Discover Lady Stay Dead, Courtesy of Code Red

With cult labels releasing and re-releasing the same popular titles over and over again, I'm always happy to see something still making its debut on disc. Lady Stay Dead is a slasher/ thriller I hadn't even heard of before, and I grew up on these movies. But this turns out to be the final theatrical film by Australian writer/ director Terry Bourke, the man known for creating Inn of the Damned and possibly his country's first horror movie ever, Night Of Fear. And despite elements that might put some viewers off, I think it's his most satisfying, well-rounded work. So it's a little surprising that Code Red's relatively recent blu-ray is its debut on disc.
Our film opens with an introduction to Gordon (Chard Hayward), standing alone in his apartment wearing nothing but a tiny, unflattering black speedo. He feeds his fish, cleans his rifle, puts his favorite love song on the turntable and pulls a love doll out of his closet for a slow dance. This is not a man living the high life. He's a simple gardener who happens to work for almost his complete opposite: the rich, young and beautiful Marie (Aussy soap star Deborah Coulls), a singer/ model/ actress who couldn't possibly see Gordon as any less of a human being. But he doesn't seem to get that, truly believing he has a shot with her.

Well, things go about as badly as they conceivably could when Gordon winds up accidentally drowning her in a fish tank. But while her death wasn't intentional, we learn Gordon is far from the naive innocent he pretends to be. It turns out he's got a history of S&M and abuse, and now that he's crossed the line to murder, he's prepared to do anything to cover it up.
There's a weird mixture of tones at play that might initially put some viewers off. The film doesn't shy away from exposing Gordon's perverted side. Things get a little grim, in fact, as it asks you to follow along on the journey of a lustful and homicidal creep, not unlike William Lustig's Maniac. But about half an hour in, things take a real turn. We even switch protagonists. You see, Marie's death is just the beginning of a very bad day for Gordon, turning into The Money Pit of murder. Naturally, her neighbor sees too much and has to go. Soon everything's going wrong, a la Hitchcock's The Trouble With Harry. The body bursts out of the garbage bags he's wrapped it in, local teenagers show up to race their motorcycles in the drive-way. And how was Gordon to know today was the day Marie's long-lost sister was dropping by for a homecoming?

Now we're in a Wait Until Dark-like, cat and mouse psychodrama, as Gordon tries everything to convince sister Jenny (Louise Howitt) that all's well and there's nothing to be suspicious of. But this is not a bright man, and he's left clues everywhere. It's almost farcical until Gordon realizes his secret's out and he can't let Jenny escape alive.
Once things gets rolling, Lady is actually quite entertaining. There's a bumbling charm to our killer - at one point he puts on a suit and tie and shows up at the front door with a bag of groceries thinking he can convince Jenny to let him inside the house, even after they both already know full well that he's the killer! And the guy gets beat up more than the masked maniac in Scream. But other times he's quite real and menacing. There's a plausibility to his character that can get genuinely unnerving, compared to slasher super villains like Jason and Michael Myers. You won't forget Gordon.

In fact, it's a surprising collection of high production values and strong performances. I'm not going to spoil the third act - there's plenty of surprises - but things ramp up and the money is definitely on the screen. Released in 1981, this has the glossier look of an 80s movie rather than the more rugged, earthy feel of Bourke's earlier films. Although that last fact might come as a surprise to anybody who saw this film outside of this blu-ray or an original theatrical screening.
No comparisons today, because Lady Stay Dead has never been released on DVD (or blu, or laser... although apparently there were a bunch of VHS tapes back in the day) before Code Red's blu, which is thankfully pretty definitive. It's a strong, HD transfer clearly taken from a clean film print. This isn't one of their famous "grindhouse prints," and the grain looks very natural. The audio is just a simple but clear and strong mono track, and framed in full 16x9 1.78:1, Code Red has seems to have gotten it perfectly right straight out of the gate.

There are essentially no extras on this one, not even a trailer, but we do have one of Lady Katrina's infamous "Bucket List Theater" clips. It's an amusing, 4-minute intro with a little green screen comedy between her and "The Banana," and some of the her traditional IMDB reading. And she comes back at the end of the film for another minute (yes, one). Hey, it's better than nothing.
The exploration of Gordon's authentic but sleazy predilections will probably limit this film's audience considerably, which is a shame, since Lady Stay Dead is a really well-crafted film that's smarter and more engaging than many of its better-known contemporaries. The body count's low but it's an above average slasher film in all other aspects. And Code Red has presented us with an excellent introductory release for audiences to discover it. Not for mainstream audiences, but I'd recommend it to any 80s slasher fan.

