Deathdream Come True

Oh Blue Underground, I knew you'd come through.  Yes, from Bob Clark comes one of the great American zombie movies; 1974's Deathdream, a.k.a. Dead of Night, The Night Andy Came Home, Night Walk, It Came from the Grave, The Veteran, Whispers...  Honestly, none of those titles have ever really done this film justice.  And to be clear, this is not your typical zombie horde movie.  There's just the one zombie, come home from the war, in what in some ways plays more like a Vietnam war allegory written by Tennessee Williams.  A small town drama with something to say, some genuinely creepy scenes, smart writing and a wry sense of humor.  Tonally, this feels more like Martin than Night or Dawn Of the Dead.
But as long you don't go in hankering for high-octane Fulci mayhem (though there's a pretty sweet moment with a zombie crashing a flaming car through cemetery gates), this is a surprising treat.  You've got Cassavetes veteran John Marley leading a dramatic cast you'd never imagine from the people who gave us Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things.  And the story heads into dark places most horror today won't even go (murdered dog, suicide in the final act, etc).  It has some good shocks, but it's mostly just more thoughtful.  When Andy realizes the town doctor is onto his secret, you think okay, now he's got to run him off the road or strangle him from the shadows.  But he doesn't have those cliche motives, and instead shows up at the doctor's late at night saying, "I'm here for my check-up" and proceeds to have a long, creepy dialogue with the man.
The one downside is a bit of a "been there, done that" vibe to this Monkey's Paw variant, with films like Uncle Sam and all the Pet Sematary's re-hashing much of the same ground.  This came first and did it better than all of those, but there's no escaping that feeling like you've seen this before even if it's your first time.  It's more classic than cutting edge, although again, it finds own, more thoughtful ways of handling many of the details.  And apart from that one random guy playing a town drunk in an opening scene like he walked out of a Benny Hill sketch, everybody does a great job selling the material.  It's got an effective little score, too.
Blue Underground first released Deathdream as a pretty sweet little DVD edition in 2004.  They upgraded it to a blu-ray, restored in 2k with even more features, in 2017.  But I never picked it up, because by the time I got around to it, I was convinced BU would upgrade it again to UHD.  I came close to breaking a few times over the years, especially when Diabolik or Grindhouse would have a Blue Underground sale.  But I kept the faith, and eventually, in April '23, they announced a 4k was on its way.  It took a while, but it's here now in 2024, just on time for its 50th Anniversary, as a BD/ UHD combo-pack with "a brand new restoration, scanned in 4k 16-bit from the original 35mm negative with Dolby Vision HDR" and more special features.
1) 2004 BU DVD; 2) 2024 BU BD; 3) 2024 BU UHD.
Well, "from the 35mm negative" except, apparently, for the final shot, which seems to be taken from a lesser source.  It's quick, so pretty forgivable, especially assuming it was all they could do.  Besides that, all three discs are exactly 1.85:1, but the DVD has a vertical pinch that the new release corrects.  So the new scan adds a bit more along all four sides, but especially along the top and bottom.  The colors are virtually the same across the board, though the bright ends are a little over-exposed on the DVD compared to the more subtle 2024 discs.  The film source feels a little rough no matter which edition you watch, though some of that's probably down to the low budget filmmaking (i.e. the harsh lighting) and possible condition of the original elements.  But that's not to suggest one edition is as good as another.  The DVD has a lot of smudgy compression, for example, which the 2024 pair clear up handsomely, so overall it's a substantial upgrade, though that's with us skipping a generation.  If you had the 2017 blu-ray, I'm not sure this would be such a vast improvement.  Grain still feels a little light even on the UHD.

The original DVD has the original mono audio, but nothing else.  The 2017 BD bumped that up to lossless DTS-HD and added, English, Spanish and French subtitles, and that still goes for both discs in the new 2024 set.
The original DVD was already pretty loaded with some sweet extras.  There are two commentaries, one by Clark himself, and one by his co-writer Alan Ornsby.  Clark's moderator has to work to keep the filmmaker talking, but both tracks are insightful and worth any fan's time.  There are also on-camera interviews with Savini & star Richard Backus, several galleries, alternate credits sequences, and the trailer.  And as a fun bonus treat (well, as fun as a historical depiction of racist lynching can be), Ornsby's student film 3:45, which co-stars his then wife and Deathdream actress Anya Ornsby, is hidden as an easter egg.
The 2017 blu added a new on-camera interview with the Ornsby's, a brief but entertaining interview with production designer John Bud Cardos, another with composer Carl Zittrer, and early test footage with Gary Swanson, the first actor originally cast as Andy, who we do still see in the final film's pre-credit sequence.  And all of that is carried over onto the new 2024 release, including the easter egg.  And they've added even more as well.  There's a thoroughly skippable audio commentary by experts Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson, who mostly repeat facts and anecdotes from the preexisting extras (especially Clark's commentary) in between tangents about their personal lives.  At one point Howarth says, "the story between Carpenter and Bob Clark is very well known," and I thought, oh good, he's not going make us listen to it again... They already went over it extensively in Clark's commentary and other places, not to mention the Black Christmas releases, where it's actually relevant.  But then he proceeds to re-tell it all again anyway.

