Albert Brooks' Modern Comedy Classic, Lost In America (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I almost feel guilty doing another Criterion post so shortly after my big Criterion Catch-Up run, but hey, this is a brand new Criterion release of one of my all-time favorite films.  What am I, gonna sit on this and wait 'till it gets old to cover it?  They've finally replaced our barebones Warner Bros DVD with this long-awaited, HD debut of Albert Brooks' modern comedy classic, Lost In America.  And TL;DR?  It's perfect; go get it.
1985's Lost In America is Brooks third feature film as writer/ director (he'd been doing comedy and acting in films like Taxi Driver and Private Benjamin well before then).  As far as I'm concerned, they're all masterpieces; but if we had to boil his filmography down to a single pinnacle, this would be it.  Brooks plays an LA advertising executive who gets passed over for a promotion and so, insulted and inspired by the film Easy Rider, convinces his wife (the great Julie Haggerty) to drop out of society with him and live life on the road.  First stop: Las Vegas, where Haggerty immediately gambles away their life savings and they have to face the fact that they may have just blown the American dream.
Brooks was originally commissioned to write this film (with co-writer Monica Johnson) for ABC; but according to a 1983 article for Playboy Magazine, they passed on it for being not sufficiently commercial.  He said, "hell for me would be a place where I'd be given a huge budget and be told to make a movie to please Gene Shalit."  But Lost In America is hardly some underground punk film; it's a perfectly accessible and universally relatable comic pass on life in America as Vacation or Annie Hall.  Brooks and Haggerty are perfect in their push and pull relationship across the country, and Gary Marshall has a terrific cameo role.
Warner Bros released this as an acceptable (widescreen, anamorphic) but barebones DVD back in 2001 ("crapper snapper" case and all), and did little else with it except reissuing that same edition as a DV-R for their Warner Archives collection in 2015.  I've got the original 2001 DVD for this comparison.  But now finally, Criterion has given it the special edition release it's always deserved with their 2017 blu.
Warner Bros 2001 DVD on top; Criterion 2017 blu on the bottom.
Criterion gives Lost In America a fresh 2k scan from new 35mm interpositive.  The framing looks pretty similar, but the WB disc left the picture open at 1.78:1, where Criterion mattes it down to the exactly correct 1.85:1 ratio.  Because they pick up a tiny sliver on the sides, they wind up losing only a sliver vertically, so casual viewers would probably never even notice the difference.  What you're more likely to notice is the authentic grain and sharper image of this clearer HD image, although there isn't that much more actual detail to pull out of the IP.  But it's certainly clearer and more attractive, helped too by some improved color-timing, which clears up an unfortunate red push on the old disc.

Warner's audio track was pretty strong and clear on the original DVD, with optional English, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.  Criterion brings the original mono track to lossless LPCM with optional English subtitles.
So, like I said, Warner Bros' DVD was barebones.  It had the trailer, and that was it.  It wasn't even a particularly special trailer (Albert Brooks often made creative trailers with all original footage for his films; but not this one).  For a great American comedy, that's just sad.  But Criterion has come through.  First up is a half-hour interview with the man himself.  We also get twelve minute interviews with Haggerty and executive producer Herb Nanas.  Finally, there's a great interview on Brooks' career by (no relation) James L. Brooks, who featured Albert in most of his work, from Broadcast News to The Simpsons.  Then there's also the trailer and a fold out insert with an essay by critic Scott Tobias.
Those features might still sound a little light (no commentary, etc), but considering Albert Brooks wore so many of the key hats on this production, and Monica Johnson has sadly passed on; this winds up feeling quite thorough and satisfactory.  Really, this is everything Brooks fans have been wanting.  A brand new, HD scan and a cool selection of terrific extras.  Now, hopefully Criterion will continue to take us through the rest of Brooks' brilliant catalog and give equal treatment to Real Life, Modern Romance, Defending Your LifeMother, The Muse and maybe even Looking for Comedy In the Muslim World, so we can finally die happy (Update 9/19/19: two down; four more to go!).

Finally, The Warlock Films from Vestron

Yes, I have been waiting for this one for a very long time!  Warlock is a pretty major horror film.  Maybe not quite on the level of Dracula or The Exorcist; but certainly one of the best known, highly regarded, successful horror flicks that's still never had a special edition.   In fact, in the US. all we've had is a hideous, fullscreen, barebones DVD (more on that below) from Trimark.  But finally, thanks to Lions Gate Vestron line continuing to do justice to their long-neglected catalog titles, it's a packed, special edition blu-ray.  And it's packed with the sequels, too!

