Kooky Cozzi Paganini Horror! ...Now In HD!

If you like your stylish Italian horror flicks cheap, silly and weird, then you should already have this movie!  But if you haven't been collecting horror DVDs over a decade ago, you probably missed out on Luigi Cozzi's Paganini Horror. But unless you're hung up on your movies being, you know, good by some kind of objective or reasonable standard like a normal person, in which case you'll probably absolutely hate this movie. But assuming you're not one of those people, then I'm here to tell ya, this German import's worth tracking down.

Update 1/10/17 - 10/29/19:  Better yet, just buy the blu-ray!  Because Paganini Horror's been restored in HD for a new special edition from 88 and Severin Films.
If you're not familiar with this one, the plot is real simple. A guy buys a long lost score by the famous composer Niccolo Paganini from Donald Pleasance, who's also the devil or something along those lines. He gives it to his girlfriend, an aspiring rock star, to turn into a modern pop song with her band.  Their manager, Daria Nicolodi, who also might be evil, wants them to shoot their music video in an old mansion that's stuck in a time loop, where some little girl once killed her mother just like Paganini killed his bride and used her intestines to string his violin as part of his pact with the devil.  Plus, Paganini will be summoned in the flesh when the band plays his song, or maybe he's just a masked slasher, but either way his victims come back as ghosts and hmm, okay.  Maybe the plot's not so simple, or even quite comprehensible if you really stop to think about it.  But why would you do that?
It's a fun, attractive and charmingly daft little horror movie about a famous violinist come back from the dead to chase young people around a colorful music video set.  It's attractively shot, Paganini has a violin with a knife that shoots out of it, there are a couple gnarly kills, everybody's running around in silly costumes, the music is upbeat and catchy - including a couple, full blown pop rock performances - and they've got some great location photography.  On the other hand, the whole production is clearly low budget, and set pieces often look very cheap and the impressive casting of Pleasance is wasted with some bland third party dubbing (on the Italian and English audio tracks) and not terribly interesting dialogue... I mean, come on, he's the devil!  Plus, the story really is a mess.  It's co-written by three people, including Nicolodi, which should put this on par with Suspiria, right?  Yeah, no.
So, the cult German label put this out twice on DVD in the early 2000s; all the cool sites like Xploited and Diabolik used to have this in spades.  But now its long OOP.  The first version was a 2-disc set, with the uncut widescreen version and a slightly trimmed 4:3 Italian television cut.  The second disc with the TV cut doesn't have English language options, though, and there are many differences between the two versions except some blood has been trimmed and the picture's open matte.  So I just got the single disc edition, which is completely English friendly, and also happens to be a fully loaded special edition.  It's pretty awesome, except for one little thing: it's woefully non-anamorphic.

But that's not an issue anymore!  Paganini Horror has been restored in 2k from the original negative for blu-rays in both the UK (88 Films) and the US (Severin).  I went with the Severin for a reason I'll get into below, but as you'd expect, they both trample the non-anamorphic concerns with full 1080p HD transfers.
2003 X-Rated DVD top; 2019 Severin BD bottom.
The DVD's non-anamorphic, but at least it's not interlaced, taken from film elements (occasional flecks and dust pop up; but for the most part it's pretty clean) and in the director's presumably preferred 1.66:1 aspect ratio.  But yeah, it looks awfully compressed and low on detail in that tiny window.  The non-anamorphic presentation is a real bummer, because this is a film that relies a lot on its look. And now that we see the film in HD, well, it still looks a little on the grungy side.  I'd put that down more to a reflection of the film itself than its home video representation, except grain does appear pretty pixelated and artificial, so I'm not so sure.  It's unquestionably an improvement over the DVD, don't get me wrong; but I wonder if some Italian company's been sitting on this scan for a long time.  I suppose we're facing "how much money can we be expected to spend on a low-key Cozzi oddity?  We're lucky to get this in HD at all" deal, which is admittedly understandable.  Swinging the pendulum back to the positive side, Severin retains the 1.66:1 ratio with some pillar-boxing, but in comparison to the DVD, we see that they've unveiled more information along all four sides, which is good because the DVD always did feel a little tight.