Underrated Mysterious Skin (US/UK, DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Mysterious Skin is a weird one, and I don't mean because of the subject matter. It stands well apart from Gregg Araki's other films, largely due to being based on another writer's work (a novel by Scott Heim) rather than his own original material. And to many of his critics, it stands apart as his only mature, or even worthwhile, work. Roger Ebert included Araki's Doom Generation in his short list of zero star films (although that list actually, bizarrely, includes some quite good films, like Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead). And it might be nice to put myself above those critics and crown myself someone who "gets it," but I can't say I've ever cared for any of Araki's other films either. But, hey, at least we can all agree on Mysterious Skin.
On paper, this doesn't sound like a very good film. The basic concept seems really heavy-handed, a mystery you solve just from watching the trailer. But the film works because it isn't trying to be clever. It doesn't fail to surprise you with its reveal because it doesn't really try to surprise you. Two young boys who play in the same small-town little league team grow up to be complete opposites: one a rebellious gay hustler, the other a nerd obsessed with the idea that he's a UFO abductee that can't otherwise account for the a period of "missing hours" from his life. What accounts for these missing hours and how are these boys unwittingly connected? You probably already figured it out from my two sentence description of the premise, right?
But it doesn't matter, because it's a gentle, touching look at the characters' lives and exploring real life subject matter most filmmakers don't delve into. It's got an amazing cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brady Corbet, a surprising turn from Mr. Show's Mary Lynn Rajskub, Bill Sage, Chris Mulkey, Brisco County Jr's villainous Billy Drago, the always dependable Richard Riehle and even an impressive performance by Elizabeth Shue. Every frame of this film is beautiful... Really, I was tempted to take a million screenshots for this post. Araki's usual flair for shooting actors with style really pays off here, mixing with the film's nostalgic period allure and the rather dark side of the story, but never pulling a punch.
Mysterious Skin hit theaters in 2004 and DVD in 2005. Strand released it in the US, but disc received some criticism, driving more serious viewers, including myself, to import Tartan's UK release instead. Last year, however, Strand returned to the title for an updated blu-ray release. I've got all three here, so let's see how they really stack up.
2005 US Strand DVD top; 2005 UK Tartan DVD mid; 2014 US Strand blu-ray bottom.
To be honest, looking at them now, I was expecting the US DVD to hold up worse compared to the flack it got. It's only real problem, as seen in the first set of shots, is that it's interlaced. Though, yeah that sucks, and it was certainly nice that the UK disc didn't have that problem. The other main difference is the slight variance in aspect ratio. The US DVD is 1.78:1 (despite saying 1.85:1 on the case), so purists were naturally drawn to the import's slightly letterboxed 1.85. But the trend now seems to be for blu-rays to be perfectly 16x9, meaning they ditch the letterboxing and go back to 1.78:1. And that's the case here alright. In fact, the blu seems to have even a sliver more picture information that the original DVD.
2005 US Strand DVD left; 2005 UK Tartan DVD mid; 2014 US Strand blu-ray right.
There's no question the new blu truly gets the benefits of the HD treatment. The image is so much cleaner and clearer. And again, this is a film where the attractiveness of the image is a distinct component of the film's chemistry, so this is a very welcome upgrade, even if you had the superior UK DVD.

Both DVDs had healthy audio options, with Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 stereo English tracks, plus optional English subtitles. The blu-ray brings it down to just two tracks, DTS-HD 5.1 and a 2.0, but it's nice and lossless, and also has the optional subs.
Extras are another big part of what sets each disc apart. The US DVD isn't exactly barebones, featuring a commentary with Araki and his two leads, a nearly hour long video of the two stars reading selections from the original novel, and the trailer. The UK disc kept the commentary and trailer, but ditched the book reading in favor of a series of in-depth interviews (around 20 minutes each) with Araki, Heim and the two leads together. Then there's also a Q&A with Heim and Araki at a London film festival. It also has some bonus trailers, and a nice insert with notes by journalist Sloan Freer. So the special features were another good reason to import.