Update 7/12/18: Just to be more thorough, I've added the Warlock 3 DVD to the comparisons.  Seeing it really makes you appreciate Vestron's blu!
1989's Warlock is as much a fantasy adventure as it is a horror film.  You really feel the production values as two 17th century nemeses chase each other into modern times in this thoroughly eccentric battle of good and evil.  The star power is evenly split between Julian Sands (Boxing Helena, A Room With a View) as Satan's cunning servant, and Richard E. Grant (Withnail & I, Twelfth Night) as his sort of Van Helsing expert witch hunter.  Caught between them is Footloose's Lori Singer as a cheerful valley girl who's forced to pursue the warlock across the country after he curses her with an aging spell.  Besides, if they don't stop him, he's going to end the world.
Sands is super cool as one of horror's great villains, and there's so much fun to be had from a smart script that plays with a wide variety of witchcraft law, from hex signs to nailing footprints.  It stays a little darker and more serious than director Steve Miner's previous horror masterwork, House, but there's more than your usual dollop of humor in both the characters and the situations.  But thankfully everyone's smart enough to play it with a straight face, particularly Grant, who brings enough talent to keep a character grounded that would veer much too far off into the silly in another actor's hands.  And speaking of great actors, we've also got Mary Woronov (Eating RaoulScenes From the Class Struggle In Beverly Hills) in a great cameo as a psychic who Sands pays a visit on to get acclimated in the modern world.  There's just too much to enjoy in this film; you don't want it to end.
a glimpse of the deleted scene from the trailer
Now, speaking of Woronov's character, we fans have to ask with every Warlock release if this will restore her lost death scene.  There's only ever been one cut of the film released, theatrically or on home video, but it's well known that Miner shot a wild, effects-heavy death for Woronov that had to be cut out for their R rating.  Pictures were posted in Fangoria, heck, there's a snippet of it in the film's theatrical trailer.  Well, before this set's release, I reached out to Michael Felsher, head of Red Shirt Pictures, about this scene and he responded, "[w]e looked extensively for this scene but could not find it, but the Bluray does contains several photos and behind-the-scenes FX video that show images from that sequence.  Wish we could have found the whole thing."  So no, sad to say that scene's not here; but at least we now know that footage is truly lost, and it's not just a case of Trimark being too disinterested to reinstate it.  ...And we get a pretty good look at it now in the special features.
So, like I said, here in the US we've been suffering with Trimark's 2000 fullscreen, barebones DVD as our sole release of Warlock.  I mean, just look at it down there below.  At least, overseas, there were some equally barebones but restored widescreen editions.  In fact, I've got Second Sight's UK DVD from 2011, so we can add that to the comparison.  There have been barebones blu-rays, too, in places like Australia and Germany.  But those have been rendered fairly obsolete now, thanks to Vestron's fancy, 2017 2-disc 3-film Collector's Series blu-ray set that's just being released this week.
2000 US Trimark DVD top; 2011 UK Second Sight DVD mid; 2017 Vestron blu bottom.
So wow, yeah.  For anybody who can't or won't import, this couldn't be any more essential of an upgrade.  Look at that ugly, dark, 1.30:1 Trimark disc.  It looks like it's ripped from a fuzzy laserdisc that was itself pulled off a tape.  The only positive thing to say about it is that, because it's fullscreen, the vertical mattes are lifted and we get more picture information on the top and bottom.  But it's all excessive, with crazy headroom, boxy framing, and all at the cost of lost information chopped off the sides.  This new Vestron blu, though, is clearly not sourced from a new master.   It's a respectable HD picture, but not on the same level as the fancy 4k masters we've been getting recently like with Arrow's Phenomena and Studio Canal's Mulholland Drive.  Comparing it to the Second Sight DVD, it seems to be the same 1.85:1 master that all the modern discs have been sourced from.  Of course, Second Sight's release being a DVD means Vestron's is superior by virtue of being a cleaner, stronger image.  The only other difference seems to be that Vestron's looks to be a bit better color corrected, which is nice.  But yeah, Vestron seems to have a strong "if it ain't broke" policy to their transfers, so this is perfectly fine but short of impressive.  Unless you're comparing it to the Trimark DVD, of course, in which case it's a friggin' revelation.