But more rewarding is a new, upbeat on-camera interview with Gary Swanson.  He's recently reviewed that test footage the 2017 release unearthed and has fond memories.  The 2024 release also comes in a cool, embossed slipcover and includes reversible artwork.
So yes, this is a movie I'm very glad to own, especially given its top shelf treatment here.  I really want the best possible quality exhibited here and all the extras, so I'm glad I held out.  If you already have the 2017 BD, this probably isn't as exciting an upgrade as it has been for me.  But either way, it's unquestionably the best version there is.

Cathy's Curse, Huzzah!!

Oh man, I have been waiting for this release!  It's been killing me that there's no special edition, or even halfway decent release of Cathy's Curse ever since I fell in love with it in one of those generic 50 Movie Pack DVD sets.  Specifically, it's Chilling Classics from Mill Creek, which I still own, so we can have us a comparison.  Because boy, wait 'till you see the difference!  The Mill Creek DVD isn't just barebones, it's cut, interlaced, fullscreen, soft, stretched, damaged, watermarked, and orange... oh, so orange.  Happily, Severin has arrived to save the day at last with their brand new blu-ray release.

Update 5/25/17:  But is this extended version of Cathy's Curse still cut?  Apparently this film still has some missing footage...

Update 9/14/17: Resolved! I'm now pleased to report that this extended version of Cathy's Curse is indeed completely uncut. But read on for the story of the supposedly missing footage.

Update 6/2/24: And now Cathy's Curse is in 4k!  Severin has returned to this crazy film with a new scan and UHD release.
Now, when I say I fell in love with Cathy's Curse, that doesn't mean it's some great film.  It's kind of a mess.  But it's a delightful, endlessly entertaining mess.  If you're a fan of Beyond the Door, and enjoyed the little foul-mouthed kids, then this movie is gonna be like Christmas for you.  Conceptually, it's closer to Beyond the Door 2 (the Bava one), focusing on one possessed kid and a lot of weird issues; but tonally it's closer to the original.  It's not Italian, though; it's Canadian.  But it's just as light on coherence and sense as the best of Fulci.  The only thing it's lacking, which would've made this a much better known cult film, is a few over-the-top gore scenes.
I'm guessing S.C. stands for Sinister Cinema, who once released this film on VHS.
Now, I had to do a little research outside the film to put this together, because the film's back-story is confusing as heck.  But essentially this film is about a guy named George.  As a kid, his mother ran off with him, leaving behind his father and sister, who immediately proceed to die in a car wreck.  Decades later, in present day 1979, George returns to his family home with his wife, who just so happens to have a habit of suffering nervous breakdowns, and his daughter Cathy, who immediately gets cursed by George's late sister.  This curse essentially makes her act like a rotten brat, but one who can back it up with a cavalcade of supernatural powers.  Soon, everybody's getting tormented in one random way after another, except for George, who can't understand what everybody's always so upset about.
And I mentioned that all previous releases of Cathy's Curse were cut, right?  Yeah, they're not censored for sex or violence or anything; they've just had about ten minutes removed, making the movie even more incomprehensible.  The extended cut isn't much better in that regard, but it is a bit, and also has some amusing extra bits of dialogue, so is probably the superior version of the film.  Severin doesn't make us choose, though; they've included both cuts.  The shorter, cut version doesn't have anything unique to it, though, except for a couple of title cards to attempt to make up for the exposition they cut.
A scene only in the full, director's cut.
But thanks to a helpful anonymous commentor (see below), it turns out there was still possibly more to be seen from this odd, little film.  He pointed out that a 1985 Comet Video compilation film called Terror On Tape included a gruesome shot from Cathy's Curse not seen on the Mill Creek or Severin discs, and he's quite right!  Terror On Tape is a direct-to-VHS film in the vein of Terror In the Aisles, The Best Of Sex and Violence or Zombiethon, where it's really just a clip show of a bunch of horror films with a little wrap-around to it.  In this case, the wrap-around stars Cameron Mitchell as a bit of a ghoul who runs the Shoppe of Horrors Video Store, where people come in seeking recommendations and he shows them gruesome selections from his movies.  And one film they show a solid four minutes to is Cathy's Curse.  Everything they show is what can be seen in previous versions except for the scene where Cathy "pushes" the old lady out of a window and her mother rushes up to the body in their lawn.  In Terror On Tape, there's an extra shot: a close-up of the woman's head where blood spurts out the top of it!  Then the next shot is the mother running to the body and it's the same as every other release.
Cathy's Curse deleted scene?!
Now, it did occur to me that maybe the Terror On Tape editor took some liberties and edited in a shot from one of the other Continental VHS films they feature, like Nightmare City or Return of the Alien's Deadly SpawnTerror does proceed to show other clips from Cathy's Curse after this one, jumping about from one moment to another with no transition (except at the end, when Mitchell says, "just a second, I've got to show you what she does to her mother!").  So maybe Terror decided to spice the clip up with a shot from something else?  Watching the whole movie, they don't seem to goose up any of the other films they highlight, but looking back at that whole scene in Cathy's Curse, it is a very awkward edit there, so it does look like it could be a cut to an insert shot...