And again, Strand's blu enters the ring with plans to exceed. It's got the commentary, trailer and brings back the novel reading video. But it also introduces some new extras to the scene: a collection of deleted scenes and audition footage, a new interview with Heim, a short video introduction by Araki, a photo gallery and a new film festival Q&A, this time with Brady and Gordon-Levitt. There's an isolated score audio track. Oh, and there's some Strand bonus trailers, including Araki's latest film, Kaboom. What the blu-ray doesn't have, however, are Tartan's exclusive extras (the three interviews and Araki/ Heim Q&A). So if you've got the UK disc, keep it.
So Strand's new blu-ray is a strong recommendation. Even if it doesn't sound like a film you'd enjoy based on its premise, I think this one could surprise you. And I say that even if you disliked Araki's previous films. And the disc itself is a strong bump up over its past DVDs, certainly more so than some other blus I could name, and also comes with some compelling new extras. And if you're really taken with the film, consider looking for a cheap copy of the UK disc, too, for the additional extras. I'm a little disappointed no one interviewed Rajskub, though, for any of these releases. But still, an easy A for one of Strand's rare blu-ray efforts. They usually stick to just DVDs, but if they can make 'em like this, I hope they dip back into their catalog for more HD upgrades.

Night Of the Intruder: The Raimi Bros Vs Supermarket Slasher

The whole gang that made the Evil Dead movies actually made a bunch of fun horror movies together. They switched roles around, so sometimes Sam Raimi acted, sometimes Bruce Campbell did sound design, etc. Admittedly, none of them are operating on quite the level of the Evil Dead films that Raimi directed (especially the larger budgeted sequel), but they're all good times: Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except, The Carrier, Lunatics: A Love Story, and perhaps the best example of all: (Night Of the) Intruder.
In this instance, Scott Spiegel takes the writing and directing helms, with the Raimi brothers are both acting and special effects by the full KNB triumvirate. And the plot is simple enough: a bunch of employees are trapped in a supermarket over night with a mysterious killer. A lot of the writing and acting feels beginner level, but the real supermarket location adds a lot of production value to a well paced slasher film that doesn't take itself too seriously. It also some clever, inventive camerawork and of course some great kills. What more do you want? Bruce Campbell cameo as a cop? Okay, that's in here, too.
So Intruder's one of those home video staples that's kinda been available in some capacity since the days of VHS. On DVD, it was released first by Germany's Dragon Entertainment in 2002, and then re-released that same year by Dragon as an upgraded special edition. Then Screen Entertainment put it on in the UK in 2004 and USA's Wizard Entertainment released it in 2005. I've hung onto that Dragon special edition over the years for a couple unique features we'll come to later. But finally in 2011, Synapse created the definitive release in HD with their special edition blu-ray release, the first 500 copies of which also included a limited, hand-numbered bonus disc of Intruder's longer workprint. Oh, and it's a combo-pack, so I'm including Synapse's SD DVD in the comparison, too.
Dragon's 2002 special edition DVD top; Synapse's 2011 blu-ray 2nd,
Synapse's 2011 DVD 3rd and Synapse's 2011 workprint DVD 4th.
So Dragon's disc looks pretty poor; but we were actually happy to get it in 2002. They did improve the picture quality (and sound) over their earlier non-special edition, and none of the other country's DVD releases were much better. It was always put out in fullscreen until Synapse got their hands on it. The earlier DVDs are open matte, so at least they have a little curiosity value; but Synapse's new widescreen transfer is correct (or close to it... their 1.78 is probably a bit more open than the originally envisioned 1.85 theatrical ratio) and makes the image look more refined and less clunky. And as you can see, if you get a copy with the workprint, that gives you an opportunity to see the film with all the extra picture anyway, so no need to track down and old DVD just for that.

The Dragon disc is still clearly over-saturated, but that's still probably preferable to the super faded workprint, which almost looks black and white. But the colors, clarity of image (you can finally read the headline on those TV Guides - yay!) and really everything about the Synapse's new 2k transfer is so superior, it really invalidates everything that came before it. Plus, as you can see in the second set of shots, Dragon's DVD had interlacing problems.
So none of the Intruder DVDs had any extras except for Dragon's special edition. They included two short deleted scenes of more gruesome special effects shots taken from the workprint, two trailers for the film, and a photo gallery. And most interestingly of all, and why I still own this disc, it features two early Scott Spiegel short films. There's Torro. Torro. Torro!, co-written and directed by Josh Becker, about a killer lawnmower. It features all of the old crew again: both Raimi's, Bruce Campbell, John Cameron and Rob Tapert. And then there's Attack Of the Helping Hand, where the Hamburger Helper mascot goes on a killing rampage, starring Sam Raimi and shot by Campbell. They're both just silly little home-made films, mostly of interest for fans of the guys. Dragon also included a booklet, but the text is all in German.