And audio-wise, X-Rated provide the English, Italian and German mono 2.0 tracks, which is great because you get to hear the alternate voices.  But unfortunately, the only subtitles on-hand were in German, so us English speakers had to stick to the English track unless you're multilingual.  So score some more points for Severin, who include both the English and Italian (they did ditch the German dub), now in DTS-HD with optional English subtitles.  In fact, they include two subtitle options: the proper subtitles (faithful translation of the original Italian) and dubtitles (transcription of the English dub).  Researching it online, 88 also seems to have both audio tracks (in LPCM) with just the one subtitle track.
And did I mention packed special editions? Yes!  X-Rated starts out with a very informative audio commentary by director Luigi Cozzi.  He also provides an hour-long on-camera interview.  Plus, there's a brief clip of him speaking at a film festival.  So you really get his full story across all of that.  There's also a short video clip of him recording the commentary, for a little peek behind the curtain.  But then you have probably the most important extras of all: the deleted scenes.  Some of the deleted scenes aren't much, but others are really out there, because contrary to his producers, Cozzi wanted this to be a sci-fi film; so some of these scenes are pretty freakin' weird and out of left field.  They're not translated, but I'd say 90% percent of what's on sale here is visual spectacle, and the puzzling aspect of them being untranslated adds to the fun almost as much as it detracts.  This release also comes in a very cool looking "hardbox," which is essentially an oversized clamshell case, like those classic horror VHS boxes from the 80s.

Oh, and by the way, if you did get that 2-disc version, the only additional extras you'd receive are a couple trailers and a small photo gallery.  All the extras of substance are on the single-disc version.
2003 X-Rated DVD top; 2019 Severin BD bottom.
And now we get to why I opted for the Severin edition: the two blus have differing special features, and only Severin included those wild deleted scenes and alternate ending.  What's that?  Oh, why yes, that is an hour glass floating through outer space like some crazy Dr. Who acid flashback.  Somehow that fit into Cozzi's original vision about the devil and a house haunted by a famous violinist.  Yeah, so one little disappointment is that I was hoping Severin would drum up subtitles for these, but oh well.  These still look like they're ripped from a VHS tape, but the image is a little clearer than X-Rated, which was interlaced.

Severin also has the trailer, which was only on the 2-disc DVD set, and it's in HD here.  But they lost of the DVD's other extras, so die-hard fans may still want to track the X-Rated DVD down.  But only die-hard fans, because Severin has conducted their own 30+ minute interview with Cozzi, which really does a more than acceptable job presenting his insight and memories of the film that the DVD extras did.  Both releases also got an on-camera interview with Pietro Genuardi who played Mark, the music video director in the film.  Too bad neither party seems to have reached out to Maria Cristina Mastrangeli, who's been gracious enough to drop by in the comments here, but oh well.  Anyway, both Severin and 88 Films share the interviews, which were done by Freak-O-Rama - who I can't help but notice are starting to become one of the top guys in I-horror interviewing - and the trailer.  Where they diff is that 88 has an audio commentary by Troy Howarth, while Severin has those deleted scenes.  Also, if you bought their limited editions, 88 comes with a slip cover and booklet Eugenio Ercolani, while Severin's comes with a soundtrack CD.
I originally concluded this post by saying that, "Paganini Horror seems like an ideal candidate for a label like 88 Films," and hey, look what happened!  This is another one in what's becoming a regular pattern of 88 releasing it in the UK and Severin in the US.  Again, the deleted scenes were the deciding factor for me between the two, but the good news is that you can't go wrong either way, and casual buyers may want to just opt for whichever version doesn't require them to pay for overseas shipping.  It's great to see this film back in print so hopefully it can find its audience again.

And Now Vinegar Syndrome Takes Us Beyond the Doors

It's time to go beyond all the doors!  The Beyond the Door movies are three unrelated Italian horror films that just so happen to be sequels to each other.  Ones a pretty well made Exorcist knock-off, one's an atmospheric ghost story, and one's about a coven of Yugoslavian witches on a train.  They're all a good time, though; and they do share some coincidental themes.  Thankfully, they also have pretty decent DVD releases.

Update 9/4/15 - 8/23/19: And one of them even has a blu-ray release.  Amazingly, the sequels still don't, but in 2017 Code Red upgraded their DVD to BD.  It's been requested a couple of times, so I just had to include it before I closed out Update Week.  Otherwise, could we really say we went beyond all the doors?  😜

