Fulci's House By the Cemetery, Restored and Delivered in 4K

In the upper echelon of spaghetti horror films is Lucio Fulci's House By the Cemetery. Consequently, there have been many releases of this film over the years. And today, there's primarily two blu-ray releases of this film, competing for the top spot: Arrow's in the UK and Blue Underground's in the US. They're both pretty fancy special editions with all unique extras, so I'm going to get in close and see which tops which in a proper comparison. I've also got the film's original DVD debut disc, from Diamond Entertainment, so we can see how far we've come. Oh, and I've also got a Mill Creek DVD from one of those 50 film sets, and Anchor Bay's 2001 DVD, so I guess I'll throw those in, too.

Update 1/24/20: It's a whole new ball game, kids, with HBtC now restored in 4k and issued as a fancy, new 3-disc BD set from Blue Underground.  I'll spoil it right up front.  There's no question it's the best edition of the film.  The only questions now are: is it superior enough that it's worth replacing a previous blu, and if you are replacing it, is there any reason to hang onto any of the older releases?

Update 10/5/20: It's a whole-r newer ball game, kids! Two major updates of the same film from the same label in the same year? Yes, it happened - HBtC is now available not just as a 4k restoration on a 1080p BD, but a proper 4K Ultra HD with HDR. 
House By the Cemetery comes right in the sweet spot of Fulci's career, and is all the better for it. Fulci had already just recently experienced the surprise, break out success of Zombie, and made pretty much all of his biggest hits in short succession immediately after, including The Beyond, City of the Living Dead, and this one right here. It stands out in being the only one that takes the time to for a slow build, creating suspense and particularly atmosphere before jumping into most of the wild set pieces that pretty much come at you non-stop, beginning to end, in those others. It's a haunted house film where the new family slowly catches onto the creepy vibes permeating their home. It's something a little different for Fulci.
That said, it's not a subtle film. Awesome special effects create gruesome kills convincing enough for the camera to linger on and ogle. A big film score, dramatic cinematography and a monster named Freudstein carry this film right out of the stratosphere. It still has one of those not entirely logical and certainly not spelled out plots that will have you guessing why characters are making decisions and things are happening. And the answer just might be nothing more than: it looks good on camera. Maybe that's all part of the fun, or maybe it's going to drive you up the wall, but nobody's going to hold your hand through it either way. It's just a crazy 80s horror with bleeding mannequins, werewolf howls taken from dusty old sound effects records, little boys dubbed by grown women, characters who may or may not be supernatural, rack focus, mysterious floating eyes, super strong bats, blood and guts. Sounds like a recipe for a great time to me.
So, yes, House By the Cemetery debuted on DVD from Diamond Entertainment group, one of those no frills grey market DVD labels that's since gone the way of the dodo. But back then, we were just happy to get the film on disc, uncut and widescreen even. But then Anchor Bay jumped in and gave it a nicer disc in 2001, which lead to a whole chain of releases from a Blue Underground reissue in 2007 to a Vipco disc in the UK, Laser Paradise in Germany, and shady grey market labels in the US like Madacy and of course Mill Creek, as part of their 2010 Pure Terror 50 pack [left]. When we got to blu-ray, Blue Underground tackled it first in 2011, followed shortly by Arrow in 2012. Other labels have issued it in their own countries since (Shock in Australia and XT in Germany), but most international buyers were probably deciding between the Arrow and BU.  I say "were," because this year, Blue Underground has reissued it first as an updated, 3-disc limited edition set based around a fresh 4k restoration of the film, rendering everything that came before it more or less obsolete.  And then, just now, they've issued it yet again as a full on 4k Ultra HD, rendering even that obsolete!
1) Diamond 2000 DVD; 2) Mill Creek 2010 DVD; 3) Anchor Bay 2001 DVD;
4) Arrow 2012 DVD; 5) BU 2011 BD; 6) Arrow 2012 BD; 7) BU 2020 BD; 8) BU 2020 UHD.
So, where to begin. Despite 10 years and many improved DVDs in between them, Mill Creek hasn't improved on the old Diamond disc. They've both got this sickly greenish coloring (though Diamond's is slightly better in some shots), but at least they're 2.35:1. Well, almost... Diamond is 2.25 and Mill Creek is 2.22:1; but regardless, they're non-anamorphic tiny little images floating in the center of your screen, and interlaced to boot. The blu-rays are a comparative revelation, with the Anchor Bay DVD splitting the difference.  It's anamorphic and non-interlaced, with more clarity than the previous discs, but it's still got that greenish color timing and of course standard def compression. The Blue Undergrounds actually are 2.35:1, while Anchor Bay and Arrow's are even slightly wider at 2.39:1.
ltr: BU 2011 BD, Arrow 2012 BD, BU 2020 BD.
Beyond from that, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the initial blus apart. BU's blacks are a hair darker, but I could only tell when I got them into this direct side-by-side comparison. They also suffer from the infamous scanner noise that was plaguing HD transfers coming out of Italy for a while (BU and Arrow seem to be using the same source). It's like a light digital grain floating on top of the actual film grain, giving everything a more static-y feel. I mostly noticed it on tight close-ups, giving a macro-blocking effect to peoples' skin. I've circled a couple egregious spots on Arrow's blu, above.  Thankfully, of course, BU's 2020 blu-ray clears that right up, giving us the cleanest, most naturally filmic presentation we've ever seen.  It's got a warmer color timing, which, eh, I could go either way on that.  As you can see, though, it even restores a surprising amount of detail that was crushed in the solid black shadows of all previous releases.  It may be a bit over-blown on the bright side, but it's so much stronger in all other areas, it's hard to complain.

