America's Forgotten 80s Gooey Horror Nightwish, Unearthed At Last!

Look, I can get into the cheap, trashy 80s slasher films as much as any horror fan, but I wish more 80s horror was like this: creative, stylish, special effects heavy and inventive flicks about supernatural/ sci-fi madness was as appreciated by genre lovers. Sure, much of the same weaknesses tend to carry through: questionable acting, low budgets, contrived scripts that exist just to get the characters into their highly unlikely situations. This obviously isn't the kind of profound movie to rank alongside the classics like Citizen Kane or Cries and Whispers. But I still can't understand how there isn't a fervent cult audience clamoring for a special edition release of this film.

Update 9/17/19:  Man, I love ripping the M.I.A. tag off of posts because they've been updated with proper releases, and that's just what has happened here.  Unearthed Films is releasing their 4k restoration of Nightwish on blu... today.  And it's everything you could want for this film.
A beautiful woman in a fancy red prom dress is wandering the suburban streets at night when she spots a severed arm in someone's front lawn. She comes across a few more body parts before she finds herself being chased through a stylized landscape by an bloodthirsty zombie. She's cornered and suddenly she wakes up. It turns a scientist/professor and his students are studying peoples' fears by reading their dreams as they lay in sensory deprivation tanks. Naturally. Anyway, the info they're getting is okay but frustratingly limited because "none of you has been able to project his own death!" Fortunately, the doc happens to have a haunted, radioactive cabin out in the desert someplace where they can hunt for ghosts and scare up better results. Naturally. So they all go up there, driven by Fright Night II's Brian Thompson, who seems to be a bit of a violent psycho. Well, of course things get out of hand right away, a green ghost materializes, and soon everybody's fears seem to becoming real and they start dying. Are they going crazy and killing each other? Is the ghost killing them? Is the doctor dispatching them as part of a mad experiment? Or is it all the result of a government conspiracy to cover up space aliens? Oh boy, it's all in here!
The plot twists and turns, and there's plenty of misdirections and reveals; but it doesn't necessarily wind up making any sense. It's mostly an excuse just to have a variety of different kinds of horror sequences, including big, slime-covered prosthetic effects by the great KNB team (who are the real stars of this movie), dark atmospheric moments, light shows, broad acting, underground caves, possession and a killer dog. Nudity is sparse but gratuitous. Lights are colorfully gelled. It's all played refreshingly straight, without any of that winking at the audience irony that started creeping into horror in the 90s. There's even a rocking "Nightwish" hair-metal theme song. Sure, by conventional standards it's a bad movie; but it's so awesome!
For years and years, it had never been released on DVD, let alone blu-ray, in the USA. And even what had been released in foreign countries was dodgy and very difficult to track down at best. I spent way too much time and cash tracking down two low quality import DVDs: one from France's Antartic and one from Spain's Manga Films, which we can at least use to compare to Unearthed's new release (there's also a German DVD from Laser Paradise, but that's German audio only with no subtitles), because they've finally done this film justice by releasing it as a special edition blu-ray, with a fresh 4k scan and color correction of the original camera negatives.
1) French 2003 Antartic DVD; 2) Spanish 2006 Manga Films DVD;
3) US 2019 Unearthed BD.
Oh yes, what a difference!   Let's start with the framing.  Both DVDs are 1.30:1 fullscreen.  They're clearly somewhat open matte (can you spot the boom mics?) but have also chopped a lot of information off the sides.  The framing is actually a little different between the two DVDs. In fact, a lot's different between them, but sticking with the framing for now, we see that the French disc has more image on top and the Spanish has more on the bottom. The second shot seems to be zoomed in on all four sides on the Spanish disc, possibly to mask the boom, since that tighter framing crops it out (though they missed it in the first set of shots).  Unearthed goes with an unmatted 1.78:1, which should probably ideally be a little tighter along the top to 1.85:1 - and is also what it claims on the packaging - but how can you complain when this is the first time Nightwish looks like a real movie?  And that's just the framing!

In general picture quality, the Spanish is the worse offender.  It's softer, fuzzier, and paler than even the French DVD, which was evidently taken from a different source.  The French disc has its own issue with edge enhancement, but it's all academic now that Unearthed has come and blown them out of the water.  Grain is natural, if a bit light for 4k, and the image is far clearer and more photo realistic.  The colors really pop, too, compared to the DVDs, which each suffered from varying degrees of fading, particularly the Spanish DVD.  There's sporadic flecking and dirt (the DVDs had a little, too): enough so you'll notice it, but it's never to the point where it's an irritant.
So before Unearthed came along, the French disc looked like the overall winner, right?  That's why I ordered the French disc first.  That turned out to be a mistake: you'd think an American English language movie would have its original English audio track on a DVD in any country, but nope. It was more common on older discs like this one to only offer the dub version for its native country. So in this case, the French disc only has French audio (in "Hi-Fi Stereo") and no subtitles.  That's why I then hunted down the Spanish disc, which does have the original English audio, in mono. It also has a Spanish dub and optional/ removable Spanish subtitles.

But of course, there's no need for that anymore, because Unearthed's US blu-ray obviously has the original English audio, in uncompressed/ lossless PCM 2.0.  This time there's just the one track - no "vintage" audio mix like their previous Unearthed Classics discs - and no subtitle options.
Another important reason to go with Unearthed's new blu (as if any additional justification were needed after the above comparison) is the fact that the DVDs are barebones.  Well, the French disc has a stills gallery of five shots from the movie and the poster image.  Whoopdeedoo.  Oh, and the Spanish disc has that infamous "you wouldn't steal a car, would you" autoplay commercial... but in Spanish, which was novel to see.  But yeah, that's it.  Nothing.  But Unearthed gives us a brand new  audio commentary with executive producer Paul White, again moderated by Unearthed's Stephen Biro, the same pairing from their Dark Side Of the Moon disc.  They seem to be locked into a heated competition as to who remembers less about the movie they're watching, and they spend a lot of time awkwardly reading from print-outs of their imdb pages, but it's still worth the listen for fans.

Anyway, Unearthed also has a much more robust photo gallery, which gives you some great behind-the-scenes looks at some of KNB's most elaborate effects and a really weird piece of promo art, plus the trailer and bonus trailers for Unearthed's other Classics titles (including the Unnamable that was missing from its own disc).  This is less than their previous releases, which also featured multiple on-camera interviews, so there's a bit of disappointment there; but it's obviously far more than anybody else has managed to do for this film.  The first run of 1,000 copies also comes in a slick slipcover and includes a full color, 24-page booklet with an essay by Art Ettinger of Ultra Violent magazine and a reproduction of the film's original production notes.
I originally wrapped up this post by talking about how Nightwish really needed the exact kind of release it's just gotten.  Mission accomplished, gang! This is a fun one.  Now let's support it so they can bring us Unnamable II and whatever other overlooked 80s gems they may have their eyes on.

1 comment:

  1. I was just thinking about this film the other day and about how unique it was from many of the other films from around that time era,for Lionsgate really does need to release this film to either a four film DVD set or at least as an MOD DVD(along with THE RESURRECTED),since it would do some justice for both Jack Starlett and Robert Tessier(since NIGHTWISH happened to be the last film for both actors[who happen to be well-known biker film vets]).