Thursday, November 03, 2011

The House By The Underground

Apologies, friends, but I just don't have the energy to do a two-part write-up on Lucio Fulci's 1981 unconventional monster movie HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. Suffice to say that it was the final film in his "Trilogy of Death" with Katherine MacColl, wears its The Shining inspiration with pride, and has some of the most infamously irritating child-dubbing in the entire history poorly dubbed children (regardless of what language the film seems to be dubbed in, no less). With more than a pinch of Lovecraftian shenanigans and a healthy dose of the surreal, it ranks as both one of the stranger and more entertaining Fulci supernatural tales, being nowhere near as scattershot as City of the Living Dead but also not as batshit wild as The Beyond. I can't sensibly argue that it's a particularly good movie, but there's something strangely fascinating about it all the same, with an escalating sensation of literal madness and a breakdown between the worlds of the living and the dead so ill-defined that it's all but impossible to decode the eldritch comfort of the film's final minute.

There was a fantastic dissection of the film is available at Brain Eater written some years ago, and anyone hungry for a serious look at Lucio Fulci's impressively chaotic work in general should give it a quick read through.

Blue Underground's 2011 Blu-ray was released the same day as Fulci's Zombie, but for whatever reason I didn't get my copy until about a week later. I took a quick peek at it on Halloween and was left severely wanting, but in the interest of fairness I've done a very brief comparison with the EC "Ulratbit" DVD from 2004, a transfer that was universally banned as being inferior to the Anchor Bay release, but was worth hanging onto for what might be the only surviving video interview with Lucio Fulci himself. I'll throw up a few quick examples, just for fun:

Top - Blue Underground BD / Bottom - EC "Ultrabit" PAL DVD

I can't stress enough that the EC transfer was pretty poor, even for DVD - caked in print damage, overly pink, cropped and with boosted contrast, just to name a few of its flaws. In terms of overall resolution, color grading, print damage, and so much more the new Blue Underground HD transfer is a clear improvement over the EC DVD, and is reputed to be just as substantial an improvement over the old Anchor Bay DVD. I'd love to provide a comparison for that, too, but I just don't have it on me - DVDBeaver COMPARED the Anchor Bay and Blue Underground releases, but their BD caps are softened out for one reason or another, so it's not nearly as reliable a comparison as I'd like...

Even if the EC release wasn't especially good, it still suggests that the new HD master might not be all that it could. Note that in the scene of the girl being dragged across the floor in the first comparison, the Blu-ray has some very digital smearing on her arms and shoulders, while the DVD does not. You can clearly make out Lucio Fulci's fingernails on the SD resolution transfer in the third comparison, but they've been somehow smoothed away in the leap to High Definition. You can clearly see that despite a heavy dusting of "grain" on the HD version, there isn't that much added detail in many of these close-ups. I feel we've established for some time that most of the 'grain' coming out of Italy is really just analog video noise, but it's almost shocking to see how little of the actual high-frequency information we have on this HD presentation could ever be described as "detail". You can also see just how out of control the video noise gets around edges in the final comparison - if you can look at the fuzzy, harsh edges of the out-of-focus seat to the right of the frame and not immediately wince, you're a far happier bastard than I'll ever be.

This in no way makes the DVD the lesser of two evils, but once more it gives us just a brief glimpse into what might have been in the hands of a better film lab. But even without a point of comparison the new HD transfer is inconsistent, at best. Some scenes - such as the entire pre-credit double murder - are awash with some pretty blatant DVNR that's left us with a static layer of video noise that's a bit like you're watching the action unfold through a screen door. Others - such as the scene with the decapitated mannequin - are extremely grainy and, dare I say it, almost film-like underneath all of that extra CRT garbage. Detail is marginal and smearing is evident on a great number of scenes, though at least it's considerably less "waxy" looking than it was on Zombie.

