The Spell: Scream Factory Got Classic TV Horror Right, But Did Anybody Notice?

Look, I've given Scream Factory some flack over their awkward relationship with made-for-TV horrors.  And I've just been praising Warner Archives for some of their stellar work with it.  So it would be pretty disingenuous of me not to cover this case of Scream absolutely nailing it and giving us exactly what we wanted: a total DVD/ Blu-ray debut, marketed on its own merits (i.e. the cover features its own title, rather than "TV Terrors: Double Feature, vol. 2") with a quality transfer and some appealing special features.  Plus, this is just the kind of under-appreciated little gem I live to write about on this site anyway.  This is 1977's The Spell, originally broadcast on NBC, and viewable for the first time in HD courtesy of Scream Factory.
And yes, it's a blatant Carrie knock-off.  A teenage girl named Rita is bullied at school, and uses her latent psychic powers to lash back against her bullies, mother and even her coach.  The screenwriter claims, "It was based on my sister; it was an original idea... I knew nothing about Carrie, and so it was just an odd, dark coincidence that Carrie would come out at the same time that mine did," in the special features, and that his "was already recorded in the writer's guild before Stephen King had even dreamed up Carrie," but it's hard to believe Carrie had no influence on the production if not the screenplay.  Rita even wears a cape like Piper Laurie.  But where The Spell distinguishes itself is in its subtlety.  I did appreciate the one moment in Carrie when the coach hits the bully in gym class, because it at least went some way towards blurring the lines between saintly good guys and irredeemable villains.  Because otherwise it's just so arch.  King adaptations always seem to have these absurdly mad-with-religion types (see also: Marcia Gay Harden in The Mist, Everett McGill in Silver Bullet, Jeremy Slate in Lawnmower Man and of course all The Children Of the Corn), but Carrie's mother is queen of them all.  Admittedly she's more than just a flat bad guy: she's conflicted and deluded, somehow always meaning well despite committing a lifetime of extreme child abuse, right up to and including the attempted murder at the end.  But the point is, she's totally batshit nutso.
Meanwhile none of the characters in Rita's home are perfect - everyone says the wrong thing and behaves brashly or selfishly to the others at least once - but it never leaves the realm of the believable.  If anything, it's uncomfortably relatable.  Admittedly, Carrie earns its place in cinema history for its powerfully iconic bloody prom massacre; The Spell never gets so bold or dynamic (and hey, if you want to appreciate how much Carrie did right, just compare it to its sequel and two remakes).  It has one really cool death scene and an entertaining enough showdown at the end (which also seems to inspired by Carrie to be all coincidence), but it's never nearly so ostentatious.  File them both under horror, but Carrie sells thrills and spectacle, while The Spell deals in genuine drama.  Nothing in Carrie lands like the speech Rita gives to her mother about how she loves her but not her sister and brother, and she should accept that like the rest of the family has.  That's the moment (about 25 minutes in), that made me really lean forward and realize wow, this film is operating as so much more than just a passable knock-off.
The mother, Lee Grant, won an Oscar and was nominated for three more throughout her storied career, and a preteen Helen Hunt turned out to be The Spell's breakout star, but relatively unknown Susan Myers commands the stage as Rita.  Not that this movie doesn't have flaws.  It has one stand-out kill, but the rest of the psychic attacks are pretty underwhelming.  And while the feminist and family issues are as relevant now as ever, they can feel as clunky and dated as you'd expect a 70s TV movie to be.  And as flat and boxy looking, with its 4:3 framing and over-reliance on close-ups.  There's also a subplot with a parapsychologist (The Incredible Hulk's Jack Colvin) that struggles to connect with the rest of the story, like important scenes were either cut or inserted at the last minute.  In fact, there's a very weird edit at the end of the film, which I can't get into too much without spoilers (but if you've seen the film, it's the suspicious way the film leaves and returns to the exact same shot of the cat painting), that suggests the film was clumsily tampered with.  There's actually a shorter version (73 minutes vs 86) that removes most of the ending, as well as a few other scenes, which does fix that weird cat painting cut, but only makes things more confusing overall.  I'm very glad Scream secured us the longer, more complete cut; but I suspect the ideal director's cut would be some third, alternate edit that nobody's ever seen.
2017 Scream Factory blu-ray.
Scream presents The Spell in 1.33:1, which is undoubtedly the correct aspect ratio for a 70's TV movie.  It's a fairly attractive HD transfer, but it's not exactly cutting edge.  Grain is patchy and blocky.  I assume this is the master MGM had sitting around for at least a couple years before Scream Factory came knocking in 2017.  But it's clearly taken from film elements and leaves any old TV broadcast/ VHS transfer well in the dust.  Sure, this would benefit from a 4k scan, but it looks as good as any of their other MGM-sourced transfers.  There's minor film damage (small scratches, white specks) on practically every frame, but it's always very minor and never distracting.  If this was a new Sony restoration of Lawrence of Arabia or something, I'd say come on guys, you could do better.  But honestly, this is all I ask for with a lesser known TV movie like this.

