Vinegar Syndrome Saves Grindhouse's Pigs from Troma

So, if this recent release from Vinegar Syndrome looks familiar, there's a good chance that's because of Grindhouse. They were originally going to release this as part of their collection, and even had the trailer up on their site, along with another title or two that didn't quite make it, like Death Game. Imagine if they could've restored Seymour Cassel's original vocal tracks? But never mind; we're here to talk about Pigs. Now, Troma who seems to have the rights locked down, did release it on DVD, but it was an essentially barebones, fullscreen, glitched out, censored version of an alternate cut of the film. So Grindhouse's version would've surely been great. Fortunately, thanks to their healthy relationship with Troma, we finally got to see the restored, uncensored special edition director's cut that Grindhouse almost brought us, by way of Vinegar Syndrome.
And the Academy Award for the most unrelenting use of the fish eye lens goes to...
To be clear, this is not a Troma movie in the sense that it's one of their original films like Toxic Avenger or Class of Nuke 'Em High. This is a film they acquired, like The Children, My Dinner With Andre or Dario Argento's Stendhal Syndrome. In other words, don't worry, this isn't one of their juvenile messes with exploding boobs, flying diarrhea and "Sgt. Kabukiman" cameos. Pigs is actually a dark, weird twisted little film from the early 70s. It's sort of like Motel Hell meets the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and all the perverse dry desert nihilism that combination entails.

Having just escaped from an asylum for the criminally insane, Toni Lawrence takes an anonymous waitressing job at dusty old diner in a tiny, almost abandoned town. But she's not the only killer in town, because the old man who just hired her (Marc Lawrence) happens to believe the pigs he keeps out back will only eat human flesh, and he's not about to let them go hungry. What happens when you pair a couple like this? Will they kill each other or work together killing others? It sounds pretty campy, and sure it is; but they play this very straight, and it's smartly written and well acted enough that they get away with making this a strange little character study. There are one or two nice touches of humor, but it's never goofy.
Now, unfortunately, I no longer own the old Troma DVD for a full-on comparison, but I used to own it enough to tell you the important distinctions. Like I mentioned up top, one, it's a cut version with violence removed. And I mentioned it's glitched? Yeah, there's this weird problem with it where scenes repeat. Like, you'll see a close-up of a hand opening a door, the knob turns and the door starts to swing in and then cut back to the hand reaching for the doorknob again. It does that multiple times throughout the picture. And yeah, it's a different version of the film. The version Troma put out is the Daddy's Girl version, with a very different beginning and ending, where an unconvincing stand-in plays Toni Lawrence's part, showing her escape from the hospital and losing the clever ending of the original film. The original, director's cut we have hear from Vinegar Syndrome has never been released on home video before. And while, sure, the bulk of the body of the film is the same; the director's cut really is the clearly superior version.
Vinegar Syndrome's 2016 DVD on top and blu-ray on bottom.
Now, Vinegar Syndrome's release is a combo pack, so we do have a little comparison to look at, but there's no surprises. The DVD naturally looks a little softer and more compressed than the cleaner HD image on the blu-ray. But it's the same transfer on both. More crucial is to just the examine the transfer they came up with.
The above warning plays before the film, and parts of this film are clearly taken from one or more prints. There's sporadic damage and some very contrasty blacks which would probably un-crush had original elements been available for those scenes. But the biggest thing you'll notice is the flicker through a good portion of the film. If you've seen Scream Factory's blu-ray of The Final Terror, you know what to expect. But while pristine is always preferred, it's really not much of a problem. The flickering slowly dies down to the point where you don't notice it anymore, and it all just really serves to make it look like an old, 70s film print. And since this is such a funky, old 70s film with enough flaws baked in (some shots are soft, but I believe that's down to the original filming, not the transfer) that it all kind of fits. And compared to the old VHS-looking Troma DVD, Vinegar Syndrome's new 2k scan of the interpositive (and again, some print footage) in slightly matted 1.85 widescreen is eye-opening. It really looks like a movie, not the cheap piece of junk all the old transfers had us believing.

