Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Hills Have Sighs... Part 2

Regardless of how shitty the movie itself might be - and make no mistake, even Wes Craven himself, the guy who was excited to dust Scream off a decade later, considers the movie "something I did for a paycheck" - Kino-Lorber's Blu-ray release of THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2 '85 is such a confusing, ironic, and slightly sad addition to the ever-shrinking cult High Def market that I felt like I kind of had to pick it up. The fact that Best Buy tossed it straight into the $7.99 bin sure didn't hurt, either...

16mm sourced "Flashback" footage.

Optically printed positive film splice.

The transfer is, unlike that really pitiful upscale of Craven's 1977 feature from Image Entertainment, clearly a brand new HD scan of an archival film print. Now when I say "archival", what I'm getting at is old, ugly, and not restored in any but the most broad-strokes sense of the word; "sparkles" of dust both black and white alike, brief scratches, film splices, emulsion staining, stability issues and heavy oversaturation of colors like yellow and blue litter the film's interior scenes from start to finish. It doesn't look like it's ever actually been played - there's no vertical scratches, no cue marks, didn't spot any missing frames, nothing that screams it was anything but left in a can for about 25 years - but the over the top contrast and blurry layers of baked-in print damage leave me curious just how many generations removed from the negative this 35mm source was to begin with. This is clearly NOT the negative, and the majority of the positive damage (see the splice up above) is so faded that I'm not certain it's an Interpositive, either - or if it is, there's been a very subtle level of processing to blur out the positive print anomalies without overtly affecting the film grain. Could the film have looked better? That's a damned good question. I don't really know what elements exist now, if this print - whatever it might have been - is literally the only thing left, or if the negative was seen as "too expensive" to go from for one reason or another. At the very least the constant speckling of print damage has seemingly not been given so much as a second thought; even a fully automated scratch repair filter would have made the film substantially less worn around the edges, but true to the movement towards "warts and all" presentations I've covered in the past by Something Weird Video, this keeps seemingly every nic and tear the multi-generational print has to offer. In short, they could have done more work, but if they couldn't find access to the negative it wouldn't have mattered enough.

It might sound like I'm complaining, but I assure you I'm only stating facts and explaining why the Blu-ray looks the way it does. When I say that I want a Blu-ray presentation to look like actual film, not heavily processed digital video, this is the ugly side of exactly what I'm talking about; it'd be impossible to argue that this release doesn't look like "film". In fact, it bears many of the hallmarks that people use as talking points against using prints as being a good thing, but... well, it is what it is. The fact that we even have this shit-stain of a feature film available in High Definition is kind of jaw-dropping, but let's remember that this transfer has nothing in the way of distracting DVNR, no compression related problems, zero edge enhancement, blacks are rock solid (if overhwlemingly so), and at a healthy 27 Mb/s average there's no major compression related issues to complain about.

It's, technically speaking, a perfectly adequate presentation of a less than optimal 35mm source print. For The Hills Have Eyes Part 2. And it costs Eight. Fucking. Dollars. If you can walk into this knowing what you're getting and be somehow upset, or disappointed with your purchase... I just, I've got nothing useful to say to you. The release is fine, and anyone expecting this movie on Blu-ray at all a year ago was insane. To think you'll get anything more than you already have would put you on that whole "masturbating in the streets of San Diego in a fit of 'exhaustion'" level of whackadoo.

The English PCM 2.0 (16-bit) stereo track is anything but impressive, but I guess the uneven, slightly distorted track matches the look of the disc in every way; it's not outright bad, it just wears the cheap and tawdry quality of its materials proudly on its sleeve. No subtitles are provided, and the extras are an art gallery and a trailer that looks marginally worse for wear than the film itself.