Audio-wise, both DVDs have fairly basic Dolby stereo tracks.  Trimark at least gave us optional English and Spanish subtitles, which Second Sight neglected.  Vestron bumps that stereo mix up to lossless DTS-HD and, as always, provides optional English and Spanish subtitles.  I think the Spanish subs are new for Vestron?
Extras is where Vestron is really playing to win.  Trimark's DVD was barebones with nothing but the trailer and a pair of bonus trailers, and Second Sight didn't even have that, managing to take that extra step backwards.  But Lions Gate has again brought in the excellent Red Shirt Pictures to create something really great.  We get a terrific audio commentary by director Steve Miner, moderated by Nathaniel Thompson, and another one of their patented score tracks, which plays the film's soundtrack for the first half and interviews the composer.  Though in this case, the interview is with author Jeff Bond, who writes books about film scores - an understandable substitution, since Warlock has a score by none other than Jerry Goldsmith.  Then Steve Miner gives us an additional on-camera interview, as does star Julian Sands (who totally spoils Warlock 2, so watch that first!), as well as make-up effects artists Carl Fullerton and Neal Martz.

Then there's the aforementioned "behind-the-scenes FX" stuff Mr. Felsher mentioned.  In fact, there's a wealth of vintage material here: vintage effects featurette, vintage making of featurette, vintage on-set interviews, behind-the-scenes footage...  And you might think, okay, little throw-away promo featurettes, big whoop; but one of these runs as long as 41 minutes(!), so they cover a lot of ground.  There are also two different trailers, a couple TV spots, and a photo gallery.  The only frustrating thing about all this archival material is if the studio already had all this, why wasn't any of it on the DVD?  FFS, Trimark.  Oh well, the past is past, and now we've got all this great old and new Warlock content.
Our favorite male witch returns in 1993's sequel Warlock: Armageddon, directed by Anthony Hickox.  Hickox seems to take a lot of flack from horror fans, but his films are always a lot of fun without shying away from the dark side, so I'm a fan.  And he does a great job with the warlock character.  Unfortunately, Richard E. Grant wasn't interested in sticking around for sequels, but Sands is more than able to shoulder the extra weight and carry even more of the film himself.  This time around, he has to collect some magical gems to resurrect Satan, and Hickox manages to make each trip feel like a distinct little film: the high-end fashion world, the crazy circus world.  It's almost like an anthology film all tied together by a through-put narrative of Sands' quest and our heroes training to stop him.
That does bring us to Armageddon's weakest spot.  The elders who reunite once they hear of the warlock's return are fun, feeling a lot like Patrick Macnee's gang in the Waxwork films.  But their young charges, including Hellraiser 3's Paula Marshall, are on some awful milquetoast teeny bopper Dawson's Creek vibe.  You just want them to die horribly, but you know they won't.  So this film isn't as consistent as the original Warlock, but the original film's tone meshes perfectly with Hickox's sensibilities, and the high points really are great.  I mean, Sands' introduction in this film may owe a small debt to Xtro, but it's fantastic, even outshining anything seen in the first film.  And it's topped off with a great cameo by Zach Galligan.  Warlock: Armageddon is like the dictionary definition of "worthy sequel."
Like the first Warlock, Trimark released part two as a barebones DVD 2000, though at least it was widescreen this time.  And again, that was all we ever got in America.  Germany did put out a barebones blu-ray in 2015, but by the time that started making its way stateside, I think most of us were holding out for this Vestron set.
Trimark 2000 US DVD on top; Vestron 2017 US blu-ray below.
So Trimark did better with this film, giving us an anamorphic widescreen transfer.  But looking at it recently, it's pretty murky.  It was slightly windowboxed to a ratio of 1.82:1, losing a bit on all four sides compared to Vestron's 1.78:1 blu.  Again, it's a little soft and looks like an older master with a slightly dull palette.  I haven't seen it, but I assume the German blu is from the same source, which Lions Gate probably made even years earlier than that.  But again, hey, compared to the DVD we'd been stuck with, it's a huge leap forward in terms of clarity and color.  The Trimark disc looks like you're viewing the Vestron disc through wax paper.