We get a strong DTS-HD track of the film's original mono, plus optional English HoH subs. You can bet the Troma DVD didn't include subtitles.
And oh boy, the extras are great! The Troma DVD had a bunch of stuff on it, but it was all Troma stuff and nothing to do with the film itself. Here, thankfully, it's the other way around. First up we have a great interview with the star, Toni Lawrence, who tells us the whole story of the film and the experience of working with her father. Then there's a fun interview with the composer - this film has a couple great songs in it - who talks about getting Toni to sing part of the soundtrack and how his only payment was a painting. Between the two of them, you get a real sense of what a self-made passion project this was for Marc, who was working totally off the grid.

Then there's a phone interview with the DP which plays as an audio commentary over the film. It's pretty good, but man I wish they edited it. This is the whole phone call from picking up the receiver to him pausing, not knowing what to say. And there's this recurrent technical glitch (the ghost of Troma's video glitch?) where the sound stutters and repeats for several seconds... they could've at least cut those out! But, still, with that said, it's a good interview with nice anecdotes and highlights from his earlier career, including the Ilsa film. But yeah, a tighter edit would've gone a long way.
And we haven't gotten to the best extras yet. They include the alternate openings (and one alternate ending) to the Daddy's Girl and Love Exorcism versions of the film. Now, these aren't just alternate title cards or something. These are whole, substantial sequences that Marc Lawrence made that totally change the picture. The Daddy's Girl stuff is what we saw on the old Troma DVD, with the stand-in escaping from the hospital and all. And the other one? Just what it sounds like! There's a huge exorcism scene where a doctor leads a priest to Toni Lawrence who's possessed by a demon pig! And he tries to exorcise her as stuff flies in through the window and she leaps at the men, screaming "fuck me" a la Linda Blair. It's a little on the cheap side (it's clearly black construction paper outside the window, not a night sky) totally bonkers, nothing like the rest of the picture.

We also get trailers for the film both as Pigs and the crazy Love Exorcism version. There's also a great photo gallery with vintage newspaper articles and VHS covers with all kinds of additional alternate titles, and the case has reversible artwork.
So don't mourn for Grindhouse's release, Vinegar Syndrome has delivered exactly the kind of special edition restoration those guys would've want. VS has really been blasting through the secret, respectable side of Troma's catalog with unexpectedly terrific releases, one after the other, from Christmas Evil to Luther the Geek. Well, maybe calling Luther "respectable" is a stretch, but you get what I mean. I keep hoping each month will bring an announcement of The Children, and dare we hope one day for... Rabid Grannies?

Sophie's Choice (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

So, I've been hemming and hawing to myself over whether to double-dip for Shout's blu-ray release of Sophie's Choice, but I never pulled the trigger. Then one day, I went to watch my DVD and whoops, it's not even anamorphic. So okay, definitely time to upgrade. It's got a big, new special feature and the price has come down anyway, so why not?
I feel dumb telling you guys that Sophie's Choice is a good movie, because it's an American classic. But on the other hand, looking at it from an outside and modern perspective, it kinda gives the vibe of a dusty, dull, creaky kind of thing students are forced to watch for school. You watch the trailer with Peter Macnicol talking in that heavy Southern accent and Meryl Streep moping around a brown period apartment wearing flower print sun dresses, and your mind instantly turns to pretentious local theater and you think, why would I sit down to watch that if I'm not being forced to, right?
But it's actually holds up as a really powerful, engaging movie. It's a little stiff in the beginning, admittedly. We've got a narrator telling us how we're watching him as a young man with dreams of becoming a writer moving into this quaint Southern town, and ho-hum, here we go. The weight of the first half really falls on Kevin Kline to bring this film alive, but wow is he up to the task! It was his first film, but he and Streep are amazing together and really hold the the film together. Macnicol's great, too, as the film's heart; but you really need the other two's energy. And by the time you start getting into the World War II stuff, the drama is riveting. Even if you know, without having seen the film, what Sophie's famous choice is, that doesn't really matter. It's not like The Crying Game or something where it's a critical spoiler; scenes like where she has to steal a radio from a little girl's room are just great cinema that will work on you regardless of what expectations or prejudices you bring in with you.
1998 ITC/ Artisan DVD top; 2014 Shout Factory DVD mid; 2014 Shout Factory blu bottom.
Alright, Shout Factory's release is a combo pack, that's why we've got three comparison sets here. Their DVD is naturally a standard def copy of their blu-ray and looks roughly identical but more compressed than the HD transfer, just like you'd expect. The real comparison is between the original, 1998 DVD (the only release we've had up 'till now) and the new blu. And boy, is it a big jump.

