How Code Red Saved The Eerie Midnight Horror Show (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

The Eerie Midnight Horror Show is an extremely misleading and pretty weird re-marketing of a 70s Italian flick called L'ossessa or Enter the Devil that tries to present this as a Rocky Horror Picture Show knock-off. But this film couldn't be further from that. It's also been given the exploitative title Sexorcist, but that's at least more representative of what the film's about; sex and exorcism are two major elements of the story. Eerie is hardly a dry or studious film - it definitely falls more onto the fun and trashy end of pile. But it is a fairly earnest little horror film that plays it straight - something you'd never guess from looking at the cover of Code Red's limited edition blu-ray here.

Update 4/9/18: Eerie Midnight has been re-released on blu-ray, this time as part of a "Drive-In" double-bill with The House That Vanished from Dark Force Entertainment.  We've got a proper comparison down below, but TL;DR?  It's just a slightly different encode of the same transfer.
Eerie's often referred to as an Exorcist clone, and I don't doubt that it was made to cash in on that film's success. But it's a very different movie that really doesn't start getting into The Exorcist's territory until the final half hour or so. It's the story of devilish possession, but this happens to a grown woman and is told through her perspective, where we see her Satanic visions. And our devil is played perfectly by Ivan Rassimov - we spend a lot of the film eagerly awaiting his next appearance. Our heroin is an art student who brings home a life-sized wooden sculpture of a crucified monk who'd given his life to Satan. We're treated to some surprisingly impressive effects of the wooden man coming to life, and naturally he corrupts his new owner. The film has a lot of off-beat themes and diversions, including art history and S&M sex - there's a whole weird subplot about her parents' semi-open relationship (are her mother's kinky affairs somehow to blame for everything?). But it's primarily just an interesting, stylish little flick about a woman possessed in Rome, with a bit of an unfortunate soundtrack.
Now, this film's been available for years on VHS and no-frills public domain DVDs, always in muddy, hissy fullscreen editions. And I've got the latest one of those of those releases - Mill Creek's version, included as one of their 50 film collection, called Pure Terror - right here so we can have make a proper comparison. Because Code Red has now finally given it respectable treatment, providing an illuminating, widescreen transfer taken from a 35mm print, presented in HD on their limited (to 1000 copies) edition blu-ray.  And even though that limited edition still seems to be readily available in 2018, it's been reissued anyway, by Dark Force Entertainment.  This disc is also limited to 1000 copies, and is part of DFE's "Retro Drive-In Double Features" series, which pairs Eerie Midnight with the completely unrelated British film, The House That Vanished.
Mill Creek's 2010 DVD top; Code Red's 2014 blu mid; Dark Force's 2018 blu bottom.
Code Red's case refers to its transfer as being in "Grindhouse Scope," a reference to the severe damage some of their source prints have been known to be suffering from. And it's true, the print this feature was scanned from is far from free of scratches, noise, and vertical green lines (as you can see in the first comparison shot). It's also a little soft for an HD image. But compare that to the hideous fullscreen transfer we've been living with (which isn't free of speckles and scratches either) and it's a freaking revelation! It's so much cleaner and more defined. The widescreen gives much more picture, which looks heaps better in its original aspect ratio. It finally looks like an actual movie. The colors are drastically improved from the DVDs' greenishly bland pallor. And the DVD has this weird double matting thing going on, giving the whole movie a grey bar going up the right side of the screen. I left the second set of comparison shots completely uncropped, so you can see exactly how it plays on your television. Ugh.
Oh, and yes, the DVD is heavily interlaced, resulting in ghosting frames like you see above, too - presumably due to a poor PAL/NTSC conversion. The blus are thankfully free of this issue as well. And yes, the both blu-rays are virtually identical, right down to matching chemical damage.  They are necessarily different encodes of course, and if you zoom all the way in, you can see the pixelation is technically different.  But the resulting image is too similar to say one is in anyway superior to the other.  And both blus feature the same mono audio track, which has all the hiss and pops you'd expect, but it's so bad that it gets distracting.  Basically, the found an old print, scanned it, and these are the direct results.  It looks like they color corrected it, too, which is a big plus.  But this is no fancy restoration from the original negatives or anything.
Mill Creek's 2010 DVD left; Code Red's 2014 blu right.
Now, again, The Eerie Midnight Horror Show was never the film's proper title. But the credits on the DVD are totally different from what's on blu-ray discs, with the DVD using cheaper, alternate credits. The blus go back to an earlier, superior version. The Mill Creek version also uses that same red title card (pictured) to cover up the ending of the closing credits sequence, which we see in its original form on the blu-rays, showing the alternate title The Tormented. The blus also run about 30 seconds longer, but I think the only difference is in the credits, neither version appears to be otherwise cut.