Update 10/27/19: Boy, I never thought Mario Bava's Shock would be the last film in the trilogy to get a high def release, but here we are!  Vinegar Syndrome has just released a fancy Limited Edition blu-ray of Beyond the Door 3, a.k.a. Amok Train!  Scroll on down.
The original Beyond the Door, released in 1974, is the directorial debut of Ovidio G. Assonitis, who also directed a couple other films we've looked at here on DVD Exotica: Super Stooges vs the Wonder Women and The Visitor. Like I said, it's a pretty blatant Exorcist rip-off - it's got the head spin gag and everything - but it also goes in some pretty original directions. Where Exorcist was about a mother whose little girl becomes demonically possessed, here the mother is possessed by Satan himself, who actually opens the film by directly addressing the audience. While the bulk of the film focuses on the possession and following in the Exorcist's footsteps, the plot goes off in some different directions towards the end, which I won't spoil, but definitely doesn't march in line with Friedkin's film. I also don't remember him having any scenes with an aggressive nose flutist.
Beyond the Door's pretty well made. It's got high production values, is stylishly shot, and stars two very credible British actors: Juliet Mills and Richard Johnson. It's got some effective sequences, only about half of which are derivative, and it easily out-classes most of the Exorcist clones that popped up around its time. It might strike viewers as boring, as it can get a bit dry in the middle considering so much is entirely "seen it before" stuff; but it's held aloft by the novelty value of some two badly dubbed children who curse like sailors.
Beyond the Door debuted on DVD in Japan, from JVD, which was a pretty nice import. It was widescreen and featured an international cut about ten minutes longer than what had been released on VHS in the US. Unfortunately, it wasn't anamorphic, and the only extra was a trailer. But Code Red took care of that, releasing a loaded special edition in 2008. I used to own the JVD disc, and I think it had the same core transfer, but Code Red made it anamorphic, and like I said, had a bunch of extras. But that's not all. Code Red made a 2-Disc Collector's Edition exclusive for Best Buy with some bonus goodies.  And that was all until 2017, when Code Red reissued the film on blu with a "Brand New 2016 HD Master."
1) 2008 Code Red DVD; 2) 2017 Code Red BD bottom.
So this master starts off correcting the slightly off 1.83:1 of the DVD to a proper 1.85:1, and the newer framing is actually slightly tighter around all four sides.  Film grain on the blu is still a bit light, but generally present and film-like, and it clears away the unfortunate compression artifacts and combing that was present on the DVD.  You can read much more of the lettering on the book behind the kids now in this clearer HD presentation.  The colors have also been re-timed, and overall it's a nice improvement, but at some points, like that first set of shots with Gabriel Lavia crossing the street, I prefer the color timing of the DVD.  But there's no way anyone in their right mind is going to look at that close-up and say, "no thanks, I prefer the standard def version."

Both editions only offer the English mono track, with no subtitles, but the blu-ray does bump its track up to uncompressed DTS-HD.
Before we get into the extras proper, one of the goodies the Best Buy 2-disc set features is the shorter, US theatrical cut, taken from a funky looking, fullscreen (1.32:1) source. There's nothing exclusive to the US cut, it's only missing stuff, so this version only really has curiosity value. Especially considering the quality of the print, you're definitely going to choose to watch the main version on disc 1.  I think this was only included to show off how much better Code Red's main transfer looked.

Now as far the regular extras, there are two audio commentaries, one with Juliet Mills and a really good one by Ovidio himself. Both have multiple moderators to help things along. There's also a terrific 35 Years Later featurette, which includes interviews with just about everybody and is very engaging. There's also a fun, on camera interview with Richard Johnson, plus the trailer, a TV spot, stills gallery and some bonus trailers. And the first 2500 copies pressed featured a cool looking slip cover, pictured above. The Best Buy edition never came in the slip, but did feature an on-camera interview with Juliet Mills (who was seen on disc 1 in the 35 Years Later featurette), where the focus is on the rest of her career rather than Beyond the Door.
And the blu?  That's got everything from the single-disc DVD, but not the Best Buy exclusive stuff.  The fullscreen, edited version of the film is no loss, but it's a shame they didn't squeeze on Juliet Mills' interview, if only so we don't feel like we're moving backwards when we upgrade.  But if I had to lose one of the old DVD's extras, that would be it.  And for our one step backwards, we get to take two forward, because we also get something new and better: an on-camera interview with co-star Gabriel Lavia, in Italian with dense English subtitles.  He's funny and has some unique anecdotes we haven't heard in the previous extras.  The blu-ray also includes reversible artwork and a cheesy, illustrated slipcover.
Ovidio had nothing to do with 1977's Beyond the Door 2, released on DVD in the US under the title Shock, and has said in interviews that he doesn't approve of the title borrowing. This Beyond the Door is actually the final film by Mario Bava, and it's based on an original script by Dardano Sacchetti and Mario's son, Lamberto Bava, who also got his start directing by shooting a few scenes in this movie. It's the story of a small family who move into a new house, which turns out to be sort of haunted. Everything seems great at first, of course, but we soon learn the father isn't the real father, he's just "mom's new boyfriend," because the real father killed himself years before, in this very house. And somehow that's causing their young son to behave pretty horribly towards his mother, who's having enough problems dealing with flying furniture and visions of the dead.
Unsurprisingly for Bava fans, Beyond 2 is a very well crafted film. It's well shot and full of the the kind of ingenious camera tricks he's known for. It also has a bold score by Goblin and stars Dario Argento's former wife and collaborator, Daria Nicolodi and Ivan Rassimov, who was unforgettable as the devil in The Eerie Midnight Horror Show. And by sheer coincidence, the possessed child in this film is the young actor who played Juliet Mills' son in the first Beyond the Door. He never acted in anything else before or since, just these two movies, and he's definitely not playing the same character. But once again he's badly dubbed and behaving diabolically. In fact, that's this film's greatest weakness or appeal, depending on your attitude. The child is basically this film's Freddy Krueger, but he's so badly dubbed, running around cursing and things, that he's downright comical. Only a really die-hard Bava fan will be able to see past it and take this film seriously as the atmospheric horror it's meant to be. But on the other hand, he's a real hoot (like he was in the first film) if you take it all as camp. But this is a film that wants you to take it very seriously.