Again, the original DVD is non-anamorphic. But compared to the blu, it's also muddy, faded, dark and well, hey, at least it's not interlaced. What else could you expect? This is a 90s DVD. But it's more of a pleasant surprise to see that Shout has found more picture on all four sides. You could partly ascribe that to Shout's release being an unmatted 1.78:1 compared to the more correct AR of 1.85 (the DVD is actually more in the middle, at an unusual 1.81:1), but there's even more new picture on the sides, too. Just judged on its own, it's not an amazing blu-ray. It looks a little soft and is probably taken from an older master. I'm sure a fresh 4k scan could've been even more impressive if Shout had budgeted more for this title. But it's still a good, respectable blu-ray. And compared to our only previous option, it's an excellent jump up.
These subs are burnt in.
Audio wise, the blu-ray steps up from the DVD's Dolby 2.0 stereo with a DTS-HD track. The old DVD had optional Spanish subtitles, which Shout discarded, but they replaced those with potentially more valuable English subtitles. The German dialogue, meanwhile, has burnt in English subtitles on both versions no matter what setting you choose.
Things get interesting when you come to the extras. Both discs come with a very strong audio commentary by director Alan J. Pakula. Pakula has a lot to say, which makes for a very rewarding listen. Then the DVD has one more heavy hitter up its sleeve, an almost hour-long 'making of' documentary. This is a lot more than your usual promo featurette heavy with clips from the film and brief soundbites of all the actors saying how wonderful each other was to work with. This doc talks to the author of the novel, the composer (one of Sophie's Choice five Oscar nominations was for its score) and even interviews several actual Auschwitz survivors. It really goes above and beyond the call for a DVD extra. And besides that, there's the film's trailer, notes, and an insert with chapter stops.

The blu-ray doesn't have the documentary, though, which is a big loss. It has the commentary and the trailer, but instead of the doc, it has something new: a 46-minute round table discussion with Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Alan J. Pakula's widow Hannah Pakula, Pakula's assistant Don Laventhal and author William Styron's widow; Rose Styron. This is a really good talk, a little redundant if you've seen the other extras, but with some fresh perspectives, too. And there's a different tone to these proceedings, as they take place so many years later, and after Styron and Pakula have passed, unlike the old DVD extras. So it's nice to pick this up, but such a shame we have to lose the documentary to get it. It's really frustrating that we have to choose between them, like... well, I can't think of an apt comparison at the moment, but you know, a really hard decision where you have to choose between two things you want to keep and find equally essential.
So yes, it's worth the upgrade. Even if the DVD was anamorphic, I'd recommend double-dipping, but I especially do since it isn't. But, if you're getting this film for the first time, I'd say don't stop there. It's worth tracking down the old DVD (which can be picked up quite cheap as of this writing) for the documentary as well. Between the two, then, you've got a really strong edition. And is there still room to grow? Sure, Criterion or somebody could beef up the transfer and pack all the extras together, plus maybe some new interviews. But I wouldn't expect anything like that for a very long time. And really, this existing combo works out pretty well.

