Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Craven's "Talent" Finally Gets Its Blu-ray Due

I went over how the Image Entertainment Blu-ray of Wes Craven's inbred cannibal classic, The Hills Have Eyes, was a particularly underwhelming SD sourced upscale. Though I'll admit some aspects of the film have aged poorly, the solid performance of the heavily deformed character actor Michael Berryman, unconventional take on what it means to be "family" on both sides of the Kindly Cityfolk vs Desert Cannibals divide, and the sudden, brutal downer of an ending have kept the film fresher than a great many drive-in exploitation features of the true American independent era that changed permanently with the introduction of "Direct to Video" entertainment. Honestly, I'd say the film was pretty good, if it weren't for the fact that High Tension director Alexandre Aja basically destroyed the original with a remake which, despite being far less socially relevant than its predecessor, is every bit the visceral superior and managed to be so while not only stealing, but improving on virtually every set piece that made the original a legend to begin with.

I've also briefly touched on the fact that Wes Craven's sequel to The Hills Have Eyes - the cleverly named THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2 - has long been thought of as one of the worst sequels to anything... ever. Perhaps it's the fact that Papa Jupe and Pluto have somehow, magically, returned from the dead? Maybe that it's a film about Motocross douchebags? Or how about the fact that the goddamn dog gets a flashback? Whatever it is, the film's crappiness is a thing of legend... and the fact that such an infamous train-wreck gets a brand new transfer that looks like this is the sort of thing that just makes me want to give up buying movies completely... not because they did it wrong, but because they did it right for a film that, even the creators themselves insist, deserved nothing.

I'm actually more sad at Kino's greatness here than I am at Image's bullshittiness. Is that weird? We all know I'ma dick and as such and I'll be the first to say that it looks like it's got some pretty funky looking gray-scale banding, but fuck me running... this still looks ten times better than Maniac or Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.  I'm also willing to bet the print has been cleaned twice as hard as Basket Case, though I'll have to wait and see it for myself.

And, yes, I'm actually going to buy this horrible piece of shit. Not because I WANT it, exactly, but because I tend to throw money to reward companies for doing the right thing... even if it's with something this wrong.

Good for you, Kino/Lorber. You've shown a shitty cash-in that even Wes Craven, a man proud of all four Scream films has dismissively called "a paycheck", a hundred times more respect than the actual classic that spawned it. If you truly love B-movies or Wes Craven or want to see cinematic obscurities still trickling out in High Definition in  general, for the love of fuck, give 'em fifteen bucks. They've earned it harder by restoring this cinematic deuce than the average Pink Salon worker after a double shift!

Monday, February 20, 2012

What Do You Know About... Witches?

So, a local Italian film festival played an actual, old-school International Classics print of SUSPIRIA - followed by a 25 minute long "preview" of Argento's upcoming DRACULA 3D. The Italian Hitchcock himself was there for the event, and I was amused to find that Mrs. Kentai couldn't stop saying (far too loudly for comfort) that HE WAS SO CUTE!! I mean, he is, but for crying out loud hun...

The latter has improved some of the CG we saw late last year in that 6 minute promo reel, and I'd be lying if I said didn't at least get a campy kick out of seeing Asia Argento's still impressive body bare to the world in Stereoscopic "REAL3D" before pretty much anyone else... but, as expected, the film still looks all sorts of disappointing. Perhaps not Phantom of the Opera terrible, but not better enough based on everything we've seen leading up to this point, either. Even poor Rutger Hauer looks more confused in his role as Van Helsing than anything... In the end I think Argento apologists will love it, drunken techno-buffs will have a new guilty pleasure to waste their overpriced 3DTVs on, and the rest of us who are waiting for Argento to resurrect his flailing career will simply sigh, shake our heads, and be thankful that we still have everything from Deep Red to Opera.