The image fidelity drops considerably during optical effects (as expected). All of the print damage I've noticed is consistently white outside of those already 'iffy looking dissolves, so just as with Zombie I have little doubt that BU's claim of having used the camera negative is accurate. Minor bits of dirt and minimal scratches are present through the film's runtime, but I wouldn't call them particularly distracting - especially not having had a chance to compare them to the EC transfer, which makes it look like the negative was stored in a washing machine full of razor blades and kitty litter. Color timing has improved compared to all previous releases, and while it seems doubtful that BU would have Sergio Salvati oversee the transfer and then not mention it on the box, the results look consistent and largely natural compared to the overly pink shadows of the EC transfer or the crushed gamma of Anchor Bay's old DVD. The transfer's bitrate weighs in at about 33 Mb/s using AVC, and as expected there are no compression related mishaps to speak of.

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (16-bit) track is, essentially, the film's vintage mono mix with the haunting Walter Rizzati score presented as it was recorded in glorious stereo. Italian mono is also provided for those of you who want to try and escape Bobby's horrific dubbed voice, though sadly the only English subtitles included are of the Hard of Hearing variety, so as such any matching they do to the Italian dub is purely coincidental. (French and Spanish subtitles are included, presumably, for the English track.) I'd say the film sounds better than it looks, and honestly I'm satisfied to see a Blue Underground release that doesn't include a ridiculous 7.1 surround remix. There's a pretty nasty audio dropout after the opening opticals, but it's present on the EC release, too. It surely could have been fixed (and is so jarring it probably should have been!), but being an error native to the original English dub I'm more or less willing to let it slide.

Fulciphiles and Eurohorror completists who have been satisfied with Blue Underground and LVR's most recent offerings like Cat O' Nine Tails and Torso will surely be overjoyed with the transfer, while those who have thought that everything after Deep Red has been a bit of a crapshoot will likely disappointed, so upgrade accordingly. It's honestly starting to piss me off that the two year old BD release of The New York Ripper remains the single best looking Fulci title on home video...

A host of new HBTC-themed interviews are included, with a particularly informative piece with Gino de Rossi being my personal favorite - though there's certainly something to be said for an interview with the grown-up Bob who says "Don't blame me! That's not my voice!" with a big smile on his face. The animated menus are cute enough, and the film is packaged in a standard BD keepcase with one of the film's better pieces of key art. I think my favorite is actually the old US one-sheet as featured on the EC Ultrabit slipcover, but at least that's been included in an SD still gallery - one of several odds and ends BU saw fit to port from their decade and change old DVD release, along with the silent deleted scene that was once an easter-egg.

As always, the Blue Underground presentation is all class... too bad the transfer's kind of a letdown. Arrow Video in the UK has the film lined up for an early 2012 release with what's sure to be some exclusive new bonus features and a myriad of different covers, but knowing it won't look any better than this I'm going to have to pass. It's a shame that Blue Underground's Italian sourced transfers are getting generally worse and not better, but I suppose the fact that I can chalk this up as looking better than Zombie or Torso is better than nothing.


Michael said...

Quick correction: with an image transferred directly from the camera negative, you should only see white (i.e. negative) print damage. I would take the presence of black flecks to be a good indicator of a positive source. Optical shots will include both positive and negative damage, but that's to be expected as, by its very nature, an optical shot can't possibly be taken from the camera negative.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Optical shots possess both black and white damage, while the bulk of the film has only white print damage - or, at the very least I've not spotted any black bits of muck on the print, and that's more than I can say about a few of the supposedly negative sourced BU transfers I own...

Re-reading that part of the review I clearly didn't do a very good job of explaining it, so let me fix that right up.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Just watched this last night. I was pleased enough with the presentation though kept wishing it had been so much better. But, if it's all we ever get, I'm satisfied at least.