The audio's about what you'd expect, too.  It's the original mono, which sounds pretty clean - you'd have to crank the volume uncomfortably high to hear a bit of background hiss in most scenes - but also a bit muffled and low-fi.  I said "most scenes" because there are a few points where it flares up more, but never to the point of competing with the dialogue or music.  Scream has added optional English subtitles, which was a nice touch, but I never needed it to pick out words or anything that weren't clear enough to make out on their own.
And they give us some very welcome special features, too.  The highlight for me is the on-camera interview with the screenwriter, Brian Taggert, which I quoted from earlier.  He talks about what you want to know.  Then there's an audio commentary by Amanda Reyes, who just did the new commentary for Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark.  She's enthusiastic and knows a ton of stuff, addressing some more topics fans would surely be wondering about.  But she does tend to veer off into other TV movies that are only tangentially related; sometimes I wished I could snap my fingers and bring her back on track.  But it's absolutely an asset to the disc.
And that's it.  But apart from the producer coming in and giving us a definitive explanation for the alternate cuts and endings for this film (and what are the odds he'd remember, anyway?), the pair of Taggert and Reyes really doesn't leave you wanting for anything more.  Again, this is a neat little TV horror flick that'd never even been released on DVD before, let alone BD.  Now we have the rarer, longer cut looking great in HD, subtitled, and with some substantial extras.  I'd be nothing but delighted to see more made-for-television gems get this treatment.

Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark, or Why I Love Warner Archive

After Bad Ronald last year, Warner Archives has struck another critical blow for classic, made-for-TV horror.  This time they've revitalized 1973's Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark, one of the few television terrors that can stand alongside Hollywood's big budget productions.  This isn't their first time releasing this title, but it is the film's HD debut, restored in 4k from the original camera negatives.  So, taking this as a pattern... prediction for Halloween 2020: a 4k restoration of 1977's The Possessed?
Anyway, Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark plays like a typical haunted house film in a lot of ways.  A couple moves into a new, somewhat ominous looking home.  Even after they crack open a mysteriously sealed metal fireplace hidden in the dark recesses of their basement, everything seems fine to the husband.  But the stay-at-home housewife keeps noticing unsettling little things.  Moved possessions, what sounds like whispering.  There's a lot of the ol' "I'm telling you, I'm not going out of my mind!" business.  But this time, instead of a vague, malevolent spirit floating about, there's a race of little "mini-demons" (as the back of the box describes them) conspiring against her, and there's nothing ethereal about the threat they pose.  I'd describe them more like goblins than demonic, though, with little prune-like heads and bearish fur suits.  It's colorfully composed, dark yet fun in an surprisingly endearing way that lame ass 2010 remake could never understand.
It's not that the remake was so terrible; there was even one scene I quite liked and thought would've been great in the original.  But it changes so much, making the story about a little girl in a gothic castle haunted by hairless CGI rats who eat human teeth.  And not to be that guy relentlessly banging the "practical effects > CGI" in 2019, but in the original, the creatures were a handful of tiny little people running around, using massively oversized tools with quirky personality.  Now they're a generic little horde of emaciated demon critters animated all over the frame.  It retains none of the charm of the original.  Instead of a remake nobody asked for, Del Toro should've just made his own thing full stop, which would've at least freed him up to really pursue his imaginative and develop his own ideas.  Instead, it's completely untrue to the original in spirit, but tied to the same rails so that when somebody like the handyman character is introduced, you say to yourself, well, he's the version of the guy from the original, so I know what's going to happen with him."  In other words, it misses the heart of the story, and sacrifices its power to surprise at the same time.  Not to mention, Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce had the combined chemistry and dynamism of a spilt bag of wheat germ.
After one or two budget, foreign releases, Warner Bros finally gave Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark a proper DVD release in 2009.  Well, proper apart from the fact that it was an MOD DVD-R, like everything in their Warner Archives series was at the time.  Still, it was a bit of a break-out success for them, so they reissued it in 2011 as a special edition.  Still a DVD-R, it at least had a remastered transfer and a brand new audio commentary.  But now, just in time for Halloween, Warner went back to the original negatives one last time to restore the film in 4k for their brand new HD blu-ray edition.  And yes, this time it's a properly pressed disc.
2011 DVR top; 2019 BD bottom.
Now, being their second pass on it, Warner's 2011 DVD wasn't too bad.  (By the way, if you're as curious as I was to how the 2009 DVD looks compared to the 2011 Special Edition, check out this excellent DVDTalk review.)  It's not interlaced, the colors were corrected, overly dark scenes were elucidated and fine detail was nice and clear for SD.  Of course, the boost to HD spruces it up even more, and cleans up that softening around the edges inherent to SD.  And as much as the colors were improved last time, they've really been given a shot in the arm this time around.  This is a film that always made great use of color in their production design, but we can appreciate it like never before on Warner's new blu.  If this film wasn't fullscreen (1.33 on both discs), you'd never guess this was shot for television.  Grain is still a bit light, which makes me wonder if Warners got nervous about fans reacting to a "grainy picture" and watered it down just a tad.  But it's there, and this film looks so clean and vibrant, it looks like it could've been shot yesterday.