Synapse has produced a more traditional and fully loaded special edition. It has an audio commentary with Spiegel and producer Lawrence Bender, which is quite good. Spiegel has mastered the art of commentaries by working as a moderator on other director's horror films, so this one moves along at a brisk and informative click. There's then a substantial, 40 minute 'making of' featurette which interviews everybody from Bruce Campbell to Renée Estevez, a brief interview with Vincent Pereira about the censored cut originally released on VHS, audition footage, outtakes from the now lost film Night Crew, the short Spiegel shot to raise funding for Intruder, trailers and a photo gallery. And if you missed out on one of the limited editions with the workprint, don't feel too bad, because there's also a selection of the most important unique scenes from that included as an extra on the main disc.
This isn't an objectively great film, but if you're looking for an enjoyable 80s slasher flick, this delivers in all departments. And Synapse has given it top of the line presentation. Now we just need them to tackle Lunatics: A Love Story (it's in seriously dire need) - oh, and Code Red to create a blu-ray of The Carrier - and that's this whole line of films pretty much covered with excellent home video releases. And if you're a huge fan, you can track down the Dragon disc for those two shorts. And you can get many of the gang's other shorts on DV-R direct from Josh Becker's website.

Hellraiser Trilogy: The Scarlet Box (US/ UK, DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Oh boy, it's finally here. Arrow's brand new, limited Scarlet Box collection of Clive Barker's Hellraiser. It's a whopping 4-disc blu-ray set, including loaded special editions of the original, the first two sequels, and Barker's early short films. It's kind of an update to Anchor Bay's already impressive, Lament Configuration limited edition 4-disc DVD set, but with all new scans, HD transfers, and a heap of new extras. The 2009 US blu-ray of Hellraiser still has some unique special features, so we'll look at that, too, as well the old 2000 special edition DVD. Because I want to do a thorough review worthy of this thorough set.

Update 9/8/17: Adding another Hellraiser 2 DVD to the mix. Why bother? Well, one, just because the more completist I can be the better. But the bigger reason is because the Anchor Bay 20th Anniversary Edition has some exclusive Red Shirt extras on it, that aren't included in the Scarlet Box. It's also worth noting that Arrow eventually reissued the Scarlet Box here in the USA since the last update, in December of 2016.

Update 2/19/16: I've added the US Paramount DVD of Hellraiser 3 into the comparison mix (it's got a pretty unique doc covered in the special features portion), and also consolidated this and the previous update to make it all a more readable, cohesive piece.

Update 12/5/15: I added the old US Anchor Bay Hellraiser 2 DVD into the comparison mix, and added the section on Arrow's Hellraiser 3 mis-framing.
If you've never seen Hellraiser fan... then you mustn't be a horror fan. But even then, I would recommend this film, because it's truly unique, intelligent and engrossing. And gross. But really, there's so much more to this story; you've got to see past that. It's Barker's masterpiece: a wild story that addresses the darker side of sexuality and invents a Hell that, in a very twisted way, can be attractive. It's the story of what a family must endure when one man decides to unlock the gateway to Hell, and then return. It's got strong performances, great visual effects, an epic score, and while the film may be a little rough around the edges thanks to a low budget and first time director, all its minor flaws are swept over by Hellraiser's visionary content.
Hellraiser II: Hellbound suffers from pretty much all the usual drawbacks of sequels, the worst of which being that it's no longer adapting a Barker novel, instead penned by screenwriter Peter Atkins. Still, it's the most crowd-pleasing of the eight (as of this writing) sequels, bringing back pretty much the entire cast and bringing them into a much more ambitious, and higher budgeted, world. There are stunning visuals and more of pretty much everything fans wanted to see return from the original. It's a great time and very fun film, but it's it's just not quite as smart, and is missing the focus of the original film. Why are we here except to see more? That's more than enough reason to watch and have fun; but we've slid down the scale of artistic achievement.
So Hellraiser II slid, and then Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth, embraced that direction and ran headlong into it. Hellraiser 3 is a B-movie and is fine with that. It's again written by Atkins; but this time it's directed by Amthony Hickox (Waxwork, Sundown: the Vampire In Retreat), who just takes the opportunity to play with all of Hellraiser's toys. It's villains and iconography are back, but now in almost a silly world with lighter characters. There are still hints of Hellraiser's dark power; but this is a film where a monster kills people by shooting compact discs out of his head. This one still looks to have a nice budget (something later films in the series sorely lacked), and I'm sure if this wasn't titled "Hellraiser III," horror lovers would still be talking about what a kick this movie was. However fans looking for the greatness of the original Hellraiser were further disappointed... even maybe a little insulted this time. But if you can ease off your expectations of another Hellraiser 1; this is a very fun and engaging 90 minutes. But we're definitely at the point where I wouldn't recommend it to the non-horror fans.
Now the Hellraiser films have been released and re-released on home video plenty of times. We're only seeing the first three in this set, because the later ones are all owned by Dimension Films. But the films get less and less worthwhile as you go; so the first three are more than fine. Hellraiser was first released on DVD in 1997, and then re-released in a cool, limited edition tin as a bit of a special edition with Hellraiser 2 in 2000. Unfortunately, I sold that off long ago, but I did manage to snag a single disc release of the 2000 DVD for this comparison. Then we've got the aforementioned UK DVD boxed set of the first three films from 2004, which is kind of the standard def predecessor of the Scarlet Box. It's worth noting that both sets include two versions apiece of Hellraiser III, so we'll get into that as well. Then, to bring in the HD competition, we've got the 2009 US blu-ray, which is also from Anchor Bay. And we're comparing them all to the brand new, just released in November 2015 Scarlet Box set from Arrow.
2000 US AB widescreen DVD 1st, 2000 US AB fullscreen DVD 2nd,
2004 UK AB DVD 3rd, 2009 US AB blu 4th, 2015 UK Arrow blu 5th
All four discs slightly letterbox their anamorphic 16x9 images to 1.85:1 (excluding the fullscreen transfer, obviously). The DVDs both have slightly less info on the sides, at 1.84:1, but it's the definition of negligible. Still, it's nice to get that extra sliver if you've sprung for the blus. Clarity is definitely up on the blus, especially Arrow's. Even Anchor Bay's is a nice step up from the DVDs in sharpness and resolution, though. Both blus also have more natural colors, though their color palettes are different, too (compare Julia's blouse... redder on the DVDs, bluer on the US blu and yellower on the UK).

