I Drink Your Stigma: Code Red Catch-Up, Part 2 (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I Drink Your Blood is a screwy, demented horror romp I dig more and more each time I revisit it.  It might be a bad movie, but it's also a great movie.  And if you're anything like me (and I hate to tell you, but if you've found yourself on this site, it's almost certainly too late to pull out of it now), you want to find more, some other film that taps all the same veins.  And what better place to search than the filmography the same writer/ director, David E. Durston?  Durston was a television writer in the 1950s, who graduated(?) into filming his own independent films in the 60s and 70s, including I Drink Your Blood, and another film very much like it almost immediately after: Stigma.
A lot of break-out filmmakers wind up imitating their initial successes.  Think of David Cronenberg following up Shivers with Rabid, or George Romero presenting The Crazies like a re-imagining of Night Of the Living Dead.  In fact, there's a lot of influence from all four of those films in Durston's Blood and Stigma pairing.  Really, Stigma just has one key detail that separates it out from the pack: it's not a horror movie.  There are a few moments laid out to instill tension or unease, and plenty designed to shock.  And, just by virtue of retreading so much of I Drink Your Blood's structure, it retains some of the trappings of a horror film.  But really, this is not a scary film - or a film trying and failing to be scary - and it's not a body count film.  It's absolutely an exploitation film, and I stand by my claim that if you really like I Drink Your Blood you're bound to like Stigma.  Just don't come in expecting horror or you're honestly going to bummed out.
So, if it's not horror, what is it?  Well, again like Blood, it's a genre-bending "something of everything" kind of flick.  It often gets lumped in with blaxploitation films, and it's certainly got some of that.  Philip Michael Thomas, Tubbs of Miami Vice, is a big city doctor who takes over a practice in a small, racist town, where everybody, including a very Boss Hog-like sheriff, is against him.  So there's a lot of that element.  But nearly as soon as he arrives, a powerful strain of syphilis breaks out, and much like the rabies in Blood, it starts making everybody in town go crazy... just a little less homicidal.  So Thomas has to investigate, who's spreading it and who's covering it up?  The crazy old lighthouse keeper?  The veteran just back home from the war?  The madam and her brothel?  The crooked cops or the hippy teens with their unbridled free love?  So that gives us sexploitation, action, melodrama... the film even stops to show us an educational film strip with gross-out medical photos.  Several members of the supporting cast of Blood and all of the wacky sensibilities Durston displayed in that film are on hand here, just with less of a violent edge.
Stigma used to be relegated to cheap, fullscreen DVD compilation packs of public domain, blaxploitation flicks from labels like Brentwood, Platinum and Echo Bridge.  But Code Red did it right in 2011 with a special edition DVD sporting a brand new, high def master from the original CRI, as well as some very cool extras.  Then, this time last year, Code Red did it even righter with a blu-ray upgrade sporting an even new 2k scan of the original CRI.  Just how much righter?
2011 US Code Red DVD on top; 2016 US Code Red blu-ray underneath.
With the way the descriptions were worded, and the fact that they both came from the same source, I was expecting a nearly identical transfer of the DVD on the blu-ray with just that subtle boost in clarity that comes naturally with HD.  You know, like Trick Or Treats.  Especially since - also like Trick Or Treats - Code Red's DVD was quite good, and not exactly in need of extensive repairs like a lot of DVD upgrades we tend to see here.  But no, Code Red has done more here, taking the opportunity to further improve the already strong PQ.  First of all, both editions are presented in strong, anamorphic 1.78:1 ratios.  But that doesn't mean the framing is identical.  It's actually shifted vertically, and comparing the two, the blu looks much more correct, with the DVD cropping very tightly along the bottom.
^See how the DVD crops chins and blows out the reds of skin tones?
The colors, which again already looked pretty well corrected, have been further improved on the blu, toning down areas that looked just a little over-saturated before, and making skin tones more authentic.  Plus, of course, it's that extra sharpness and clarity that comes with HD replacing SD.  In short, the DVD wasn't exactly calling out for any fixes, but it got some good ones anyway.

Audio-wise, things aren't too different, but it sounds like the background hiss on the DVD has been reduced for the blu.  Both disc's tracks are reasonably clean and robust, though.  And of course, neither have subtitle options.
But one of the most exciting aspects of Code Red's restoration of Stigma is the fact he's given it a special edition in collaboration with David Durston.  If you watched either of Grindhouse's I Drink Your Blood releases, you know that he's quite a character.  And while he doesn't go quite so far as to sing an impromptu song about thrilling audiences as a horror director, he certainly comes off as a charmingly eccentric personality here, helpfully explaining things like, "you are born with so many female hormones, and so many male hormones.  And if it's a little over the top on the female hormones, you become a homosexual."  He provides a very fun and genuinely informative on-camera interview that's just under twenty minutes long, and a fun audio commentary track where he chuckles along with moderator Jeff McKay.  The DVD also included two trailers, a TV spot, and some bonus trailers.  The blu-ray retained everything except one of the trailers, the TV spot and the bonus trailers (despite still listing them on the back of the case).  It's no crushing loss, but it seems like an arbitrary disappointment to drop off the TV spot and second trailer.  What for?  Oh well.  It's a minor nitpick; we're just talking about secondary trailers.
Stigma is certainly not for everybody, including horror purists.  It's downright goofy and you can find its picture in the dictionary next to the word "dated."  But there's an audience out there for this picture, and they should really know about it.  And in particular, they should know about the excellent treatment Code Red's given it.