There had been a couple underwhelming international DVDs of this title out there for years (i.e. barebones, non-anamorphic), but the first worthwhile release came from Anchor Bay in 2000. This featured a high-end 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and an interview with Lamberto Bava, as well as a couple trailers and this cool insert[right] with the Beyond the Door 2 poster art. Blue Underground re-issued it in 2007 when the rights went to them; but it's the same disc. It also featured English, Italian and French audio tracks, which was great except for one problem: no subtitles! So, unless you're fluent in the other languages, you're still stuck with the English audio. And that's a real shame, because I checked out the other tracks, and the kid is dubbed much better in the other versions. In the US version, he's dubbed by an adult attempting to sound like a little boy, and it comes off as really cheesy; but with the other tracks, you could finally take this film seriously. That's how this film needs to be seen!
I'm actually really surprised, this being the final Bava film and all, that we've yet to see a blu-ray release of this anywhere in the world. The DVD print isn't bad, as far as DVD prints go, but it could still benefit nicely from an HD transfer. That, plus the Italian and English audio options (I could take or leave the French dub; but the kid sounds much better than the American voice actor there, too) with subtitles would be terrific. Interview Daria, get a Tim Lucas commentary... how isn't this a thing already? It's a no-brainer! But, in the meantime, this DVD isn't so bad so long as you're on board for the kids' dubbing. And frankly, if they released a version without the US audio, no sale! As hokey as it is, I'd really miss it; it's become a critical part of the film's history. But we need the Italian version, too.
Anyway, after that, it took another twelve years to get another unconnected sequel. Except the series returned to Ovidio Assonitis. This time he's just the producer, but based on interviews, he seemed to be the driving force behind this project. But his original title for the film was Train, and he says it was the distributors' idea to use the Beyond the Door title, an idea he was against. Because, once again, it has nothing to do with the other movies. Bo Svenson stars in this one, a story of a bunch of American college kids who travel to Yugoslavia and run afoul of a coven of witches who want to sacrifice them all.  The bulk of the film takes place on a runaway train, hence the film's original title.  This movie's from a whole different generation than the first two and feels very different. It's very 80s, less serious but gorier, and much less interested in psychology than kills.  It's got a good look to it, though, and at least someone gets possessed in this, so there's a thematic connection to the other Doors.
It's kind of a dumb movie.  It has dialogue like:
"What is it you love about me?"
"I don't know, your hair?"
...But it delivers the goods.  There's plenty of special effects, exotic locations, action, production values (they got extensive use of that train), and a whole bunch of crazy, entertaining stuff happening at all times.  The cinematography's back to workman-like after the Bava entry, but it's glossy with plenty of interesting stuff in front of the camera, so it still looks pretty impressive.