In the audio dept., the original mono track's been bumped up to DTS-HD for the blu, which also adds optional English SDH subtitles (and yes, they include the little monster movies, too).
Besides a remaster, what made the 2011 DVD a special edition was the inclusion of a new, but rather disappointing, audio commentary by a writer from Dread Central, a writer from Fangoria and screenwriter Jeffrey Riddick.  Before you get too excited about that last credit, though, I have to point out while Riddick is a screenwriter for horror titles like Final Destination and Steve Miner's Day Of the Dead remake, he didn't have anything to do with this film.  It's a lively discussion, but a bit obnoxious with them cracking easy, unappreciative jokes at the film's expense (hey, look, they're wearing 70s clothes because this was shot in the 70s!).  While they do have some professional insight, and do have complimentary things to say as well; this plays a lot more of a casual fan commentary than a thoughtful, professional one.  Well, the new blu keeps that commentary, but it also adds a new one by TV movie historian Amanda Reyes.  While still fairly light-hearted, this is a far more satisfying, informative talk.  I'd still happily throw it all away for one, five minute interview clip with Kim Darby or anyone else who was actually a part of the production, but Warners has definitely added some more value to their package this second time around.
So horror fans, delight!  This film's a little treasure, and Warners going back to the original negative doesn't just make it look as good as it did on its first day.  Thanks to this being well shot and carefully preserved on 35mm film, it now looks far superior to how it ever could've appeared when it was originally broadcast.  How's that for a Halloween treat?

Controversial Blus: Tremors

Alright, gang.  If I didn't cover this release sooner or later, I'm pretty sure they'd pull my DVDExotica license.  Yes, today we're finally tackling the... "controversial?"  More like "infamous" blu-ray release of Tremors from Universal.  Yes, this release stands right alongside - or maybe even in front of - Predator as one of the most notorious DNR jobs in blu-ray history... made all the worse for it happening to two of the most beloved, crowd pleasing genre of films of their day.  And looking at it now, the DNR might not even be the most disappointing thing about this crummy disc.
Tremors is one of those small big budget (11m in 1990) studio flicks that tends to have a short lifespan but was fortunate enough to generate a lot of good will.  You know, for every Mummy, there were four or five Relics.  Writer/ Director Ron Underwood would go on to make the Oscar-winning City Slickers right after this, and it feels like a lot of the spirit of that film germinated here.  It's a sort of family-friendly, PG-13 horror film that's still effective enough, in terms of effects, suspense sequences and attractive horror ideas (the concept of these monsters right beneath us under the ground, attracted to the vibrations we make, is pretty darn cool), to hold onto its base audience as well the mainstream viewers captured by its humor and ensemble cast.  And they really struck gold with that cast.  Kevin Bacon is their biggest name lead, but we've also got great turns by Fred Ward, country music star Reba McEntire, John Carpenter all-star Victor Wong and Family Ties' Michael Gross who made not seem like a big get on first appraisal, but who turned himself into the heart of the franchise.
Universal's presentation of Tremors may not show it much if any respect, but it's clearly one of their star selling titles.  Stores like Best Buy and FYE still put it out on display every Halloween to this day.  They first released it all the way back in 1998 and reissued it in 2000 and again as a double-feature with the first sequel in 2001.  They released an 'Attack Pack' in 2005 of the first four films, a 2009 re-release packaged with "movie money" for Land Of the Lost, an HD-DVD in 2007, the 2010 blu-ray, a 2013 blu-ray edition of the 'Attack Pack,' with a reportedly slightly better transfer, an 'Anthology' collection on both DVD and blu in 2016 of the first five movies, a 'Complete Collection' of the first six films on DVD and blu in 2018, and an FYE-exclusive steelbook release of the BD in 2019.  And this is just the US releases I'm talking about here.  I've got the original DVD and the most recent, 2019 blu.  So let's see how we've come.
1998 Universal DVD top; 2010/2019 Universal blu bottom.
To be fair, the blu-ray is clearly a sizeable improvement over the DVD.  But that's only because the DVD also looks like it has something seriously wrong with it.  Like, ordinarily, I'd look at a blu-ray like this and say, that's such a pitiful HD bump, just hang onto your DVD.  But annoyingly, you can't even do that, because the DVD is nigh unwatchable on a modern television.  Right off the bat, the DVD widescreen (1.85:1), but non-anamorphic.  That's typical of really old DVDs like this, which might make it more forgivable, but certainly not acceptable.  But even putting that aside, and the extra-compressed resolution that inherently smaller image has to have, it looks awful, like the detail has been filtered away.  Where'd Kevin's mouth go, for instance?  It's also got some unattractive edge enhancement haloing going on, but given the state of the DVD presentation, I'd say that enhancement is actually necessary, as it's the only way viewers could make out what they're supposed to be looking at.