No edition of this film has any substantial extras to speak of, but Code Red's blu does have an amusing intro and outro sequence featuring Katrina Leigh Waters and the infamous banana man. Dark Force throws a few random things on its disc, but nothing to do with the film.  It's just about fifteen minutes worth of vintage drive-in intermission footage and bonus trailers that play between the two films when you watch the disc in "Drive-In Mode."  Sure, we'd all prefer some real extras, like an interview with Stella Carnacina; but I don't think we'll ever see this film get that kind of special edition treatment.
So, could this movie potentially look better if someone made a top of the line 4k scan of the OCN (assuming those materials still exist)? Sure. But the blu-rays are an amazing improvement on a film that was getting absolutely zero love or attention in a dreadful, public domain hell. Of course it's no cinematic masterpiece, but it's actually an entertaining and sometimes effective little flick, which you'd never realize if you'd only seen any of the previous releases. This film has been given new life, and hey! It turns out it actually kinda deserved it.

Let's Get Serious About Inland Empire (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Inland Empire is the David Lynch film that even puts some David Lynch fans off.You could say perhaps because it's his most self-indulgent film. It's certainly his most "abstract" since Eraserhead, without the more conventionally Hollywood story elements films like Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway at least had to anchor them. But on the other hand, that can be a strong reason to prefer it. It certainly holds more mystery than a lot of his films, and will draw some people to keep revisiting and studying it, whether or not they particularly prefer it.
If I were to try and break it down to a quick, one sentence pitch, I suppose I'd say: an actress (Laura Dern, who also produced) lands a role in a cursed film. But that's where the straight forward accessibility ends. The film turns out to be a remake of a film that was never finished the first time around, because the two leads died during the filming. Meanwhile, everyone is warning Dern and her costar (Mulholland Drive's Justin Theroux), not to have an affair with each other, which seems easy and silly, since neither are particularly interested in each other. But as they embark on the film, time seems to collapse, worlds cross into each other, and people start inhabiting other peoples' lives. At one point Dern is talking to Theroux and remarks, "this sounds like dialogue from our movie,' suddenly to be surprised to discover that she IS on set, acting in front of the cameras. But even that makes it sound a lot more simple to understand than it, as mysterious characters come and go, and Dern seems to take on more than just the two personalities. Sometimes the characters are in LA, sometimes they're in Poland (and speaking subtitled Polish), and sometimes they're inside the world they've seen on television with the rabbit people. Yes, there's rabbit people.

Still, if you're familiar with Lynch's past work, the world of Inland Empire is a little more navigable. Recurring themes and concepts from past work can help clue you in faster to what's going on here. You could certainly watch this film and never even begin to grasp that Dern's actress is taking on the life of the Dern's character. But remembering similar switcharoos in Lynch's past films will probably push you along to figuring that out. On the other hand, though, I don't think even the deepest Lynch scholar could definitively tell you what every strange clue and moment mean. And that's partially because I don't think everything has a direct one-to-one, this-means-that translation. Lynch is following deliberately stylized threads, and emotional plot lines more than strictly logical ones. Something could easily be in this movie because it came to him in a dream and it felt right; so at a certain point analysis breaks down. But that doesn't make it any less relatable or powerful if you let yourself just go with it, and accept that your subconscious can follow the film down paths your rational mind might get stuck in.
It helps that Lynch is a master of creating vibrant images and sounds, and is able to manipulate music and pictures to create moods and atmosphere better than almost any director out there. If he wants to make a scene creepy, he can outdo any fancy horror director. Combine that with the cast he's assembled - including Harry Dean Stanton, Jeremy Irons, Grace Zabriskie and of course Laura Dern, who gives the performance of a lifetime - and you'd be a fool to write this one off.