Now, there had been a cheap Dragon DVD first, but Shriek Show came along and knocked it out of the box in 2008.  A somewhat special edition with a nice, anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer... although, to be honest, the framing looks pretty tight. I wonder if the filmmakers didn't also have 1.85 in mind? That's how Dragon framed it. Anyway, their DVD wasn't even anamorphic, so Shriek Show was easily the one to own regardless.  "Was," that is, because now Vinegar Syndrome's gone and restored this film in HD with a fresh 4k scan of the original negative for a brand new, Limited Edition blu-ray arriving just in time for Halloween.
1) 2008 SS DVD; 2) 2019 VS DVD; 3) 2019 VS BD.
Vinegar Syndrome's limited edition is actually a DVD/ BD combo pack, which is why we've got three sets of shots instead of two.  All three discs are presented in 2.35, but Vinegar Syndrome's discs do pull out to reveal a tiny bit more around the edges.  The colors have been corrected, looking both more genuine and vibrant, and detail is clarified so nicely.  I mean, we're jumping right from a DVD to a brand new 4k scan of a negative in HD, so it's a big leap forward even with Shriek Show's DVD looking as good as it did (one of their rare non-interlaced ones  haha).  I suppose I should point out a weird little detail where the edge of the frame sometimes comes in on the left, effectively giving us a slight black pillarbox on the left-hand side, re-adjusting the AR to about 2.33:1.  That's on the Shriek Show disc, too, though, and is clearly tied to certain shots (in one scene you can watch it appear and disappear as the camera shot/ reverse shots between two characters), so it's how the film was shot.  One could argue that maybe the proper framing would be to crop that edge tight enough, then, that you never see it?  But it's really no big deal; you won't see it unless you have your eye glued to the left edge of the frame the whole time watching for it.  ...Although, now that I've told you guys, maybe you will - sorry!

Both editions feature the stereo mix, which is in lossless DTS-HD on the blu-ray.  The Dragon DVD also offered a German dub, if anyone cares.  And both releases have optional English subtitles for the parts of the film spoken in... Croation?  I think?  But Vinegar Syndrome has taken the extra step of adding an additional option that subtitles the entire film, English and all.  So, to be clear, you can choose between either sub track or none.
Now, one thing Shriek Show's DVD had going for it that still holds weight is its special features.  It wasn't quite a fully loaded special edition, but it had some good stuff.  There's a lengthy and fascinating interview with Assonitis, and another interview with the cinematographer, Adolfo Bartoli. There's also the theatrical trailer, a couple bonus trailers, and an easter egg of an alternate title sequence with the title Amok Train, which is also what's on the case (the on-screen title for both Shriek Show and Vinegar Syndrome is Beyond the Door III).

Disappointingly, VS doesn't carry any of that over, but they have created all new special features.  They have their own interview with Bartoli, plus on-camera interviews with the director (40 minutes long!) and Bo Svenson, who's quite a character.  There's some spicy behind-the-scenes drama for this film (for example, Assonitis apparently fired the director, but then changed his mind), so the new extras are great, but it's a shame to lose that Assonitis interview as a counter-point.  And it's a small thing, but I'm surprised VS neglected the trailer.  But they do give you some cool, reversible cover art, letting you choose between Amok Train and Beyond the Door 3.  Plus the limited edition (2000 units) comes in a very stylish slipcover that uses the same crazy art as the old laserdisc.  So get the VS for sure, but hang onto your old SS discs, too.
I'm actually surprised none only one two of these films have hit HD yet, since these are some fairly major horror titles, especially in the annals of Italian genre history. But Code Red's taken care of the original, and now that Vinegar Syndrome's given some sweet justice to the third, it's only the Bavas' crazy movie about a haunted child in need of a slid blu.  Surely, it's only a matter of time?

Vestron's C.H.U.D. 2: Bud the Chud - This Chud's for You!

