Friday, October 14, 2016

Persecution Of The Masses: Kentai Reviews SHIN GODZILLA (2016)

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As deeply frustrated as I've been at the glacial pace director Hideaki ANNO has taken with the "Renewal of Evangelion" project, I'm not without sympathy; good films take time to create, and love them or loathe them, the new Evangelion films have some of the most spectacular traditional animation the world has to offer. With three out of four films having been released in 2007, 2009 and 2012 - in Japan, anyway - it seemed reasonable that he would spend the next three to four years finishing off the reboot of what's easily his most beloved and viable franchise. In other words, we're due for the final chapter, and at long last Neon Genesis Evangelion can be put to rest alongside Aim for the Top! Gunbuster as "Complete". Which, incidentally, is still more than we can say for the Evangelion manga.

Director Anno HIDEAKI/庵野 秀明, circa 2014.

Things are never quite that simple, though, are they? After a commercial and critical success was found in Gareth Edwards' Legendary Pictures' produced 2014 Godzilla film - a serious, heavy film that seemed to be made to wash away the perceived sins of the self-aware 1998 Roland Emmerich film of the same name - Toho Studios admitted their biggest star ever was coming out of retirement for a 2016 release. What wasn't revealed until several months later was that none other than Hideaki ANNO had teamed up with Shinji HIGUCHI - best known as the director of practical effects for the trilogy of 90s Gamera films, but most recently the director of the live action Attack on Titan films - to direct a full on reboot of the Gojira monster, with Anno himself in full control of the film.

The "International" title given to the project was Godzilla Resurgence, but in typical weeb fashion, literally no-one called it anything but "Shin Godzilla", until FUNimation Films announced they were using the original Japanese title as-is. It's worth noting that the title itself, シン・ゴジラ, is written in simplified, phonetic katakana; this isn't because the film is aimed at children, but because the meaning of "Shin" in the context of a title could mean a lot of things: New, True, and Holy all use the same phonetic reading Anno chose, and the fact that it isn't directly clarified appears to be completely intentional.

Yes, I'm still salty that we're probably not going to see Evangelion 4.444: We Do [Not] Know When To Quit until at least 2018 as a result. But to say my curiosity on the new monster movie  we were getting was piqued would be an understatement...

The non-Legendary Legend.

It's no secret that Anno has always been a fan of kaiju films, or even that Evangelion's core development process revolved around trying to equate the fanciful, physically impossible nature of giant monsters into a somewhat more scientifically grounded existence, and it could be easily argued that the EVA units themselves are some of the most iconic giant monsters in Japan's long and colorful history of animation. The film is in many ways a thematic successor to the action sequences he brought to life in Evangelion over 20 years ago, and it's only fair to acknowledge that one thing likely lead directly back to the other.

It's also worth noting - without delving too far into spoiler territory, of course - that Anno's film isn't "just" another monster mash. While the Toho films are now rightly regarded as silly camp catering to a young audience with over-the-top costumes and silly practical effects, it's worth remembering that the original 1954 film, directed by Ishiro HONDA, is about as serious and grim as a 1950's B-movie about a nuclear dinosaur was ever going to get. Godzilla was such a popular character he became something of a superhero through the 60s - to the point where even the somewhat dour, mostly monochrome Hollywood reboot gave him a grotesque, dangerous insect nemesis, just to cast him as the "good guy" to the audience.

The original film was substantially more nihilistic, suggesting the appearance of Gojira itself was the direct result of the continued testing of the hydrogen bomb in Japanese waters, and the combination of his blistered skin, atomic breath and destructive presence that turns Tokyo into a literal sea of fire all give the original film an obvious, allegorical bend to the monster being a not-too-subtle reference to the atomic bombings that forever altered Japan's culture, politics and identity.

I bring all of this up because unlike every other single Toho produced Godzilla film... this is a total reboot of the concept. This is the first time Godzilla has been seen by the world, effectively allowing Anno to reinstate Godzilla as the force of nihilistic destruction he was initially envisioned as. And if you think Anno's obsession with literal, biblical apocalypses isn't going to factor into his presentation of Godzilla, you might want to stick with Gareth Edwards and his reptilian bear.

Not being a press critic, I was happy to go to a limited theatrical screening of Shin Godzilla on opening night... but how does the film hold up? As always, I'll warn you when MAJOR SPOILERS are coming, though between the combination of familiar framework and very unexpected execution, I'd argue that the less you know going in, the better.



For those who's only live action point of reference is Anno's live action Cutie Honey movie, you can relax; Shin Godzilla has some of the same inappropriate and self-aware humor that defined what was essentially a parody of the Go Nagai character, but Shin Godzilla ultimately has far too much reverence and understanding of what makes a Godzilla movie tick to not get it mostly right. That said, the almost purely political nature of the story places it closer to something like Doctor Strangelove than Pacific Rim, which I can see either confusing or annoying plenty of viewers who just wanted to see a Japanese dude in a rubber suit stomping all over Tokyo for some kitschy fun. Anno's film is a lot of positive things, but taking cues from both the original 1954 Ishiro HONDA film and his own literally apocalyptic fascinations, he crafts a narrative that's more about compromising for the inevitable rather than preventing it, told from the point of view of exasperated and confused people who can't afford to be idealistic. But I suppose anyone who knows what Evangelion or Gunbuster is and expected a "normal" kaiju movie is just being silly.

Sure hope you like conference rooms.
And subtitles telling you which conference room...

It's not a monster movie so much as a disaster movie with a political lens, with the rampaging titan of the title being the disaster itself - Godzilla becomes a none too subtle allegory for Anno's - and indeed, a large subset of Japan's - frustration with their own governmental role, showing politicians moving from room to room during a live emergency strictly on protocol,  and assuring the people everything's going to be okay and their top scientists - who in reality made an off handed thought - that there's no way the unidentified creature can come up on land... only for one of his aide's to come up and whisper in his ear that yeah, he's already on land. The images of flooded streets and ruined buildings are a none too subtle reminder of the Tohoku 3/11 tsunami a little over five years ago, and as if to quell any doubt that Anno's taking a jab at the real-world politics criticized savagely for taking too long to do anything helpful, he even has the Prime Minister don a rescue worker uniform while staying perfectly safe in his office and giving press conferences. The real tragedy is that while the film acknowledges that Japan's current bureaucracy is too bloated and complex to efficiently deal with an emergency situation, it still tries to treat those elected officials as people who are simply out of their depth, rather than full on Kubrickian parodies of political agendas.