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

The audio situation is actually fine, with the DVD offering the original stereo mix in a solid Dolby track, as well as additional French and Spanish dubs and optional English and Spanish subtitles.  The blu-ray gave us a new 5.1 mix in lossless DTS-HD, plus the French dub and English, Spanish and French subs.  Sure, I would've liked to hang onto the original stereo mix, but the two tracks didn't strike me as terribly different to my ears, so it's a small quibble compared to the PQ drama.
As for extras, I have no complaints.  This is a big, popular sci-fi/ horror flick, so you expect some quality content, and we get some.  Primarily, we get a 'making of' documentary, which is a little under an hour.  It's fairly comprehensive and successfully entertaining, so I'm happy.  We also get an amusing outtake reel, plus a couple very brief (2-3 minutes) featurettes and two trailers.  And by the way, I'm describing both the DVD and blu-ray, because everything is exactly the same on both.  The Attack Pack also includes extras for the other three Tremors films included in that set, but nothing else for the original.  The steelbook obviously comes in a unique steelbook case... although not so unique, because it's pretty much identical to the Zavvi steelbook released in the UK.  So yeah, there's room to grow.  Some individual interviews could get deeper with key cast and crew members, and an audio commentary or two would be ideal.  But what we get is at least good enough.
Every time a new Tremors project comes out... and they still are!  The most recent one was 2018.  There are five official sequels, a TV series and a remake that brought Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward back, which to this date has been shelved but at least partially shot.  And each time, I figure this has got to be the renewed interest in the Tremors franchise that finally prompts Universal to restore the original.  But it never is, and it's downright depressing.  Releasing this old corpse of a transfer in 2019 is downright criminal.  And I'm sure a label like Scream Factory or Arrow would be thrilled to get their hands on it the studio can't be bothered to do it themselves.  So here's me doing my part to throw my voice into the arena and hopefully nudge Universal into taking a little action; but as we inch further and further into "the death of physical media," hope wanes.  I think our best shot now is, since Tremors is still an earner, a 4k Ultra HD, which would require a proper restoration.  Of course, even then, you know the second half of the combo-pack would still be this creaky 2010 BD.  😜

Kooky Cozzi Paganini Horror! ...Now In HD!

If you like your stylish Italian horror flicks cheap, silly and weird, then you should already have this movie!  But if you haven't been collecting horror DVDs over a decade ago, you probably missed out on Luigi Cozzi's Paganini Horror. But unless you're hung up on your movies being, you know, good by some kind of objective or reasonable standard like a normal person, in which case you'll probably absolutely hate this movie. But assuming you're not one of those people, then I'm here to tell ya, this German import's worth tracking down.

Update 1/10/17 - 10/29/19:  Better yet, just buy the blu-ray!  Because Paganini Horror's been restored in HD for a new special edition from 88 and Severin Films.
If you're not familiar with this one, the plot is real simple. A guy buys a long lost score by the famous composer Niccolo Paganini from Donald Pleasance, who's also the devil or something along those lines. He gives it to his girlfriend, an aspiring rock star, to turn into a modern pop song with her band.  Their manager, Daria Nicolodi, who also might be evil, wants them to shoot their music video in an old mansion that's stuck in a time loop, where some little girl once killed her mother just like Paganini killed his bride and used her intestines to string his violin as part of his pact with the devil.  Plus, Paganini will be summoned in the flesh when the band plays his song, or maybe he's just a masked slasher, but either way his victims come back as ghosts and hmm, okay.  Maybe the plot's not so simple, or even quite comprehensible if you really stop to think about it.  But why would you do that?
It's a fun, attractive and charmingly daft little horror movie about a famous violinist come back from the dead to chase young people around a colorful music video set.  It's attractively shot, Paganini has a violin with a knife that shoots out of it, there are a couple gnarly kills, everybody's running around in silly costumes, the music is upbeat and catchy - including a couple, full blown pop rock performances - and they've got some great location photography.  On the other hand, the whole production is clearly low budget, and set pieces often look very cheap and the impressive casting of Pleasance is wasted with some bland third party dubbing (on the Italian and English audio tracks) and not terribly interesting dialogue... I mean, come on, he's the devil!  Plus, the story really is a mess.  It's co-written by three people, including Nicolodi, which should put this on par with Suspiria, right?  Yeah, no.
So, the cult German label put this out twice on DVD in the early 2000s; all the cool sites like Xploited and Diabolik used to have this in spades.  But now its long OOP.  The first version was a 2-disc set, with the uncut widescreen version and a slightly trimmed 4:3 Italian television cut.  The second disc with the TV cut doesn't have English language options, though, and there are many differences between the two versions except some blood has been trimmed and the picture's open matte.  So I just got the single disc edition, which is completely English friendly, and also happens to be a fully loaded special edition.  It's pretty awesome, except for one little thing: it's woefully non-anamorphic.