While this is hardly the crown jewel of their surprise foray into the cult horror arena, it proves that Kino-Lorber is willing to give even a dog turd the creators themselves seem embarrassed to talk about the basic level of work they require... even when it's as horrendously bad as The Hills Have Eyes 2. I mean, seriously? A subplot about experimental motocross fuel? Michael Berryman got "patched up" after getting his Achilles Tendon snapped in half and his throat torn out by a pissed off German Shepherd? There's a blind girl who's Daredevil like superpowers help her do absolutely nothing but find a shower? God, this movie is absolutely retarded. Berryman's impressive physicality is wasted by him never really being allowed to do anything, and any attempt to make The Reaper a "bigger, badder" Papa Jupe fall flatter than the hubcap he wears as a chest piece like some sort of post-apocalyptic bling. The characters are all boring one-note morons with the exception of a reformed Ruby, who's actually much more useless here than she was in the last film. There's virtually no gore or tension to be found anywhere, and the fact that a good half of the runtime is dedicated to dumb kids setting up pranks for one another don't even have that goofy MacGuyver charm that Craven loved to throw into everything he was writing in the 70s and 80s. The sequel's tired recreations of set pieces from the prior film and fledgling mentions of characters who were smart enough to check out before the story proper begins make this the worst sort of sleeping pill, an abhorrently pointless and infuriatingly bland cash-in that doesn't even look good in the run of fledgling mid-80s slasher movies.

Kino-Lorber have done an adequate job bringing Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 to Blu-ray. I'll admit it, even believing as I do that every film deserves the same base level of respect - it's a part of our cinematic heritage, even when it isn't good - this is one sequel that the entire world can agree we'd have been better off had it never existed. Still, at least if you're one of those Craven Completists as, evidently, I myself must be, you can rest assured in the knowledge that you'll never, ever have to buy this stupid movie again. If for no other reason, this BD presentation should be celebrated. I want to recommend supporting Kino-Lorber and all their crazy endeavors, but for god's sake, skip this pile of dog-puke and go buy their Jean Rollin BDs instead or something.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Grand Duel at Mill Creek

WARNING: This was meant to be an innocent, short little review for something I picked up on a whim. It's now an epic puddle of frustration fueled brain-vomit. Don't say I didn't warn you.

tldr version =  Go buy Mill Creek's SPAGHETTI WESTERN DOUBLE FEATURE VOL. 3 featuring KEOMA / THE BIG SHOWDOWN. Also, fans of movies made before tomorrow? You're all fucked.

Y'all know I'm a quality conscious crazy person, but... I'm also a bargain hunter. Being poor for long periods of time will do that to you, and while I would much rather pay $30 for a fantastic Blu-ray than $15 for a crumby one, but I'm also not above paying $6 for something that's far from reference. It's not that being cheap makes poor quality any less so, it's just that I'm far more willing to adjust my expectations when a movie is, you know, less than the price of a damn fast food burrito. If I'm asked to pay $25 for a disc that sucks, I'm usually pissed (see DEMONS and DEMONS 2). If I only have to pay $10 or less, whatever, I'll get over it.

Enter Mill Creek Entertainment. They've been in the business of cluttering up DVD bargain bins with $5 kids movies and those "Franchise" themed genre movie combo packs. They're similar to Echo Bridge, offering catalog titles for low prices. How low? Well, using Echo Bridge as a metric, you can walk into a Wal-Mart and get four Hellraiser or Children of the Corn sequels for $10. No, really, ten fucking dollars! As you can imagine, quality control is often lacking on these releases; lossless audio may as well be a random bonus feature, there's no guarantee that you'll get the original aspect ratio, and yes, if you want those Jacky Chan movies you'd better like the old Weinstein Company dubs, but... well, did you really expect lobster when you're paying for artificial crab?

Now, Sony recently announced that they had handed 250 catalog titles to Mill Creek. This is... kind of a big deal. You know, in the way that The Beatles were "noteworthy" in the world of Rock 'n' Roll at some point. The fallout from this might not be apparent for a few years, but understand that Sony is, for all intents and purposes, the single major company that pushed for Blu-ray as a consumer format. Their PS3, trounced in sales and popularity by it's Xbox competition, was their so-called "Trojan Horse" to win the format war against the competing HD DVD format. Sony was by far the largest supporter for the authoring tools and hardware replication plants to establish it as a viable medium to begin with, and every time a Blu-ray disc is pressed, they make a notable profit on the copyright to the media itself. The fact that Sony, the Mac Daddy of all things Blu, is willing to split the marginal profits with a studio that sells movies for $5 a piece, MSRP, is a sign of the format's viability has gone down in the estimation of the studios that wanted it the most to begin with. Twilight Time's opposite end of the spectrum strategy may have been the crack in the dike, but this is where we're at now, and it gives me pause at to think of how little Sony, a studio that bought up other, smaller companies so it'd have movies to release in the first place, thinks of its own library...