One thing that works surprisingly well about the film is that - unlike its' 2014 cousin, in which we're robbed of Breaking Bad far too early to spend most of the film with Kick-Ass - there is no hero here. No self insert for the audience to feel like they're part of the action. The film ultimately focuses slightly-more on Hiroki HASEGAWA, the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary - a particularly fancy way to say "note taker for the clusterfuck", really - who's not quite old enough for his obvious intelligence to get respected, or his solution-oriented mindset to cut through the red tape surrounding him on all sides. Yutaka TAKENOUCHI plays the Prime Minister's Aide, ultimately being the filter from the politics to the audience as much as to our DCC Secretary; he knows it's a ridiculous and infuriating song and dance to get the many to lean in one direction, but he also knows the weight of the bureaucracy will crush itself with a little law and order, leaving him to whisper in the old man's ear about what's what, and ultimately - arguably - wields the ultimate power in most situations.

(Also: Shinya TSUKAMOTO!)

Scientists, soldiers and politicians all share the ultimate course of the battlefield, and it becomes clear the reak schism is not between those who want lure him away versus destroy him outright, but between the young upstarts who just want to find a solution and the elders of the previous generation who are so used to dragging their feet and protecting their positions of limited power, they can't adapt when a real emergency creeps up behind them. How much of any of this will be interesting may well be tired to how little the average non-Japanese viewer knows about Japanese politics - of which, admittedly, my interest is mild at best. Anno's script has been accused of being right leaning, and while that's not entirely untrue, Japan has been a fascinating case study for some time: "Post-War never ends" one character laments, disgusted at Japan's lack of military autonomy in the case of their absolute worst-case scenario, their reliance on other nations for capital and the fact that a handful of young, innovate people will be holding up the cowardly old fogies, potentially for the rest of their lives; It ain't subtle, but it seems reasonable, and the characters are all just aware of their position enough to give it a little levity to keep it from feeling too dire.

Let's not kid ourselves, there's some obvious nationalism going on, to say nothing of the pot-shots taken at Korea, Russia and the States - with the American presence being filled in largely by the lovely Satomi ISHIHARA, who plays Kayaco Anne Peterson, the Japanese Special Envoy to the President of the United States. There's been some rumblings for the film being "right wing", but I don't really see it; if anything the old guard explains that without being open to globalization and allegiances with old enemies in times of crisis, we're all apt to crush ourselves under a lack of capital and resources. Pride in your homeland isn't worth much if it's reduced to a smoking crater. Even the holy rhetoric enacted by Emperor Hideko TOJO is criticized outright, which is the sort of thing you wouldn't expect from blatant pro-military traditionalist propaganda; if anything, I suspect that most American critics who are also aware of Japan's place in the political landscape simply lean left themselves, and are surprised when the film throws ideas from both sides of the aisle in a desperate attempt not to placate any one audience, but to face facts: Japanese Bureaucracy doesn't always work, and nobody has a simple way fix it completely.

Back to Peterson, her role is somewhat more interesting than I expected - a native born American in personality and ambition, but Japanese in both ancestry and culture - which leaves her conflicted as shit starts to edge toward the fan and leaves her torn between the love of her grandmother's country, and her own political gain. I figured I'd hate her the moment I saw her, but in the end she's kind of endearing... unfortunately, her obviously phonetic Engrish is terrible. I mean it's understandable, which is better than some Japanese actors I've watched spew nonsense syllable salad, but an American, who lives in America, in politics? Are you kidding me?

Yeah, I know. It's a nitpick nobody but native English speakers (who are hardly the target audience) are going to be annoyed by, but... it's still pretty bad.

Our leads.
(Mostly. I guess?)

It'd also be unfair to talk about a Hideaki Anno film without mentioning the presentation; the film's cast is constantly moving, being expanded and shuffled from place to place as new details come to light, which means that subtitles are almost always on-screen in Japanese, giving the viewer some new nugget of context. Camerawork get more frenetic as plans come together, or the audience is only allowed to peek out from dense legal text explaining why the plan won't get approved in the first place; for a film in which the majority of the run time are guys in suits grumbling back and fourth over how absurd their suggestions are due to walls of red tape and a lack of resources on hand, the presentation is about as dynamic and engaging as it was ever going to get. It's not as memorable looking as Cutie Honey, sadly, but I try to picture the monster of this film being "2.5D" as Honey herself was and... then I just don't know how to feel anymore.

The soundtrack, composed largely by Shiro SAGISU, is also as eclectic and beautiful as you'd expect, with the operatic original tracks - including "Persecution of the Masses" and "Who Will Know", tracks that can only be described as operatic. It goes another direction, too, which we'll get into shortly, but all of the original pieces - even those fans of Anno will be intimately familiar with - are fantastic. Anno knows how to use a full surround stage to great effect, and if for no other reason, I'd say see this in a theater just to hear how amazing things are when things start to go downhill for humanity.

In short, Shin Godzilla offers fans a very polished and absolutely unexpected reboot of one of cinema's most iconic antiheroes. I don't think everyone will love it, nor perhaps should they, but Anno seems to have crafted an intense and one-of-a-kind film that's best described as a political thriller with a grotesque sense of humor over its' walking disaster. Yes, it's a dialogue heavy movie less about characters than about ever changing conflict, but considering how much everyone and their mother hated the "dumb action" focused Roland Emmerich movie, this may well be the ideal alternative. It's a fine film, and one that's going to be hotly debated and derided by long time fans of the iconic monster - and not without reason.

To be fair a lot of people hated Emmerich for screwing with Godzilla himself, and hey, about that...



Anno has been making kaiju movies in the form of giant robot anime since the 1980s, so I had little doubt he'd figure out how to make this work. What I DIDN'T expect was for Godzilla, the iconic King of the Monsters, to make his first full appearance as the "Monster A Form" - a bloated muppet impression of a moray eel with stubby legs and pulsating and bleeding gills, dragging his googly-eyed face along the city streets like a literal fish out of water who's had about two drinks too many. 

Dubbed "Kamata-kun" - evidently a pun I don't follow on the legendary Yamata no Orochi, an eight-headed serpent referenced later in the film (subtitled as "Hydra" by the official English translation) - it's infuriatingly stupid watching that gore-spewing amphibious turkey terrorize the populace... and I fucking loved it! Plenty of people won't, and while I know the decision was done to be divisive, I just can't comprehend why we expected any different. It's such an inversion of expectations, such a dick move to pull on such an iconic design that it was built solely to incite fury and confusion, and as far as trolling the audience goes, it may well have set the gold standard. The fact that this absurd fever dream of an introduction is set to the powerful operatic score only enhances how gloriously stupid it all is.