Trimark again gave us a good Dolby 2.0 stereo mix with optional subtitles (including English, Spanish and French).  And Vestron again bumps that stereo track up to DTS-HD and gives us optional English and Spanish subtitles.  A lot of labels skimp on the subtitles, so I'm happy to see Vestron being so consistent on that front.
Red Shirt really poured all their love into the first Warlock, but not so much the sequels.  But since they already recorded commentaries with Hickox for the Waxwork films, I just knew they couldn't leave us hanging here.  And thankfully they didn't.  It's another fun (and in this case funny) audio commentary from Hickox, who's surprisingly forthcoming about what he feels doesn't work in this film, which is a lot ...and in the case of some of those prehistoric CGI shots and dippy teen "Jedi" scenes, it's hard to disagree.  But that commentary's all the new content we get.
However, we do get more vintage material.  The old DVD featured nothing but the trailer, and that's been ported over here.  But we also get a vintage 'making of' featurette, on-set interviews, behind the scenes footage, TV spots and a stills gallery.  Again, I can't help but wonder why we never got this stuff on the DVD.  Heck, I probably would've coughed it up to import the German blu if they'd slapped it on there.  But oh well, we've got it all now, and that's all that matters.
Now, I was tempted to refer to these films as the Warlock trilogy in this post title, but I couldn't bring myself to do it because of this film.  1999's Warlock III: The End of Innocence's most overt crime is carrying on without Julian Sands.  That would be like making a Freddy Krueger film without Robert Englund or a Pinhead without Doug Bradley.  Yeah, I know they actually did both of those things, but looked how they turned out.

But actually, Sands' replacement Bruce Payne is the best thing about this film.  He's not quite as good as Julian, but he comes reasonably close enough, or at least as good as they could've hoped to manage.  No, what's so off-putting about this film is just about everything else.  It's a lame story that feels as much like a Skinemax softcore flick as a tale of witchcraft.  It's got the worst bunch of wannabe MTV rejects for character fodder, and it's all set in one lame, haunted house set to try to deal with its budgetary problems.  This was shot in a foreign country trying to pass for America, and it certainly shows.
In fact, it was shot in Ireland, and I think they should've owned that.  Run around, shoot all the interesting and old world-y locations they could.  That would've at least given this film some production values and unique character.  All they used was a tiny bit of woods, which frankly, I could match just by shooting next to the railroad tracks in my hometown.  This movie has no direct connection to the previous Warlock films anyway (another failing), so why not make it an Irish warlock with some unique lore to spice things up a bit?  Instead they're tucked away in an obvious set trying to look as generic as possible, so Blockbuster Video patrons in America don't get a whiff of it being foreign.  Seriously, Ashley Lawrence walked away from the Hellraiser films to make this?  And Mikey?
Honestly, though, until seeing the blu-ray, I'd only ever seen this film on VHS.  And rediscovering it now in its proper aspect ratio and decent picture quality, actually helps it some.  The film actually has a decent, if modest, look to it that was lost on the fullscreen video, and even the special effects look better than I remember them.  They're not amazing, but like that fire effect and all?  Not so shabby.  It's not a good movie, but it's not as offensively bad as I remember.  It's more just mediocre, but kind of nice to have in this set if you think of it as more of an extra itself rather than a whole third movie.  You know, watch it as a curiosity piece for Warlock fans and round out the collection.

No comparisons here, because I never copped Warlock 3 on DVD because it's Warlock 3.  The comparison's here now!  Trimark put it out in 2000 (in fact, they issued all three Warlock films on the same day: September 12th).  And there are no HD imports for this one.  Vestron's set is The End of Innocence's blu-ray debut.
Trimark's 2000 US DVD top; Vestron's 2017 US blu bottom.
Like Armageddon, The End of Innocence is open matte at 1.78:1 instead of 1.85:1.  It looks like a slightly older master, too, like the other films (and most Vestron titles), but maybe a little nicer... possibly just because it's a slightly more modern film.  Grain resolution still isn't what one would hope, but it's a bit better than Armageddon.  You'll certainly be singing its praises if you've been living with the DVD, though.  Matted to 1.82:1, the DVD actually has less information around all four sides.  But the real story is the soft, blocky lack of detail compared to the blu.  It's non-anamorphic, too, which really doesn't help, and the color palette is much more compressed.  Seeing the blu-ray after years of that is like lifting a thick veil.

