Dueling Blus: Nightmare(s In a Damaged Brain), 88 Films Vs. Code Red

88 Films' blu-ray of Nightmare(s In a Damaged Brain) has just landed, and I'm pretty excited! How does the new transfer compare to the previous US blu from Code Red? How are the extras different? Is it a different cut? Well, I've got them right here, so we're about to find out everything for sure. But just to give you a hint up front? I'm smilin'. 😃
Code Red's 2014 blu-ray on top; 88 Film's 2015 blu-ray beneath.
The only reason I'm not even more excited than I am is that, frankly, I'm not a huge fan of this movie. It's got a stilted, semi-amateurish feel in places, with kind of a cheap look and a few really hammy performances. Plus, the story is kind of a mess, like maybe they had trouble getting 100% of the script on screen as written. But, I think our quasi-protagonist C.J. is great... he reminds me a lot of the kid in Trick Or Treats in all the best ways, and the showdown at the end of the film is terrific. And if you're looking for sleazy sex and violence along the way, Nightmare certainly delivers.
But let me stop beating around the bush and answer your #1 question: does 88 Film's new version feature the missing footage from the old Dutch VHS release, as detailed by movie-censorship? Yes! Yes, it does. That shot above is the infamous shot of the killer behind the kid in the house everyone was asking about, and that Code Red put up on their storefront. Here it is, in HD for the first time, looking great. And yes, the extra shots of the babysitter being stalked and the extra stuff at Gatsby's bar is all in here as well. The shot of the kid walking up to the house is also longer. So this is 100% uncut in that it features absolutely everything in Code Red's cut, plus these long missing bits.

Update 11-29-15: Actually, having examined things a little closer with user Trampled on the blu-ray.com forums, there is a bit of the missing footage still missing. In the babysitter scene, some of the shots are restored as I described above, but there's also a bit where the kids come that is still missing. Then, the barroom stuff is 100% restored, but the last shot of the killer behind the kid seems to be missing some final frames... movie-censorship shows his hands on the kid's neck, whereas this one cuts out just as the killer's fingertips reach the kid's neck. Of course, that shot is missing entirely from Code Red's blu, and almost all of it is restored on 88's. But there is still a smidgen missing.

Now, don't misunderstand. This all adds up to, what? Less than ten seconds of footage? And none of it exactly whips the plot around in thrilling new directions. But after all the mystery that was surrounding this footage when people first started mentioning that maybe these shots were out there, and wondering if 88 Films had in fact found it - especially since we had to blind buy it to find out - it's very gratifying to see it here.
Code Red's 2014 blu-ray on top; 88 Film's 2015 blu-ray beneath.
And the transfers are fairly different, too. Different but pretty equal. It had been assumed for a long time that 88 Films was just going to use Code Red's transfer, which they created, to release in their market until they announced they were making their own. And it's visibly pretty different. It's hard not to see the differences in color timing in the shots above, especially. In general, Code Red's transfer leans towards purple and 88's leans towards green. Some shots on 88's disc, frankly, look too green. But others look as good or maybe even preferable. In the shots above, for example, I think the babysitter in the stairway is too green, but the kids running are too red. 88's transfer is also a bit brighter, but the dark moments still stay dark. All of it really varies shot by shot and will ultimately boil down to viewer's preference.
Code Red's 2014 blu-ray on top; 88 Film's 2015 blu-ray beneath.
Framing-wise, both are at full 16x9 1.78:1, but there are some major vertical shifts in what's in and left out of the matting. What's the title of the film the killer's walking past in the second set of shots? Only Code Red knows for sure. What's also interesting about that, is 88's framing there matches Code Red's older DVD release, as Simon M. so memorably posted on the AVManiacs forum. Which is truer to the director's vision? I don't know, but I do kinda prefer getting to read "Caligula" to seeing more of the car in the foreground, personally.
Code Red's 2014 blu-ray on top; 88 Film's 2015 blu-ray beneath.
And how about print damage? You may remember when 88 Films released the first screenshots of their new transfer as compared to Code Red's, their screenshot had cleaned up all the ugly green emulsion spots that had dirtied the film (or at least used a different source print that didn't have that damage on it). But now that we've got both complete transfers, is 88's a huge improvement? Well... The new transfer doesn't have the damage the old one does, but it has new damage. And both are just flickering specks and smudges that only last for a single frame (this isn't like Code Red's Redeemer or anything, which is really damaged). Look at the shots above. Is the white spot to the left of the lamp really preferable to the green spot on the mom's shoulder? They both have flecks and smudges. Maybe 88's is a little cleaner overall, or maybe it just feels that way because it's a brighter image. I'm not sure. Personally, it feels like a tie in this area to me.

Both discs also have solid LPCM mono tracks. Oh, and fun fact: despite 88 Film's disc being labeled region B, they're both region free. So everybody gets to choose, which is nice.
Code Red's 2014 blu-ray on top; 88 Film's 2015 blu-ray beneath.
When it comes to extras, it's all good news. Code Red's is really loaded with an audio commentary by star Baird Stafford and the make-up artist Cleve Hall, on-camera interviews with Stafford, Hall, distributor Tom Ward, producer Bill Milling, effects artist Ed French, and co-star Mik Cribbon. It also has the full interview with director Romano Scavolini subtitled (the same interview was on Code Red's previous DVD, but spoken in Italian with no English subtitles). And there's two different Nightmare trailers.

88 Films doesn't have quite as much, but what it has is all new... especially rewarding for those of us who double-dipped. Their stand-out extra is an all new audio commentary by producer Bill Paul. He's wonderfully free about his opinions and has great, specific memories - you definitely don't want to miss this commentary. They've also got an on-camera interview with Tom Ward, which is very short but interesting, and a segment on 42nd St. When I originally heard 88 was including a featurette on the locations of Nightmare, I was imaging them finding all those wild Florida spots, but instead this just feels like deleted scenes from Calum Waddell's 42nd Street Memories. At least the killer did go to 42nd St in the movie for a couple of minutes, so it kinda syncs up, and I'd rather have this than not. 88 also has a booklet including text interviews with Scavolini and Stafford, a trailer, and reversible artwork (the side I didn't show uses the same basic poster art as the Code Red cover), so it's a very nice package.
Code Red's 2014 blu-ray on top; 88 Film's 2015 blu-ray beneath.
At the end of the day, Code Red has more and better extras, but they're both rewarding special editions. 88 Film's cut is preferable for having the extra footage, but it's all very minor stuff that only serious enthusiasts will notice or care about. And which transfer is better? I'd say it's a tie. So it's a real hard call if you're trying to pick one or the other. The hardcore fans will want both, and thankfully they're different enough in just about every respect, which balms the sting of double-dipping. Since it's not the greatest horror movie in the world, though, most casual horror fans should be pleased with either one, and will probably just go with whichever is easiest for them to obtain depending on where they live. But if you got one of them and now you want more... there's a very satisfying second edition out there waiting for you.

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 (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

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.