Of course, Shin Godzilla doesn't stay this way for long; after realizing that upward mobility and forearms are required for traversing the world of man, he simply reaches a point where his entire body starts to ripple and instantly mutates into a newer, larger, more mobile form. I'm actually a bit disappointed how brief the Tyrannosaurus shape is on screen for, but the mere sight of him changing the shape and even mass of his body at will is such an unexpected and bizarre sight, I'm fine with the execution overall. There's also something to be said about Godzilla transforming from an awkward sea creature, to a literal dinosaur, to a humanoid monster that uses nuclear firepower as its' final and most horrifying form. I won't lie, I'd have been thrilled to see a few additional "in-between" forms just to satisfy my transforming monster lust, but what we have is a largely logical blueprint... and besides, the subtle shift we get in the third act - to say nothing of the surprise waiting for us in the final shot of the film - suggest other directors less concerned with proving their concept a lot of  room to play with going forward.

Awkward or not... goddamn,
this shot was still impressive.

Whatever misgivings fans may have had for the goofy looking first form, or the fleeting images of the second I'm almost surprised were given action figures, the majority of the film features the almost zombified "Shin Godzilla" we've seen in posters and trailers, and I find myself with decidedly mixed feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand, the design is imposing, unsettling - a literal and gruesome monster the likes of which Lovecraft would wake up in the middle of the night screaming over, and then try to figure out how to make it the product of the Jews later on. On the one hand, watching Shin Gojira, God Incarnate, emerge on land for the first time is exactly what fans who weren't impressed by the Legendary Pictures' Hollywood-style reboot were waiting over a decade for. It's pure, unfiltered fanservice, and it's exactly what fans who know the difference between the Showa, Heisei and Millennium films wanted...

And yet, after Kamata-kun's clumsy, casually blood-spewing and laughter-inducing drunken rampage, watching his march like a wind-up toy across towards Tokyo just feels too... sterile. His tiny unblinking eyes, shockingly stiff body language, and complete lack of vocalizations make him look like a massive robot rather than the clever evolving beast we were introduced to prior (and will see again later). Mansai NOMURA provided the CGI motion capture, but here it looks like it's simply a statue being wheeled along a track, only his tail allowed to show the slightest amount of character, despite Nomura giving the beast a certain consistent level of curious personality and grouchy determination in every other scene the film has to offer. 

Oh no, they say he's got to go...
Oh no, there goes Tokyo...

Further adding to this sensation of rickety awkwardness is the literal recycling of - at times - 50+ year old mono recordings of Akira IFUKUBE tracks from the Showa era films. They certainly hit the right notes for nostalgic Showa era fans, but they also feel so afraid to go off-model from such a transparent, literal return to form it manages to have even less personality than the original 1954 monster. Rumor has it that Anno was intending to remaster the tracks in stereo for the film, but "difficulties" prevented it, and in the end they simply went with the decades old mono mixes as-is. For a guy who gets new compositions of public-domain classical music for his cartoon about kids shitting themselves with existential fear in robot cockpits, this just seems lazy.

And then it dawned on me: The time before this, we saw Godzilla fully evolve from a wiggling eel into a tyrannosaurus-piranha hybrid, and then he... just, sauntered off. And then when we see him again, he's taken on the "classic" Godzilla form, with no real indication that he had a distinct need to evolve any further, despite his constant exploration of his body in every other scene in the film being the result of him experiencing a threat or hardship, and using his biology to find a solution to it. In that case, why show an interim form at all if the only reason to do so is to prove that he can evolve in real-time? Wouldn't something more drastic - or even some gradual steps in between the "Final Form" on his way to the center of Tokyo - make far more sense from both a pacing and storytelling standpoint?

And, suddenly, all I could think of is this...

Right now there are exactly two kinds of people:
Those who are angry, and those who are confused.


For those totally lost, the original Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series - which started as a fairly "normal", if overly dramatic and "realistic" take on classic mecha shows like Mazinger Z and Space Runway Ideon - became a social phenomenon when it took an almost Twin Peaks-esque turn in the second half, becoming a fusion of existentialist self-flagellation, overlapping religious iconography, and extreme violence.  The hints of these elements are there in plain sight the whole time, they just ramp up from "Oh, that was unusual" to "NO SERIOUSLY, WHAT THE HELL IS EVEN GOING ON?!" via a sort of frog-in-boiling-water nature. Once the weird hits you, it's far too late to save yourself, and you'll find yourself reading up on the Seraphic Tree and Arthur Schopenhauer just to have a baseline understanding of what's going on. Mercifully, Shin Godzilla never goes that far... but I'm bringing all of that up for a reason.

See, the TV series was simply too big to ignore, and the blatantly offensive content - such as giant monsters literally eating each others' hearts, staining the entire countryside in blood while teenagers screamed and begged for them to stop - became such a big deal that while broadcasters had previously let Gainax deliver the finished video masters just hours before broadcast, they now required a 24 hour window to preview everything. Anyone who knows anything about anime production knows that this shit is always polished and fixed at the last possible second - seriously, go watch Shiro Bako for an idea of what animation production actually looks like, and keep in mind that the lack of technology to quickly fix fuck-ups in the 90s made this even harder - that when push came to shove, Evangelion became a clusterfuck of limited animation, off-screen dramatic, events and - in the final two episodes - one of the most surreal and desperate visions of the apocalypse ever crafted.

The finale was so controversial, yet the series so popular, ultimately a Director's Cut of the final 6 episodes was released on home video, ending with an entire theatrical movie - The End of Evangelion - effectively remaking those controversial final episodes from scratch and splicing them back into the "Complete Version" as episodic experiences alongside the, arguably, more cerebral minimalist finale... but, that's another story.


The above sequence with the tiny man in the giant hand? It's actually a minute long freeze-frame as Ode to Joy fades to nothing. In short, when his hands are tied, you can generally tell by the obvious level of pure spite on-screen. And, of course, it's also entirely possible Anno is just an aging pretentious hack and I'm giving him far too much credit... but if it that entire was the result of a little bit of both, I wouldn't be too shocked.

It's also worth noting that the effects crew themselves talked about a "Tadpole" creature that seemingly matches the description of the completely unseen figure lurking beneath the water the whole first act. I could forgive the loss of a "Form Zero" for the sake of getting to the good stuff - by which I totally mean Kamata-kun! - but the literal non-entity of a Tadpole 'Zilla, and the momentary glimpse of a T-Rex Zilla are such oddities that they can't help but give me pause.

With the above in mind, I'm now truly honestly curious if there was an entire reel's worth or so of content jettisoned during production with the "Monster B Form", as having his armored shell before he's been attacked by human weapons doesn't actually make a lot of sense in the context they went out of their way to build about his powerset... but, I guess we'll probably never know. Toho is incredibly protective of their most famous star, and Anno isn't known for talking shit after a project finishes, so the fleeting presence of the red, birdlike monstrosity that goes literally nowhere before scurrying off-screen feels like a last-minute change somewhere along the project, with the trailer-friendly zombified march of the final form likely being more in line with what Toho was expecting of the project the whole time.