Hideous Beast Whose Craft Had Seduced Me Into Murder: The Black Cat (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Last year, Arrow released a big, fancy box set of two Italian horror films: Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key and The Black Cat, two very loose adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe's famous short story. Fancy but also pricey; and while Your Vice... is an interesting movie and definitely worth a watch, I only really wanted the Fulci film. So I waited, and happily, this Spring, Arrow has released The Black Cat as a stand alone blu in both the US and UK, and it's not even missing any of the features from the set!
So, how out of whack with Lucio's film from Poe's story? Well, a good deal, naturally, but maybe not as much as you'd expect. All the barebones and iconic images are basically in here. Guy has a weird relationship with his cat, hangs it in a little noose, there's a fire and the cat's shadow is burnt into the wall, guy kills a lady and walls her up, and the cats here the cat mewing behind the wall and the guy is found out. All that follows through. But for a full-length film, you've gotta flesh things out, so there are a couple more characters who get killed, a more convoluted story and there's a little more mystery. Now horror icon Patrick Magee is the cat owner, and a medium who talks to the dead. He still goes after his (now ex)wife, but also her kids, and whoever in the village who he feels has wronged him. Mimsey Farmer (Four Flies On Grey Velvet) is an American photographer who stumbles into his spree and Fulci icons David Warbeck and Al Cliver are the cops on the case. Oh, and this time the cat isn't just the victim of its owner's cruelty, it goes around hypnotizing people and murdering them on his behalf. That's a big change.
It's also a big part of the fun, though. If there was one reason to go to the theaters and see this movie, it was to watch a cat kill people. My favorite scene has always been when the cat manages to open a heavy, gated door in pursuit of a local villager. So what if literary purists might get mad, Fulci's a people pleaser, and he's gonna give us what we want. There's a lot of great atmosphere to this film. It may not be as bonkers as House By the Cemetery or City of the Living Dead, but it's got a great style to it. The locations are spot on and the soundtrack, particularly the main theme - this time by Pino Donaggio rather than Fulci regular Fabio Frizzi - is evocative, even if it isn't very Fulciesque. Magee is a perfect Poe villain right out of the box, even if our hero characters are a little dull. It doesn't have the great, outrageous moments of his best work, but it's a stylish and entertaining little horror film, and you can recognize a lot of the maestro's signature touches. It's a good time just so long as you don't tie it down with too many Fulci-specific expectations.
I was after Arrow's blu-ray because my old 1990s DVD from EC was in serious need of an upgrade. Most fans would've already replaced it with the 2001 anamorphic DVD from Anchor Bay, or the 2007 reissue from Blue Underground, but their being completely barebones left me too apathetic to bite. So when Arrow announced their special edition, I was ready. So I've got my old EC disc and now the new 2016 Arrow blu, plus I even borrowed a copy of the Blue Underground DVD, so we can see just how this film's come along.
EC DVD top; Blue Underground DVD mid; Arrow blu-ray bottom.
Oh boy, look what an upgrade I got, jumping from EC to Arrow! Others got some decent mid-ground in the middle with their AB/BU DVDs, but there's still no question Arrow's is the new king by a large margin. I mean, let's look at this. EC's is non-anamorphic, interlaced, and almost looks like a widescreen videotape that's been digitally compressed on disc. It also has less picture on all four sides than the BU DVD, clocking in at about 2.08:1 instead of the film's proper 2.35. The BU DVD is anamorphic, non-interlaced and a lot clearer, but it's still not as detailed or clear as Arrow's blu, and Arrow has managed to uncover even more picture on all four sides than BU, particularly horizontally. You could actually make a case for BU having a nicer array of colors than Arrow (both of course trumping EC's, which look downright muddy), but it's no match for the clarity of image which really brings this picture to life, replacing digital noise with authentic film grain.

Audio-wise, Arrow's DTS-HD track is of course the best for being lossless, but they have another major advantage in this department: they provide both the English and Italian versions. The previous editions only featured the English dub and no subtitles. But Arrow has both and two subtitle options: English and English HoH, so fans should be happy about that.
Another reason to be happy is the extras. Anchor Bay and Blue Underground came with nothing but the trailer, which was pretty disappointing. Even EC had done better - they included the trailer, as well as a 46 minute Q&A with Fulci and Warbeck from 1994's Eurofest. Plus, it had a photo gallery and a nice fold-insert with alternate artwork and Fulci's filmography. But don't go our of your way to dig up a copy of the EC disc now, that same Q&A - all 46 minutes of it - was later included on Grindhouse's blu-ray of The Beyond. So get that instead.  8)