Well, I had another film lined up for today's post, but then I noticed how close to Halloween we are, and I figured I should stick with horror flicks until the end month.  So what's one I've been meaning to cover?  Oh, how about C.H.U.D. 2: Bud the Chud?  I mean, I've got to do a post about it sometime, just to justify the fact that I bought this goofy sequel multiple times.  And oh boy, goofy is the word.
This film really has nothing to do with the surprisingly smart little horror flick that preceded it, except that they call their zombies "chuds" in this movie. The creatures in C.H.U.D. looked and behaved nothing like the zombies here, to the point where it feels more like this film started out as a script with no connection to C.H.U.D. at all (though they at least make a passing reference to them having previously been kept underground). Two students: Head of the Class's Brian Robbins (this was actually released while the show was still on the air) and his buddy steal a corpse from a military installation. Just like Night Of the Creeps, basically. And of course that corpse is really a chud who comes back to life and builds an undead army in their little suburban town. Robbins and his buddy try to keep everything under wraps and recover Bud before they get into trouble, which is made a little easier by the fact that its developed a crush on Brian's girlfriend Katie.  Yes, this is the kind of movie where a zombie gets a crush on a girl.
What works about this movie is that everybody really commits.  I'm not saying the performances are good, or the jokes are funny, but still, everybody's really throwing what they've got their characters.  Like, the "kids" are fine, but you know guys like Robert Vaughn and Gerrit Graham could totally sleep walk through a movie like this and no one would hold it against them.  But instead they're really giving it their all to make this film fun for their limited audience.  They're very big performances.  In fact, as I write this, I'm realizing what this basically is: an R-rated kids movie.  The violence is pretty mild, really.  This probably could've gotten the MPAA to give them a PG if they asked nicely.  It's like if you adapted Return Of the Living Dead for the Nickelodeon station, the same broad deliveries and simple, overdrawn humor.  It really feels like it's made for kids.  In fact, the screenwriter wrote Honey, I Shrunk the Kids the same year.  And it helps a lot that this film is packed with recognizable character actors and famous personalities that bring something extra to their roles, including television icon June Lockhart, Sniglet inventor Rich Hall, Bianca Jagger (Mick's ex), stand-up Ritch Shydner, M.A.S.H.'s Larry Linville, Norman Fell and an uncredited cameo by Robert Englund.  Plus it has a real ear worm of a theme song.
I used to own both C.H.U.D. films on VHS, and I upgraded it to the 2007 UK DVD on a whim.  Unfortunately, I sold it off long before I started this site, so I can't post any screenshots, but it was fullscreen, presumably taken from a videotape master, and completely barebones.  Then it kind of blew everybody's minds in 2012 when Lions Gate unceremoniously released a bunch of previously unseen widescreen masters in a couple of generic, sell-through compilation Horror Collection DVDs.  Wow, suddenly we had a respectable looking edition of Bud the Chud, along with a bunch of others.  I think the unexpected wave of fans who went out, filling forums with which Walmarts had which $5 discs in stock, seeking and buying those collections prompted Lions Gate to start their Vestron line.   And so that strange confluence of events gave way to something I don't think any of us expected to see: a fancy, special edition blu-ray of C.H.U.D. 2
2012 Lions Gate DVD top; 2017 Vestron blu-ray bottom.
The Horror Collection's DVD actually had a pretty nice looking transfer in its original widescreen AR, or at least close (1.78:1).  So it seemed like a safe assumption that Vestron would just present us with that same transfer slapped onto an HD disc.  But no, this seems to be a whole new master.  It's still framed in 1.78:1, but it's pulled out further, revealing a little more information along all four sides.  And the colors are corrected, getting rid of the reddish hue that was cast over the older edition, not to mention pulling a ton of information out of the shadows that was lost to black crush on the DVD.  It's still not a stellar presentation; the image is soft and the shifty grain tells us this film could still benefit from a new scan.  Plus it's low contrast, with no true blacks, giving the movie an overall washed out look.  But there's no debating this is the best the film has ever looked, and I can't imagine anyone's going to go back and give this title yet another HD pass.  So not top shelf but a pleasant surprise none the less.

Both discs just give us the original stereo mix, but it's clean; and really, what else would you need?  Vestron bumps it up to lossless DTS-HD and adds optional English subtitles, so we're all set.
Director David Irving provides an audio commentary that answers pretty much all the C.H.U.D. 2 questions those of us who grew up with the film have had over the years.  In fact, I think I might stick to just watching it with the commentary on whenever I revisit this film from now on.  We also get a couple great on-camera interviews with Bud himself, Gerrit Graham, Katie: Tricia Leigh and special effects artist Allan Apone.  There's also the theatrical trailer and an extensive stills gallery that shows someone (Red Shirt Pictures) put a surprising amount of attention into this title.  Plus, like every Vestron release, it comes in a shiny slipcover.  My first thought was just hoping that Vestron didn't lose too much money on this one and pull out of Vestron before they got to the higher ticket films in their catalog.
Well, fortunately it didn't stop them just as they got started.  I don't know if there's a lot of displeased blind buyers out there, or if this film has built up more of a nostalgic cult audience over the years than I realized.  But it has been a worryingly long time now since the last Vestron release, so my fingers are tautly crossed.  I mean, they still haven't gotten to Metamorphosis: The Alien Factor, Eyes of Fire, or Sundown: The Vampire In Retreat!  But on the other hand, look at all the special editions they've given us that I never thought we'd get to see.  I mean, can you believe Bud the Chud has a director's commentary?

Oh Thank Heaven, They Finally Got An American Werewolf In London Right

It's time for another edition of Controversial Blus!  Just released today is the brand new Restored Edition of An American Werewolf In London blu-ray from Paramount.  According to the sticker on the slip, it's "NEWLY RESTORED FOR IMPROVED HD PICTURE," so we're not just talking about a reissue of the previous release with different art masquerading as a new version to trap enthusiastic double-dippers like some other releases I can think of.  This is actually an all new transfer.  But is it actually better?  The new blu seems to be receiving more than its fair share criticisms...  I think it's time I did a direct comparison.  And as you can see from the picture above, I'll be looking at some of the older DVDs at the same time.