Just a sunny afternoon in Downtown Tokyo for Toho.

Now, that having been said, every complaint here is nullified, instantly, by the time Godzilla gets to central Tokyo. Watching this monolithic beast suddenly lose its' stoic cool after being nearly a statue for so long has a certain inherent shock to it, and what follows is the most amazing instance of city destruction porn I may have ever witnessed. It's breathtaking, technicolor beauty and satisfyingly massive scale is the stuff that you could make love to, and the fact that it begins with Godzilla, breaking his own fucking face, just to make his trademark atomic breath physically possible is exactly why I was fascinated at the thought of Anno picking up the reigns in the first place. The obvious body horror, physicality of the chemical changes, and final otherwordly beauty are the sort of creative images that nobody else on the planet delivers quite like Anno, and Higuchi brought them to life in a way nobody else could have realized.

After this jaw-dropping scene, however, the film shifts gears back to the offices of the Prime Minister and quickly finds itself back in the hands of the floundering politicians; brave, clever, and desperate to find a solution before the rest of the world finds one for them... yeah, that stuff's still pretty good. But it didn't make me nearly as erect as watching Anno's vision of Tokyo turned into a sea of a flames.

Aside from the real-world military hardware (which is pretty damn satisfying to watch!), it's never photo realistic or cutting edge as far as the effects go, and anyone who expects that from a Japanese Godzilla film is so amazingly far off the mark I'm not entirely sure why they're watching this to begin with. Gareth Edwards - for all of his tedious second act filler trying to convince us its' human drama - has already crafted the ultimate, "realistic" Godzilla, and I'm surprised how intrigued I am by Legendary's similar upcoming treatment of Kong: Skull Island. For Anno and Toho to even try to top that would have been a fool's errand, so instead we get bug-eyed turkeys smashing their face into shit. I'm fine with this, and I think once the obvious reality of what the movie was always going to be sets in, most of the people grumpy about it now will come to the same conclusion eventually.

And as for the final, unsettling shot of the film... hoo, boy. I can't wait for what's an obvious visual metaphor of Godzilla trying to achieve his final, perfect form to be misinterpreted for the next 10 years! Though damn it all, I AM curious if the sequels will pick it up from there and go batshit crazy with what it implies...



That said, for all the things that frustrated me about the above mentioned monster-porn build up, there was a handful of shots - curious, high up, almost introspective shots of the monster - one of which shows it rearing, which is features in many of the film's trailers. It's clear to me this particular shot was the giant mechanical puppet - it was too big to be a "suit" in any traditional sense of the word, and is closer to the stunt-suit used for various shots in the original 1954 film. Those shots bothered, not because "they're not CGI and you can tell" (even though you can), but because... well, Shin Godzilla's face was an entirely different shape than the CGI model. It was longer, had larger eyes - I suppose it was a bit more crocidillian whereas the "normal" CG model was more humanoid. Something about this bothered me, and it took a conversation with the better half to pin down where the issue was...

With all the attention to detail in the figures and so on, why are the proportions of his head a different shape in the actual movie? How would they not catch that?

> Wait. The original Godzilla had two different suits, didn't it?

Well sure. The prototype was turned into the fire breathing head, and it had a longer snout and bigger eyes and...!!!

> What's your problem.


> Yeah. That's what I said.


...I mean, it could be a coincidence that Hideaki "Evangelion" Anno - known for layers of subtle foreshadowing, obscure external references, and generally being a mischevious bastard - accidentally replicated the same mistakes as the film he's effectively remaking... but if that's a coincidence, it proves Anno's a hundred times better at this shit than anyone's giving him credit for. Even if it's completely by accident.

Whether Shin Godzilla's greatness - and curious flaws - is the result of cautious, intentional craftsmanship or accidental genius are ultimately irrelevant. It did the impossible and justified both Legendary and Toho producing fully independent and tonally opposite Godzilla, for different (if oft overlapping) audiences, and there's something gloriously fun about that. If you can see this in an American theater before October 18th, I'd recommend it... the sheer scale of the massive, explosive elements are worth seeing on the biggest screen possible, even if you'll also be able to tell exactly when Anno cribbed some shitty YouTube stock footage.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

88 Chances: 88 Films' 2016 BURIAL GROUND Blu-ray (Review)


All of the stretch goals have been met! Pledging 45 Pounds ($67 USD) will get you all four titles with exclusive slipcases, guaranteed. That's less than $17 per title, shipping included. Their "Italian Collection" BDs are usually £20 for the first-press (ie: with slipcase) and then drop to £12 for the standard release once that initial run sells out, which basically means you're getting the limited edition for the price of the standard edition. No matter how I slice it, this is a pretty sweet deal.

These guys aren't buttering me to shill their campaign, either. I'm just excited to see lovable trash like Absurd and Massacre in Dinosaur Valley on Blu-ray at all.


88 Films is currently running a new INDIEGOGO "ITALIAN COLLECTION RESTORATION PROJECT" CAMPAIGN, with the explicit intent to create new HD masters for Joe D'amato's ABSURD (funded), Michele Massimo Tarantini's MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY (funded), Lucio Fulci's AENIGMA and Joe D'amato's BEYOND THE DARKNESS.

Regardless of what I have to say about the following Blu-ray release, if you care about any of these films, take a look at the campaign and consider contributing. I plan to myself, and if you legitimately want to see more vintage Italian exploitation films released on Blu-ray, you probably should too.

The day has come, friends - I've finally gotten my copy of the 88 Films Blu-ray of Andrea Bianchi's BURIAL GROUND/La Notti Del Terrore - a month late due to a forwarding address apparently having been expired, but hey, who's counting!

For those who don't know, 88 Films secured the rights during, and offered a restoration as a bonus stretch goal to their Zombie Holocaust remaster campaign through Indie Go Go. They were quiet on the subject for a little while, and the reasons behind it became clear when they decided to release a random sampling of A/B/C comparisons of "tests" they were doing with the available materials. You can see them HERE ON FACEBOOK, if that's your jam; the short version was they were left four options, each a little more pleasant than the last.

* Media Blasters' effectively useless HDCAM master, which is such a mess I've written extensively on it - to summarize, massive chroma noise from a poor scan, frames missing at literally every single cut resulting in a notably shorter runtime, and outtakes have randomly been inserted back into the film incorrectly - and that's on top of it having been delayed for nearly a year! (In short, this was the Eurohorror release so shockingly bad that Media Blasters never even bothered to do another one.)