Don't get me wrong, they'll all still milk their Blade Runners and their Wizards of Oz and their Apocalypse Nows for a few years more. Certain "cult" names like John Carpenter and Wes Craven will probably get their entire output on Blu-ray, eventually. It's not as if Michael Bay's Oscar Winning Transformers 20: Lube Me Sideways won't get a Blu-ray six months after its theatrical release either. Oh sure, it's true, new movies aren't selling as well as they did in DVDs heyday, but the fact that you'll pay $46 MSRP for The Muppets means they're finding "clever" ways to make up on that supposed loss, like including DVDs you don't need and soundtracks you don't want... ah, commerce! The studios also love to ignore the fact that more and more people are using services like Netflix, iTunes and similar On Demand services to watch movies they would have bought on sale before those options were especially viable, but hey, you can't post sales numbers for Netflix streams and it probably makes certain number-crunchers feel like their numerical penises are shrinking.

What's going to disappear now is the support from the major studios for all those cool little gems that are more than a year old, or didn't win a fuckload of awards, or didn't make a lot of money as a remake because there's apparently no money in any of it. Case in point, the only way to see the full Director's Cut of Clive Barker's Nightbreed is if you're lucky enough to catch a VHS workprint at a local screening! You think Warner Brothers is ever going to lavish a proper restoration on that when they're currently dumping the R-rated version nobody wants on DVD-R for $20? Please. We can't even get The Burning on Blu-ray, and the uncut HD master for that already exists! THAT'S the stuff that's going to disappear once the studios stop seeing their catalog as worthwhile, one gem in the rough at a time, and it bums me right the fuck out. Sony seems "dedicated" to transferring all of their titles into HD masters, but they're just as content crapping them out on a DVD-R once they're done with them - just look at Yor: Hunter From the Future, Rolling Thunder, The Legend of Billie Jean and plenty of other films I'd probably be stupid enough to buy on a Region A disc at Best Buy on release day. What a fucking waste.

And what about the independents? Blue Underground, Arrow Video, Media Blasters and so forth? As far as I'm concerned, the writing's already on the wall for the lot of them; BU is announcing DVD repacks at dirt cheap prices instead of new Blu-ray titles, and between you and me, I doubt that sales of A Bullet for the General are what's going to buttress them for a banner year in 2013. Media Blasters' public attempts to look alive while ANN outs the fact that they've been legally disbanded as a corporation for over a year is more embarrassing than usual, and they've canceled more titles this year than they've announced, scrambling to update their website just to prove that they haven't defaulted on everything... not yet, anyway. Arrow Video is still kicking, but with few exceptions - perhaps most notably the news of Lady Snowblood getting a High Def debut - they're basically doing their own versions of titles that have been out in the US for ages. Best of luck selling King of New York, that tin's badass and all, but yeah, I've got my doubts. The only one who might crawl away from this mess with a few dollars in hand looks like Synapse Films, who are releasing... trailer compilations and Hammer films they've been sitting on for years, now? Huh. That actually gets weirder the more I think about it.

The odd duck out is really Kino-Lorber and their various iterations. I swear, they're on some kind of Mission from God to buy licenses that will lose money. Good on 'em for releasing the works of Mario Bava, Jean Rollin, Jess Franco and everything else in between but... holy crap, this is either the greatest long-running practical joke in the history of the home video business, or some crazy bastard burning through his own money because HE wants to own A Virgin Among the Living Dead on Blu-ray, and figured the licensing fee was a fair price to pay to make sure it happened. That's the exact same theory I've had for a while about companies like Mondo Vision and Grindhouse Releasing to be honest...

But anyway, it so happens that I saw the latest Mill Creek Spaghetti Western Double Feature. It's actually their third such release, though the first two-fer, Django / Now They Call Him Sacramento, was yanked from shelves and retired without an "official" wide release, what with Blue Underground having already released the original Django on a special edition Blu-ray about a year before! Obviously BU still has the rights on the Franco Nero vehicle that kick-started the Italians back into that full blown Western Machine Mode, but that means that Now They Call Him Sacramento is essentially impossible to find on Blu-ray. I've never found an actual review, or even a damned screenshot of this mythical, almost Unicorn-esque Blu-ray, so whether it ever really existed or just vanished into the ether before its time, like that initial MGM branded release of Robocop, is really anyone's guess.