Now, Inland Empire has been available as a 2-disc special edition DVD since 2007 from, of all companies, Rhino. This is the film Lynch shot on digital video - and standard def video at that, so it's often been postulated that it's the one film of his that there's no point in upgrading to blu-ray. Still, somebody did it. In 2010, Studio Canal (who manages to release these great special editions of his films because they're the company that made the movies with him in the first place) issued it on blu in the UK with a bunch of exclusive extras. But does the film actually look any better? And just what are those new extras? Let's look at that now; and after, we've got even more Inland Empire related releases to discuss.
2010 Studio Canal blu-ray on top; 2007 Rhino DVD below.
2010 Studio Canal blu-ray left; 2007 Rhino DVD right.
Well, we do see a little more detail, but that's largely because the darks have been lifted a bit. We can see Stanton's ear better, for example, in that close-up comparison. Edges and lines might be a little clearer, but it's really just the image being tinkered with rather than any benefit of enhanced resolution. Still, I think it's good tinkering, not like those movies that have been DNR'd to death or had their blacks crushed. Colors have shifted slightly and other little tweaks have been made, and you can tell someone made an effort to improve upon the DVD despite not having much to work with. Some artifacts seem to have diminished thanks to the better compression, too (this is a dual-layer disc, by the way). But it's all very minor and if you're not really scrutinizing the image, it could be entirely lost on you.

The sound is a more distinct upgrade, and an area very important to Lynch's work. The Rhino DVD was pretty good in this regard already, but fans will definitely prefer the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 tracks.
But even if you've upgraded, definitely don't throw away your DVDs! The blu has some great stuff, and I'll definitely get into that; but the DVD's extras are plentiful and as essential as any special features ever have been. The biggest deal by far is "More Things That Happened," which, in the vein of the massive collection of restored deleted footage to Lynch's Fire Walk With Me and Blue Velvet blu-rays, is almost 80 minutes of additional Inland Empire footage. A few scenes are stretching things a bit, but most of it's almost as gripping as the film itself. There's a really impressive collection of monologues Dern recorded with "Mr. K," that could almost be a project onto themselves. And there's one more of those monologues tucked away on the first disc as an easter egg.

There's also Lynch (Two), a roughly thirty minute behind-the-scenes documentary which is made up entirely of on-set footage. Its a totally fun and enlightening look at Lynch's process, and can give you some stronger insight into the film by seeing ideas come up with - and actors directed - in the moment. And there's a rouhly forty-minute interview with Lynch where he talks about the origins and making of the film, starting with the original rabbit shorts he made for his website and going through pretty much everything. The rest are odds and ends, a short film by Lynch of a ballerina dancing, Lynch showing you a recipe, a stills gallery and three trailers.
Studio Canal, has a collection of interviews with Lynch recorded at different festivals and places. They do get a little redundant at times, with Lynch telling the same anecdotes to different audiences; but each has at least some original material. There's also an audience Q&A in there to spice things up, and one piece focuses on his paintings at a gallery showing (though he does also get into Inland Empire a bit). That's it, except for the trailer. It's pretty decent stuff, but doesn't compete with what the old DVD already had. It compliments it alright. Well, not great actually; the repetition is worse with Lynch's extra interview on the DVD added to the others. But it's not bad, and devotees of this film will probably want to get every possible tidbit they can get their hands on.

And for those Lynchians, there's more of everything to get.