* The only known surviving English language 35mm "Grindhouse Print" which - while more or less complete - looks just as blown out, faded and filthy as you'd expect. We'll talk about that later, rest assured...

* A 16mm Internegative - presumably the same film source that all DVD masters in the last 20 years have been made from, which is badly out of focus.

* The original 16mm camera negative, which - while the very best material available -  evidently required a ton of work to restore every individual cut of the original film to its proper place.

Now, I have a theory, as imperfect as it all is; Media Blasters' transfer claimed to be from the "Original Negative", as does 88 Films' remaster. 88 Films even went as far as to provide some context for the fact that the negative they were offered involved "Undercuts" - in other words, the original 16mm A/B rolls where the editor marked the end of the shot by marking the first frame he didn't want with a big "X" scratched into the print itself... but, before we get into the nitty gritty of the transfers themselves, I can say (with one dubious exception) that every single frame is here.

Which means that either the Media Blasters transfer was made from some other film source entirely - maybe a 16mm reversal-negative with warped splices? - or else they really did go back to the same negatives, and were so shockingly sloppy re-creating the finished negative that they managed to lose frames completely at random because whatever film lab did the work was literally just that amazingly terrible.

None of it really adds up either way, and I've reached out to 88 Films for clarification, but they're taking their time in getting back to me. Without wanting to throw either party under the bus, I'll leave the details and explanations given by their respective parties as they are for now, and will happily update this if anyone's willing to come to light with more details.

So! Confusion and potential behind the scenes drama aside - how is the presentation?


Much like the uncut version of Just Before Dawn that Code Red released a few years ago, this is a gloriously nasty source print that's been given absolutely minimal preservation efforts; for this transfer each and every scratch, scuff, stain, pop and blob of dirt has been retained in its untouched form.

How does one even qualify a transfer like this, I wonder? While I've seen some truly impressive transfers derived from 35mm release prints, this has gone out of its way to not correct any color grading mishaps, to not process out any of the tinny hiss - to call it "raw" would be an understatement, and considering what a cheap little slice of exploitation this particular title is, I would imagine that anyone who legitimately has an affinity for it - particularly anyone who was lucky enough to own an original VHS copy before the various DVD releases, or even see an equally-grotesque 35mm transfer at a revival showing (both of which I myself am guilty of) - won't feel their black, shriveled hearts grow three sizes just spending a few minutes wallowing in this unfiltered stretch of nostalgia.

From a technical standpoint... I really have no complaints. The 15.76 Mb/s bitrate is adequate enough to keep the fuzzy grain structure from looking like AVC soup, and the very rough-and-tumble nature of the whole makes the usual expected problems sort of blend into the constant grimy insanity of the content itself.

The Grindhouse Version ain't pretty. It's exactly as it should be. It's kind of ironic that despite being an ass-ugly source print, there's really no technical complaint to be had.


Here's where it gets a little more complex... but, the good news is that I can emphatically say that the title has never, and may never, look better than it does right now. Whatever quibbles and misgivings I have for the transfer as a whole are absolutely drowned out by the fact that, in the pantheon of low-budget and schlocky Italian horror films to have been brought to Blu-ray, this is far from the worst. It's not perfect, which is a shame, but what can I say? If the $35 I paid as part of the Indie GoGo campaign led to this, I'll live with it.

First of all, the restored version - one oddity I'll explain later aside - appears to be complete. The Media Blasters' release before it lost frames at each individual cut, an issue that is mysteriously not an issue on this virtually-complete presentation. This alone is worthy of praise, considering another Italian zombie trash classic - Hell of the Living Dead - has suffered the same fate in High Definition as the previous Burial Ground master before it.

There's little in the way of notable debris, scratches or damage in general to complain about - there's minor scuffs and dust that hasn't been completely scrubbed away, though it's never to the point of distraction. The original 1.66 framing of the Super-16 negative is preserved in full. The English titles have been sourced from what look like 35mm archival elements, and while I would have liked to see the Italian titles, even just as an extra, I have no complaint over "Burial Ground" being the on-screen title rather than "La Notti Del Terrore".

What 88 Films promises is a 2K scan of the "Original Italian 16mm Negative" has a slightly muted, drab look when compared to other releases I'm familiar with - no contrast boosting here, that's for damn sure! - but daylight scenes have a fairly natural, golden hue and the juicy gore on display is a healthy crimson, with the poorly lit fleshtones tending towards a natural - if slightly sickly - hue. Black levels are quite solid, and overall the restores presentation's clarity and definition is dramatically better than the fuzzy, uneven blobs of high-contrast film grain hovering on top of the Grindhouse Transfer.

The English audio has been transferred in its original mono at 24-bits, as has the original Italian audio. They both sound fairly clear without any obvious hiss, flutter or other analog distortions, though it's obvious the English track has been given a pass of digital noise reduction, while the Italian track is more prone to clearer highs and slightly more distinct separation between music and dialogue - though it tends to hiss and crackle a bit more as a result. The slightly more "raw" Italian track sounds slightly more appealing, and I don't think any of these actors spoke a word of English on set anyway - but neither is really a disappointment.


What needs to be discussed is... well, the general texture of the transfer. Make no mistake, the Media Blasters master was a horrendous abortion of constant, distracting chroma noise that in no way represented the original film elements - 16mm or otherwise. For that reason alone, this release wins hands down - I had intended to do a full 1:1 comparison with that eyesore, but at some point I must have had a stroke of pure sanity and seem to have either sold it, given it away or burned it in a toilet fire.

But is what we have here actually good? I tend to think it's ultimately on the upper-end of the transfers Blue Underground and Arrow Video were releasing early on, before it became en-vogue for them to the scans themselves from scratch; there's noise floating on top of a soft and somewhat smudgy image, a minor-to-moderate level of DVNR that comes and goes (but is especially heavy during the opening zombie attack), and it has that unfortunate, tell-tale artifact of fast-moving objects like swinging weapons having sharp, defined grain while the rest of the image looks somewhat smoothed over.

Perhaps the best comparison I can make is the 2K remaster of Lucio Fulci's Zombie 2... that is, the LVR/Blue Underground remaster, not the superior Arrow Video transfer sold as Zombie Flesh Eaters. If you were fine with that, you'll probably love this. If, like me, you found the Blue Underground release of that lacking... well, you're not exactly in for a treat.

To get a clearer idea of what I'm talking about, open both the "Grindhouse" and "Restored" sceenshots 7 and 11 in different tabs. Notice how "off" the grain looks on moving faces? And notice how despite the numerous other problems on the Grindhouse version, the grain looks... y'know, normal?