Code Red Catch-Up, Part 1: Demon Witch Child!!! And Some Other Piece of Crap

So, ever since I first did a "Catch-Up" series on this site, I knew it was only a matter of time until Code Red's.  There's just all these great, older Code Red releases that need covering on here: great but overlooked DVD-only horrors and yes, a couple more DVD/ blu-ray comparisons.  And we start out with one of my favorite horror DVD, which I can't believe isn't better known and in more fans' collections.  I mean, don't get me wrong; I completely understand why it isn't in most peoples' collections and isn't regarded alongside mainstream horror classics like A Nightmare On Elm St or The Omen.  We're talking crazy, cult, obscure 70's insanity, not slick, streamlined, and glossy high production values.  This is for a select audience only.  But that select audience should be all over this disc.
Oh, but this is a double-feature.  And before we get to the neglected masterpiece, let's get the other film out of the way first, the "piece of crap" from this post's title.  It's a little film called The Possessed.  Actually, both films have been called The Possessed.  That's why they're paired up on the same disc: because, at some point in time, both films had been released under the title The Possessed.  Otherwise, they have nothing in common.

This The Possessed - on-screen title: Help Me... I'm Possessed - is an American film from 1974.  Screenwriter Bill Green also stars as a doctor of a sanitarium/ castle somewhere in Southern California.  He has a hunchbacked assistant, a mad woman for a sister and a new bride who begins to suspect unorthodox things are going on behind closed doors.  Patients are tortured and killed, and an unseen monster chases a nurse through the woods.  But things aren't nearly as interesting as that description makes it sound.  It's mostly long, droll scenes of conversations as characters stand around in front of a static camera.  It's just tongue-in-cheek enough that there's nothing to get invested in, but utterly fails in its attempts at humor with dialogue like, "who are you?"  "I'm fine.  How are you?"
I have to admit... I do love this location.
The police come and just... mill about the grounds aimlessly.  The premise and marketing promise sleaze and shocks, but that mostly just amounts to women in their bras pretending to be dead and a rubber leg or two.  It's absolutely Mystery Science Theater fodder-level (Season 12 show runners, take note), and deserves a little credit for trying to be an 'everything and the kitchen sink' movie where you never know what's coming around the next corner - mad scientist, hunchback, lunatic or off-camera monster?  But it's all just so flat and lifeless in execution, the fun the premise could offer just makes the film all the more disappointing.  If you're in the absolute right mood, and very patient, you might be slightly amused, in a laughing at it as opposed to with it kind of way.  But it's definitely not the reason to add this DVD to your collection.

Although, if you are interested in The Possessed, this Code Red double-feature does appear to be its only release on disc ever.  And since Code Red got their hands on it instead of some generic public domain company like Platinum, Alpha, Mill Creek, etc, this is a widescreen presentation taken from a film print instead of a fullscreen dupe of a VHS tape.
2013 Code Red DVD.
...Of course, it's not a pristine, or in any way cleaned or remastered film print.  This is another one of Code Red's patented "grindhouse" experiences, where the print is covered in dirt and chemicals, with green spots and lines everywhere.  It's also got a faded, washed out and soft look.  But it's still 100% more authentic and satisfying than any of VHS dub.  It's 1.78:1 (or more like 1.76 with the dead space in the overscan area's edges) anamorphic, progressive, and the mono audio, well, it matches the print.  There's a bassline soft hiss that isn't too distracting, with plenty of pops, but surprisingly robust library music and clear dialogue.  Of course there are no subtitles or alternate audio tracks.
But the real gem is 1976's The Possessed - on-screen title: Demon Witch Child - a delightful killer kid film from Spain.  This one's written and directed by none other than Amando de Ossorio, the man behind The Blind Dead and Lorelei's Grasp.  But Demon Witch Child may have actually usurped all his other work as my favorite de Ossorio film.  It's just so much fun.  If you appreciated Cathy's Curse, oh boy, this is like its equally nutty prequel.