The color timing of a lot of these LVR titles is what bugs me the most. I felt that House by the Cemetery was a bit faded. The redheaded girl barely ever looks like a redhead, and most of the movie is just very white. Dunno what it is, but a lot of these transfers are blazingly white—as opposed to Deep Red's pee-washed image.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Wondering which Shriek Show triple features boxes are worth picking up. I have Zombie Pack 1 and 2, Jungle Horrors, Demons, and Psycho Killer. Considering the Cannibal Lunch Box and Jungle Girls packs.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Also (woo, the Chris Jacobson Triple Comment Pack!), now seems like a good time for me to snag Beyond the Darkness and Zombie Holocaust on Blu since DeepDiscount is having their 25% off sale. Roughly 13 bucks apiece, not so bad. Even consider Burial Ground, though I reeeaaally shouldn't. If it wasn't missing frames—which really sounds like it messes the hell out of the entire presentation—I'd probably go for it.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Neither the AB nor EC transfers had particularly strong skin tones either, so if the pale faces in The House by the Cemetery were just the result of the original photography I wouldn't be totally surprised. The New York Ripper always struck me as having super bleached out skin tones too, but the psychedelic sequences are all fully represented without issue, so I wonder if it was a look Fulci was actively trying to achieve? For whatever it's worth, both Zombie and Torso had healthy, vibrant skin tones, so while I totally understand what you're saying it's not something I can blame LVR of total consistency for.

The CANNIBAL LUNCHBOX set is a waste, honestly. Blood Feast 2 is cut (the fu-!?), and Warlock Moon is... well, I don't even know why the hell that's on DVD. No offense to Joe Bob or fans of cultish obscurities, mind you, but I made it about 15 minutes before deciding I'd try again later. You're better off buying Man from the Deep River on its own (problematic as that disc might be...), or perhaps even simply skipping the three altogether.

I've yet to grab the JUNGLE GIRLS pack, in part because I'm severely allergic to most Jesus Franco films. I do, however, need Amazonia: The Catherine Miles Story for my life to be complete, so for the $15 it regularly sells for I'll pick it up someday.

I'd strongly recommend the POST APOCALYPSE set, if your tastes in ridiculously awesome movies swings even remotely in that direction. The Bronx Warriors, After the Fall of New York and The New Barbarians for about $20! How can you go wrong?

I'm still considering whichever of those SS HELL packs includes Gestapo's Last Orgy and SS Hell Camp: The Beast In Heat. Shriek Show seems to have culled the opening titles of the former from VHS(!), but the film is such a silly, sleazy epic I desperately need even a half-watchable DVD copy.

That set was selling for ridiculously inflated prices for a while, but now that MB has a distributor again the prices seem stable - down to about twenty bucks or less.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck. I bought Burial Ground despite knowing all its problems. I feel ashamed. $10 potentially thrown away—but it was the price that made me cave. I guess I wanna see for myself how much of a trainwreck it is.

I own Blood Feast 2 uncut so it's no problem. I can score that Cannibal Lunch Box set for $7 which is why I'm interested, if just for Man from Deep River, which looks schlocky and entertaining based on the trailer. (Dunno what it is about those Italian cannibal flicks; they can be the shittiest shit and I'll still enjoy 'em.)

That Jungle Girls set is $11.49 currently at DeepDiscount with the 25more code.

I'm all over that Grindhouse Psychos! set just for Don't Go in the House. Already placed my order at DD and they now only do free media mail shipping if you order $25 or I may just have to pay the two bucks more at Amazon sometime later, ha. Not in a rush since it doesn't look to be going out of print soon and it's only a two-dollar difference.

Also, I don't know what this is, just happened upon it, but I like the blatant Maniac Cop ripoff/homage appeal:

Dammit, this month is sapping my wallet. DD sale, new releases, Twilight Time, B&N Criterion sale, Devin Townsend Project box set... Too damn much.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

And that new Evil Dead II transfer better be amazing. (Plunked down a pre-order at DD for $9.)

Kentai 拳態 said...

Tell me about it! I think if I stop at a hundred bucks on the Criterion half-off sale, I'll feel it was something of a victory.

I really should pre-order that Evil Dead 2 BD, too. I'm 99% sure it'll be the same goddamn HD master as the disappointing Anchor Bay Blu-ray, but odds are the bonus features alone are worth what they're asking for it. Plus, it's not like getting a middling BD transfer is going to make my THX DVD stop playing...

Kriztoffer Swank said...