[Kentai Films Protip: When you have an especially noisy scan, don't use temporal DVNR! The result always warps during fast motion, and with old CRT scanners the issue is less the presence of noise itself, and more that it seems to exist outside of the underying celluloid image. A far better method is to gently apply a spherical blur until the noise loses its "sharp" look and blends back into the film image proper. No, it's not replacement for a scan with better quality optics, but helps you avoid... whatever it is we should call what we're looking at today. No chroma smearing, no irregular grain patterns - just subtle a softness no one would ever suspect without a direct comparison.]

Do keep in mind that - while I stand by by BU Zombie comparison on all technical merits - the budget and artistic intent behind this film is... well, it was minimal, to put it bluntly. Comparing Lucio Fulci's camerawork, light staging, editing and artistic direction to Andrea Bianchi is like comparing Baz Luhrmann to Christopher Nolan. The 16mm negative stock, terrible on-set lighting, and frantically moving whip-pans all lean me toward wanting to forgive 88 Films' clearly well-intentioned transfer, but... I've got to be honest here. It's just not that good. It pains me saying that, too, but it's just not very good at all.

My opinion was a lot more positive the day the disc arrived, when I could wallow and revel in a stable, watchable HD transfer of archival materials, but the more time I spent looking over different scenes with different intensities of grain management and faded, sickly color that leaves skin an odd, almost gray mass of nothing, the less enthused I became with it. It's never anywhere near as miserable as the 2011 Blu-ray, and it's still a substantial step-up from any SD presentation, but one need only compare the two transfers present on this very disc to know that something just isn't right on what should, in every way imaginable, be the superior presentation.

Had this come out through Shout Factory or NSM Records, pretty much anywhere else that didn't have the fanfare surrounding the restoration itself? I'd just shrug, say "Well, it's better than a bunch of other shitty Euro Horror discs on the market." As someone who paid to see both this and Zombi Holocaust restored... I'm honestly not sure how I feel. Disappointed, maybe, but even that's giving these flaws a little more attention than they probably deserve. I'd bet money this was carried out on the same Cintel hardware LVR has had chugging along for a decade, and it's unfortunate that no matter how hard the staff of any lab might try, they can't magically make garbage hardware they spent a quarter-million dollars on magically "good" - instead they listen to complaints, and adjust their internall processes accordingly, even if the ultimate end result is "add noise reduction so clients don't complain about video noise". It's panning water, not plugging the leak, but that's the situation we tend to find ourselves in...

But high personal standards aside, let's face it - Burial Ground getting a mulligan at all was a goddamn miracle, and if this is as good as it's gonna' get... well, I don't have to praise it to the heavens, but I can say that I've seen, and own, far worse. I'm happy I have this release. I don't mind that I paid $35 to fund it. I just hope this isn't seen as the high watermark when 88 Films themselves have released better looking transfers from other licencors, as they've proven they're capable of much more when their HD tape masters start from a better place than this.


As far as original "Expert Commentary" goes we get a feature length commentary by John Martin, and a 27 minute video interview with Mikel Coven*. I've not watched either, and to be honest, I don't know if I will any time soon - not that I doubt they're amusing and chock full of interesting information, I just don't have the energy to watch another 2 hours' worth of Italian schlock bonus features right now.

Ported from the Media Blasters release are the films' trailer under the title NIGHTS OF TERROR - not only is it poorly upscaled, but it appears to be a PAL-to-NTSC conversion, deinterlaced, and upscaled to 1080i 29.97. Brilliant.

There's also 10 minutes or so of Deleted Scenes presented as-discovered, without sound, which run the gamut of being amusing to erotic to kind of dull, as is often the case. Frustratingly, the Media Blasters incorrectly re-inserted a few of these outtakes at around 00:25:41 on the 88 Films Restored Version. Footage that was supposed to be included in the film proper is still included in the Deleted Scenes reel, but the outtakes that are presented as part of the feature on the Media Blasters Blu-ray - including some additional exploding lightbulbs and a longer scene of two lovers flirting and kissing by the fountain - are nowhere to be found. A minor loss, but a slightly frustrating one all the same.

While the initial print-run comes with an "O-Sleeve" style slipcase, all releases also come with a booklet featuring new writing by Calum Waddell (who also moderates the commentary). Finally, the package includes a collectible postcard featuring the original Italian poster art, as well as a two-sided cover with both classic American and Italian designs. All of this has a sort of bleeding, super-saturated look to it, but there was clearly some effort put into the design, and as a fan of the oft-insane posters for vintage trash films the attention to providing multiple options is deeply appreciated.

*Fun Fact: The interview is interspersed with what looks like the super-noisy footage from the Media Blasters BD.


This is an interesting case. In short, the version on display per the Negative Restoration appears to be the exact same version released on every DVD going back to the Japan Shock release:

At around 00:42:45, James slams the shutters closed after tossing the lifeless body of the maid to the zombies below. In the Restored transfer, he begins to turn towards the camera, and there's a jump-cut to the bloody hands of zombies picking at the corpse below. The music has a jump cut as well, though with the weird, grinding soundtrack over this film it's a little more difficult to tell than normal.

This shot as it appears on the "Restored" version. 

If you go to roughly a minute earlier on the Grindhouse print (due to the truncated title sequence), you'll find that this shot actually runs about 6~7 seconds longer; James leans his head against the shutter, clearly horrified by what he's just done, before it smash-cuts back to a close-up of entrails being clawed at:

Why yes, that does appear to be print damage on the side of the frame.

This specific oddity confuses me. If this was pulled from the original camera negative, the footage would still be there as it was on the Media Blasters HD master - though I suppose it's not unthinkable that the English language 16mm IP that was used for the audio was missing this short sequence, and the raw footage was trimmed to match - rather than the Italian audio being used to fill in the gap, which would have been preferable? One could easily argue that MB never touched the negative - they did, after all, claim to be "working from the negative" on Buio Omega, only to later reveal what they meant was they had a new IP made from said negative - but the fact that Media Blasters unearthed about 10 minutes of never-before-seen footage implies they had some poor sap digging through the archives for the earliest-generation material available.

And yet, the same old footage known to be MIA from the 16mm IP is - once again - trimmed from the 88 Films transfer. Is this master really from the original camera negative, or perhaps a 16mm back-up negative used in place of the unusable OCN the licensors are now treating as one if the same? If not, what the hell did Media Blasters use for their 2011 masters? Don't misunderstand the tin-foil, I want to trust everyone involved here, but as the similar confusion over exactly what materials were used between both Blue Underground and Arrow Video's competing 2K restorations of Zombi 2 have established, either one side is lying... or both are being lied to.