Room To Dream: David Lynch and the Independent Filmmaker was a freebie DVD you could get just by contacting Avid. That's because it's essentially a glorified ad for their editing software. But it is our guy talking about it, and giving you a chance to "take a journey through David Lynch's creative process." For serious Lynch fans, it's kinda neat. Oh, but wait! Also on this disc is a sneak peek at the film he was working on at the time... which of course was Inland Empire. And the material we see turns out not to have been in the final cut of the film. So it's essentially an exclusive deleted scene. No, it wasn't in "More Things That Happened" either. We get to watch some behind-the-scenes footage of Lynch directing the scene, and then the scene itself. Said scene is just over 6 minutes long with characters in the barbecue scene (where Dern was with her "other" husband). So another tiny piece of the puzzle. And one of the other segments is really Lynch talking about digital filmmaking in general, rather than just plugging. It's all listed separately on the menu so you don't have to ever watch the Avid guy pitch his software unless you're interested.

No, you can't get it from Avid anymore, but a lot of these were floating around back in the day. So if you hunt about online, you can probably find a copy. Amazon has a listing for them.

And if you still want to see more about the film, you should definitely check out Lynch (One). Lynch (Two) was the 30-minute making of on the Rhino disc, but Lynch (One) is a full-length documentary made while Lynch was making IE. So, no, (One) isn't entirely about IE. A lot of it is about his artwork and the rest of his life. But a good 50% of it is looking at Empire directly or indirectly. We see him on set, we see him talking to the cast and explaining scenes. We see him first announcing the film to his website subscribers before it was made public. It's not the greatest documentary... the filmmakers seem a little too under Lynch's thumb, and enamored with showing us everything from his directing to how he likes his coffee.

It's an interesting peek into his life, though, that's for sure. We have one scene where he's giving instructions to his intern: "You can make short work of it. Meditate per usual. And when you've finished meditation, you write on a piece of paper three names. An actor in his forties, probably, that is a leading man with an edge, like a bad boy of Hollywood leading man. And you write those names on a piece of paper and present them to me on our power walk." How'd you like to work for him? So anyway, there's a lot of good stuff in here, especially about Empire.

And Lynch (One) has its own extras. Most of it is kind of for die-hard Lynch fans only. More footage of him, his art... there's a gallery of one of his photo collections. Not much about Inland Empire, except for the trailers for the other Lynch docs. Yes, there's a Lynch (Three), and the whole trailer is just a clip of him working on the song "Strange" from Empire. Now, the doc is from 2008, so a lot of people might've given up on (Three) ever actually materializing. But I just looked up their kickstarter, and they have 2015 updates saying the film is finally finished. So look out for that one, too.
Yeah, the opportunity is out there to really gorge yourself on Inland Empire if you really want to. And honestly? I recommend it. It's a fascinating film that doesn't stop rewarding you as you delve deeper into it.  Granted, the blu isn't so much of an upgrade that casual fans need to bother trading up. But serious Lynch fans, don't resist. It's all worth it.

Mortuary, Scorpion's Limited Edition Blu

Today, I thought we'd take a look at one of Scorpion's limited edition blu-rays, Mortuary. This is one of four titles they released at the same time - the others being Girly, Island Claws and Don't Answer the Phone. These are still pretty recent - debuting this past October - so even though they only pressed 1200 copies, there's still a chance you might find one. And Mortuary is certainly my pick of the four.
I mean, it's kind of a goofy movie. It's got a very 70s, made-for-TV vibe. Although it's not, mind you. It's actually from 1981/1983, and if nothing else, its widescreen cinematography and brief nudity proves this wasn't shot for television. It's just got that aura to it, whether it's the actors' feathered hair or the simple, expedient way most of the scenes seem to be laid out. But on the other hand, it's a fairly original plot, ably produced and performed, that manages to drum up some genuinely creepy atmosphere at the right times.