The premise is perfectly simple: the local police bust up a coven of witches, so their leader takes revenge by possessing the chief's daughter.  It's starts off in some predictable Exorcist rip-off territory - not that that's a bad thing - with the girl floating out of her bed and a priest being brought in to chase the evil out of her.  But she quickly transforms into a delightful, balding foul-mouthed witch child, using her powers to wreak havoc on everyone in her life.  She laughs maniacally as she displays all kinds of fun magical powers and goes pretty psycho in some pretty edgy ways that I'm super tempted to spoil right now, but I won't.
Meanwhile, everyone's trudging around in super 70's earth tones, and there's a melodramatic subplot where the priest's ex-girlfriend has become a prostitute.  The local townspeople form a mob and dig up graves, the bad-ass police captain, the parents, the priest and an ace reporter are all following separate paths to find the truth, and the witch cult comes back to help their crazy little girl kidnap a baby.

Admittedly, the pacing drags at points, with dubbed dialogue and scenes which can only be honestly described as bad writing.  The score is also clunky, though it concludes with a pretty dramatic, rousing number, that reminded me of Frizzi's main theme for The Beyond.  And Code Red clearly agrees with me, because it's the music they use for the DVD menu.  There's also a weird aspect to this presentation where the first minute of footage repeats with alternate credits over it.  I'm sure it wasn't meant to be shown twice in a row, but it is here.
This print's been badly damaged, but we've got the fingerprint of the man responsible!
This time Code Red's disc isn't the only release of Demon Witch Child.  It was included in one of those no frills budget packs of multiple films called Grindhouse Experience: 20 Film Feature Collection from 2007.  But that's reportedly another one of those 4:3 VHS-sourced editions.  Meanwhile here, just like the other The Possessed, we've got another, much more satisfying anamorphic widescreen transfer of a film print.
2013 Code Red DVD.
And I mean really just like the other The Possessed.  I could pretty much copy the entire paragraph I wrote about that transfer and it would apply equally to this one.  1.78:1 anamorphic, progressive transfer, with slivers of pillar-boxing down the sides making it more accurately 1.76:1.  Tinted and drained colors with washed exposure, and yes, plenty more green chemical damage all over the place.  This film certainly has better cinematography, but in terms of its presentation, it almost looks like the same film.

The mono audio's about the same, too; except the crackly hiss and pops just a little bit worse.  A word or two are dropped when damage causes the film to be spliced, but for the most part, it's fine once you get used to it.  Again, it fits naturally with the condition of the print.  We still only get the English dub (and no subtitle option), but considering the tone of the film, that's not as damaging as it would be with something more serious and delicate like Zeder
There's basically nothing by way of special features here; we don't even get the films' trailers.  We just get the traditional Family Honor trailer on start up and a couple of Code Red bonus trailers.  They are what they are: direct, un-restored standard def transfers scanned from a pair of beat up old film prints.  But they sure beat the video-tape crapola that came before 'em.  This disc is a real treat.  Well, half of it is, anyway.

Extra Rare: Herzog On Music

Now this is the kind of release I really made DVDExotica to cover.  Yeah, I'm following up my last post with some more imported Werner Herzog, but features some even rarer films, on this very cool, widely overlooked release.  It's a little boxed set called Herzog On Music from 2008, only released in Australia, and at this point out of print and a little hard to find, but a must for serious fans. It's a two-disc set of three Herzog films, one of which isn't particularly rare at all.  But the other two?  That's where things get exciting.  No, they're not in Shout's big boxed set, or BFI's, or even the one Herzog sells directly from his own website.  They've only ever been released by Shock.
So let's start with the not-so-rare one.  The main feature on disc one is a 1995 documentary called Gesualdo: Death for Five VoicesCarlo Gesualdo was a 16th century Italian composer who was apparently an insane murderer as well as a musical genius.  Herzog spends most of the time exploring the Gesualdo castle, interviewing locals, filming concerts and yes, pursuing a woman who claims to be Gesualdo's wife resurrected.  Sure, you'll enjoy this documentary more if you have a real interest in this centuries old music, but you know Herzog infuses a lot that will be of interest anyway.
Gesualdo was originally released on DVD in the US back in 2002 by Image, a disc I used to own.  Unfortunately I sold it off long before started this site, but from memory it was essentially the same as the Shock disc: anamorphic widescreen and barebones.  Then Shock released it in 2008, of course.  And more recently, Art Haus released it on DVD and blu in 2016.  It's a blu I was seriously considering getting myself until DVDTalk revealed that it was an upscale and that the audio commentary promised on the packaging doesn't actually exist and it's as barebones as ever.  Apparently, it has better audio options, but in this economy, that ain't enough.
The packaging lists this film as 1.33:1, but happily, it turns out to be properly anamorphically widescreen at about 1.73:1 when you actually play the disc.  I never did a proper comparison, but I did stick the Image disc and the Shock disc in my player one after the other and concluded at the time that they looked identical for all intents and purposes.  This disc is not interlaced or anything like that.  It does look soft and compressed, just like the Image disc, which is why I had high hopes for the blu-ray.  But if it's an upscale of the same transfer, might as well just stick with this disc set.  Especially since you'll want to get this release for the other two films, anyway.
Also like the Image disc, Shock's DVD features just the English audio track, with Herzog oftentimes translating the Italians' spoken dialogue as part of his narration.  That's where Art Haus apparently excels, including the English track, the German track where Herzog does his narration in German, and a third track that leaves off his narration and lets you hear the original speakers uninterrupted.  The subtitles are only in French and Spanish, though, so really the additional audio choice is more of a novelty than a worthwhile way to view the film.