But that's not an issue anymore!  Paganini Horror has been restored in 2k from the original negative for blu-rays in both the UK (88 Films) and the US (Severin).  I went with the Severin for a reason I'll get into below, but as you'd expect, they both trample the non-anamorphic concerns with full 1080p HD transfers.
2003 X-Rated DVD top; 2019 Severin BD bottom.
The DVD's non-anamorphic, but at least it's not interlaced, taken from film elements (occasional flecks and dust pop up; but for the most part it's pretty clean) and in the director's presumably preferred 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  But yeah, it looks awfully compressed and low on detail in that tiny window.  The non-anamorphic presentation is a real bummer, because this is a film that relies a lot on its look. And now that we see the film in HD, well, it still looks a little on the grungy side.  I'd put that down more to a reflection of the film itself than its home video representation, except grain does appear pretty pixelated and artificial, so I'm not so sure.  It's unquestionably an improvement over the DVD, don't get me wrong; but I wonder if some Italian company's been sitting on this scan for a long time.  I suppose we're facing "how much money can we be expected to spend on a low-key Cozzi oddity?  We're lucky to get this in HD at all" deal, which is admittedly understandable.  Swinging the pendulum back to the positive side, Severin retains the 1.66:1 ratio with some pillar-boxing, but in comparison to the DVD, we see that they've unveiled more information along all four sides, which is good because the DVD always did feel a little tight.

And audio-wise, X-Rated provide the English, Italian and German mono 2.0 tracks, which is great because you get to hear the alternate voices.  But unfortunately, the only subtitles on-hand were in German, so us English speakers had to stick to the English track unless you're multilingual.  So score some more points for Severin, who include both the English and Italian (they did ditch the German dub), now in DTS-HD with optional English subtitles.  In fact, they include two subtitle options: the proper subtitles (faithful translation of the original Italian) and dubtitles (transcription of the English dub).  Researching it online, 88 also seems to have both audio tracks (in LPCM) with just the one subtitle track.
And did I mention packed special editions? Yes!  X-Rated starts out with a very informative audio commentary by director Luigi Cozzi.  He also provides an hour-long on-camera interview.  Plus, there's a brief clip of him speaking at a film festival.  So you really get his full story across all of that.  There's also a short video clip of him recording the commentary, for a little peek behind the curtain.  But then you have probably the most important extras of all: the deleted scenes.  Some of the deleted scenes aren't much, but others are really out there, because contrary to his producers, Cozzi wanted this to be a sci-fi film; so some of these scenes are pretty freakin' weird and out of left field.  They're not translated, but I'd say 90% percent of what's on sale here is visual spectacle, and the puzzling aspect of them being untranslated adds to the fun almost as much as it detracts.  This release also comes in a very cool looking "hardbox," which is essentially an oversized clamshell case, like those classic horror VHS boxes from the 80s.

Oh, and by the way, if you did get that 2-disc version, the only additional extras you'd receive are a couple trailers and a small photo gallery.  All the extras of substance are on the single-disc version.
2003 X-Rated DVD top; 2019 Severin BD bottom.
And now we get to why I opted for the Severin edition: the two blus have differing special features, and only Severin included those wild deleted scenes and alternate ending.  What's that?  Oh, why yes, that is an hour glass floating through outer space like some crazy Dr. Who acid flashback.  Somehow that fit into Cozzi's original vision about the devil and a house haunted by a famous violinist.  Yeah, so one little disappointment is that I was hoping Severin would drum up subtitles for these, but oh well.  These still look like they're ripped from a VHS tape, but the image is a little clearer than X-Rated, which was interlaced.