If 88 Films wants to clarify any of this, I'd love to know and will happily update the write-up. I'm not angry, as the scene was (to be fair) a largely inessential reaction shot and it's included on the disc in one form or another. I'm just... confused. And I don't like being confused.


If you own any prior DVD copy and want a notable HD upgrade? Yes. If you own the Media Blasters HD transfer and want a proper, effectively-complete version of the film? Absolutely. If you like having raw, un-restored 35mm "Grindhouse" transfers to ogle in High Definition, as I occasionally do? Hell Yes! If you just want a cheaply made movie looking fantastic on principle? I'd recommend you move on.

All that said, I still plan on contributing a wad of cash to the current Italian Collection Restoration Project. I'm not blown away buy the results here, but I'd still rather see Aenigma and Buio Omega brought up to this standard than to languish in the inferior presentations we currently have at our disposal. It's all a matter of degrees at this point, and even at its worst, Burial Ground commits the cardinal sin of being no-better than average.

I guess if that's the best future I can hope for, I'm fine with it. We live in a time where Michal Mann approved Blu-ray transfers have SD inserts, because at this point sales on physical media are so weak and "old" B-movies do so poorly that nobody fucking cares - not even guys like me. If you need further proof, take a look at the Indiegogo Campaign and realize that despite over 20,000 pounds having been raised, that's still less than 500 backers in total.

Five years ago, when I was adamant that we could - that we should do better, there was still reason to have hope. These days, if a release isn't appalling... that's pretty much yer' lot going forward. If "Average For An Italian Exploitation Film" quality is all we have a chance for, I'd rather take it than not at this point.

Just do me a favor and keep including those chewed-up Grindhouse Prints, won't you? If I can't have a proper looking "perfect" restoration at least let me torture my monitor and headphones with the ugliest, most organic presentation possible as an alternative!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Black Shadows and Blood Red Shoes: Synapse' TENEBRAE Blu-ray Transfer

Alright, let's cut the bullshit; there's nothing more to say about Dario Argento's celebrated 1982 post-modern thriller TENEBRAE that hasn't been said a hundred times by people far smarter than myself. Let's skip to why anyone's interested in me talking about this flick.

I could go on for a thousand or two words, trying to explain the subtle difference between the European "Wild Side" master and the new Synapse corrected version... but why not just sum up the difference in a pair of screenshots?



...and now for the thousand or two words. Damn, I never make this easy on myself, do I?

For those unaware of the full sitiation, the following screenshot is the worst instance of automatic digital scratch repair (DSR) artifacts to be found on the various instances of fast-motion through the film, with this particular gaffe - around 00:37:38 on the Synapse disc - being, by far, the absolute worst offender, but as the booklet proudly gives timecodes for, there's plenty of other, less galling instances throughout that have been manually repaired, effectively by using the clone-brush in Photoshop and averaging out the data manually, as opposed to letting Skynet flip its shit at the slightest bit of confusion.

For those who may not be aware, scratch repair filters basically try to calculate drastic, high-contrast shifts in color over a small area of the frame, and when they identify a high contrast "blip" they assume it's either a stain, dirt or similar, and fill it in with an 'average' of the frame before and after. This removes thousands of instances of small nics and stains and scratches, normally without any major, obvious consequence aside from a slight softening of the image... but it also has the potential to fuck shit up when it can't tell the difference between a hand savaging an envelope and a large emulsion stain. These sorts of artifacts are actually not that uncommon in industry-standard HD masters, but most of the worst are "fixed" - either by creating a garbage matte from the unprocessed source, or simply shoopin' dat woop' - before the consumers ever see anything quite that nasty.

Unfortunately, anyone expecting a perfect presentation absolutely free of DSR artifacts might be setting their hopes a bit too high; the problems are baked in, and often very subtle, resulting in small details distorting or smearing straight out of existence. While it's difficult to find a way to do this that doesn't feel like it's shitting all over the label releasing the title, this could well be an educational moment for many of you, so let me direct your attention to some minor details that struck me as fairly standard examples of DSR artifacts:

In this shot, the bobbing, spiral phone cord is getting marked out as a scratch and has a random chunk smudged into oblivion, a little below the countertop to her right. As you can see, the scratch repair filter is actually trying to fill the cord in with the pattern of the drapes behind her, which is pretty normal behavior when an object like a cable is bobbing around in front of a static background.

This shot is substantially less obvious, but pay attention to the glasses; despite Anthony Francoise being shown to wear tortise-shell specs, the frames have basically become transparent jelly in the handful of frames in which they move along in his hand, only to return to their normal color once he stops moving. His hand is a smeared mess, too - and while it's true that motion blur is always a factor, the fact that his fingers have formed a sort of deformed flipper is a pretty common issue when DSR is set way too high, as it clearly was during the original telecine.

And here's another, perhaps more "obvious" example if we pay attention to Dario Nicolodi's fingertips; the averaging has left a ghostlike impression in the background where her hand only lingered for a single frame, but kept the fleshy color from the frames where the overall "average" was consistently the same color. The artifact is subtle, particularly since her arm is moving the whole shot, but if you've been dealing with this shit as long as I have, becomes somewhat unmistakable.

I want to stress that this isn't meant to rain all over Synapse's parade. The artifacts were baked in at the source level, and while I'd rather have a certain level of scuffs and stains over digital artifacts, the fact is most highly-praised and celebrated HD transfers have some level of minor digital wonkiness due to automated processing that most people - myself included, depending on how severe it is - simply shrug off as normal motion blur or peculiarities of the original camera and film stock.While I admit, a fresh scan from an archival 35mm element would have been preferable to patching over the digital problems that already exist, the presentation is still much improved over the prior version, which was already a HUMONGOUS STEP UP from the virtually unwatchable 2011 Arrow release, which - once and for all - proved that my bitching and moaning about all those weird, noisy transfers coming out of Rome weren't just me expecting too much from limited film elements. Depressingly enough, the far superior French release is actually older than that awful initial Arrow Video master, but since Wild Side was mostly re-releasing Argento movies to DVD at the time I didn't know about it until several months later. Still, having long insisted that something was seriously wrong with the HD masters coming out of Rome, it was nice to finally be validated... even if it took Arrow and LVR shitting out that wet-sandpaper textured 1080p abortion to convince the world that, y'know, maybe I had at least half a clue what I was talking about.

Ah, memories...