Update 9/28/16 - 10/22/19: And I'll also be looking at the even more recently restored and improved HD release from Arrow, scheduled to be released at the end of this month.  Spoiler alert: the controversy is now behind us.
An American Werewolf In London is a pretty great movie, with a modern appeal yet a very traditional, throwback werewolf plot at its core.  Two friends go hiking across England and get attacked by a werewolf after being warned by the creepy locals to not go out on a full moon.  The survivor, of course, wakes up back in the city hospital with a nasty, lycanthropic curse.  While he falls in love with his nurse and tries to get on with his life, his primal nature breaks free as he transforms, spectacularly, into a werewolf and begins terrorizing London.  His doctor suspects and begins to investigate, and even his dead best friend returns(!) to warn him, but true love may be the only thing that can save our tragic protagonist.
John Landis has created one of the most successful blends of horror and comedy, where neither aspect spoils the other.  And it holds up really well, thanks largely to the well-crafted characters, not to mention the famous, cutting edge effects, which still look better than anything coming out today.  It's also a clever story with great use of music and some terrific locations.  Having a healthy budget clearly helped in all the right places, from big set pieces to music licensing.  American Werewolf is one of those rare horror movies that manages to appeal to mainstream audiences without losing the core genre fans.  They've tried to recapture the magic with some success - Landis with a vampire tale called Innocent Blood and the studio with a sequel: An American Werewolf In Paris, which wasn't terrible - but An American Werewolf In London still stands head and furry shoulders above.
Paramount has released An American Werewolf In London a number of times.  I don't it would be too cynical to say that they see this film as a cash cow that can always take a little more milking.  Even limiting it to just the United States, Paramount has issued it on disc an awful lot of times.  actually, Artisan put it out on DVD first in 1997, with a barebones fullscreen disc.  So Universal's widescreen Collector's Edition was a welcome upgrade in 2001.  There was also a bundle release in 2004 with the 2001 disc and the remake of Cat People.  Then the two-disc Full Moon edition added a couple more features, and also came out with a blu-ray edition, both in 2009, so that was a good upgrade.  Then they re-released the 2-disc set as a single disc release, shaving off some extras for a more budget release in 2012.  Okay.  Then in 2014, the blu-ray was released with a gold "Academy Award" winner cover, but it was the same disc as the original blu-ray.  That same year, they also released it in a limited edition steelbook.  In 2016, Universal released their Restored Edition.  And now they've finally handed the property over to someone who knew what to do with it for Arrow's upcoming Limited Edition 4k remaster.
1) 2001 DVD, 2) 2009 DVD, 3) 2009 BD, 4) 2016 BD; 5) 2019 BD.
So, all five releases are 1.85:1, but you'll notice the old 2001 DVD is missing a little around all four sides, particularly the left.  Actually, measuring it, that first DVD is more like 1.82:1.  Even just comparing the two DVDs, you can see the later one is sharper with more naturalistic colors, too, if maybe a tiny bit on the yellow side.  And then the old blu-ray is that same 2009 DVD transfer - note the white hole in the picture around the wolfman's wrist; it looks like he's wearing a fancy diamond bracelet - but a little cleaner because it's in HD.  The grain is really strong there, and it was definitely the best looking version up 'till then.  But then we come to the Restored Edition, and... where'd the grain go?
2009 Blu-ray left, 2016 Blu-ray mid; 2019 Blu-ray right.
Apparently, the film was given a brand new, 6k(!) scan for this restoration, and my best guess is they figured if they scanned it they close, they could apply some DNR (digital noise reduction) and not lose all the usual detail that tends to go with heavy DNR application.  That's why seeing "DNR" is a bad sign in a blu-ray review.  It means the picture is going to be unnaturally smooth and waxy, with detail erased.  Peoples' hair will look like clear plastic helmets, etc.  So bye-bye American Werewolf grain, and it does look a little bit softer, but... they seem to have been right in that the actual detail has pretty much remained.  I've seen some people say there's even more detail than the old blu, but I wouldn't go that far.  Universal's 2016 BD is the most successful attempt I think I've ever seen to remove grain without smoothing away much of the image.  Still, it was a little weird to look knowing film grain should be there, and now that we can see the results of Arrow's even more recent 4k scan (finished in 2k), we see Universal's job wasn't perfect.  I've read allegations that the grain on the 2009 edition is "fake," or artificially enhanced (it was even brought up in the comments, below), and I was reluctant to buy into that notion, but Arrow's new scan seems to bear it out.  Now we finally see the natural levels of grain you'd expect to see in a 35mm film, making the 2009's look chunky and unnatural.  The 2019 image seems even more nuanced, and a tiny bit sharper, than even the 2016 blu, and it still has the clean-up (i.e. no diamond bracelet!).  How could a 4k scan look better than a 6k scan?  When you don't futz with it afterwards!
For audio, both Universal blus pretty give us the same English DTS-HD 5.1 mix, plus both have a Spanish DTS dub in 5.1, and French, German and Italian DTS dubs in mono.  Both blus also have 16(!) subtitle options, which I won't bother to list out, but that's pretty much every language including both English and English SDH.  A number of fans were hoping for the original English mono track, but we didn't get that.  Landis created the updated 5.1 mix himself, so I imagine there was little interest in putting the old track back on the film.  Sorry, purists.  The older DVDs also only have the English in 5.1 (plus, English, Spanish and French subs), though I've read that the mix on the old Artisan DVD at least sounds closer to the original audio, with a higher pitch.  But you had to go all the way back to the old laserdiscs (there's a fullscreen one from Image and a widescreen one from Live) for the original mono audio.