Their second release, featuring The Last Gun / 4 Dollars Of Revenge, is still readily available. Word is both the films themselves and the quality of the disc is nothing special, and being a casual Spag viewer at best, I'll sit this one out and let someone with a more intimate understanding of the hundreds of Italian Westerns available tackle whether or not you should care about them being available on a budget priced HD double feature. Makes me wonder if Mill Creek decided to pluck those two out of retirement just because they figured the odds of anyone else having purchased the rights would be astronomically small?

Back on track, it was $5, despite being a brand spankin' new title, and includes not the Lee Van Cleef crime-movie-in-the-Old-Italian-West genre bender THE GRAND DUEL (aka THE BIG SHOWDOWN), but it also includes what's oft considered the last great spaghetti Western ever made, KEOMA. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I plunked down a five-spot and expected the worst...

It's got a decent cover, at least.
That's the important part... right?

To my utter surprise, this release is actually pretty good, all things considered! For one thing I was fully prepared to find both films occupying the single layered disc, but they've arrived on a BD50, taking up a full 43-plus gigs for little more than the features themselves a pair of High Definition trailers and perfectly functional menus. The Big Showdown (that's the title on the print, anyway...) clocks in with a bitrate of 24 Mb/s, while Keoma rides slightly higher at 25 Mb/s. Bitrates regularly spike into the 30s, I can't say either film suffers from any obvious bitrate related deficiencies. Strangely enough, Keoma has 24-bit audio while Duel has 16-bit. (Why would they do that? No friggin' idea.) Both films are in their "original" English dubbed mono and sound about as good as I expect their limited sources are capable of. Also, both films feature English language credit sequences, and neither feature the Italian dubs or subtitles of any kind.

Once again I'm far too lazy to post caps myself, so... HAVE A LOOK HERE, if you like. I don't know who posted them initially, and I don't really care either, because I've already confirmed that the disc looks identical.

THE BIG SHOWDOWN is the better looking of the two. Oh sure, there's probably a little edge-sharpening going on and the black levels get just a bit wonky on some of the optically printed black and white scenes, but even putting on my Review Hat, there's just... nothing worth complaining about. It doesn't look like a million dollar 8K restoration, but it looks like a perfectly fine 2K telecine given more than adequate compression, and that's all I'd ever hope for from most labels that charge $20 for a single movie. Lee Van Cleef fans, you're in for a real treat here.

Pictured: Kentai's "Review Hat".

KEOMA is, well... the easiest way to describe it is "It looks like a Blue Underground transfer". I'm not joking, I'm not being an asshole, and I'm not even exaggerating; it literally has the exact same 'look' that's become the norm for BU from the latter half of last year onward. If you've seen House by the Cemetery, Strip Nude For Your Killer, Torso, or any other number of BU titles with a weird, sharpened layer of "static grain" sitting on top of the actual image as opposed to moving and being an organic part of the film itself, then you'll know exactly what to expect here. There is zero doubt in my mind that this transfer was made by LVR using the same stock settings they've used for a while now, and while it does look a hell of a lot better than early CRT Noise + DVNR experiments (such as Zombie Holocaust or Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue), I hesitate to say it looks anything like actual film. Is Keoma better than the ten year old DVD? Absolutely. Is the upgrade worth two-fifty? Totally. But is it good? No, not really. It's another mediocre LVR telecine, but somehow, paying five bucks instead of twenty doesn't seem like such a punch in the principle-sack.

As far as bonus features go, all you really get are a pair of the films' best known "International" trailers. The Anchor Bay DVD of Keoma featured a 10 minute interview with Franco Nero and a commentary track with the film's director Enzo G. Castellari, but I wouldn't be surprised if those are owned outright by Bill Lustig. An unfortunate loss, but with the Anchor Bay DVD (and it's latter day Blue Underground clone) selling for about $10 new on Amazon, it's not as if fans who missed the film's initial DVD release and want to know what these two men have to say about their kick-ass action movie can't get their hands on it for what's still, in the scheme of things, a very fair price. The Big Showdown has never had any English language special features that I'm aware of - heck, the last US DVD release from Wild East (now long OOP) looks like it was sourced from a goddamn laserdisc! To be fair, though, that label's been doing much better work in the last few years, and they've often sourced transfers from what appears to be their own film prints, so I can't blame them for being at the mercy of the licensors materials...