Oh and no, none of the releases of this film ever had any extras, not even a trailer.
Well, unless you consider the fact that it has the second film of the set, a never before or since release Herzog documentary called Pilgrimage on the same disc as an "extra."  Then it has one of the greatest extras of all.  And before you get concerned about two films taking up too much space being on the same disc, Gesualdo is only an hour long, and Pilgrimage is a short, clocking in at just over eighteen minutes.  So that's not a problem.

Pilgrimage is what it sounds like, a documentary look at people going on religious pilgrimages in Mexico and Russia, made for the BBC in 2001.  True, it has nothing to do with music, so if you're wondering why it's in a set called Herzog On Music, it's because this is an entirely word-less film, and all we hear is the music of BBC Symphony Orchestra.  But there's some gripping footage of people crawling across lakes of ice and traveling miles on their knees, and you know Herzog is a master at marrying image and music.  It's definitely reminiscent of pilgrimage sections he'd later capture in Wheel Of Time.
Pilgrimage is widescreen at 1.77:1, but unfortunately, as you can see in the first shot above, it's not anamorphic, so it's a small SD image floating in a sea of dead space.  But what're you gonna do?  Watch this on another company's release of Pilgrimage?  It doesn't exist, so like it or lump it.  Otherwise, the picture's not too bad.  Some scenes have interlace combing throughout every frame, as you can see in the second shot, but other scenes don't have any at all.  This leads me to believe it's just a question of cheap, low quality camcorders having been used to capture some of the footage on location.  It's a documentary shot on the spot in some far corners of the world back in 2001, so you're gonna get that sometimes.  Still, there's no reason the footage couldn't have been encoded anamorphic.

Anyway, there's just one basic audio track and no subtitles, since, again, there is no spoken language in the movie at all.  Also, there are zero extras.  It's almost more of an extra in itself.
Finally we come to the third film, a feature length film that hasn't been released anywhere else in the world.  It's called The Transformation Of the World Into Music, a 1996 documentary made for German television.  It's a behind-the-scenes look at the production of three Wagner operas at the Bayreuth Festival.  You can see Herzog is a great enthusiast as he interjects himself behind the scenes, interviewing the actors and directors, intercutting rehearsal and performance, snooping around the theater after dark with a flashlight and even surreptitiously whispering with the crew hunkered down in the dark during major productions.  It almost feels more like a Wiseman documentary, except intrusive with a healthy dash of Driving Me Crazy thrown in.  Even if you're not fussed about opera, the impressive set-pieces and Herzog's enthusiasm will keep you entertained.
The back of the case again claims to be 1.33:1, which I guess this time is technically right if you count the non-anamorphic dead space.  But really the film presentation here measures an unusual 1.62:1.  It's a bummer this one's non-anamorphic, but otherwise it's not bad for DVD.  It's not interlaced or anything, and the picture looks like a fairly faithful capture of the original film image.  The film is presented in the original German with optional, removable English subtitles.  A few scenes, where the interviewees speak English, have burnt in German subs, but those moments are few and far between.  Again, there are no special features.
Now, as I've said, Pilgrimage and The Transformation Of the World Into Music are only available on these OOP, region 0 discs from Shock.  But, strictly speaking, they're not only available in this Herzog On Music set.  In 2009, Shock released a big, 10 disc boxed set called Werner Herzog: Documentaries and Shorts, which included these two discs repackaged along with 8 other discs worth of Herzog docs.  But that's equally out of print, plenty more expensive, and you'd mostly only be adding a bunch of other Herzog films which have seen much better releases.  So it's certainly not a bad set - very much like the box Herzog sells directly from his site, but with a slightly altered selection and fewer international language options.  It even has a couple of unique special features.  So you might want to spring for that if you're a completist.  But for most people, especially anyone who already owns a lot of the other films, I'd recommend picking up the smaller, cheaper Herzog On Music box for the exclusives, and then getting the other films via other releases.  But either way, to get Transformation and Pilgrimage, these Shock discs are your only option; and they're really good films, so it's worth the trouble.