Now, Arrow really delivers a nice special edition. First up is an interview with film critic Stephen Thrower, who really hits it out of the park. This is one of the best talks of this nature I've seen on a disc outside of The Criterion Collection. He is very informed, with all kinds of details not only of this film, but Poe's original story and other film adaptations of The Black Cat, and he brings it all together into a really fascinating listen.
...There is one little point I'd disagree with him on, though. He points out that in the film version, a lot of the kills are somewhat random, just people on Magee's hit list because they're villagers, and he seems to resent everyone around him. But I think the film takes more time to establish motives than he noticed. He kills his ex (similar to the original story), and the kids in the boathouse are her children that she had with the man she left him for. And the guy who falls onto the spikes was the guy who always talked about him in the pub, disparaging Magee and warning people away from him. Then Farmer and Warbeck, of course, are getting too close to uncovering his guilt. The only victim not fully explained is the one in the opening credits, but even there we know there's something going on there, because Magee goes to his grave to talk to him later in the film. But that's a nitpick of a great discussion. I only bring it up because I was so engaged. When I read the list of extras for this, I thought, "eh, okay, an expert chat's better than nothing," but I was really pleasantly surprised.

Then Thrower takes us into the next featurette, one I was looking forward to more, and which turns out to be equally enjoyable: he takes us on a tour of the film's locations. It turns out the real life village is just as interesting as it appears in the film. Next is an on-camera interview with actress Dagmar Lassander, which is a little dry as it covers her whole career. But she's interesting, and they do splice in an extra phone interview to include her comments on her death scene in this film. And for the last of Thrower's pieces, there's a very long (70+ minutes!) interview with David Warbeck. He of course passed away in the 90s, so this is a nice vintage discovery. Filmed at his home, it does get a little excessive at the end when they start pontificating about censorship, but most of it's really interesting, and Warbeck is a very charming raconteur. So definitely check it out, but if you start getting antsy, you could turn it off before the last fifteen minutes or so without missing out on much.
Besides all of that, the trailer's here, too, plus reversible artwork and an all new audio commentary by Chris Alexander of Fangoria. This one I would just characterize as "better than nothing." On his commentary for Contamination, he seemed really enthusiastic, an informed champion of the film. But now on Nightmare City and Black Cat, he doesn't have much to say. He's informed enough to give us the basics, but admits he hasn't seen the film in a long time, and so he's just watching it with us, unprepared, almost treating it like it's his personal podcast. Yeah, he lets us know at the top that he's never going to get "too fussy with this stuff" on his commentaries, and I appreciate that it's not one of those 'awkward scholar reading a 90-minute essay' tracks; but instead we wind up learning more about him than the film. He goes on about things like how much he prefers his friend's new film to the recent horror film The Editor, and how he can get movie stars on the phone any time he wants.

On Contamination, he knew lots of obscure facts and had talked to the filmmakers, and yeah it was still pretty casual and drifted into a few indulgent tangents, but you got a lot out of it and wanted to follow his lines of thought. Here we get TMI about why he doesn't find Mimsey Farmer sexually attractive and a complete history of his career that you just want to walk out of the room during. I don't want to over-sell its faults; it's not terrible. He does talk more about The Black Cat than anything else, makes some good observations and it's worth listening to if you already own the disc. But maybe in future, Arrow should just bring him in for films he's particularly interested in.
I'm very pleased with this disc and really recommend it. If I already owned one of the anamorphic DVDs, I might not have bothered with this, since it's not one of Fulci's wildest. But I'm glad I have it now, because many of the extras were better than expected, and seeing this film presented so well, including the Italian language option, actually got me to appreciate the film more. And it's one I already enjoyed. This is the kind special edition this film has always deserved and we're just finally getting in 2016. Next stop: Blue Underground's Manhattan Baby!