But like I said, "obsolete!"  It's all about BU's UHD now, so how does that look?  Well, intriguingly, its framing shifts to 2.34:1 (despite claiming 2.40 on the back cover), and that's not just a hair's difference in cropping a pixel or two on the end.  Look up at those comparisons, and you can easily see BU has zoomed in tighter and shaved off a little image along all four sides.  Why?  Well, uh, I hope they had some information that the previous blus were all mis-framed and showing too much, but I assume it was just somebody's casual judgement call.  Anyway, we're not talking about large swaths, and I can't say any of the framing adjustments are hugely offensive or revelatory once you get past the old DVDs.  And it's a minor quibble when put up against how beautiful this UHD now looks in full 4k with HDR.  Colors are vivid, the brights are toned down and more natural (revealing detail that had been flared out on the previous BD), compression is fantastic and every piece of grain is accounted for.  You'll see a bit more of a cyan push here, but it's nothing drastic that you'd notice outside of a direct comparison like this.
The DVDs, of course, feature nothing but your basic English audio stereo track, and pretty hissy ones at that. Both older blus, however, give you the option between the English and Italian (where Bob's dubbed voice is decidedly more natural) audio tracks in much clearer, more robust quality, as well as optional English subtitles.  BU has additional French and Spanish subtitles that Arrow lacks, but it has to be noted the BU's 2011 Italian track is lossy.  They fix that in 2020, though, bumping the Italian track up to DTS-HD just like the English mono, and for those less rigidly adherent to history, throwing in a new DTS-HD 5.1 remix of the English track.  And they now offer two sets of English subtitles: a faithfully accurate translation and dubtitles that match the English dub.

The UHD has all the same audio tracks and language options as the 2020 BD set, but also adds a new English Dolby Atmos track to the mix.
And of course, the old DVDs have nothing. In fact, House By the Cemetery has traditionally been light on extras. The Anchor Bay and Blue Underground DVDs only had a deleted scene, stills gallery and a couple trailers. Obviously Vipco didn't break out the goods. There's an Italian DVD with some interesting extras, but they're not subtitled, so that's no use. But when it came time for blu-ray, both companies decided it was time to stop toying around and play for keeps. Arrow's release is even a 2-disc set (technically 3, but one is just the DVD copy of the main blu), and as of 2020, so is BU's.

Blue Underground (2020 exclusives in blue):
  • Audio commentary by Troy Howarth (most interestingly, towards the end, he breaks down the differences between the original screenplay and the finished film)
  • On-camera interview with stars Catriona MacColl and Paolo Malco
  • On-camera interview with Giovanni Frezza and Silvia Collatina
  • On-camera interview with Dagmar Lassander
  • On-camera interview with Carlo De Mejo
  • On-camera interview with Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti, two of the film's writers
  • On-camera interview with co-writer Giorgio Mariuzzo (the best of the new 2020 stuff)
  • On-camera interview with cinematographer Sergio Salvati, effects artists Maurizio Trani and Gino De Rossi, & Giovanni De Nava, the man inside the monster suit
  • 2014 Q&A with Catriona MacColl, hosted by Calum Waddell (well shot, but nothing new)
  • On-camera interview with critic Stephen Thrower (which visits the US locations in a nice segment that's almost thrown away)
  • The deleted scene 
  • Stills gallery
  • Two Trailers and a TV spot
Arrow:
  • Introduction by Giovanni Frezza
  • Audio commentary by Catriona MacColl, moderated by Calum Waddell
  • Audio commentary by Silvia Collatina, constantly interrupted by Mike Baronas
  • On-camera interview with Giovanni Frezza
  • On-camera interview with Catriona MacColl
  • On-camera interview with with Sergio Stivaletti about directing Wax Mask[?!]
  • On-camera interview with Gianetto De Rossi, a decent little chat, but there's a much better one with him, that covers most of the same ground, on Arrow's Zombie release.
  • On-camera interview Stefania Casini, Barbara Magnolfi and Silvia Collatina. Uh, only one of these actresses was actually in House By the Cemetery (Silvia). But it makes about as much sense as interviewing Stivaletti about the Wax Mask, I guess...
  • Reunion Q&A, an almost 45 minute panel filmed at a Horrorhound convention with Giovanni Frezza, Silvia Collatina, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, and Dagmar Lassander. It's pretty fun, but the sound quality is awful. I had to crank up the volume super loud and even then I kept missing things that were said.
  • The deleted scene
  • Theatrical trailer and TV spot
  • Bonus trailers - this collection of 20 or so Italian horror trailers goes above and beyond your usual stash of 2-4 bonus trailers
  • easter egg: On-camera interview with Sergio Martino about Mountain of the Cannibal God
  • easter egg: On-camera interview with Luigi Cozzi about Contamination
  • easter egg: On-camera interview with Dardanno Sacchetti about Manhattan Baby
  • easter egg: an alternate take of Giovanni Frezza's introduction
  • easter egg: additional snippet Silvia Collatina's interview
  • easter egg: bonus trailer for Lady Oscar, the film Catriona MacColl says she's most proud of during her audio commentary.
Arrow's release also comes with a 20-page booklet by Calum Waddell, including an additional text interview with Catriona MacColl.  It has reversible cover art and if you ordered it directly from Arrow's site, a bonus slip cover. Blue Underground, on the other hand, keeps the packaging basic, with no insert or anything.  At least with their first release.  Their 3-disc BD set comes in a stylish lenticular slip cover, a 20-page booklet by Michael Gingold, and of course the third disc in the set, the soundtrack CD.  The UHD release is a 2-disc set, keeping all of the on-disc extras (and even upgrading the main trailer to 3840 x 2160), but ditching most of the swag, including the booklet and soundtrack CD. It does come in a slick, embossed slipcover, though.  And honestly, I prefer this more streamlined packaging.
By the way, it's the same deleted scene on all the discs. It's some additional dialogue at the end of the bat attack sequence, though we don't hear what they're saying because the sound has been lost.  And no, it has not been restored in 4k on the 2020 releases.  It's funny to see Arrow's introduction to the scene [above], saying they're "presenting here, we believe, for the first time anywhere," when it's the exact same scene that everybody had been been including on their discs for the previous eleven years!