Going between that initial gnarly LVR master and the imperfect-but-pretty-damn-good Wild Side transfer, you can likely understand how easy it was to forgive the fairly minor sharpening artifacts that appear as edge-ringing on the 2010 HD master; yes it's there, and it's a shame, but it's such a minor point of contention compared to the initial Arrow HD master I honestly couldn't be arsed to give a fuck then, and several years later I feel as apathetic towards its presence now as I did the first time I laid eyes on it. The only way to downplay the sharpening is to try to blur edges away using spatial interpolation, and while you can get away with that on a crumby looking LD transfer of relatively simple content - say, 16mm sourced animation? - it would likely be a disaster on a source like this. Like the scratch repair gaffes they're just in it for the long haul, and similarly their presence is a minor point or two off of the whole, rather than anything to be especially grouchy over.

I briefly considered doing a full A/B comparison between the 2010 Wild Side Video release from France - which was, after all, the original presentation of the HD master all 3 versions are based on - but knowing that the Arrow Remastered transfer is essentially the exact same thing with a lower (and I assume, correct) gamma... there's not much sense in taking the time. The CAPS-A-HOLIC COMPARISON between the two tells you everything you need to know, namely that the Synapse transfer has warmer mid-tones resulting in brighter, more realistic skin tones, but the highs lean more towards a cool blue that leaves what were once white, clipped highlights looking slightly minty fresh. Generally daylit scenes look totally natural on the Synapse grade, though as you can see, interiors are a bit of a gamble, depending on how dramatic the original lighting was.

It's clear that effort and consideration has been put into adjusting the overall tone of the Synapse release, but the fact is it looks better in some ways and worse in others. Both seem more or less consistent with the vast majority of restored home video presentations and with Argento's demand for an over-exposed film in which the titular "Shadows" are an ironic absentee, and with each having its ups' and downs' I'm not confident to say the grading is conclusively "better" than the other. If I had a gun to my head I'd say I prefer the fuller reds of the US release, but it's literally a case of personal aesthetic preference, not mathematical or even historical accuracy.

How the fuck have I never seen this one-sheet before?

Perhaps the most interesting part of this disc is that, despite being based on the Wild Side transfer, it does also include the alternate "English Inserts" - and it does this via Seamless Branching, which is a feature we rarely see on Blu-ray discs. See, while the film was shot almost entirely in English to start with, various close-ups of the Tenebrae novel itself, the notes the killer leaves for Peter, and even the meticulous book-keeping the killer does of his victims were shot in close-ups in both English and Italian. It's similar to the alternate takes Kubrick did for the "All Work And No Play..." pages in The Shining, I suppose, but with Tenebrae taking place primarily in Rome, it does raise some questions as to why the killer would have English language newspapers in the first place...

The French and UK transfers only present the Italian credits, presumably since the transfer was pulled entirely from the Italian OCN. The Synapse release actually used an archival 35mm print to transfer the English titles and text inserts from, and the quality - perhaps largely due to 35mm opticals always looking a bit ropey anyway - match the rest of the film pretty much seamlessly. Perhaps the most interesting example is at 00:51:55, when Laura Wendel starts reading the newspaper clippings about the murders; the image is only slightly soft and with a bit more debris than the main feature.

While the inclusion of the English inserts are certainly a cool little bonus - and one I don't think have seen a home video release since the Israeli VHS release some 30 years ago, at that! - I'm not gonna' lie. I'd have been way more into seeing the "English" version as its own transfer, warts and all. As far as I know the English "UNSANE" prints still had Italian credits and were mostly complete, sans a few trims to the overt violence to satisfy the MPAA. Oddly, the American prints were cut by another 10 minutes - not by the film distributors, but by Fox Hills Video, who decided that trimming the film would let them get away with releasing a T-30 tape in "EP" mode.

That said, Synapse loses a point for not including the Kim Wilde song Take Me Tonight as the default end theme on the English version. Yes, I've listened to the Argento commentary - yes, I know he hated it. But if you can look me in the eye and tell me that Kim Wilde doing the theme song wouldn't have made this film so amazingly 1982 it hurts... I just don't know that we can get along at that point.

With that in mind, sure, I can forgive Synapse for skipping on the American VHS edition entirely, but... to have an archival 35mm print, do telecine work, and then not transfer the entire print? Synapse could have called this "The Grindhouse Presentation", done literally no work at all, and idiots like me would have been thrilled. Shockingly enough, we are getting the Americanized version of "Creepers" in their next hefty-priced Argento themed steelbook, so I wonder what the deciding factor here was? Cost for a new telecine rather than just having select reels scanned? Bandwidth concerns? What's the deal with not giving fans who have been wallowing in thrilling resotrations the chance to now let them wallow in the scratchy, poorly-graded reality of yester-year? Especially with a film with an intentional a look as Tenebrae, I'd love to know how a "real" vintage 35mm print holds up to the 20 years or so of creator-approved restored prints held up back in the day.

Speaking of bonus "Grindhouse Experiences",
I haven't forgotten about you, old friend...

I find myself torn on how to feel about this one. On the one hand I won't deny that the Synapse BD is hands down the best visual representation of the film, with the most interesting special features, a newly remastered CD soundtrack, and a shiny limited edition Steelbook. The presentation is absolutely top-notch, and as sicj the $50 or so asking price isn't outrageous - certainly not compared to some of the more insanely expensive giallo BDs out there... but is it worth the hefty asking price when the Arrow Remastered edition - "Region B" lock aside - can be had for about a third what this'll set you back? Money is no object, and blah-blah-blah... but fuck me, even I can tell when I'm making a bad decision. And that's where I find myself hitting a brick wall on actually recommending this release to all but the absolute die-hard fans.

While I certainly cringed at the price tag attached to the one-two assault that was Demons and (especially for) Demons 2, I felt they were absolutely worth every penny. The UK transfers for those two films were abysmal, and with the Japanese release being nearly as expensive as Synapse's offering - and with only a slight improvement to Arrow's grubby presentation - the Synapse release was an absolute no-brainer. For fans of that glorious thrill ride and its lesser sequel, the upgrade was effectively mandatory. And I have no doubt that once Phenomena is up for grabs, the Synapse presentation will again be like night and day between the current HD offerings on the market.

Here, however, the differences - however appreciated they are - are all fairly minor, even on a side-by-side comparison. That one shot of Peter's hand is a hell of a lot better... but I can't in good conscience say that fix is worth the price of two typical Synapse BDs, much less three from many of their competitors. Pity this'll be by far the low-point with the definitive edition of Phenomena and their 4K remaster of Suspiria being next in the line-up, but they can't all be worth the premium, I guess...

If the Yellow Fever documentary interest you, if you don't already own the Simonetti soundtrack, the price tag is absolutely worth it. If not, I'm tempted to say stick with the prior Arrow Remastered release - or, if you just want the best looking presentation and can't swallow the cost, just wait 6 months for Synapse to inevitably change their tune from there being "no plans" for a non-limited edition to there being an Amazon pre-order for less than $15.