You Better Watch Out for Christmas Evil! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Christmas Evil is a surprisingly good entry into the holiday horror pantheon. Yeah, this is slow (and if you got it from Netflix, the print wasn't too pretty), but man... I was constantly surprised by how effective it was. It's hard to believe this came out well before Silent Night, Deadly Night, given how much that one seems to owe to this flick. In short, it's like Silent Night meets Maniac, focusing on the killer as the lead character and studying his growing dementia. You keep thinking "okay, I know exactly where this is going," then it surprises you by being better and more dramatically compelling each time.
This is the story of Harry (Brandon Maggart), a man who loves Christmas like no other. He has advent calendars on the walls, he dances around his apartment to jingle, dresses up as Santa Claus and even checks up on the local neighborhood kids to see if they've been naughty or nice. And by "checks up," I mean he watches them through their bedroom windows with binoculars. Yeah, there's something wrong with this guy and everybody knows it, especially his frustrated, put upon brother. But Harry manages to maintain his job at the toy factory, so everybody just leaves him to his own devices. But this Christmas, people's cynical and selfish treading on the holiday spirit is going to push him too far, and he's going to have to take the Yule into his own hands. He's ready to take on the mantle of Santa Claus himself, and make the people celebrate right if it kills them.
Yeah, it's cheap and looks it, but seeing one of the later restorations goes a long way to making it look more professional and deliberate. But it's still a far cry from a glossy studio film. This is more of an independent character study of madness and a fun, twisted holiday story. But it's not bloody; it's not even really a slasher. I'm not even sure this film needs its R rating. But it's smart, well acted and clearly made by a filmmaker who cared about what he was creating, which sets it well apart from most of its peers. And as dingy as it might look, got some decent production values when it needs them. Also, the ending is surprisingly terrific! No way you'll see it coming unless the marketing spoils it for you, so be careful watching trailers or even looking at posters for this one.
Now, there have been a number of DVD releases for this title, which as you can see, we're about to delve into big time. But one important distinction to note is that the 2006 DVD from Synapse is a new director's cut of the film. All previous releases were of the theatrical and traditional home video cut that played on TV and VHS. And now all subsequent releases are this new director's cut.

So what's the difference, you might ask? Not much. The title card has been changed from Christmas Evil to You Better Watch Out. Then the biggest difference is that one scene, at about 15:20, has been cut. It's the bit where Harry starts getting delusional and cutting himself on the assembly line. Yes, the director's cut is shorter and missing footage, not the other way around. And that's basically it, except for a few frame trims at the ends of a couple scenes. The most obvious one is at 27:50, where the director's cut's shot of Harry walking down the street towards camera has him taking about three steps less. The only noticeable cut is that assembly line scene, and I don't even get the point of that. The main complaint this film gets is that it's too slow or boring. And yeah, this really isn't the kind of movie for seekers of easy, short-attention-spanning thrills. But it works as a slow burn if you like that kind of thing. And if you don't, then then cutting just that one scene and a few odd frames certainly isn't going to change anybody's minds.
Christmas Evil used to lie in the muck of pseudo-public domain unenforced copyright Hell. There's plenty of cheap, grey market discs of this title, including in those 50 horror movie packs. In fact, I've got one of those for us tonight. Remember when I posted about the uncut version of Final Terror being on that dollar bin DVD double-feature from East West? Well, the other half of that double-feature was, you guessed it, Christmas Evil. But it was actually Troma that gave us the first special edition release of this title in 2000, and you can just imagine what it means when Lloyd Kaufman describes their edition as "lovingly mastered" in his introduction. But it was finally Synapse that restored Christmas Evil to its rightful owners (getting it taken off those 50 packs) and remastering it for the first time in its correct aspect ratio in 2006. And most recently, in 2014, Vinegar Syndrome gave it a brand new 4k scan for its blu-ray debut, and including all the extras from both the Troma and Synapse DVDs. So is there any reason to hang onto the older releases? Let's take a look!

Oh yeah, and Vinegar Syndrome's release is a combo pack, so we've got both DVD and blu-ray disc to examine there.
1) East West DVD, 2) Troma DVD, 3) Synapse DVD,
4) Vinegar Syndrome DVD, 5) Vinegar Syndrome blu-ray
So, there you go. Troma's special edition looks exactly like the grey market PD discs that came before it: fullframe, tape-sourced and even interlaced (it's a still shot, so it's not too obvious, but you can see it in the first set of shots). But at least it's open matte, so it's not really losing much on the sides. It's just boxy and misframed.