Ever consistent, Vestron again gives us the Dolby Stereo track in DTS-HD with optional English and Spanish subtitles. The same stereo track is on the DVD, but not in DTS of course, and it also has optional English and Spanish subs, as well as French.
Warlock 3 has no new Red Shirt features, which is understandable but disappointing.  A commentary or a few interviews where the a couple of the cast or crew gave an honest retrospective about this film might've been more interesting than the movie itself.  But we do get another nice collection of vintage EPK stuff again, at least.  This time, their on-set interviews run almost 45 minutes long!  Yeah, it's a lot of fluff, softball promotional Q&A, but at least they cover some extra ground, and some interesting moments pop up here and there.  There's also a brief but interesting bit of behind-the-scenes footage, plus a trailer, a promo video, and a stills gallery.  Oh, and like all Vestron releases, this set comes in a spiffy slipcover.

The DVD had nothing but the trailer and a couple bonus trailers if you clicked the Trimark logo.
So at the end of the day, I'm grinning to be holding this set.  I've been waiting decades for a special edition of the Warlock films, and it's finally here.  And while the HD presentations warranted a little nitpicking, they're far from cutting edge, but they're still respectable blus.  Like if I was in the business of giving letter grades, these would be in the B-range, not in danger of failing ...unlike those dirty Trimark DVDs.  Thank goodness we're replacing them.  I hope this Vestron line never ends, because there's so many more titles Lions Gate is sitting on, including a couple I've written about already, like Nightwish and Eyes of Fire.  But today I'm just happy the Warlock films have finally come home.

Too Many Blus: Argento's Inferno (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

1980's Inferno is officially my favorite Dario Argento film, and I've been itching to take a look at it on this site for a while.  Arrow put out a blu-ray, Blue Underground put out a blu-ray, and then a year later, Camera Obscura put out a blu-ray they'd been promising for years would be the superior, definitive edition.  Transfer controversies, unique extras, expensive imports.  How does it all shake down?  I can't live not knowing with absolute certainty, so let's break it down.
Inferno is the sequel to Argento's Suspiria, and it's a rare thing to rank a sequel above an original.  I doubt many of you would back me on that; and I'll admit the original may be a little classier, and it was more innovative for its time, just by virtue of having come out first.  Plus, that main theme by Goblin is possibly the greatest horror movie theme of all time.  But I prefer Argento stepping on the gas a little harder over the original's classier airs, and it's hard for me to get behind all those grown women playing roles written for little girls.  So for me it's Inferno all the way.  More dream logic, more adult characters, equally stunning visuals including the brilliant underwater sequence and a far-out ending.  Plus, Emerson Lake and Palmer provide just about the only score that could ever follow-up Suspiria's and not feel like a knock-off or a let-down.
Anchor Bay gave Inferno its DVD debut in 2000, with a pretty solid, anamorphic widescreen edition, with at least a couple of respectable extras.  Blue Underground re-released it in 2007, but it was essentially the same disc.  Nobody really stepped up to give Inferno the treatment it deserved until Arrow came out in 2010, with their 30th Anniversary 2-disc set (later reissued as a single disc version in 2013, and a single disc steelbook in 2014).  Then Blue Underground came through with their special edition in 2011, as separate DVD and Blu-ray releases.  Meanwhile though, since 2009, Camera Obscura had been putting out the word to fans to hold off and wait for their edition, which would be the ultimate.  And they finally came out with their 3-disc mediabook in 2012.  But is there really such a clear winner?
1) Anchor Bay 2000 DVD, 2) Arrow 2010 Blu, 3) Blue Underground 2011 DVD,
4) Blue Underground 2011 Blu, 5) Camera Obscura 2012 DVD, 6) Camera Obscura 2012 Blu.
Oh boy, where to begin?  Aspect ratio is usually a good place, I guess.  Every release is basically 1.85:1.  The original Anchor Bay DVD is a little extra-cropped, coming in at 1.83:1, and the framing is a smidgen off.  Arrow and Blue Underground, then, are the same, both at 1.85:1, but while Camera Obscura is also exactly 1.85:1, it actually has little extra picture on all four sides.  And admittedly, extra picture around the sides isn't always entirely good news, but in this case nothing seems wrong with it.  So I'll chalk it up as a small advantage for CO, but hardly a big deal.  Now let's talk detail and picture quality.
1) Arrow Blu, 2) Blue Underground Blu, 3) Camera Obscura Blu.
Okay, it goes without saying that the DVD versions are all softer and lower resolution (although the newer DVDs are distinctly sharper and clearer than the old Anchor Bay DVD; there is a very obvious distinction there), so let's just zero in on the blus.  And... there's really not a lot of difference, actually.  I'm guessing these discs are all sourced from the same root master, and it's just a question of how each label worked with it for their discs.  In that regard, Arrow loses, looking softer than the rest, even lightly DNR'd.  But the grain isn't exactly popping in any of these.  These aren't the fancy 2 or 4k scans newer blus have gotten us used to.  It's a strong master, but not on the same level as Arrow's recent Phenomena recent limited edition.  So, here Blue Underground and Camera Obscura are pretty much tied.  But I mentioned "transfer controversies," right?  Let's talk color.
1) Anchor Bay DVD, 2) Arrow Blu, 3) Blue Underground DVD,
4) Blue Underground Blu, 5) Camera Obscura DVD, 6) Camera Obscura Blu.
Some shots are pretty close, but the above is far from the only example where the colors vary wildly on certain editions.  And by "certain editions," I pretty much mean just Blue Underground's.  Suddenly that tunnel has a super strong green overcast.  Okay, sure, Anchor Bay's is also a bit red; but Blue Underground's shots look like they're from an entirely different scene.  And there are other BU scenes that make similar bold decisions.  And even in the times when all the editions more or less agree on the colors, Blue Underground's saturation and contrast are higher than the others.  Sometimes that makes the colors satisfyingly bold, but less naturalistic.  A lot of that starts to boil down to taste or preference without proof of "accuracy" for one edition or another.  But then it has to be noted that only Camera Obscura claims that their transfer was supervised and color corrected by the cinematographer, Romano Albani.  So I feel reasonably confident suggesting that Blue Underground is a little off-base with some of their judgement calls on this one.  Though I'll also say that Inferno is such a vivid, fluorescent film, that even turning a whole scene green or blue doesn't really distract from the proceedings.
Now, the old DVDs only offered us the English dub of the film.  They did give us a choice between the original stereo and a new 5.1 mix, but English was the only option, and there were no subtitles.  Happily, none of the blu-rays made this mistake, and all three give us both the Italian and English language tracks, plus optional English subtitles.  Camera Obscura, naturally, also includes German audio and subtitles as additional options.