Severin also has the trailer, which was only on the 2-disc DVD set, and it's in HD here.  But they lost of the DVD's other extras, so die-hard fans may still want to track the X-Rated DVD down.  But only die-hard fans, because Severin has conducted their own 30+ minute interview with Cozzi, which really does a more than acceptable job presenting his insight and memories of the film that the DVD extras did.  Both releases also got an on-camera interview with Pietro Genuardi who played Mark, the music video director in the film.  Too bad neither party seems to have reached out to Maria Cristina Mastrangeli, who's been gracious enough to drop by in the comments here, but oh well.  Anyway, both Severin and 88 Films share the interviews, which were done by Freak-O-Rama - who I can't help but notice are starting to become one of the top guys in I-horror interviewing - and the trailer.  Where they diff is that 88 has an audio commentary by Troy Howarth, while Severin has those deleted scenes.  Also, if you bought their limited editions, 88 comes with a slip cover and booklet Eugenio Ercolani, while Severin's comes with a soundtrack CD.
I originally concluded this post by saying that, "Paganini Horror seems like an ideal candidate for a label like 88 Films," and hey, look what happened!  This is another one in what's becoming a regular pattern of 88 releasing it in the UK and Severin in the US.  Again, the deleted scenes were the deciding factor for me between the two, but the good news is that you can't go wrong either way, and casual buyers may want to just opt for whichever version doesn't require them to pay for overseas shipping.  It's great to see this film back in print so hopefully it can find its audience again.

And Now Vinegar Syndrome Takes Us Beyond the Doors

It's time to go beyond all the doors!  The Beyond the Door movies are three unrelated Italian horror films that just so happen to be sequels to each other.  Ones a pretty well made Exorcist knock-off, one's an atmospheric ghost story, and one's about a coven of Yugoslavian witches on a train.  They're all a good time, though; and they do share some coincidental themes.  Thankfully, they also have pretty decent DVD releases.

Update 9/4/15 - 8/23/19: And one of them even has a blu-ray release.  Amazingly, the sequels still don't, but in 2017 Code Red upgraded their DVD to BD.  It's been requested a couple of times, so I just had to include it before I closed out Update Week.  Otherwise, could we really say we went beyond all the doors?  😜

Update 10/27/19: Boy, I never thought Mario Bava's Shock would be the last film in the trilogy to get a high def release, but here we are!  Vinegar Syndrome has just released a fancy Limited Edition blu-ray of Beyond the Door 3, a.k.a. Amok Train!  Scroll on down.
The original Beyond the Door, released in 1974, is the directorial debut of Ovidio G. Assonitis, who also directed a couple other films we've looked at here on DVD Exotica: Super Stooges vs the Wonder Women and The Visitor. Like I said, it's a pretty blatant Exorcist rip-off - it's got the head spin gag and everything - but it also goes in some pretty original directions. Where Exorcist was about a mother whose little girl becomes demonically possessed, here the mother is possessed by Satan himself, who actually opens the film by directly addressing the audience. While the bulk of the film focuses on the possession and following in the Exorcist's footsteps, the plot goes off in some different directions towards the end, which I won't spoil, but definitely doesn't march in line with Friedkin's film. I also don't remember him having any scenes with an aggressive nose flutist.
Beyond the Door's pretty well made. It's got high production values, is stylishly shot, and stars two very credible British actors: Juliet Mills and Richard Johnson. It's got some effective sequences, only about half of which are derivative, and it easily out-classes most of the Exorcist clones that popped up around its time. It might strike viewers as boring, as it can get a bit dry in the middle considering so much is entirely "seen it before" stuff; but it's held aloft by the novelty value of some two badly dubbed children who curse like sailors.
Beyond the Door debuted on DVD in Japan, from JVD, which was a pretty nice import. It was widescreen and featured an international cut about ten minutes longer than what had been released on VHS in the US. Unfortunately, it wasn't anamorphic, and the only extra was a trailer. But Code Red took care of that, releasing a loaded special edition in 2008. I used to own the JVD disc, and I think it had the same core transfer, but Code Red made it anamorphic, and like I said, had a bunch of extras. But that's not all. Code Red made a 2-Disc Collector's Edition exclusive for Best Buy with some bonus goodies.  And that was all until 2017, when Code Red reissued the film on blu with a "Brand New 2016 HD Master."
1) 2008 Code Red DVD; 2) 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
So this master starts off correcting the slightly off 1.83:1 of the DVD to a proper 1.85:1, and the newer framing is actually slightly tighter around all four sides.  Film grain on the blu is still a bit light, but generally present and film-like, and it clears away the unfortunate compression artifacts and combing that was present on the DVD.  You can read much more of the lettering on the book behind the kids now in this clearer HD presentation.  The colors have also been re-timed, and overall it's a nice improvement, but at some points, like that first set of shots with Gabriel Lavia crossing the street, I prefer the color timing of the DVD.  But there's no way anyone in their right mind is going to look at that close-up and say, "no thanks, I prefer the standard def version."

Both editions only offer the English mono track, with no subtitles, but the blu-ray does bump its track up to uncompressed DTS-HD.
Before we get into the extras proper, one of the goodies the Best Buy 2-disc set features is the shorter, US theatrical cut, taken from a funky looking, fullscreen (1.32:1) source. There's nothing exclusive to the US cut, it's only missing stuff, so this version only really has curiosity value. Especially considering the quality of the print, you're definitely going to choose to watch the main version on disc 1.  I think this was only included to show off how much better Code Red's main transfer looked.