Franco Nero looks pretty badass in this, s'all I'm saying.

This is, however, a very interesting little monkey wrench thrown into the theory that Blue Underground and Arrow Video were, essentially, championing the movement to get obscure Italian genre films transferred in High Definition from their original camera negatives. See, this $5 bargain release is the HD debut of Keoma and The Big Showdown, and there's NO WAY that Mill Creek themselves paid for this transfer out of pocket. It just doesn't make sense. What's the only other logical explanation? That the Italian copyright holders, Surf Film for both of these titles in particular, are creating these masters in advance specifically so they can sell them to foreign markets. What else does Surf Film have at their disposal? Glad you asked! The New York Ripper, Torso, Killer Nun, Django, Baba Yaga, Night Train Murders, Strip Nude For Your Killer... frankly, the majority of Blue Underground's 2012 titles have been provided by Surf Film, as have a sizeable chunk of their older HD releases. They also own plenty of BU titles that never made it to Blu-ray, so it wouldn't be surprising if Lustig has made some solid contacts there over the years, giving him better access to their library than if he walked up off the street and started demanding they sell him some damn movies.

Looking over their catalog, it turns out that The Last Gun was yet another Surf Film title, which gives me pause... doesn't this mean that Surf Film making new HD masters and then passing them along to Mill Creek, rather than, you know, anyone else? Why? For that matter, why did they give Mill Creek access to HD materials for Django when they knew Blue Underground already had it? This isn't the first time I've seen obvious suggestions of behind-the-scenes confusion, but maybe Surf Film was trying to underut Blue Underground for a while? Geez, who knows... Either way, it does suggest that Surf Film is making these (often not very good) HD masters themselves to sell the films abroad, rather than Blue Underground is hand-picking Killer Nun and Night Train Murders over, you know, more Fulci and Argento pictures. That actually makes a lot more sense than BU specifically skipping, say, 1990: The Bronx Warriors in favor of, with all due respect, pretty much anything they've announced this year. I mean sure, I'm excited to see schlocky B-tier garbage like Strip Nude For Your Killer on Blu-ray, but who the fuck else is? And I'd be WAY more excited to see Nightmare City or Conquest, but hey, now I'm getting into pipe dream territory...

The only thing that does bug me in all of this is why the disparity? Keoma looks "okay" at best, but The Big Showdown is on a whole 'nother level. Assuming Surf Film is doing all of these transfers themselves, why does this one title look substantially better than the others? Both of these movies were shot using Techniscope two-perf 35mm, both are (from the looks of it) sourced from the original camera negatives. The only obvious variable is the lab work. Is Surf Film dividing its catalog up for different labs, perhaps? Or has LVR finally undergone an expensive replacement of their dated Cintel hardware between these two transfers? Who can say, really?

Bizarre and, perhaps horrifying implications of the release itself aside, there you have it. Mill Creek has stepped up to the plate and finally delivered a competent dual-layered double feature, and they're still only charging five bucks for it. If this is the future of home video, you can pretty much kiss companies like Arrow Video, Blue Underground and the rest of them goodbye forever - but, pains me as it does to even think this, if Mill Creek delivers transfers of the same exact quality, I won't shed any tears for their loss. It's not that I want to see these labels go away - I don't! It's because these labels existed to begin with that there's a market for any of these releases now, and without them, this well could dry up in record time. But I don't honestly see how anyone is making money licensing a title for a small fortune and then trying to pass off "meh" work for fifteen bucks to a market of a thousand or so hardcore fans.

Honestly, though, I don't see how Mill Creek themselves are making money either. If I bought this for $5, what did Fry's pay? $3, tops? This is a dual-layered disc for fuck's sake, who's paying to produce this product and how can they possibly break even? It's a broken business model. The entire market is broken, and if you don't OWN the content... you can't compete. The rush to the bottom of the bargain bin is now, my friends, and the results isn't going to be pretty for a lot of the things we've taken for granted for a very long time now.

