The People Who Own the Dark, Code Red's Second Stab At It (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Code Red's been steadily upgrading their DVD catalog to blu-ray for a while now, but The People Who Own the Dark is one I've particularly been waiting for. Why? Because the DVD was essentially the best they could do with poor source elements, made up of a pair of compromises. We had "a brand new telecine from an abused, scratched and beat-up 35mm print that went vinegar" and an "old transfer from 1 inch Sun Video tape found in Jim Markovic's shack" both on the same disc. The 35mm print version is so "beat up," in fact, it's flat-out missing a bunch of shots. So, in short, the print version looked better (though it had scratches and issues the tape version didn't), but the tape version's complete. But then when I read that the upcoming blu-ray featured a "brand new HD telecine from New discovered 35mm print," I was excited. Finally, maybe we had the best of both worlds, and an HD upgrade to boot?
People is kind of a crazy Spanish film by Leon Klimovsky, that you could pitch as 'Night Of the Living Dead but with blind people as the zombies' (decades before 2008's Blindness), but there's even more weirdness to it than that. The protagonists (certainly not heroes) of our film are a group of the ruling elite class, and their courtesans, who have gathered together at an isolated villa for a retreat dedicated to living the teachings of the Marquis de Sade. They're just starting to get fully debauched in their stone dungeon party basement when there's an Earthquake. Going upstairs, it turns nuclear war broke out, and the radioactive blasts has turned everybody blind, except our party goers, who were safe underground. Negotiations with the locals immediately go South, with people dead on both sides, and so they retreat back to their villa and proceed to go crazy.  Really crazy - one guy spends the rest of the movie crawling around naked on all fours, believing he's a dog with a tape recorder around his neck.
Eventually, things start to feel like a more traditional horror film when the blind lay siege to the villa. It makes good use of the Blind Dead gag where they're walking very closely to the blind people and have to stay completely silent not to be caught. And other times it's classic "board up the doors" NotLD-style. The dubbing is going to keep mainstream viewers away from this no matter how much of a cult audience it accrues, but if you're looking for an entertaining and engaging flick that's pretty unique - campy but bleak, playing it completely straight with some genuinely effective atmosphere - this will do ya. In fact, I've turned out to really like this one, in a demented guilty pleasure sort of way. Most people will never get the appeal, I'm sure; but for cult fans, it's a great one to keep revisiting.
a shot missing from the DVD transfer taken from a 35mm print
So what's the old 35mm print version missing? Well, nothing major. There are multiple instances where damage has just killed a few frames, so the film skips, particularly around reel changes. But the points where you actually lose multiple shots, lines of dialogue, etc, are almost all grouped near the beginning. In fact, it starts right in the opening credits, most of which are missing from the old 35mm DVD. That continues into the opening shots of the film, with the first couple in bed and some lines by the guy. Then the print cuts right to a red car pulling up to Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy. But on the tape version, we see him skeet shooting live birds first. So, really, the first couple minutes are really messed up on the print version. Then there are two more moments. At 11:13, it's missing the part where the ladies leave their car and walk into the shop, including some dialogue where the new girl admits she's nervous. And at about 13:30, we lost some shots of the doctor walking into the party and getting greeted. The only drop not near the beginning is right at the very ending, which is pretty spoilerific, so I'll just say a couple shots and several lines of dialogue are missing around the 1:14:15 mark.

Now, are those missing bits restored on the transfer from the new 35mm print? Yes! it's all there. The new version has the completeness of the 1" tape, and the superior look of the print. It's also far less scratched and dirty (though it still has a bit) than the old one. In fact, let's have a proper comparison of all three.
The 2012 DVD's 1" tape transfer on top, the DVD's 35mm transfer mid,
and the new 2015 blu-ray transfer bottom.
So, they look fairly different. The framing is a bit different. The tape transfer is about 1.51:1, while the other two are regular 16x9 1.78:1. But even those two vary distinctly, as the new transfer is zoomed further out, with more picture information on all four sides.

But more than the framing, the new print has quite visibly different color timing and is decidedly brighter than the old one. Sometimes too bright, but overall, it does bring out more detail in the HD, whereas it sometimes got hard to see what was going on in the dark scenes on the DVD print, even crushing the blacks. The first shot shows one of the most extreme examples of what I'd call too bright or over-exposed, but the second set of shots shows how that helps in the dark scenes. The perfect transfer would probably be a bit in between, but overall I'd say the new transfer is preferable in this aspect, too. The tape transfer is, of course, the darkest and murkiest of all. Plus it's interlaced and non-anamorphic (in the second set of shots, I left it the black around it so you can see how it would look on a widescreen TV). It's not quite unwatchable, and the taller aspect ratio gives you a bit of an open matte feel with more picture on the top and bottom; but really, the only reason you'd have chosen it is to see those missing moments from the old print.
The 2012 DVD's 1" tape transfer on top, the DVD's 35mm transfer mid,
and the new 2015 blu-ray transfer bottom.
Here we see just how bad the print damage got on the old DVD. Granted, I picked a pretty extreme example for the first set - this was right around the edges of some dropped footage, and the film only looks that bad for a handful of seconds at most. But those ARE legit screengrabs from the movie; it really does look like that. The second set is a more typical example, with just some green specs, but those are also cleaned up on the new transfer. Plus all the detail restored to the shadows. The colors are a bit off on the new transfer all throughout, but this last set is an extreme example - surely her bed isn't actually green. Looking at other screenshots throughout this post (all the non-comparison shots are from the blu), they don't look terribly off. And even if they were, for all the benefits, I'd take it anyway. Oh, and just look at that interlacing on the tape transfer - yuck! Yeah, I'm only too happy to discard the DVD transfers for this new blu, colorization qualms or no.

The mono audio tracks on both the DVD print version and blu-ray sound pretty good, with a little more crackle, naturally, on the beat-up DVD version. The tape master's audio is a little more muffled and hissy; but all are fine.
There's really no extras to get excited over on either release, but I guess that's to be expected from an underground Spanish horror flick from 1976. The original DVD opened with the classic Code Red Family Honor trailer, with a couple other bonus trailers accessible from the menu. The only extra it had actually pertaining to People - though it sorta felt like it had more with its two transfers of the film - is the original theatrical trailer. Happily, that has made its way onto the blu, too. But that's all there is.
So that's what this blu-ray is: not a fancy special edition, just a solid presentation of a cool, little cult film. If you've got the DVD, you'll definitely want to upgrade, as this is more than just the standard def transfer bumped up to HD, it's an all new, fixed version that would be worth upgrading to even if it was a second DVD. But of course it's even sweeter for being HD, too.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific job looking at he new releases Vs the older DVD.
    Very nicely done, and even more so considering this just came out, nice job.