The first thing that draws your eye between all of them, though, is probably how much brighter Arrow's disc is. It really brings out some details that were crushed in past releases. It doesn't stop the film from being dark when it means to me, it just keeps the film from being murky like the older DVDs look. Preferable degrees of brightness and sharpness can be a little subjective... a number of people online have been voicing their displeasure in how the clearer transfer makes Arrow's blu look especially grainy. But the film itself (lower budget and low lit) is just grainy, and a blu-rays job is to display a film as clearly and faithfully as possible; which is what Arrow's disc does best.

You'll also notice Anchor Bay's 2000 DVD included a fullscreen option. It's mostly a "chop the sides off" affair, but it does have some additional vertical information. But it's really just a product of the "people hate black bars" times, and you can see why none of the subsequent releases bothered to carry it over into more modern times.

I've also got a pair of Hellraiser II Anchor Bay DVDs on hand: the old 2001 disc and 2008's 20th Anniversary Edition. Not that I expect them to add anything surprising to the comparisons, but the 2001 DVD offers a fullscreen mode just like the first film did, so I thought it might be worth looking at to see how the 4:3 version looks. And the 2008 has a few exclusive special features.
2001 US AB DVD fullscreen first, 2001 US AB DVD widescreen 2nd,
2004 UK AB DVD 3rd, 2008 US AB DVD 4th, 2015 UK Arrow blu 5th
Hellraiser II doesn't look quite so grainy, again down to how the original film looks, as Arrow's new blu is another fresh 2k scan from the film's original interpositive (true of all three films in the set). Framing is slightly letterboxed to 1.85 again, with a little extra picture along the bottom on the blu-ray as opposed to the DVD, which is again more of a 1.84:1. Detail and clarity are naturally improved in this film's jump to HD, but you might notice another difference with the UK DVD: a ghosting effect on the doctor's hand. Yes, all of the DVDs in the 2004 boxed set are interlaced - yuck. Even the original 2001 DVD didn't have this problem, and happily they got rid of it again for the 2008 edition; so I presume Anchor Bay just used US NTSC transfer their UK PAL set and let the interlacing ride. Naturally, Arrow's blu-rays are free of this issue.

And again, the full-frame version is open matte, giving us plenty more picture on the top and bottom while losing nothing on the sides. Of course, it's mostly dead space and looks far less attractive than the widescreen image.