Still, The Big Showdown is awful pretty on Blu-ray. Go buy it and despair... or something.

...there we go! If you can't tell, I was in a rush when this was posted yesterday, and parts of this were a full-blown incomplete, incoherent clusterfuck. Hopefully it's all better now.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

I Warned You Not To Remake It Tonight

Can't post an embed of this one, at least not without more google-fu than I'm in the mood to do right now, so... just go HERE and watch the Cannes Trailer... thing. Don't misunderstand, I thought Mr. Wood was fine playing the destitute tragic hero in a certain trilogy from about ten years ago nobody probably remembers - wasn't it something about, like, Jewelry? I don't even know anymore - but let's just cut the crap and ask the obvious question:

What the fuck is going on here? Are they seriously making a glossy remake of Bill Lustig's best goddamn picture with Elijah Wood? And it's being written by Alexandre Aja, but directed by his pal Franck Khalfoun, the guy who made P2? P-goddamn-2?! Christ, that minimalist thriller was okay, but this is like handing the keys to a blimp packed with nitroglycerin to a guy who only once successfully parallel parked a Geo! Who the hell thought this was a good idea? And WHY?

If you've never seen the 1980 Bill Lustig directed MANIAC - and you really, really should - Joe Spinell is one of those rare, once-in-a-lifetime performances that just works on every important level. With all due respect, he's not an overly attractive man. He doesn't play a demented genius or a sexy, ironic version of a sociopath written for people who only wish they had the balls to slit the throats of the endless sea of self-obsessed morons around them. No, Spinell's performance is as raw and real as it gets. His menacing body language during the gross-out kill scenes are terrifying and larger than life, but that exciting bravado is almost immediately undercut by seeing his home life. This isn't Hannibal going home to have a fine glass or wine, or Dexter finding a new hiding place for his minimalist, almost quaint trophies; Frank Zito lives in squalor, he talks to himself as if his "dolls" were people, and he shrinks like a terrified child as he relives the events that broke his psyche and left him a shell to which the words "right" and "wrong" were utterly meaningless. There's nothing savvy or cool to be found in Frank Zito, he doesn't even wear a mask to carry out his crimes, turning him into a faceless avatar of vengeance; he's just a gross, mean bastard who kills women so he feels less vulnerable over his deep-seated mommy issues.

Frank Zito is THE DEFINITION of a cinematic monster, because he only reflects the horrors of the world we live in today - despite not having been based directly on any real serial killers, he's likely the most believable repeat violent offender we've ever had on the silver screen. He's a a wretched piece of human garbage, and the only guy who probably did it better was Michael Rooker in Henry... but that's another discussion we should probably have someday.

While I wouldn't suggest that the Lustig film was flawless, Maniac was still a legitimate masterpiece of the New York underground, particularly when compared to the oft-entertaining but less substantial experiments of the period, like Basket Case and Driller Killer. So much of that film's power hinged on Spinell that even suggesting it could be done better raises something in me that's a little like a scoff and a little like vomit. Even Bill Lustig himself suggested Tom Sizemore -  you know, a big meaty guy who only doesn't look like Marv in Sin City because Mickey Rourke kinda is Marv... or, at least he became Marv after he decided to prove his critics who said he was a talentless pretty boy wrong and destroyed his entire face in the boxing ring. No, I'm not certain why "Boxing" = "Great Actor" either, but at least once Rourke lost his good looks he proved he was still a force to be reckoned with... he just had to be beaten to a pulp so hard that he literally became a Frank Miller drawing to do it. THAT'S what you call method acting.

But speaking of Sin City alumni the problem here isn't that Elijah Wood is a terrible actor; the problem is that he's, well... he's just so damned dreamy.

For those in that seemingly omnipresent "straight male" horror demographic who may not be comfortable deciding these things on their own, Wood is - according to Mrs. Kentai, anyway - what the ladies, homosexuals, and anyone else who doesn't require something have a vagina to be inertly attractive tend to call 'adorable'. He also looks about as dangerous as one of those squishy rubber Pokemon looking night-light toys they sell at Ikea - and, no, none of the publicity photos that have leaked from the set of Maniac 2012 have convinced me he's going to suddenly remake himself as the cool, edgy personality that can pull this role off. Yes, I've seen him sneering and covered in blood and all that, I just don't buy it.