Now as far the regular extras, there are two audio commentaries, one with Juliet Mills and a really good one by Ovidio himself. Both have multiple moderators to help things along. There's also a terrific 35 Years Later featurette, which includes interviews with just about everybody and is very engaging. There's also a fun, on camera interview with Richard Johnson, plus the trailer, a TV spot, stills gallery and some bonus trailers. And the first 2500 copies pressed featured a cool looking slip cover, pictured above. The Best Buy edition never came in the slip, but did feature an on-camera interview with Juliet Mills (who was seen on disc 1 in the 35 Years Later featurette), where the focus is on the rest of her career rather than Beyond the Door.
And the blu?  That's got everything from the single-disc DVD, but not the Best Buy exclusive stuff.  The fullscreen, edited version of the film is no loss, but it's a shame they didn't squeeze on Juliet Mills' interview, if only so we don't feel like we're moving backwards when we upgrade.  But if I had to lose one of the old DVD's extras, that would be it.  And for our one step backwards, we get to take two forward, because we also get something new and better: an on-camera interview with co-star Gabriel Lavia, in Italian with dense English subtitles.  He's funny and has some unique anecdotes we haven't heard in the previous extras.  The blu-ray also includes reversible artwork and a cheesy, illustrated slipcover.
Ovidio had nothing to do with 1977's Beyond the Door 2, released on DVD in the US under the title Shock, and has said in interviews that he doesn't approve of the title borrowing. This Beyond the Door is actually the final film by Mario Bava, and it's based on an original script by Dardano Sacchetti and Mario's son, Lamberto Bava, who also got his start directing by shooting a few scenes in this movie. It's the story of a small family who move into a new house, which turns out to be sort of haunted. Everything seems great at first, of course, but we soon learn the father isn't the real father, he's just "mom's new boyfriend," because the real father killed himself years before, in this very house. And somehow that's causing their young son to behave pretty horribly towards his mother, who's having enough problems dealing with flying furniture and visions of the dead.
Unsurprisingly for Bava fans, Beyond 2 is a very well crafted film. It's well shot and full of the the kind of ingenious camera tricks he's known for. It also has a bold score by Goblin and stars Dario Argento's former wife and collaborator, Daria Nicolodi and Ivan Rassimov, who was unforgettable as the devil in The Eerie Midnight Horror Show. And by sheer coincidence, the possessed child in this film is the young actor who played Juliet Mills' son in the first Beyond the Door. He never acted in anything else before or since, just these two movies, and he's definitely not playing the same character. But once again he's badly dubbed and behaving diabolically. In fact, that's this film's greatest weakness or appeal, depending on your attitude. The child is basically this film's Freddy Krueger, but he's so badly dubbed, running around cursing and things, that he's downright comical. Only a really die-hard Bava fan will be able to see past it and take this film seriously as the atmospheric horror it's meant to be. But on the other hand, he's a real hoot (like he was in the first film) if you take it all as camp. But this is a film that wants you to take it very seriously.

There had been a couple underwhelming international DVDs of this title out there for years (i.e. barebones, non-anamorphic), but the first worthwhile release came from Anchor Bay in 2000. This featured a high-end 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and an interview with Lamberto Bava, as well as a couple trailers and this cool insert[right] with the Beyond the Door 2 poster art. Blue Underground re-issued it in 2007 when the rights went to them; but it's the same disc. It also featured English, Italian and French audio tracks, which was great except for one problem: no subtitles! So, unless you're fluent in the other languages, you're still stuck with the English audio. And that's a real shame, because I checked out the other tracks, and the kid is dubbed much better in the other versions. In the US version, he's dubbed by an adult attempting to sound like a little boy, and it comes off as really cheesy; but with the other tracks, you could finally take this film seriously. That's how this film needs to be seen!
I'm actually really surprised, this being the final Bava film and all, that we've yet to see a blu-ray release of this anywhere in the world. The DVD print isn't bad, as far as DVD prints go, but it could still benefit nicely from an HD transfer. That, plus the Italian and English audio options (I could take or leave the French dub; but the kid sounds much better than the American voice actor there, too) with subtitles would be terrific. Interview Daria, get a Tim Lucas commentary... how isn't this a thing already? It's a no-brainer! But, in the meantime, this DVD isn't so bad so long as you're on board for the kids' dubbing. And frankly, if they released a version without the US audio, no sale! As hokey as it is, I'd really miss it; it's become a critical part of the film's history. But we need the Italian version, too.
Anyway, after that, it took another twelve years to get another unconnected sequel. Except the series returned to Ovidio Assonitis. This time he's just the producer, but based on interviews, he seemed to be the driving force behind this project. But his original title for the film was Train, and he says it was the distributors' idea to use the Beyond the Door title, an idea he was against. Because, once again, it has nothing to do with the other movies. Bo Svenson stars in this one, a story of a bunch of American college kids who travel to Yugoslavia and run afoul of a coven of witches who want to sacrifice them all.  The bulk of the film takes place on a runaway train, hence the film's original title.  This movie's from a whole different generation than the first two and feels very different. It's very 80s, less serious but gorier, and much less interested in psychology than kills.  It's got a good look to it, though, and at least someone gets possessed in this, so there's a thematic connection to the other Doors.
It's kind of a dumb movie.  It has dialogue like:
"What is it you love about me?"
"I don't know, your hair?"
...But it delivers the goods.  There's plenty of special effects, exotic locations, action, production values (they got extensive use of that train), and a whole bunch of crazy, entertaining stuff happening at all times.  The cinematography's back to workman-like after the Bava entry, but it's glossy with plenty of interesting stuff in front of the camera, so it still looks pretty impressive.