And thanks to another helpful commentor - ciasisback - the source of that footage has been found!  It is indeed an insert shot of gore taken from another movie.  Another movie featured in Terror On Tape, even.  It's a quick snippet from when the zombies violently raid the television dance studio in Nightmare City.  So apparently Terror did have a little fun with Cathy, and actually, it's not a bad creative decision.  But it's nice to know that the Severin blu of Cathy's Curse is complete and totally uncut.
as seen in Terror On Tape
So Cathy's Curse has been released on DVD a bunch of times before, actually.  But it's always been by budget labels like Brentwood, Alpha Digital and Mill Creek, and usually in multi-disc collections like my Chilling Classics box.  Severin is the first to even come close to giving it a respectable disc, and they've actually come through for the film in spades.  Their 2017 blu saw both cuts fully restored in widescreen HD with a 2k scan from "recently found film elements," and as you can see, the difference is night and day.  Of course, the distinction is helped a lot by the fact that the DVD version may well be the worst digital transfer I've ever seen in my life.  But still, the blu looks great in its own right.  That's not to say there wasn't more room for improvement, though, and we got there this week with an all new 4k scan (yes, of both cuts) from "the recently discovered negatives," in an even more impressive BD/ UHD combo-pack.
1) 2005 Mill Creek DVD; 2) 2017 Severin BD;
3) 2024 Severin BD; 4) 2024 Severin UHD.

So, the Mill Creek DVD is presented in about 1.30:1, looking vertically stretched and cutting off the sides.  If I push myself to find one nice thing to say about it, it's at least slightly open matte, so it shows a little extra vertical information for the curiosity seekers among us.  The 2017 blu, on the other hand, is slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1.  I already listed all the major problems with the DVD in the opening paragraph, and I'm glad to report Severin doesn't have a single one of those issues.  Among a million other improvements, we can finally see what color things are supposed to be.  And the DVD isn't just interlaced, it looks like it was originally interlaced and then badly de-interlaced so it was left with ghosting frames, and then copied with additional interlacing on top of that, leaving motion with an almost spacey look.  Now it looks like an actual movie with a pretty smart looking transfer.  Blacks are a little milky and crushed; I'm guessing the "found film elements" were a generation or two after the original negatives.  But I can't imagine anyone being at all disappointed with this.  Really, who thought we'd ever see Cathy's Curse looking so good?

Still, why settle?  Now Severin has given us a 4k scan of the negatives.  The framing is still 1.85:1, though it's ever so slightly tighter all around.  But the colors are richer with more natural skin tones and the blacks are deeper and more natural.  Film grain is clearer and more filmic even on the BD.  And then on the UHD, it's really captured thoroughly, even in background areas where it's still a little soft on the blu.  And the colors are even more vibrant, with particularly strong reds.  Even a quick once glance at the comparison shots shows a slightly faded, washed look to the 2017 BD (and an extreme one to the DVD, of course), which the new release solves.

Curiously, the back of Severin's 2017 case promises English, French, Italian and Spanish audio; but really both versions on both sets (that is to say, the 2017 and 2024) just have the original English mono track in DTS-HD 2.0.  Optional English subtitles are also included on all three discs for both cuts.
And for the first time, Cathy's Curse has extras!  Good ones, too.  We get a 20-minute on-camera interview with the director, in French with English subtitles.  And we get a featurette with the actress who played Cathy (she says, "don't see this movie, it is not worth your time;" but she is so wrong!), and her mom who did costumes for the film.  There's also a short introduction to the film from some screening, where the host dresses as Cathy.  And there's a fan commentary (on the shorter cut) by a couple critics who helped convince Severin to restore this film, which is pretty amiable for that kind of commentary.  There's also the trailer, and if you pre-ordered the film direct from Severin, you got a nice 12"x18" poster as well.  In fact, you could really go all out and order their "Cursed Bundle," which includes a signed copy (by the director), the poster, a glow-in-the-dark t-shirt, a mask(!), a pin, "and some creepy crawlies," whatever the heck that means.

The new 2024 set keeps all of the 2017 stuff, and comes up with more, chiefly a new on-camera interview with the actor who plays the father.  There's also a silly new, 10-page booklet called The Darkest Double Dip, and it includes has reversible artwork.  What's more, if you order it directly from Severin, you can also get a fancy slipcover with light-up eyes.
I'm thrilled to see this film restored - twice even! - but do I recommend it?  Not if you're looking for a top notch, genuinely scary horror movie.  The Exorcist, this ain't.  Mainstream viewers will just see a stilted, cheesy, low budget mess with sub-par acting and effects.  Cathy's Curse is only for the kind of fan who sees the charm in offbeat cult flicks.  But if that's you, you're gonna love it.  And if you did love the blu, you'll be happy with the new double-dip.

Oh, and if you're wondering: The Alpha Incident isn't nearly on the same level as Cathy's Curse, but it has an absorbing premise and one pretty neat scene.