Anyway, I'm mentioning this to share a few thoughts about the vintage American version of one of the most fantastic horror films ever shot. Every DVD and Blu-ray release since 2001 has had at least some controversy attached to it, and I wanted  to mark a few of the more important thoughts down before they were lost to the ages;

* Despite being what I can only assume was a release print and thus several generations away from the camera negative, the contrast was nowhere near as exaggerated as it was on Luciano Tovoli's "DP Approved" 2007 HD restoration. Broadly speaking the print looked quite similar to the Anchor Bay DVD from 2001, though fleshtones had a bit of a constant yellow push where the AB transfer was closer to green. Which is "correct" I have no fucking idea, but I'd be willing to wager the ideal color timing is somewhere in the middle; imagine the UK Blu-ray without the contrast cranked up past 11 and I think that'd be the best of both worlds.+-

(The only alternate possibility is that this is a new positive print made from whatever Interneg International Classics had; the print was plenty clean and tramlines were particularly inoffensive, but reel changed were a bit on the nasty side, and it honestly seems ridiculous that anyone would make a new edited US print versus paying to have Technicolor Rome make a new IP from the negative. Without any conflicting information present, I'll assume that this is, indeed, the real deal and that it's been kept almost shockingly pristine in the last 35 years or so.)

* The print was almost positively optical mono, and most curiously, the scene early on where one of the doomed girls shouts out the key to unlocking the mystery of the Tanz Akademie is distorted under thunder and screaming wind - just like the Anchor Bay DVD! This was a sticking point listed as a blatant innacuracy by countless Argento fans on early internet reviews, largely I assume since the English stereo mix included on the various uncut VHS/LD incarnations had the line more or less unscathed...

I don't know why two versions of this line exist on actual 35mm prints, but it's nice to know once and for all that Bill Lustig and his company didn't go out of their way to create a new distortion. Likely, that's what the audio elements they were given sounded like to start with!

* The print I saw removes the scene in which Daniel, the piano teacher played by Flavio Bucci, is kicked out of the school and deals with it by getting his blind ass hammered. It basically just cuts straight to the scene of him walking through the deserted streets with his dog, which is a bit odd, but probably not overly distracting if you haven't seen the film uncut before.

* Similarly, the opening murders are all cut down pretty dramatically to appease the MPAA. Everything MOVIE CENSORSHIP has pointed out was indeed missing, as was the close-up of a certain girl getting her throat cut with a straight razor... rather, the first second or so of the shot was there but it cuts abruptly away.

* The final shot of Jessica Harper in the rain doesn't go tinted red, as it does on the HD master. I really have no idea where that bullshit came from. I still strongly suspect that IF that was ever a thing (and I doubt it was) that it was something they added solely to the Italian 70mm prints, which would likely have to have completely different titles anyway.

* Color was exceptionally bold, with the reds, teals and gold that saturate the film looking vibrant and dreamlike without ever looking as... electronic, one might say, as the 2007 HD master. While the focus was regularly a bit on the soft side grain was surprisingly fine, almost non-existant on much of the darker material. My guess is this was due to the film being shot using the long abandoned Technirama 8-perf  35mm process, giving this film roughly four times the negative resolution of the average Techniscope feature. It was fine enough that you could clearly see the wires holding up the bat puppet, and I honestly don't remember seeing that on the UK Blu-ray...

* Speaking of "not seeing" shit, the 'shadow man' that attacks Suzy with a straight razor was - aside from his eyes - completely indistinguishable from the shadows around him. Whether this speaks to the weakness of a multi-generational print, or the "crushed" shadow detail on the UK Blu-ray is actually what Tovoli and Argento wanted from the theatrical release is anyone's guess, but I can say that the scene is notably more effective when all you can literally see are a pair of glowing eyes and a dark shape waving its arms from a pit of pitch black horror.

* Yes, I saw the Suspiria movie, now who wants to touch me? I SAID WHO WANTS TO FUCK'N TOUCH ME!

And just to be certain that friend of the Kentai Blog Michael Mackenzie didn't see THE SAME EXACT PRINT I did at the 2009 Glasgow FrightFest, the print he saw began with a BBFC "X" rating certificate while this one ended with an MPAA "R". Can't get much more definitive than that, now can it?

Apparently they played Django in the same theater a few hours later, but they merely used the Blue Underground BD. They're also playing Cat O' Nine Tails and Deep Red later in the week - I just can't justify a trip out for the former, but I might just take a drive for the latter. If I say nothing, assume I was either busy or that it was also the Blue Underground video release and not a genuine rotten grindhouse print with THE HATCHED MURDERS slapped on over the original titles with sticky tape...