But the precise audio options do vary.  Arrow offers three: the English in 5.1 and stereo, and the Italian in mono, all in DTS-HD.  Blue Underground has roughly the same options except they also throw in a 7.1 English mix (in addition to, not instead of, the 5.1), or a 6.1 on their DVD.  And CO gives us the English, German and Italian all in 2.0 DTS-HD.  As a purist, I could give a toss about these 5.1 (and up) remixes; I'd only really be concerned if any version left off the stereo tracks.  But if you are big on those multi-channel remixes, that's one thing you might want to count against the CO and let push you towards one of the other blus.
Now, it's time to talk about extras, and those are quite interesting in this case.  Each version has its own, unique set of extras that vary pretty strongly.  There is a bit of overlap, which I'll of course point out as we get to it, but almost all of it is not only exclusive to each release, but very different.  Like, in most cases of the same film being released in different regions with unique extras, it's still usually the same person or two being interviewed and saying almost all the exact same things.  But here, there's a lot of strong distinction.

So, originally, Anchor Bay's main feature was a brief (eight and a half minute) featurette inter-cutting interviews with Argento and Luigi Cozzi, basically giving you the bare minimum essentials.  Argento also did a quick intro for the film, plus they had the trailer, a stills gallery, and an insert with a text interview with actor Leigh McCloskey.
Then Arrow, like I said, blew it up into a 2-disc set.  They kept the Anchor Bay interview, but lost the Argento introduction, replacing it with a newer one by Daria Nicolodi.  Then there are a couple featurettes on the first disc: a new interview with Argento, an interview with Nicolodi, and even an interview with Cozzi about the making of his film, The Black Cat.  Pretty sweet, as it seems like The Black Cat will never get its own proper release, so this may be our only chance at Black Cat special features.  Anyway, those are all okay, but a little on the cheap side.  The interviews mostly seem like they were quickly grabbed at conventions (except Cozzi is in his usual store), and they all have those long, animations that Arrow always used to do, where they would play out for like 2 minutes before each talk could start.  There's also a half-hour Q&A with Tim Lucas, Irene Miracle and Keith Emerson at a film screening, which is cool but very shaky, low quality camera and sound... but still very much worth the watch!