Greg and his buddy drive their very 70s van to a warehouse to pick up a couple tires, when they stumble upon the owner of the local mortuary (Christopher George in his final film) leading a witches coven with a bunch of the local housewives. Immediately after, Greg's friend disappears. Meanwhile, his girlfriend is having other problems. Ever since her dad died, she's been sleep walking and keeps seeing a mysterious pale man in a hooded robe carrying a scythe. Of course nobody takes her seriously, until the hooded figure starts doing some real world damage. How do these two mysterious plots interconnect? Or do they at all? This isn't one of those perfunctory, by-the-numbers budget horror stories that you'll be way ahead of at every turn. It'll have you guessing, if not just throwing up your hands in bewilderment; but it does ultimately come together without ever really getting too far our there.
The whole film moves at a breezy upbeat pace; at first you almost feel like you're on a Scooby Doo mystery. And it's the occasional, powerful image or moment that grabs you and makes the film stick with you in the long run. Bill Paxton fans will definitely want to check this one out, too, for an early yet sizable role. I doubt it's anyone's favorite horror film, but I really appreciate how too off-center it is to blend in with the rest of the slashers and regular horror that was coming out in the same era.

Scorpion gives Mortuary it's HD debut with this blu-ray, updating their previous DVD release from 2012. It's not exactly a loaded special edition, but it's a pretty high quality release.
Bill tries to show his classmates the gift of Mozart.
I haven't seen the previous DVD, but this purports to be a brand new master taken from the original IN (InterNegative). It's full widescreen, meaning 1.78:1, which is the same AR as the previous DVD.  And honestly, it looks pretty great... Certainly greater than you'd've ever thought if you'd seen this movie on television or VHS back in the day. Like I said this movie has that made-for-TV vibe, but this transfer really opens it up into a real movie. Smooth, crisp lines and natural colors. It gets grainy in the nighttime scenes, but I'm sure that's a product of the original film exposure, not a flaw with the blu-ray. I really don't think you can ask for more than what we've been given here.

The sole audio option is the original mono track in DTS-HD, which is perfect.
Now, the DVD was part of Scorpion's 'Katrina's Nightmare Theater' line, all of which has been stripped away from the blu. I'm certainly not sorry to see that goofy stuff taken off the artwork, giving this film a more earnest presentation. But I do kinda feel like her little video intro and outro could've been left on the disc as an easter egg or something. But whatever, no real loss. All the other extras, slim as they are, have been ported over and are a very welcome addition to the film.

The main extra is a video interview with the composer, John Cacavas. He talks a little about this film, and drifts off to tell us about the rest of his career for a while, before bringing it back to Mortuary at the end. I definitely would've liked to have heard more about Mortuary, but he did have a few interesting things to share. All told, it's just over fifteen minutes, and definitely leaves you wanting more of a special edition, with more interviews; but at least there's this.

The only other extra is the original theatrical trailer, but you should definitely make a point to watch it. Because this trailer is all original content. Meaning, none of the footage in the trailer is from the movie. Instead, it's a little piece with Michael Berryman, the memorable star of films like The Hills Have Eyes, and who does not appear in the actual film Mortuary at all.
So okay, this film is definitely not for everyone. Or even most people. But if you dig second tier 80s horror, then you'll definitely enjoy and find a number of things to appreciate in this movie. It's unique, and Scorpion's first class presentation gives it a strong leg up.