I say "had," because Arrow have once again swooped in to save the day, because they've also restored and remastered the original mono from the original mag reels for their new disc!  So the pitch is finally correct.  That and the 5.1 mix are both included here in DTS-HD, along with optional English subs.
For extras, once Universal got it, things were looking good.  The original 2001 DVD had a light but not too informative audio commentary by the two leads David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, a substantial on-camera interview with John Landis, another with Rick Baker, outtakes, a vintage 'making of' feature, and some archival footage of Baker working on the famous werewolf transformation.  Plus it had a photo gallery, storyboards, text bios, a bonus trailer for The Wolfman (the remake) and a nice little insert with notes.  The 2009 DVD and every subsequent release carried all of that over (except the bios, bonus trailer and junk), but also added a full length documentary on the film called Beware the Moon (that's the second disc of the 2-disc set that was dropped from the budget version in 2012), which is great and very thorough.  The blu also added Universal's usual junk like BD-Live and D-Box support for the two people who use that.  And no, the new 2016 doesn't have anything new to add, and even ditches the BD-Live and D-Box stuff.  It does come in a nice, shiny slipcover, though.

But who does have something new to add?  Arrow, of course!  First of all, yes, everything from all the past editions (except the D-Box and junk) has been carried over.  And what's new?  First and foremost an excellent full-length documentary on Universal's history with werewolf films by Ballyhoo, who really hit it out of the park.  This was clearly made with AAWIL in mind, because it starts out with Landis and never loses site of how all of this history is eventually leading to his film.  But it's a great look at the whole story (and even a bit of a postscript on the Del Toro film), interviewing a surprisingly vast collection of filmmakers and artists.  Beyond that, there's a new interview with Landis, which isn't too redundant because they ask him about British cinema and bits he hasn't touched on too much in the previous extras.  Then there's a new audio commentary by the director of Beware the Moon (who also wrote a book on AAWIL), which is rather good.  He's an undeniable expert on the film and manages to find new trivia info to share despite the wealth of content in all the other extras.  Plus, he does a pretty funny Landis impression.  But he does also slip into repeating a bunch of anecdotes we've heard elsewhere on the disc, often more than once.

Still want more?  Whew, okay!  There's a brief but quite neat look at surviving props from the film, including one of Baker's legendary "change-o heads."  There's a video essay on the Jewish aspects of this film, which are mostly quite interesting and well observed, though he does spend a chunk of time unwittingly repeating some Wolfman history that was already spelled out in the Ballyhoo doc, and he exaggerates a bit.   Then there's an interview with Corin Hardy, director of The Nun, which starts out kind of bland and uninteresting as he just shares his appreciation of the film.  But then he gets more interesting when he starts applying his own experience in filmmaking to discuss the hurdles he'd have trying to replicate what Landis achieved today.  Oh, and I even saw some forum guy post a strange video teaser for the film that he was disappointed never made it onto any of the Universal blus.  Well, that's on here, too, along with the main theatrical trailer and a TV spot.

The limited edition comes in a clear amary case with reversible artwork housed inside an attractive, thick slipbox.  It includes a two-sided poster, six lobby cards, a full-color 60-page book with notes by Travis Crawford and Simon Ward and one of Arrow's standard insert cards (mine's for Why Don't You Just Die!).
So the old debate of which blu is best is now handily closed: Arrow's beats all those that came before it with a long lead.  It has the best picture, finally looking natural after all of Universal's odd experiments, the proper original audio (and the 5.1 remix, too, for those who still want that), and the fullest, most well-rounded set of extras.  It's not even missing some little thing where a die-hard collector might say, well, you might want to still hang onto your old copy...  This is a definitive, close-the-books case.  Arrow nailed it.