Now we come to Hellraiser 3. Between the Arrow and Anchor Bay sets, there was also an interesting US DVD from Paramount in 2006. It's unfortunately just the R-rated cut, but it looks pretty good and has a unique special feature which makes it interesting.
2004 UK AB widescreen DVD 1st, 2004 UK AB fullscreen DVD 2nd
2006 US Paramount DVD 3rd, 2015 UK Arrow theatrical blu 4th,
2015 UK Arrow unrated blu 5th
So, like I said, both sets have two different versions of Hellraiser 3 in them. But they're different different versions. Anchor Bay gave you the unrated version of the film in both widescreen (the film's OAR) and fullscreen. Arrow gives you the edited theatrical cut and the complete unrated version, both in widescreen. So that's one unique thing the AB set has going for it: the fullscreen version, though I'm not sure how desirable it is. Of course, the same could be said for Arrow's theatrical cut.

Paramount, meanwhile, just offers the widescreen R-rated cut. Thankfully, Anchor Bay's DVD isn't interlaced for part 3. And they're clearly using the same master, making the US and widescreen UK DVDs almost entirely indistinguishable apart from AB's PAL speed up.

Now, I mentioned how the Arrow blu-ray has more picture info, chiefly on the left hand side than the previous versions (and you can see it in those shots I posted above). But it's been pointed out on the forums that this extra info is probably a framing mistake, as it sometimes shows too much, i.e. camera equipment or crewmen standing on ladders in the background. Here's a clear example of what I mean:
2004 UK AB widescreen DVD 1st, 2015 UK Arrow theatrical blu 2nd
That's way too much on the left; you can see where the special effect of the pillar ends and it's just big wooden boards. Clearly that was not meant to be seen on camera. However, that shot passes very quickly, and most of the film, while still showing you more picture on the left hand side than intended, doesn't contain anything that clearly doesn't belong. It's mostly just a little bit extra of the set. But every once in a while, a shot will pop up with something you shouldn't see in it.

Anyway, except for the unrated insert footage, the two Arrow transfers look identical to each other, and are natural HD improvements over the old DVD. The old fullscreen version, which has extra vertical info thanks to its open matte, looks softer and murkier even than the widescreen DVD version. Really, I can only see it having mild curiosity value for serious completists, so I sure don't mind its absence from the Scarlet Box.

It's also important to note that AB's widescreen DVD is framed at about 1.76:1, as opposed to Arrow's 1.85. So the new blu has gained a decent bit of additional picture along the sides.
2004 UK AB widescreen DVD 1st, 2004 UK AB fullscreen DVD 2nd,
2015 UK Arrow unrated blu 3rd
There's only three shots in this next set of Hellraiser 3 screenshots because it's one of the scenes only shown in the full, unrated version of the film. So it isn't in Arrow's theatrical cut. You'll notice the quality is poor in all of these versions, because neither Anchor Bay nor Arrow could find proper film elements for the unrated footage, so they used, apparently, an old laserdisc or tape for this footage. The other thing you'll notice is that two of the shots are fullscreen this time (1.30 on Anchor Bay's, and 1.33 on Arrow's). That's because, as you can see in the top shot, Anchor Bay just cropped the unrated footage to 1.76 to match the rest of the widescreen film. The footage both labels are using is fullscreen, missing picture on the side. So AB's cropping is on top of that, meaning it's cropped on all four sides(!). That's probably why Anchor Bay felt it was worth including a fullscreen cut of the film, so they could give you that film without their cropping.

Arrow, on the other hand, takes the unusual tact of shifting the aspect ratio mid-picture on their unrated version. Rather than cropping the already cropped footage like Anchor Bay, the picture jumps from 1.85 to 1.33, which is a little distracting to say the least. And that is presumably why they also offer the cut theatrical version (because why else would anybody want an identical version of the film except cut?) - so you can see their HD 2k scan without the sudden drop in quality and shift in aspect ratio. I guess that's fine if you want to show off how good Hellraiser 3 looks here; but this film is really much more enjoyable in its uncut form.

So it's a bit of a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. Would it be better to have double-cropped the footage to make it all 1.85, or shift the aspect ratios like they've done here? They made a call, and neither one was going to please everybody perfectly. The only disappointment of this box is that they don't have proper film elements for the unrated footage, but what can you do? Apparently it's lost to the ages; they tried. And they still gave us the best we can get.
Both sets also include Barker's two early short films, Salomé and The Forbidden, and the quality of the original films is so raw, it's hard to distinguish a big difference between them (especially Salomé). Arrow's book doesn't even mention how they made the transfers for these like it does with their Hellraiser restorations, because I doubt they did much. They're both fullscreen, which is their OAR. One substantial improvement, however, is that Arrow's set corrects the interlacing problem on the Anchor Bay set; so it is, once again, a worthwhile improvement.