Controversial Blus: Dangerous Liaisons (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Dangerous Liaisons has been adapted for the screen multiple times before (Les liaisons dangereuses in 1959), during (Valmont in 1989) and after (1999's Cruel Intentions, 2003's Untold Scandal and 2012's Dangerous Liaisons), but Stephen Frear's version remains the best known and more or less definitive version. Not that it's particularly faithful to the novel, or the popular stage play, but its cast, its portrayals, and its icy close-ups are, I think I can say, iconic. I'm not usually a fan of John Malkovich or Keanu Reeves; but everybody perfectly embodies their characters (despite making no effort to be French like their setting), including Glenn Close, Uma Thurman, Michelle Pfeiffer and Swoosie Kurtz (who was also in Cruel Intentions), to the point where when you're discussing any version of the story, it's easiest to refer to the characters as "John Malkovich," "Glenn Close," etc.
One of the reasons it's so popular, I'm sure, is that it's one of those rare Richard III-style stories where the protagonists are conniving villains who bring you into their scheme. But where Richard breaks the fourth wall, Malkovich and Close do it through heated, private exchanges. Kurtz has just brought her daughter, Thurman, into a society from a sheltered convent life, where she was kept to remain "pure" for her arranged husband (played perfectly by Jeffrey Jones in Valmont, but who we never actually see in Dangerous... he's only referred to). Jones once spurned Close, so now she's out for revenge, so she asks Malkovich to seduce Thurman before her wedding night, to spoil her chastity. Malkoich has his sites on another woman, however, a very married Pfieffer, and it turns into a manipulative contest between Close and Malkovich to see who can pull the most peoples' strings for their own sadistic whims. It's pure scandal as everybody is seducing everybody they shouldn't, and the stakes get higher and higher until they become deadly. What could be more fun?

Now, Warner Bros 1997 DVD was a very early release, so their 2013 was quite a long-awaited upgrade. I've got both, so let's see just how much of an upgrade we've gotten, shall we?
Warner Bros' 2013 blu-ray on top; and their DVD on bottom.
...As if anyone would need to be told.
Lights on...
...lights off.
I was all prepared to write about how the DVD wasn't even anamorphic, but my memory has done me a disservice. It is indeed anamorphic. The DVD has a duller palette and flecks that have been removed for the blu (i.e. just over Uma's right ear in the last shot). The framing is basically identical, though the DVD is a bit taller. It's ever so slightly pillar-boxed, practically invisibly in the overscan area. The DVD almost looks like it was filmed through a thin, dirty gauze that was then removed for the blu-ray.

But the blu-ray isn't perfect... It's presented on a dual-layer disc, which is nice, but the actual scan still seems to be under 25GB. More notably, there has been a little discussion, started on the Home Theater Forums, about how, in certain scenes, "the image is jittering so it's uncomfortable to watch." An official review on referred to the comment, saying, "A poster on another board who received an early copy of this title reported major distortion commencing with chapter 6 (when Valmont visits the peasant home) and spoke ominously of a 'botched job'. I have now played the review copy on three different setups (a Panasonic BD-50, a PS3 and a BD-ROM drive) and have seen no such problem."
The jittering can be observed in this shot, among others.
Well, I have to admit I didn't notice anything during my initial, casual viewings. But after reading about this, I took a close look for this review, and I certainly do see it. And my blu isn't any advance, early copy - it's a regular, retail copy I didn't buy until this 2015. And while I'd agree with's writer that calling it a botched job is a bit extreme, the jittering is there. I can't say it makes the scene uncomfortable to watch, however. When I first spotted it and saw what he was talking about, I thought, nah, it's just an issue with this exterior shot having been shot hand-held, so the camera's not steady. But like the original commenter says, when I fired up my DVD copy to compare it, the jittering isn't there, and the shot is quite steady. So maybe the film got a little loose in the scanner or something? I don't know. Warners did screw up here a bit, apparently, but it's really no big deal in my estimation. After all, it took me a good while to confirm for myself that the issue even existed.