Then, the bulk of disc two is the Argento documentary An Eye For Horror.  It's a great little doc, but it's been released many times before, so there's a good chance fans already have it.  There's also an Argento trailer reel, which runs for almost forty minutes, a couple international trailers, two easter eggs of extra interview clips where Argento talks about Mario Bava and the film's title, a stills gallery, and some pretty elaborate packaging.  It comes in one of those windowed sleeves Arrow used to do all the time, with reversible artwork essentially allowing you to give it four different possible colors.  It includes a wicked double-sided poster, 6 art cards, and an 8-page booklet with notes by Alan Jones.  The single-disc reissues ditched the poster and art cards.
Then, Blue Underground comes in rather quietly with a surprisingly slim package.  In the literal sense, that means no booklet, let alone reversible artwork, cards or posters.  But even in actual disc content, it's surprisingly light.  They carry over the Argento/ Cozzi featurette from the older releases, plus the original Argento intro from the AB disc, plus the trailer.  Then all they have new or exclusive are two interviews, with actors Irene Miracle and Leigh McCloskey.  But, in BU's favor, they're both highly produced, much tighter pieces.  The interviews are quite interesting and decidedly higher quality than Arrow's stuff; I just wish there was more of it.  It's a little underwhelming for their "Special Edition."

Then we come to Camera Obscura, and they easily have the most.  It's a mediabook, and the text is all in German, but it's mostly about the cool artwork anyway.  And this is a 3-disc set, though disc 2 is just a DVD copy of disc 1, the blu-ray.  So, on those discs, they have an all new intro to the film by Argento, a photo gallery and an audio commentary by film critics Christian Kebler and Marcus Stiglegger.  Yes, that commentary is in German, but there are also optional English subtitles for the commentary track.
The real meat, though, is on the third disc.  First up is a full-length (98 minute) documentary called Of Fire and Darkness, where they talk to Romano Albani, Lamberto Bava, Luigi Cozzi, effects artists Fabio Traversari and Pierantonio Mecacci.  It goes quite in depth, but with just those five guys, not any of the major players you might expect.  That's good for serious fans who usually wouldn't get too so much from these guys, but kind of dry for casual viewers just looking for the big names, like Argento or Nicolodi.  But some of those guys do turn up in the next featurette, where we get Dario and Claudio Argento, plus actors Eleonora Giorgi and Leopoldo Mastelloni.  Then there's a featurette called Critics On Fire, which is naturally a couple of film critics dissecting the film.  But interestingly, one of them is actually Antonio Tentori, screenwriter of such films as Cat In the Brain and Island Of the Living Dead.  Then there's a brief but cool comparison of the film's locations in the film versus how they look today.  It's not quite a Horror's Hallowed Grounds episode, but I'm a sucker for these things.  Then there's the same Lucas/ Miracle/ Emerson Q&A that was on the Arrow set, and a couple of trailers.  And finally, CO throws in a bunch of easter eggs.  There are a couple of additional/ outtake interview clips from the Of Fire and Darkness doc, a weird one where Argento praises a modern indie (and clearly very Argento-influenced) giallo called Come Una Crisalide, and another weird one where two Italian filmmakers introduce the trailer for their zombie film, Eaters.
So, it's a little frustrating that it's so convoluted, without a clear all-around winner.  Like, in terms of extras, each release only talks to some people who aren't on any of the others.  CO has the most, and a lot of interesting side personnel, like the supporting actors.  But only BU has the main stars (except for Miracle's appearance in that Q&A).  But then, if you don't get the Arrow, you miss out on Nicolodi, who's one of the most important voices to hear from on this.  Tough choices!  So my personal recommendation would be the Camera Obscura set.  Ultimately, I think it has the ideal presentation of the film, plus probably the best features overall.  Plus, if you get that blu-ray for watching the actual film, you can pick up just the DVD versions of the Blue Underground and Arrow sets cheaper than buying their blu counterparts, because you'd be getting those just for the extras.  So first priority: the CO set, then one or both of the other DVDs, depending on how die-hard a fan you are.  For me, again, this is my favorite Argento, so I had to get all three, but I wouldn't expect most people to go that far.  I wish there was one release that would pool all these features together...  However yes, now that I've totally dug in and gone through the full comparison, Camera Obscura is the one I'll be watching every time I revisit the film from now on.