"But what about Sin City, Kentai?" you may or may not be asking aloud to your computer screen like a madman. "He was creepy as hell in that!" True enough, but he wasn't acting in that; he literally put on a pair of glasses and stared into the camera for three minutes while Robert Rodriguez tweaked the digital background and lighting to make him look like Bela Lugosi. His role in Sin City was to be an ironically handsome and morally grounded avatar of Death, not to actually bring a complex and morally repulsive character to life. His role could have been performed by a cardboard cutout and it would have been pretty similar. That's not really a shit I'm trying to take on Wood himself, either - that's just what the role was. Not every character has the depth of Citizen Kane or the selflessness of the Bad Lieutenant*, and that's fine. He was paid to look cool, he did it, that was the end of it. It just doesn't "prove" anything from a performance standpoint.

You know, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if Wood wanted a project like this specifically to prove he can be something other than a sadsack wandering through life in a dreary daze? Hollywood hasn't given him much to do in the last decade but play cartoon characters and, for some reason, play second banana to a guy in a dog suit, so maybe this will be the challenge he needs to prove he's more than a pretty face? For his sake, and for whatever goodwill Lustig's original still has, I hope Wood's right. Despite my current state, I'm not going to dismiss an entire feature length film based on part of an early promotional trailer, I just... ugh, I dunno. Call me a cynic, but I just don't like what I am seeing.

And I'm not trying to harp on "remakes" because, you know, fucking remakes. John Carpenter's The Thing and David Cronenberg's The Fly, easily two of the greatest horror films of the last 30 years, were both remakes. Both Brian DePalma's Scarface, and Martin Scorcese's The Departed were remakes... kind of, I guess? I know everyone has a boner for Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, but I couldn't get over the fact that the whole story and structure was a beat-for-beat copy of Satoshi Kon's Perfect Blue, a film he personally bought the remake-rights to because he wanted to rip his favorite scenes out of it for OTHER movies, and figured that was the best way to not get sued for it. Albert Pyun's... let's call it "compromised" version of Captain America was usurped in every way by the recent 3D Hollywood blockbuster, and heck, we got a reboot of The Incredible Hulk, what, five years after Ang Lee did his thing with it? It's totally possible to improve on a film the second time around, as long as you have something new or better to offer. There are also remakes-that-really-aren't like Inglourious Basterds and Django, but... well, let's not go there for now.

Sometimes, there is a good reason to do a film a second time, either because the technology has gotten better or the performances didn't gel like they should have or because the director simply did not understand the material. Heck, sometimes you luck out and BOTH versions are great! But, well, sometimes you get Gus Van Sant's utter worthless color rehash of Psycho. Or Tim Burton's head-scratching "reimagining" of Planet of the Apes. Or that shitty TV version of The Shining that pleased Stephen King and absolutely nobody else. (Seriously King, fuck you, Kubrick kicked your ass on this one.) Or Nick Cage punching women in a bear suit - I shit you not, that happened - in The Wicker Man. Or the Platinum Dunes reboot of literally everything they touch. If you have a good reason to approach the material a second time, or from a new angle, by all means do it. I don't honestly know what the staff behind the Maniac remake think they can bring to the table that Lustig didn't 30 years ago, but it better be something pretty goddamn interesting is all I'm saying.

And just so we're clear, being handsome unto itself isn't a deal breaker for a horror villain; Christian Bale is a very sexy man, but he's also batshit insane. I don't mean "he plays crazy roles well" either, I mean he is, quite literally, out of his fucking mind. Starring in movies where he gets to play a millionaire who dressed up in a cape and punches gangsters in the pills, not to mention got his career kick started by playing an almost tragically hip 80s asshole who murders people specifically to be cool, is probably the only reason he isn't a real life serial killer yet. Oh well, at least it's not like they're also remaking America Psyc-

Silly me, I almost forgot. When are we going to see a trailer for THAT needless do-over, exactly? Seriously, how is it that the remake pissing me off the least so far in 2012 THE GREAT GATSBY 3D by Baz Luhrmann? No, really, by the Romeo + Juliet asshole. How is that even possible?