Oh, and while we're comparing transfers, I have to note that Warners old DVD is a flipper (and packaged in a crapper snapper to boot!), with an alternative full-screen transfer on the other side. Let's look at how that's been modified for your 4.3 television...
I'm not even going to bother saying which version is on top and which is on bottom.
Yuck. There is a little extra info at the top and bottom, but at the expense of having the sides chopped off. I'm guessing it's Pan & Scan, but I can't bring myself to watch it long enough to say for sure. It's a junk, 4:3 transfer; that's all we need to know.
The extras department provides another strong motivation to upgrade. While the blu isn't exactly loaded, it's light years beyond the DVD, which has nothing, not even bonus trailers for other WB titles. The blu-ray has a 4:3 trailer, and much more enticingly, an audio commentary by Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton. Frears has a few nice anecdotes and insights, but mostly seems at a loss for what to say during an audio commentary. Fortunately, Hampton seems to understand how these things works and does most of the heavy lifting, talking about the production, changes from the novel and the stage play, and how he left Valmont to rush Dangerous Liaisons into theaters first. It's a very good commentary, and all the more rewarding as it remains the only extra for a film with a lot of story behind it.
Dangerous Liaisons is a delicious tale, and this is still the ultimate adaptation that really doesn't have to worry about "holding up" over the decades, and has yet to be replaced by its many attempted successors. And while this blu may not be 100% perfect, it's a rather compelling disc, quite a leap forward from what we had, and the best we're likely to see anytime soon.

Searching for a Definitive Signs of Life from Werner Herzog

Signs of Life (Lebenszeichen) is Werner Herzog's debut feature film. As such, maybe it feels a little creaky along the corners, a little like a filmmaker still finding confident footing. But it's surprisingly effective and stands up alongside his later films better than you might expect. And, like just about every Herzog film, it's been released a couple of times in differing editions. So I thought I'd take a comparative look at now, because I don't think any other site ever has, so we can see which is the preferable disc.

Update 5/21/15 - 6/16/22: Well, it's been seven years now, and it looks like we've concluded the search. Signs has shown up on blu for the first time, thanks to Shout Factory's Herzog: The Collection, Volume 2.  But you'll still want to hold onto your DVDs, for reasons we'll detail below, so it's still not entirely clear-cut.
Herzog tells a very leisurely paced story, here, of a German soldier named Stroszek, wounded during the war, who finds himself stationed in a small arms depot located on a tiny Greek island. He marries a local woman and stays there with two fellow soldiers, maintaining an otherwise deserted station. Life becomes very placid, safe and perfunctory. Slowly Stroszek begins to unravel, and decides he must defend his depot from everyone and everything and nobody knows how to get him out.

As you might've gathered from that description, things move rather slowly and for the most part is removed from being "action packed" as on can get. Things ratchet up a little towards the end, sure; but for the most part we're observing a lot of subtle moments with the four main characters and a few local villagers. A lot of common themes in Herzog's work turn up here, though, and even specific moments (this isn't the only film Herzog shows us how to hypnotize a chicken through one of his characters), and it draws you in if you're not too restless. Eventually signs of life to emerge from the still, gray environment. And the proceedings are helped immensely by some intriguing performances and a rich location.
Now, being an earlier work, Signs of Life doesn't tend to get the high profile releases, like a fancy Criterion DVD or Shout Factory blu-ray. But, like I said, there are a couple of releases out there. There's a German DVD from Studio Canal, but that one isn't English friendly, and the movie itself is spoken in German, so we'll rule that one out. There's also an Australian 6-disc set of Herzog films, called simply Werner Herzog Collection, which includes Signs of Life. But until now, most readers would've been interested in the two remaining releases, which I've got here for comparison: the Italian 2-dsic set from Raro, and the New Yorker's DVD release right here in the US. That's been turned on its head somewhat, now that Shout Factory has released the film in HD as part of their new, BD set Herzog: The Collection, Volume 2.  But they both have some interesting and unique features, too, to keep the matter complicated.  So let's dive right in.
1) 2005 New Yorker DVD; 2) 2005 Raro DVD; 3) 2022 Shout Factory BD.

So the DVDs have essentially identical transfers, presented in 4:3. But there are definitely things to point out. The first thing you may be asking yourself is what's up with the subtitles in the first comparison. Well, okay. The film is primarily spoken in German, and all of that is translated by optional English subs, like normal. A few scenes, however, have characters speaking Greek, and those subtitled into German. And those subtitles are burned into the picture. In those brief instances, both DVDs than just lay the English subtitles right on top of the German ones, as pictured. The blu at least gives them a different color and moves the translated German far above the Greek.  And while you're looking at that, notice that all three discs' English subtitles are translated differently. I can't really tell you which is more accurate; but they're not really that critically different.