I guess this want to experience a "real" 35mm prints, scratches and fading and all, is basically that same slightly illogical, archaic technology driven lust that vinylphiles have against CD, isn't it?

EDIT: Cuss on me! Turns out the Deep Red show was Monday and the Cat O' Nine Tails show is on Wednesday, not the other way around. Oh well, this wouldn't be the first time my fuzzy memory has gypped me out of a local screening...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Deadly Con

A word of slightly belated warning: Don't waste a penny on the newly-resurrected Elite Entertainment's Blu-ray release of the 1983 independent splatter film THE DEADLY SPAWN. I'll spare you an exhaustive comparison because I feel that my friend Kevin at WTF-Films has done quite admirably in showing off what a shockingly wretched pile of upscaled worse-than-the-DVD dogshit this release has turned out to be. Seriously, if this doesn't turn out to be the single worst release of the year, I'll consider suicide by eating my own pure shock on toast. It's clearly the same SD transfer Don May, Jr. created for the Synapse DVD in 2004, upscaled to 1080i and then caked in enough DVNR to make Predator blush... the fact that it got a two-out-of-five score on the video review at only serves to underscore that if I don't know what I'm talking about, then at least half of the critics doling out video scores must be legally retarded blind.

Making this even sadder is the fact that the film's producer, Ted A. Bohus, has been pimping this release leading up to its release on the forums. When faced with comparisons like those above, the best he can come up with is the fact that AICN liked it... despite the fact that Harry doesn't even mention the video quality. To Bohus' credit he threw together a few new extras that fans are sure to eat up, but I don't think a mountain of bonus content can make up for the feature looking - and I'm literally not exaggerating when I say this - substantially worse than the DVD from 8 years ago. But what's really crazy is that I got in touch with Don the other day over this - he's cool like that -  and he mentioned that, as far as he can tell, Bohus  never even got a Digibeta copy of the SD master. Now this is clearly the same telecine work Synapse did nearly 8 years ago - and that was scanned in SD to start with!

So how the heck did he come up with any sort of "HD" master when he didn't even have access to an archival SD one? I'll just let you guys use your imagination and come to your own conclusions... all I know for sure is that Don May has made a public offer to work with Bohus and do a proper Blu-ray release. With any luck this is just the first step in a larger, more satisfying epic of lulzy bullshit (as it was when Synapse restored THE ARIZONA NAILGUN MASSACE on DVD, under almost unsettlingly similar circumstances), but in the meantime, just don't say Kentai and a half-dozen other folks didn't warn you.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Shameless Distortions

Et tu, Shameless?

Thanks to Chuck Pennington for posting this for us all to gawk at how amazingly hard the Italian inserts on the English track of Shameless' FOUR FLIES ON GRAY VELVET Blu-ray really do suck. Oh yeah, MASSIVE FUCKING SPOILERS are contained within that video, so if you haven't seen the film yet and think you might want to, like, watch the film in some form first.

If memory serves the above clip is all we should have to worry about... but even so, for real, Shameless? You couldn't tell this was completely fucked up and just swap it out with the audio from the restored and completely pristine Italian dub track also included on your own release?

What's especially crazy about this is that, back when Mya Communications released the film on R1 DVD in 2009, they had completely fucked up the English audio, essentially pitching it down by 4% and making the entire film sound like a dying tape recorder was being played inside of a tin barrel. Shameless has reportedly restored the English audio from the English negatives held by Paramount, but then completely botched the Italian inserts! Fuckin' ay, guys...

Also worthy of ridicule is the fact that they color corrected the living snot out of their 56 seconds of upscaled footage - which, unto itself, isn't a bad thing. The problem is they had to manipulate the grayscale so hard that "black" is now the color of rotten key-lime pie, which I'll illustrate with yet another stolen snippet of media:

Oh well, at least it's not Riki-Oh Quality for the WHOLE MOVIE.

The 'upscaled inserts' part itself already kinda grinds my gears, but hey, it is what it is and Shameless was nothing but honest about it. Thing is, though, they could have color-corrected these shots the very same way, cropped the 'scope bars out, and then generated "new" black bars to proper RGB spec. You know how I know this? Because I do it. All. The. Fucking. TIME.