If it ends up being another transfer of the same master, I'll be so pissed. I read this at

In a new press release, Lionsgate has confirmed that the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray boasts "a thrilling new High-Definition 1080p transfer." This news validates what Red Shirt Pictures' Michael Felsher told Fangoria Magazine in a recent interview, that "Lionsgate is aware of how dissatisfied people were with the transfer on the previous Evil Dead II Blu-ray, and are taking steps to solve that issue for the new edition."

...but it doesn't really say a whole lot.

For $9, if the transfer's still crap, I'm still excited for the new extras, but I'll be sorely disappointed. And if it's good...well, hopefully it won't be long before Army of Darkness gets a nice transfer. I've seen prints of that two different times and both times it was a marvel; I'd like a BD that captures that qualit, and hopefully it'll be a set that features both cuts (with the director's cut scenes taken from a better source than the DVD, if possible).

Kentai 拳態 said...

Do yourself a favor and find a copy of that MGM R3 release of Army of Darkness. I know I shudder at the thought of buying an SD release these days, but it's really a spectacular looking and sounding release of the DC. Archival quality 35mm the whole way, baby!

Nicholous said...

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the Evil Dead 2 BluRay, but I'm disappointed that the old commentary isn't being carried over. Was always a favorite.

Just since Warlock Moon came up I have a question: do you, Kentai, or anyone else, know if MB ever put out corrected versions of Warlock Moon and Hell High? As you probably know those releases, along with some of the Ray Dennis Steckler films, had an authoring error where an entire chapter worth of the movies was skipped. I've heard some state that there are corrected versions, but haven't had any solid info.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Any idea where to get that R3 AOD? HKFlix closed down.

By the way, for what it's worth, Xploited Cinema is doing one last sale to try and clear out all items before closing down for good.

Kentai 拳態 said...

I'd suggest the fine folks over at YesAsia, who currently LIST the DVD for a mere $10.99 plus postage. I don't honestly remember what I paid for it so long ago, but I'm sure it wasn't less!

Doing some research, I stand corrected: The CANNIBAL LUNCHBOX is worth getting if you give a damn about Warlock Moon, because it's the only way to get the fixed 84 minute print! It's evidently still missing sevel minutes of footage when compared to the old Unicorn VHS, but at least the Joe Bob Briggs commentary is complete.

As for Hell High, there was a fixed 84 minute DVD released as part of the HIGH SCHOOL HORRORS box set - but apparently not all of the sets included the fixed print. So not only is it a crapshoot, but the fucking thing's out of print and regularly sells for far more than it's worth.

There is a single copy left over at RightStuf, but otherwise you'd just have to buy a copy, hope it's uncut, and when it isn't bug Media Blasters through Facebook/eMail/whatever and hope they'll actually replace it for you.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Thanks for the YesAsia link. Now I face the dilemma of whether or not to get the ICV Hong Kong Blu-rays for some Studio Ghibli flicks, ha ha. I have their DVD of Princess Mononoke, which looks almost identical to the Japanese DVD save for some lesser encoding, so I wonder if their BDs will be of slightly lesser quality or the exact same thing as in Japan. They're even released in the same cool packaging.


Kentai 拳態 said...

As I understand it, those IVL Ghibli releases are pretty good - just don't expect to get the full Japanese release at 50% off. The HK releases are packaged in a standard keepcase with a cardboard slipcover - they still the same classy, minimalist key art as the JP releases, but you don't get the cardboard "book" packaging those $90 JP deluxe releases come in. The "slot" that holds the disc doesn't seem all that secure anyhow, but they do look nice on the shelf, so it's a wash if you ask me. (Sadly I don't own Nausicaa, but I have had a chance to play with a friend's copy.)

PONYO and NAUSICAA were both re-encodes (the former being 1080i for whatever reason), though LAPUTA appears to be a 1:1 port of the JP transfer with a number of language options and an extra or two stripped off. That's not to say that the HK encodes were bad, but the JP transfers, (particularly Nausicaa's 8K grain-loving restoration, are typically reference affairs with bitrates through the roof. Again, you get what you pay for in Japan.