You'll also notice some pull-down issues with the New Yorker disc, resulting in interlacing/ ghost frames. Did they actually just rip the Raro DVD? It very well may be the case, since that one came out first. If not, they got it from some PAL source and didn't bother to rescan it. Either way, it's not exactly ideal.  But that's more of an academic distinction now that there's a clear, HD winner in picture quality.  Shout's new blu is much sharper, with detail far clearer and more refined.  It's a very strong step forward.  The framing also pulls out to reveal slightly more picture along the bottom and right-hand side, widening out from 1.31:1 to 1.36.  The grain, though, is soft when it's detectable at all, suggesting this is an older scan, or troubled encode, or possibly even DNR'd?  The blu handily trumps the DVDs, but it's not an exceptional blu-ray transfer by the higher format's standards.

All three discs just have the original German mono (with the subtitles as already discussed), but the Shout does deliver it in DTS-HD.
The differences in extras are much more extreme. The New Yorker disc is pretty simple, but actually quite strong. It's main feature is probably the most compelling of all: an audio commentary by Herzog, with a little helpful prompting by Norman Hill. The commentary drifts a bit to Herzog's childhood and starting his career, but when they talk about the film itself, which is most of the time, it's very enlightening. And it's also pretty upbeat and engaging; a highly recommended commentary. Besides that, the New Yorker disc doesn't have much else. There's the original theatrical trailer, which is disappointingly untranslated (a narrator seems to have a lot to say; I'd love to know what), and a few bonus trailers for other New Yorker releases. There's also a nice, little insert with credits and notes.

Raro's a little more all over the place. Each of the two discs feature a 17 minute talk by a film critic: Enrico Ghezzi on disc 1 and Fabrizio Grosoli on disc 2. They're pretty dry, but do tell you some key info about Herzog and this particular film. The commentary is a much more rewarding and direct way to learn this stuff, but since it isn't on the Raro set, at least these interviews give you a lot of the same, key points. And this doesn't even have an untranslated trailer, so for Signs of Life specifically, I'd say the New Yorker has the much stronger set of extras.
But there's more. The Raro set also includes five early Werner Herzog short films: Herakles (1962), Last Words (1967), The Unprecedented Defense Of the Fortress Deutschkreuz (1967), Precautions Against Fanatics (1969) and Nobody Wants To Play With Me (1976).  All five of these films (thoroughly covered here) have been released in other sets, most notably in the Documentaries and Shorts collections sold through Herzog's website and the Australian version released by Shock. But they turn up on other releases, too. For instance, three of them are on BFI's DVD and blu-ray editions of Aguirre, Wrath of God. So how valuable this set of shorts is depends entirely on whether or not you've already got them elsewhere. If you're collecting all of Herzog's works, you're going to need to pick up some of the bigger sets anyway, rendering this redundant. But if you're more of a casual viewer, they do make for some neat bonuses.

Anther big selling point for the Raro set in Italy is surely the booklet, which is pretty impressive. Way more than the little insert the New Yorker disc has, this one's so thick it has a squared spine. Just picking up the Raro case you'll feel how much heavier it is, and their booklet is why. But none of it's in English, so for most of us reading the blog, it's not actually all that valuable.

And the new Shout Factory blu?  Nothing, zip, zero, zilch.  It does have the other films in the set, which I suppose top Raro's bonus shorts, but there are no special features for this or any of the films in The Collection, Volume 2.  The original Collection at least preserved a lot of the existing commentaries from other releases, and the New Yorker had a great one, but nope.  So that's a disappointment.
So, if you've already got one or more of those DVDs, keep 'em for the special features, but it really is worth the double-dip for the jump to HD.  If you don't already have them, well, IMHO I'd say you could probably skip the Raro (get those shorts elsewhere), but keep an eye out for the New Yorker and that commentary.  That and the blu add up to a very satisfactory edition.