the Spider Labyrinth!

If only one more Italian horror film could ever get a DVD or blu-ray release from now on, 1988's Spider Labyrinth would be it. This is the best "I can't believe it's never been released" Italian horror film of them all. There's never even been a laserdisc of it, or an untranslated foreign DVD. Although, interestingly, the soundtrack was just remastered and released digitally in 2014. Could that be a good sign? Spider Labyrinth was directed by Gianfranco Giagni, co-writer and director of Valentina, the 80's adaptation of Guido Crepax's comic books starring Demetra Hampton - another great movie desperately in need of a DVD or blu-ray release. But let's stay focused on this one for now.

Update 4/24/16 - 1/10/24:
Okay, well, if physical media dies now, at least we can say we made it across the finish line.  Spider Labyrinth finally has an official release, and it's a full-blown BD/ UHD special edition.  Huzzah!
We start out with a great, Hammer-like set up. A university professor is told his classes are canceled and he's to come to a meeting with the school's council. They tell him that they've lost touch with one of their researchers in Budapest, who's been out there studying a religious cults. And now they'd like him to travel out there and try to find this guy, or at least what's left of his research. Naturally, what he winds up stumbling into is much bigger and more sinister than he could've ever suspected. Shady characters, dark alleyways, secret tunnels, black gloved murderers and yes, spiders.
Our hero gets lost driving around the distinctly labyrinthine city. He asks a man on the street for directions and as soon as he pulls away, someone steps out of the shadows to conspire against him. And there's a great scene where he's talking to his assistant at a fancy restaurant. They're covering a lot of exposition, but you slowly start to notice in the background that, one by one, the diners are getting up and slowly walking upstairs, until our leads find themselves in an eerily empty restaurant. I've often seen this film as Bava-esque, and it is, but the style and mystery actually reminds me more of Pupi Avati's best films, like House With Laughing Windows, or the writer trying to follow the clues found in his typewriter ribbon in Zeder.
But it's not all mystery, suspense and old timey film noir-isms. If one of this movie's parents is a restrained Mario Bava, its other is a wild Lucio Fulci. Big deaths, colorful lighting and the supernatural running screaming right up in your face. Do you want to see a creepy stop motion spider? How about a woman who hangs from a high ceiling and drools silk that turns into a noose and hangs a man? Yeah, this film even delves into the crazed imagery style of some of the more innovative Asian horrors, all set to a wonderfully Hitchcockian score. Spider Labyrinth has it all.
Usually, these things end in a room full of tired old shriners in hooded robes standing around an alter with a single dagger between them. I'm not going to spoil where this film ends up, or all the twists and turns it takes to get there, but I'll say the effects of Sergio Stivaletti (as well as Barbara Morosetti, who worked on Demons, Phenomena, Wax Mask and Dellamorte Dellamore) are used to deliver something much more satisfying.

...Although I'm not saying there's not an alter.  Or a bunch of cultists with just one dagger.  The thing is, this movie gives you everything, including what you expect.  Trust me, there's more you won't be expecting.
For a long time, the best I could find (and believe me, I looked) was a 2011 bootleg DVD from Underground Empire. You've no doubt noticed the Italian television watermark on all my screenshots. It's at least anamorphic widescreen, but looks sourced from videotape, being very soft and light on detail. There's also a slightly older bootleg that used to be sold on Amazon as one of those made-to-order DVDRs. It's from PR Studios, 2009, and according to one customer's review, "First of all, the dvd cover is obviously a crummy scan of a vhs cover.... The source for this [disc] is a vhs tape. It is full-frame. It looks second or third generation. It is crummy." Another viewer describes its "smudged and grainy picture and muffled sound quality is of an old VHS tape." So yeah, I think the 2011 bootleg was the best of them.

But thank the spider god who must never be named, that's all entirely obsolete and can be left in the past now.  After years and years of people requesting the film from every label that's ever existed, Severin has finally answered the call.  In spades.  They've restored the film in 4k from the original negatives on 4k Ultra HD (and 1080p BD if you need it) with HDR, and a whole slew of extras.
1) 2011 UE DVDR; 2) 2023 Severin BD; 3) 3023 Severin UHD.

So yeah, I was happy to find that widescreen bootleg when I did.  At 1.63:1, it suggests the proper composition, though seeing it now at 1.85:1, we learn that even with tighter matting, there was more lurking on the sides of the screens.  I'm not going too get too stuck into comparing Severin to the bootleg, since it is just a bootleg, with all kinds of flaws, from the blown out contrast that's still saddled with milky blacks and faded colors to some awful edge enhancement.  That was the best some well-meaning amateur could do.  It never had a fair shot with an official release until now.  And this is a film that places a lot of emphasis on its stylish locations and slick photography, so it's a bigger than usual deal that the picture has come to life like we're seeing it for the first time.  The colors are gorgeous, the detail is rich and appropriately dewy, and detail - especially on the UHD - is perfectly captured down to the individual speck of grain.

And audio, too.  Unsurprisingly, the bootleg's wasn't the best, sounding boxy and fuzzy.  It's clear now in lossless DTS-HD.  We actually get the original stereo English and Italian tracks.  You should probably go with the English, since that seems to be the language spoken on camera, but it's great to finally have the option.  It should be noted, though, we only have "dubtitles," i.e. subtitles that match the English track, not the Italian.  Not a big deal, but even if you're not fluent in Italian, you'll definitely notice them say "Whitmore" in the subtitles while you hear "Alan" in the Italian audio.z
So that's what he looks like!
And extras!  The bootleg was at least thoughtful enough to throw in a non-anamorphic Japanese trailer.  Well, now we have the original trailer, restored in full 2160p.  But that's nothing.  Severin has come up with a first class expert commentary by experts Will Dodson and Ryan Verrill, who have a ton if insight and insightful commentary, that easily outshines a lot of the casual "expert" commentaries many cult films have been getting these days.  And then there are lengthy, substantial on-camera interviews with director Gianfranco Giagni, screenwriter Gianfranco Manfredi, cinematographer Nino Celeste, Paola Rinaldi who played Genevieve and of course the great Sergio Stivaletti.  I could only slightly gripe that one or two of them could've stood to be more tightly edited... Sergio goes on a pretty indulgent lecture about his whole childhood and Rinaldi keeps saying the same thing about parallel lines meeting in the future like a dozen times.  You could trim those a little.  Oh, and there's also a visual essay/ featurette, but it's pretty redundant with the commentary, where the same guys make many of the same points, though there are some fresh bits, too, if you have the extra time.

Also included is the complete soundtrack CD, an insert with Japanese artwork and the track-listing, and a creepy slipcover.
Ah, it feels so good to remove the M.I.A. tag from this post.  Just read how I originally ended this piece:

"But really, we should be able to chuck all these bootlegs. It's time for the high quality presentation this film deserves. Look at all these beautifully shot, creepy atmospheric locations. Imagine how they'd look on blu-ray with a fresh scan of the OCN. And how about some extras? It seems like we hear more and more about the same handful of Italian horror films over and over, often the same interviewees telling the same anecdotes. Yaknow, Catriona MacColl is great, but I think we've learned all there is to know from her a dozen times over. Now let's hear from some of these other people about these other great films. We know next to nothing about the story behind Spider Labyrinth, and I'd love to learn! I don't think I've ever even seen an image of
Giagni yet. Heck, even just giving Italian horror fans around the world a chance to see Spider Labyrinth alone would be an education, because most of you have no idea what you're missing."

...Mission utterly accomplished!