Keep in mind the HK releases keep Cantonese/Mandarin dubs and original Japanese, but drop the English audio. Probably not a deal breaker for adults, but if you have kids around you might want to share the film with who aren't old (or patient) enough to follow subtitles, this is one of those rare instances where it might not be a bad idea to have the English dub on hand.

That US release of NAUSICAA is actually pretty great... burned-in English credits aside, of course. Sigh

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Ah, not the same packaging, hmm. (And yeah, IVL was the initialism I was looking for, lol.) Same cool art though.

Maybe I should just save up for the Japanese releases. When I noticed the HK ones don't have the English dub, I thought about how I've been buying these Disney Blu-rays partially to one day have kids and have them enjoy 'em (which is pretty much the only reason I'll be buying The Lion King, that dreaded film—and to have a complete collection, urgh), and there's no way they'll be reading subtitles at an early age.

I own the JP Nausicaa BD. It's a beaut'. Been meaning to buy the rest of the Ghibli BDs off but they're just so darn expensive.

Then I go into freak mode and wonder, "Since I wanna buy all these BDs eventually, maybe I should also buy the Ponyo BD coming out that's in the same packaging." Freaky OCD type stuff.

Boooo. Maybe I should stop buying cheap cult horror BDs for a few months, save up, and then splurge on all the current Ghibli BDs. Sounds like an idear.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Would ya say the non-Miyazaki-directed flicks are worth getting? My Neighbors the Yamadas, Whisper of the Heart, The Secret World of Arriety, and Tales from Earthsea are all available or soon to be. I haven't seen a single one of those.

Kentai 拳態 said...

'Fraid I'm not the guy to ask about Studio Ghibli. I have an unending respect for the company, but that doesn't always translate into a feverish need to see everything post-haste. Heck, the fact that I still haven't seen GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES is a shock, even to me!

And totally off-topic, but be glad you kept that EVIL DEAD 2 pre-order. The words "Original Negative" were just used in reference to it... man, this month is getting expensive, and I am loving it!

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Yeah, I assume you're referring to what Michael Felsher posted:

I'll admit its hard for me to be objective in some ways, but having just viewed the new transfer of EVIL DEAD II for the first time, I have to say this lays to waste any version of the film you've ever seen before. Lionsgate really stepped up to the plate for this one. Deep rich colors, natural healthy film grain, sparing use of noise reduction, and practically blemish free. This is the first time the original negative was used to create a home video transfer for this title, and it shows!


Hopefully Lionsgate won't mess things up by giving it a crappy encode.

And, I just ordered that R3 Army of Darkness DVD. A little under 15 bucks shipped ain't bad; who knows when a proper Blu-ray of the director's cut will see light.

Greg M said...

Christopher, If I remember correctly, in addition to looking great, the R3 disc is the most complete version of the director's cut available. It even features a snippet where Evil Ash rips the heroine's top off... something that is supposedly missing from ALL other home video releases. It's a really excellent release.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Additional footage? That is something to get excited over. Dunno why it's taken me this long to buy it.

Estimated delivery date is early December. It'll be a difficult wait...

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Yo, Kentai—question:

Are prints ever used for scanning, or am I just showing a huge amount of ignorance in this review? I recently read Robert Harris say that prints are never used.

For that matter, what all ARE used, and what are the definitions of each source?

Kentai 拳態 said...

That's a good question. This is the order of generations involved for a typical 35mm film from before the days of the Digital Intermediate:

Original Camera Negative (OCN)
Interpositive (IP)
Internegative (IN)
Release Print

If you shot on 16mm for wide distribution, there's a blow-up stage, too. For some films (MANIAC) the 16mm negative was never kept, because the 35mm blow-up negative was considered "good enough" for archival purposes.

In the case of THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, I contacted Don May for more details since I was legitimately curious what sources they had access to. He said that the filmmakers had two copies of the film left: an R-rated analog video master with accompanying original audio materials, and an uncut 35mm Interpositive without any sound. The new HD master was made by adding the audio elements to the uncut IP, which already had color timing and opticals 'baked in', which wouldn't always be the case if they had used the negative.