Anthony B. has also posted over on the AVManiacs FORUM, detailing his frustration that Shameless (essentially) used his fansub script without allowing him to fix it up for the big time, despite the fact that he was working with them on the bonus material.  Part of me says, "Who gives a fuck? Mimsy Farmer and Michael Brandon spoke English on set. Nobody else matters." Then the rest of me thinks, 'But why go through the trouble if you're just going to half-ass it anyway?'

These fuck-ups are certainly troubling, mostly because they could have easily been corrected without spending any extra money. It's just a lack of quality control with people who both know and care about what they're doing, and considering I've been avoiding Shameless for their troubles with the BBFC, it's disappointing to see them be just as lax in the presentation department as their half-sister company, Arrow Video.

They - or possibly the original HD telecine operators, I'm not too sure - also managed to do... I don't even know what the fuck there is to say about it. What is this, I don't even--

Banding. It's not cool.

Seriously, I'm too exhausted for this shit right now. Just wanted to make sure y'all knew what you were getting into before you dropped $30 on it. The majority of the film looks and sounds (by all counts) incredible, which makes these all too easily correctable fuck-ups all the more lamentable. Maybe I'll post something more in-depth, if I ever decide I hate my money enough to buy it, but for the time being I'm almost tempted to wait and see if German distributors Koch Media treat the title any better... for 30 Euros in a ridiculous Media Book, if INFERNO is any indication. Urgh.

Wait, do I even like this movie enough to justify importing it?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Farting Fish Fantasy

Junji Ito's GYO/ギョ

Word is that the actual farting sounds of the fish-bots has been removed from the OVA... I guess because they think sounding like an episode of Family Guy would somehow "lessen" the terror? I dunno, far as I'm concerned this still looks pretty goddamn sweet.

Between this and Waita Uziga's RAIN FOR THE DEAD getting a live action movie, I can only wonder... how long before BIO MEAT NECTAR gets his own TV series?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Four Strikes on CRT Grit

For some time now, my friend Michael MacKenzie and I have been trying to work out why the majority of Italian film transfers look, for lack of a better word, "noisy". The best theory that he, his brother David and myself have come to over the years is that this is all a byproduct of dated CRT based film scanners - something I've gone over at length, and more than once at that.

Just as a point of reference, I wanted to show off some of Michael's caps for the recently completed Dario Argento 'Animal Trilogy'. I want you to keep in mind that all of these films were shot using the same Techniscope production methods from 1970 to 1971, and that the HD transfers themselves all date back to no earlier than 2009...

 The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970, 2009 Blue Underground Blu-ray [OOP])
Please note: The Arrow Blu-ray is a completely different, CROPPED HD master.

 The Cat O' Nine Tails (1970, 2011 Blue Underground Blu-ray)

Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971, 2012 Shameless Blu-ray [UK Import])

Remember, these were all films shot using the exact same Techniscope "two-perf" process, something of an Italian predecessor to Super35, and yet only one of them has a light, granular, organic looking texture that I'd consider describing as looking anything like film. Another thing to keep in mind is that, by far, the worst looking title here was a transfer struck at least two years later, despite the gap between their eventual High Definition release! For the first time since Italian genre features started getting their Blu-Due, I can finally point at a single goddamn HD transfer and say "Basically? This. This is what I expect these sorts of low-budget 40 year old Italian films should look like."

Now keep in mind that I'm talking strictly about the sort of 'texture' of the film negative itself; things like focus, color timing and proper damage removal are variables that are relative to each individual title, and as such not all Techniscope films will by default look as good (or as bad) as any other Techniscope film. The point is that much like Tenebrae, we finally have a sample that doesn't come from the usual garish, harsh CRT scanners we've so far relied on for basically all of our EuroCult needs.

Michael has plenty to say about the Four Flies on Grey Velvet Blu-ray on his site - if in doubt, check Land of Whimsy out. I've already bought the other two films in the trilogy and roughly $26 shipped ain't bad for any import, but... well, as with everything surrounding this film's history, it's complicated. The short version is roughly a minute was sourced from SD material (seamlessly branched in as the "Complete" Version), and Shameless made a really, really stupid call in trying to "fix" a horizontal scratch over the end credits. Still, compared to the completely screwed up audio on the prior Mya DVD - an experience a friend once compared to having a rat fuck your ear for two hours - this might as well be the disc of your gialli themed dreams.