Now, there had been a cheap Dragon DVD first, but Shriek Show came along and knocked it out of the box in 2008.  A somewhat special edition with a nice, anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer... although, to be honest, the framing looks pretty tight. I wonder if the filmmakers didn't also have 1.85 in mind? That's how Dragon framed it. Anyway, their DVD wasn't even anamorphic, so Shriek Show was easily the one to own regardless.  "Was," that is, because now Vinegar Syndrome's gone and restored this film in HD with a fresh 4k scan of the original negative for a brand new, Limited Edition blu-ray arriving just in time for Halloween.
1) 2008 SS DVD; 2) 2019 VS DVD; 3) 2019 VS BD.
Vinegar Syndrome's limited edition is actually a DVD/ BD combo pack, which is why we've got three sets of shots instead of two.  All three discs are presented in 2.35, but Vinegar Syndrome's discs do pull out to reveal a tiny bit more around the edges.  The colors have been corrected, looking both more genuine and vibrant, and detail is clarified so nicely.  I mean, we're jumping right from a DVD to a brand new 4k scan of a negative in HD, so it's a big leap forward even with Shriek Show's DVD looking as good as it did (one of their rare non-interlaced ones  haha).  I suppose I should point out a weird little detail where the edge of the frame sometimes comes in on the left, effectively giving us a slight black pillarbox on the left-hand side, re-adjusting the AR to about 2.33:1.  That's on the Shriek Show disc, too, though, and is clearly tied to certain shots (in one scene you can watch it appear and disappear as the camera shot/ reverse shots between two characters), so it's how the film was shot.  One could argue that maybe the proper framing would be to crop that edge tight enough, then, that you never see it?  But it's really no big deal; you won't see it unless you have your eye glued to the left edge of the frame the whole time watching for it.  ...Although, now that I've told you guys, maybe you will - sorry!

Both editions feature the stereo mix, which is in lossless DTS-HD on the blu-ray.  The Dragon DVD also offered a German dub, if anyone cares.  And both releases have optional English subtitles for the parts of the film spoken in... Croation?  I think?  But Vinegar Syndrome has taken the extra step of adding an additional option that subtitles the entire film, English and all.  So, to be clear, you can choose between either sub track or none.
Now, one thing Shriek Show's DVD had going for it that still holds weight is its special features.  It wasn't quite a fully loaded special edition, but it had some good stuff.  There's a lengthy and fascinating interview with Assonitis, and another interview with the cinematographer, Adolfo Bartoli. There's also the theatrical trailer, a couple bonus trailers, and an easter egg of an alternate title sequence with the title Amok Train, which is also what's on the case (the on-screen title for both Shriek Show and Vinegar Syndrome is Beyond the Door III).

Disappointingly, VS doesn't carry any of that over, but they have created all new special features.  They have their own interview with Bartoli, plus on-camera interviews with the director (40 minutes long!) and Bo Svenson, who's quite a character.  There's some spicy behind-the-scenes drama for this film (for example, Assonitis apparently fired the director, but then changed his mind), so the new extras are great, but it's a shame to lose that Assonitis interview as a counter-point.  And it's a small thing, but I'm surprised VS neglected the trailer.  But they do give you some cool, reversible cover art, letting you choose between Amok Train and Beyond the Door 3.  Plus the limited edition (2000 units) comes in a very stylish slipcover that uses the same crazy art as the old laserdisc.  So get the VS for sure, but hang onto your old SS discs, too.
I'm actually surprised none only one two of these films have hit HD yet, since these are some fairly major horror titles, especially in the annals of Italian genre history. But Code Red's taken care of the original, and now that Vinegar Syndrome's given some sweet justice to the third, it's only the Bavas' crazy movie about a haunted child in need of a slid blu.  Surely, it's only a matter of time?