The 16mm OCN for this one seems lost to the ages, but keep in mind this IP is really two generations removed - from the OCN to a 35mm blow-up neg, and from that blow-up to the IP itself, which explains why the contrast is so hot and where all that excessive grain came from. It's not especially uncommon for the OCN to be essentially incomplete for low budget movies anyway, and as such they'll have to use IP or similar sources to fill in the gaps, which is what they did for both BASKET CASE and THE EVIL DEAD.

Most DVD and Blu-ray transfers have been made either from the OCN, or a brand new IP. Sometimes when a licensor isn't interested in touching the negative again, you get a transfer from an IN given to the licensor (AUDITION).

Other times, a beat-up theatrical print is literally all that's available (or even exists!), which has been the case for obscurities like LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET, PETS, and ROCK & RULE and even just scenes missing from the archival print, as was the case with the old US transfer of A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN. These are all notable exceptions, however, rather than the norm in the industry.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Ah, cool. Thanks for the info. Shame the Dorm and Maniac OCNs are apparently lost for good. I can't understand the mindset of getting rid of those in favor of something else.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Here's a sad story to mull over regarding Buddy Cooper's 1985 gore comedy The Mutilator (a personal favorite, I might add):

Code Red purchased the rights to release the film, and went to pick up the negatives which were in a storage space - only to find that the place no longer even existed, and that the things held there had been long since discarded.

Cooper searched his home, as well as various film labs that were involved over the years, only to turn up nothing but a badly damaged 35mm trailer and some random trims that were left over from production. People contested that there's footage of 35mm cans in his garage (which is true), but that's where the trims/trailers were. The full negative, or any complete 35mm release at all, are simply unavailable as far as anyone knows.

If someone's sitting on a usable copy they've yet to come forward, though as (legally speaking) any original 35mm materials belong to Cooper, it's possible that a private collector is holding onto it and doesn't want to say anything for fear of losing it. Particularly when that material is owned by Hollywood studios, they can consider theft a very big deal.

The archival IP made for the American cut of Godzilla, King of the Monsters was in that very same situation - though thankfully that private collector was willing to loan it to Criterion for the upcoming Blu-ray, so long as he could remain anonymous through the process!

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Sucks. I've never seen (or heard of) The Mutilator, but it's always a crying shame for original or good film elements to go missing. I hope that if somebody does have cans of film, they'll fork 'em over.

I just ordered the Code Red DVD for Nightmare. Been wanting to see that for years and almost imported a UK disc. Glad I didn't.

And: Synapse sale. Embodiment of Evil and Maniac Cop BDs $13 and $12 respectively. Wish I hadn't already bought 'em. :p Think I'll snap up that Vampire Circus BD.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Also, just because I need to lament to someone who might actually give a shit:

My laptop hard drive went completely bonkers and crashed, corrupted, lost all my files. Not a BIG deal, since pretty much all my important stuff is on my external HDD, but I had downloaded a 720p rip of the Bubblegum Crisis BD set and hadn't transferred the files. It took me like a week to download that ish, since I have an incredibly crap Internet service. Gotta start torrenting anew.

Wish that set would come out in the States. Honneamise/Bandai seemed pretty good for a while, releasing their anime BDs here, but they totally dropped the ball on this one and probably a bunch of other releases I'm unaware of.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Just be warned that VAMPIRE CIRCUS looks to be a CRT sourced transfer with some pretty blatant black crush compared to the prior Carlton UK DVD release. $13 is a fair price and the disc, overall, seems to be an improvement over the PAL DVD, but it's just not the best work Synapse has ever been associated with...

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Poo. Ah well, the screencaps look decent enough, and it's thirteen bucks, so I caved. Black crush aside, it looks pretty nicely detailed.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Woo, I've scored one of the Intruder workprint DVD-Rs. I asked the dude at Horror Movie Empire if he could procure some copies, and he was able to do so and is giving one each for the first two people who spend $75 on the Synapse sale items. Thankfully there was about eighty dollars worth of stuff I wanted, and I'm the first to get the DVD-R. :o Looking forward to getting the goodies.