Synapse corrects that and provides a far superior widescreen image. They do actually manage to find a little extra info on the sides, but it's mostly about matting the tops and bottoms. But the real improvement is how clear and defined the image is, as opposed to the soft, smudgy mess of the old transfers. Christmas Evil no longer looks like it was shot on video; it's an actual film.
upper left: Troma, lower left: Synapse, upper right: VS DVD, lower right: VS blu.
But Vinegar Syndrome has found even more room to grow. This isn't just Synapse's transfer slapped onto an HD disc (although that wouldn't have been anything to complain about), it's a new 4k scan of 35mm elements, which I would say pulls out a little more detail and clarity, although a lot of that could just be down to the higher BD compression. Still, even though it gets to the point what's additional detail and what's grain, there's no question we see the most on the new blu. We can finally make out these kids' eyes. And this new transfer, which keeps the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, finds even more picture on the left, right and bottom. It also has a little more natural color timing, which kind of harkens back to the older editions; although those are bleeding messes, so it's hard to say. But you can see Synapse is decidedly warmer than the VS in the first set of shots, and cooler in the second.

Synapse did a good job cleaning up the old hissy mono tracks of the past DVDs with their Dolby 2.0 mono. But Vinegar Syndrome naturally trumps that with its lossless DTS-HD Master audio mono. None of these releases include subtitles, though, unfortunately. If you need those, you can import the Arrow DVD, which by all accounts is essentially a PAL copy of the Synapse DVD.
The one thing Troma did right was extras. The East West DVD of course has nothing, like all the other grey market releases, not even a trailer. Now yes, Troma's disc is full of junky Troma trailers, Kaufman interviewing a young man pretending to be mentally retarded and a "radiation dance." But it's also got good stuff, actually related to the film. Somebody there cared enough to put in the effort and expense to secure an audio commentary with the director Lewis Jackson and star Maggart. And they also recorded separate on-camera interviews with each of them; they're a little junky, but good. This disc also has a collection of storyboards and audience comment cards from the film's initial screening. And while the fold-out insert is mostly a catalog of other Troma DVDs, one side is dedicated to the film and its extras, which is nice. Troma also has the best cover, if you ask me. I mean, what is going on with VS's cover? There are no goblins in this movie!

Synapse couldn't get Troma's extras for their release of the director's cut, unfortunately (except for the storyboards and comment cards), but they did come up with a bunch more great stuff. They recorded a new audio commentary with Jackson to more or less replace the older one. And then they got another one with John Waters, who is apparently a huge fan of this film. So that's fun. And Synapse also has a nice insert with a personal note from the director. Then they include several deleted scenes (including the assembly line scene taken out of the director's cut) and over 25-minutes of audition footage. What's cool about that is we don't just see early readings by the stars of the film, which is interesting in itself, but auditions by many actors who didn't get roles in the film, including some pretty famous people like Larry Pine, David Rasche and JoBeth Williams!
Happily, Vinegar Syndrome has managed to round up all of the extras from both the Troma and Synapse releases. Admittedly, the three commentaries get pretty redundant, but none of us should have to choose between the input of Brandon Maggart or John Waters - we need it all! And we get it, although be careful if you're one of those guys who sells the DVD half of combo packs to offset the costs of the blu-ray, because VS put many of the extras only on the DVD copy. Now, HD couldn't have done anything to help Troma's video interviews or the old audition tapes anyway, but unfortunately that means the deleted scenes are SD only (and on top of that, like on the Synapse DVD, they're interlaced). So if you want to composite an ultimate theatrical cut, it's gonna be imperfect.  :P  One neat plus of the VS set, though, is they've finally included the trailer. No other release has had it, and yeah a trailer's just a trailer, but VS has done a high-end 4k scan of it, so it looks great.
So, at the end of the day, I kind of prefer the original cut to the director's cut, but the difference is minimal enough that it's not worth forgoing the excellent quality of Vinegar Syndrome's blu-ray, with its definitive transfer and collection of special features. It's the ultimate release I'd never thought we'd see for this offbeat little flick. But you know that East West DVD only costs a dollar, and it gives you both the uncut Final Terror and the longer version of Christmas Evil, and it retails for literally just one dollar (it's 65 cents on Amazon as of this writing!), so you might want to scoop that up on the side if you're a completionist like me.