All the films have great, lossless 2.0 audio tracks and optional subtitles in the new box. The first two Hellraisers also have 5.1 mixes. On the US blu, Hellraiser only has the 5.1 option. All of the discs, including the US and UK DVDs, have optional English subtitles as well.
The old, 2000 Hellraiser special edition DVD already had some solid extras: specifically an audio commentary by Clive Barker, Ashley Lawrence and Peter Atkins, and a nice 25 minute featurette called Hellraiser: Resurrection. All of the subsequent releases kept those, while adding more extras on top of them. Here's the mass amount of stuff the UK box-set added:

  • audio commentary with Clive Barker - this is a second, newer commentary with Barker by himself, providing a lot of info he missed the first time around.
  • Under the Skin part 1 - Doug Bradley interview about Hellraiser
  • on-set interview with Clive Barker - a short, vintage promo interview.
  • Trailers, TV spots, and galleries - the original DVD had a trailer and some stills, but this set adds more.
Hellraiser II:
  • audio commentary with Peter Atkins and director Tony Randel
  • audio commentary with Tony Randel, Ashley Laurence and Peter Atkins
  • Under the Skin part 2 - Doug Bradley interview about Hellraiser 2
  • Lost In the Labyrinth - a 'making of' featurette produced by Clive Barker
  • on-set interviews with Clive Barker, Tony Randel, Claire Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Imogen Boorman and Kenneth Crantham - more vintage promo stuff
  • Trailers, TV spots, and galleries
Hellraiser III:
  • audio commentary with Anthony Hickox and Doug Bradley
  • Under the Skin part 3 - Doug Bradley interview about Hellraiser 3
  • an on-camera interview with Hickox
  • on-set interviews with Clive Barker and Doug Bradley - the vintage promo stuff again
  • Trailer and galleries
The fourth disc, with Barker's short films, also included interviews with Barker and some of the cast as part of each feature.

The US blu-ray of the first Hellraiser has the original 2000 extras, but not any of the 2004 extras except for the Doug Bradley Under the Skin interview. So it's missing the second commentary and the vintage interview. BUT, and this is a big but, it does have some new, exclusive extras. Specifically, it has three all new interview featurettes by Red Shirt Films, who always do a great job. They're all around 15-20 minutes and specifically, they interview Ashley Lawrence, composer Christoper Young and actor Andrew Robinson.

And Anchor Bay's 20th Anniversary DVD also has three all new interview featurettes by Red Shirt Films, which again are all around 15-20 minutes each. This is in edition to the commentary and all the other stuff carried over from the 2004 UK box, even the easter egg behind-the-scenes footage. But today, it's just these Red Shirt extras that are still of interest, because they never made it over to the Scarlet Box.  The first one interviews cenobite actors Simon Bamford, Nicholas Vince and Barbie Wilde, the second one is with director Tony Randel, and the third is Dr. Channard himself, Kenneth Cranham.
And I mentioned earlier that Paramount's US DVD of Hellraiser 3 had an interesting exclusive feature, right? It doesn't have any of the extras from the other releases, except for the theatrical trailer, but it has a half hour documentary called Clive Barker: The Art of Horror. This had previously been released on VHS in 1992 by itself. It's not about Hellraiser 3, but Clive in general. It centers heavily around a couple direct interviews with Barker, and focuses on some interesting aspects of his career you don't see covered as often on his DVDs including his model kits and comic books. He even talks about Transmutations and Rawhead Rex, which is valuable, since there are no editions of those films with any extras at all. If you've got this disc, hang onto it, and you might even want to pick it up as an addendum to the Scarlet Box just for this feature. If you do, be careful, Miramax reissued this Hellraiser 3 DVD in 2011, but minus the doc. So make sure you get the 2006 one. The front covers are identical, except Miramax's has their logo on the top.

So now onto the new Scarlet Box. It has the original Hellraiser 1 & 2 2000 extras and ALL, yes all, of the 2004 boxed set's extras. Some of the features are given different names... The "on-set interview with Clive Barker" is now just listed as "original EPK," but it's the same thing. Everything from the lament configuration boxed set has been carried over. And, of course, some big new extras have been created. Specifically:

  • Leviathan - A full length documentary on the making of Hellraiser, that was previously only available on DVD direct from the creators' website. It's feature length and interviews just about everybody, but it should be noted the version they sell is even longer than the trimmed down documentary included here. Still, the one in this set runs 90 minutes, so it should easily satisfy most viewers
  • an interview with Sean Chapman - a pretty lengthy talk
  • Soundtrack Hell - a featurette interviewing Stephen Thrower, of a band called Coil. He talks about how he was commissioned to create a soundtrack for Hellraiser that ultimately wasn't used, in favor of what Chris Young created.
Hellraiser II:
  • Leviathan - Just like on disc 1, but all about Hellraiser 2. This was sold with the first one on DVD, too; and I think this one is also cut down, although the version here is over two hours.
  • a second interview with Sean Chapman
  • deleted surgeon scene - This might actually be the crown jewel of Arrow's new extras! This is a very famous scene that was long believed to not actually exist. You see, on the back of the old Hellraiser 2 VHS box, one of the screenshots showed two cenobites dressed as surgeons - a scene that never appears in the film. In interviews, everyone always said that they posed for publicity stills like that, which is why the shot exists; but they never actually shot such a scene. Well, here it is! Arrow found it. It's in low, video tape quality and it has this ugly "Copyright: Troopstar" notice printed in large text over the entire scene; but after all these decades, we finally get to see that scene!
  • behind-the-scenes footage - less than 2 minutes, but still very cool to see some fun glimpses of the making of this film
Hellraiser III:
  • a new audio commentary with Peter Atkins (on the shorter, theatrical cut)
  • Hell on Earth: The Story of Hellraiser III - This was an extra on the Leviathan DVDs; a 30+ minute documentary on the making of part 3.
  • an interview with Paula Marshall
  • FX dailies - about 25 minutes worth of alternate takes and unedited, video-taped footage of the special effects being shot for the film
Bonus disc:
  • an interview with David Gatward, a horror author, about Barker's books.
  • Hellraiser: Evolutions - a documentary that runs a little under an horror on the legacy of the Hellraiser films. It's got a lot of stuff on the later films, and even interviews some of the people who worked on those, like Rick Bota and Scott Derrickson. Definitely one of the most compelling new extras, although I wish they got a little more specific about the sequels than generally pontificating about the legacy. I guess I was hoping for a Crystal Lake Memories of Hellraiser, but that would be insane to ask of a bonus disc extra. This is already pretty neat.
  • The Hellraiser Chronicles: A Question of Faith - This is a Hellraiser fan film. It's fairly cheesy, but earnest.
  • audio commentary with the director on Hellraiser Chronicles
And of course the bonus disc also includes the interview footage that accompanied Salomé and The Forbidden on the Anchor Bay boxed set, because like I said, all the extras from there are on here. And I'll reiterate just to be clear, the original commentary and Hellraiser: Resurrection feature from the 2000 DVD are in the Scarlet Box as well. The only extras not in the Scarlet Box are those three Red Shirt interviews from the US blu-ray. If you want to be an ultra-completist, you'll have to get that, too. Andrew Robinson is interviewed in Leviathan, though, and Lawrence and Young are both interviewed in Hellraiser: Resurrection (Lawrence, of course, is on the Hellraiser commentary as well). So you do get them in this set, just not those particular interviews. For almost everybody, this box should be more than enough.

The Hellraiser and Hellraiser 2 discs also have an easter egg apiece tucked away for those of us who remember the old VHS tapes. The first easter egg was also on the Anchor Bay boxed set - again showing that Arrow has imported absolutely everything. The second one is new. Oh, and the short clip of behind the scenes footage on the new Hellraiser 2 blu was also an easter egg on the Anchor Bay box.
Oh god, and I still haven't talked about the packaging yet. Now, the Lament configuration box was pretty neat (if flimsy), and it had a booklet with notes from Barker himself as well as critics. And the old Hellraiser tin was neat and had some cool postcards in there. But man, this new box has everything. Look at the picture at the top - this box has multiple postcards, a little booklet of Barker's conceptual art and storyboards, a double-sided, fold-out poster, a Pinhead pin, and you want a booklet? This set has a 200 page, hardcover book in it! It's actually written by the two critics who wrote notes for the Anchor Bay box; but apparently they had a lot more to say. And it's all in a very nice, and absolutely not flimsy box.
This is a massive collection that will take you ages to work your way through. And if you're a serious Hellraiser fan, you'll love every second of it. Of course, it already sold out during the pre-order stage, so you're going to have to put in some extra effort if you want to snag it and haven't already got it on the way. I'm sure copies will pop up here and there, though. And of course Arrow will ultimately sell the three Hellraiser blu-rays individually, sans the bonus disc and the book and all. But if you're looking for the best way to go, this is unquestionably it. Best transfers, best extras, best packaging. Arrow played to win this time, and Hellraiser fans should be thrilled.