DVD Exotica Is For The Children! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Oh, wow.  This is one Vinegar Syndrome's had us waiting a while for, and it's finally here... The Children!  Ever since they acquired the Troma catalog and started making first class scans of their strongest horror titles, from Christmas Evil to Pigs, we've known this was coming.  When they did a Facebook poll at the beginning of the year for fans' most wanted titles, The Children was the definitive lead.  The ugly fullscreen DVD was screaming for an upgrade; and those of you who follow this site closely know kids are my favorite movie monsters, so my anticipation has been at peak levels for a super long time.  To the point where any title VS released that wasn't The Children was just starting to annoy me.  But thankfully, one of their two secret Black Friday horror blus turned out to be the one I've longed for most (the other was Mausoleum).  As of this writing, the limited slip cover edition is nearly sold out, but we can expect a regular edition minus the slip in the near future.
Now, if you're not familiar with this one, don't let the Troma name scare you off.  This is one of those films made independently and only picked up by Troma afterwords for distribution... like Rabid Grannies (another one pleading for rescue from Vinegar Syndrome) or My Dinner With Andre, as opposed to Troma originals The Toxic Avenger or Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD.  Not to wag my finger if you dig those flicks, but Troma films have a very distinct sensibility, and this is definitely something else.
Although that isn't to say there isn't any of the ol' Troma spirit to be found in this production.  It's audacious and particularly scrappy.  It's a very indie film with primarily amateurish acting that'll turn off any mainstream viewer looking for a slick, glossy experience.  But despite the courageousness of the plot, it still maintains a level of earnestness and dare I say maturity far beyond the juvenile gross-out humor of Troma.  This film is bonkers, but it takes itself seriously, even as each character introduced gets crazier than the next: the angry lesbian couple, where one of them is blind and spends all day playing the piano, the identical twin rednecks, the topless drug addict with a bodybuilding boy toy who thinks it's a hoot that her daughter has been kidnapped.  Actors' choices abound!  The one thing all these far out characters have in common?  Their children have turned into a pack of vicious killers who melt you with their hands!
This film is a blast, you've just got to know what you're in for.  The pacing is clunky and the 1980 photography is flat... although seeing this in widescreen for the first time, it does actually look more like a proper movie with some nice shots.  Dialogue and reactions are often cringe-inducing, but then Henry Manfredini provides a first class horror score that might even outshine his work on Friday the 13th.  But to really give you a sense of what The Children is like, when I learned how the protagonists were finally going to dispatch of their wicked offspring, I had to clap, just by myself at the screen.  It's pretty epic.
negative top; print bottom.
And what makes this release all the more exciting, is that this has turned out to be a longer, more complete version than ever previously released.  Vinegar Syndrome restored this film by going back to partial negatives, and filling in the missing footage from a fairly worn print.  And in those negatives were a whole subplot with the sheriff and this waitress [above] at a diner location never included on any prints or Troma's DVD.  Now, to be fair, you can see why they cut the scenes... the thread kind of gets dropped, and it doesn't really connect to the kids except to show how the chaos is upsetting the sheriff's life.  But it's still pretty neat to see them restored as the director (in the commentary, he says he never wanted them removed and only learned they were when he got a copy of the DVD).  VS also found the remnants of one more deleted scene, but it's not in the film proper, so we'll come to that when we get to the special features.
1) 2005 Troma DVD; 2) 2018 VS DVD; 3) 2018 VS BD.
Vinegar Syndrome presents The Children as a DVD/ BD combo pack, so we've got three versions to compare.  Their presentation gets off to a great start by correcting Troma's 1.32:1 framing to 1.85:1, yes, on both the DVD and the blu (many of the VS combo packs I've looked at previously have had 1.85:1 blus and 1.78:1 DVDs).  Now, Troma's DVD was mostly open matte, so it's more about cropping away excess dead space, but we can see that VS has unveiled a little more information along the sides as well.  They've also clarified the colors, which have a dull hue to them on the old DVD.  Of course, there's the standard boost in detail jumping from SD to HD - in this case another first class 2k scan by the masters - and an additional boost because Troma's DVD was interlaced, which VS of course fixes.

It's more complicated, of course, because VS is essentially giving us two transfers in the same film: the print footage and the negative footage.  I have to say, the two blend better than you'd think from the screenshots.  The print used has a lot of damage, and that's what makes the two sources stand apart the most.  You don't particularly notice a shift in grain or detail.  The negative has more vibrant colors and certainly looks higher quality in general, but honestly, the roughshod way the film was shot helps blend the two elements together.  Bottom line: the shifting sources isn't too distracting, and the viewing experience as a whole is much more filmic and vastly more satisfying than we've ever seen The Children before.

Both discs present the mono audio sounding fairly good.  VS naturally bumps it up to DTS-HD for the blu, but it's still a little rough.  The biggest issue is in the sibilance (when "s" sounds get scratchy), but it never gets to the point where I'd say it's an annoyance.  It's closer to Scream Factory's replacement disc for Black Christmas than the one they originally issued.  VS also includes optional English subtitles, which Troma, of course, did not.
One thing I'll say for Troma's DVD, is they actually compiled some surprisingly good special features.  Producer Carlton J. Albright was clearly heavily involved, providing an audio commentary, an on-camera interview, and sitting in on additional interviews with production manager David Platt, co-star Gil Rogers and his wife Patricia Albright, who's credited with watching over the children during the shoot; in fact, most of it seems to have been shot in his house.  The commentary's pretty slow and quiet (seriously, skip it), but the interviews are all a lot of fun, with him repeatedly laying blame for pretty much all of the faults on the film's director.  Troma also tracked down the director of The Children, The Musical, who cheerfully talks about the campy send-up he staged in the early 2000s.  Then they threw in their usual pile of unrelated Troma extras, including an intro by Lloyd Kaufman, an excerpt from Make Your Own Damn Movie!, and some other random commercials and trailers.  The trailer for Luther the Geek is fitting, though, since the actor who played Luther, Edward Terry, appears in and actually co-wrote The Children.

Thankfully, VS kept all of the Troma stuff that actually pertains to the film, so you can safely discard your old DVDs, and just drops the random Troma junk.  In addition, they've created a bunch of new special features.  There's a new audio commentary by director Max Kalmanowicz, who's quite a good sport considering how much Albright trash talked him in the old extras.  They've got a new on-camera interview with Albright and Platt, and they've got the audio for a deleted scene (the video for which is lost).  It's a bit of a shame it's not in the film, because it's somewhat important connecting tissue that makes at least one actress's performance make more sense.  So it's at least nice to hear it here.  And finally there's a delightful featurette by Fangoria's Michael Gingold where he visits the old filming locations of The Children.  The case has reversible cover art, and if you got the first limited edition release, a very cool slipcover.
I'm not saying it's an objectively great film, and it's certainly not something I'd recommend to general audiences, but I love it.  Combine that with Vinegar Syndrome's track record, and my expectations for this release were super high when it was finally announced.  And I have to say, they were met and exceeded.  I mean, who knew there even was a longer version of this film until they got it into our hot little hands?  And I'd've been thrilled with just a 2k scan of the print and the old extras, but the negative elements and the new special features make this an essential package.  It's crazy to me that Mausoleum sold out first.

No comments:

Post a Comment