So, Arrow's got the most stuff, though less so since BU beefed up their supplements in 2020.  And Blue Underground hooked up with Red Shirt Pictures to get some top quality interviews with pretty much everybody, including several cast members, Stivaletti and two of the effects guys. Arrow only has one exclusive interview from this film, effects artist Gianetto De Rossi. Also, the more you watch these Arrow releases the more you realize these are all interviews from their other discs. Don't get me wrong, they're not putting the same clips on multiple discs, but they're all wearing the same shirts sitting in front of the same backgrounds. Arrow clearly interviewed everybody for hours on all their films and cuts out whichever part is relevant to that movie.  If they even are.

Because that brings me to the much odder thing: how many of these extras aren't actually related to the movie. Why are there interviews about Mountain Of the Cannibal God, Contamination, etc on here? I feel like they're just trying to fill up space with whatever they had laying around in order to justify the extra disc. Then, when you watch the same actors in the multiple features (i.e. Silvia Collatina on her commentary, her interview and her portion of the Q&A), they repeat the same anecdotes each time. In other words, Arrow has a ton of filler. Not that there's nothing good on here. Catriona's always fun, and Stefania Casini was a good interview if you don't mind the fact that she has nothing to do with House. But there's no way this needed to be two discs. Add to that the irritatingly long animated credits sequences for every single supplement and scenes from the film you've just watched that appear again and again, and it winds up being a slog to get through, which would have actually been a more entertaining viewing with huge chunks edited out. Arrow's list may look more impressive, but Blue Underground's was the finer selection even in 2011. Now, in 2020, it's really no contest.
So, let's answer those questions we proposed at the top.  Is BU's new 2020 edition, while unquestionably the best edition going, superior enough that it's worth replacing a previous blu?  I would say so, yes.  If the previous blus hadn't been plagued by scanner noise, then the new edition would still be an improvement, but possibly subtle enough that many viewers wouldn't mind not quite being on the cutting edge.  More extras and improved language options?  Neat, but probably not enough for a double-dip on their own to most fans.  But the old BD's problems really push the restored, and corrected, 4k disc over the edge - you'll be glad to put that noise behind you.  And of course, if you're playing UHDs now with a 4K HDR TV, well, you've probably had the newest release on pre-order all summer already.  And if you are replacing it, is there any reason to hang onto any of the older releases?  Certainly none of the DVDs, and there's nothing on the 2011 BU BD that isn't on their 2020 (wouldn't that be annoying?).  Arrow has all the exclusives, but a lot of it's redundant in that you're just going to hear the same people say the exact same things, and a lot of it's just short-ends slapped onto the disc to fill up space.  So I'd say, unless this is your all-time favorite film and you just have to own every single scrap of supplemental content available, the new BU discs are the one and only House By the Cemetery worth bothering with anymore.  The UHD if you can play it, or the 3-disc set if you're not there yet.

1 comment:

  1. I loved Blue Underground's 4k remastered Zombie, but this one was slightly disappointing. It was great to have the uptick in detail, and shadow delineation was good. The color timing seemed off to me, kind of sickly, almost L'Immagine Ritrovata yellow. Granted, I could just be used to the way it always used to look. But my problem is with the brightness. It's just too bright, especially at the climax in the basement. Again, it's great to see all that stuff in clear detail, but I like my basements darker with more shadows.

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