*That's Harvey Keitel's Bad Lieutenant, of course, With all due respect to Nick Cage and Werner Herzog, I absolutely hated that not-funny cop parody. Just hated it. Would I have liked it better if it were just called "Port of Call: New Orleans" and didn't make me think of Keitel's naked, sobbing, utterly jaw-dropping performance as the most self-loathing embodiment of addiction I've ever seen? Well... maybe. But you didn't. Somehow, watching Nick Cage smoke crack and poke imaginary lizards isn't nearly as fun as you think it is anyway.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Gods and Demoni

 I have very mixed feelings about the Arrow Video Blu-ray releases of Lamberto Bava's 1985 and 1986 features inseparable by birth, DEMONS and DEMONS 2: THE NIGHTMARE CONTINUES. Lamberto, son of the now legendary thriller specialist Mario Bava, started his career off co-directing Shock with his father in 1977 after a decade and change of being a personal assistant, script writer, and occasional second unit director to a wide range of Italian productions. When Mario left this mortal coil in 1980, his son had some damned big shoes to fill but... well, his career started with the indescribably strange necrophile cunnilingus film Macabre, got closer to the mark by aping his father's giallo styled successes in A Blade in the Dark, and perhaps would have peaked with Devil Fish - easily his most accessible and well known early film having been featured as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Indeed, the film that followed was originally written as a science fiction epic, but budgetary concerns turned Blastfighter into little more than a cheesy First Blood knock-off.

Lamberto Bava was sure as hell not the second coming of his father, but Dario Argento trusted him as an assistant director through the creation of both Tenebrae and Inferno, so when Lamberto told Dario he wanted to create a new horror film, his mentor agreed to produce and even co-write it with him. In the end both Dario Argento's Phenomena and Lamberto Bava's Demons came out in 1985, and both films are infused with a heavy metal soundtrack, a combination of traditional giallo thrillers and splatter-fueled supernatural horror, as well as a vibrant visual style and kinetic pace that pushes them both from the realm of the grim and grotesque into the outright fantastic and absurd. Phenomena, though unfairly rejected by critics and never a huge financial success, is easily one of Dario Argento's most fascinating and - in my two evil eyes, anyway - is probably his most successfully realized visions of beauty and terror, the culmination of his Golden Period that started with Deep Red and ended before... well, incedentally or not, before he started using his own daughter as his regular leading lady in films where she's raped and abused by creepy bastards obsessed with violence and degredation.

But what about that little monstrosity Lamberto Bava was left to call his own?

I hate to say it, but somehow Demons became the mainstream success that Phenomena was simply too different from Argento's prior work, too conceptually scattershot, or maybe just to fucking weird to ever achieve. The script itself has a clever number of experimental meta-motives at play, with the audience themselves invited to watch a movie within a movie and let the supposed terror of a theater gone mad with blood-crazed monsters invite their own anxieties of being scared in public turn in on them. In Argento's hands, this became a fairly impressive weapon of legitimate terror in Opera, the film where Argento's own work officially stops evolving and becomes a parody of itself in the final reel... but come on, Lamberto Bava was no Dario Argento. Hell, he was hardly a Joe D'amato, or even a Luigi Cozzi! He was, however, a moderately competent knock-off film maker with a flair for action packed popcorn movies, and in the end Demons is less about emotions like "terror" or "the unknown" than it is simply packing as much pulse pounding B-movie action as it can, throat rips and helicopter crashes both being fair game for braindead visceral entertainment. What can I say? The public loves a big, bloody spectacle and the fact that Demons involves cutting down the possessed actually sidesteps that whole pesky "human empathy" thing that most typical action movies have to contend with.

The film was a success, and a sequel followed the next year. It's still grotesque, trashy fun for anyone willing to overlook the shoddy special effects, inconsistent monster mechanics, much more cramped setting and one of the most accidentally hilarious monster puppets the 1980s ever managed to spawn, but for me, the magic was mostly gone. The "meta" concept extended to video tape, which was probably kind of clever 25 years ago, but the whole thing just feels like a cheap rehash with a less interesting setting, a smaller budget,  and (for some crazy reason) the same cast playing new roles. Italy made a killing in the 70s and 80s ripping off Hollywood films, dumbing them down and upping the sleaze to milk box office gold, but Demons 2 sort of sums up why they didn't do sequels to their own material much; at that point, you're usually producing a knock-off OF a knock-off, and nobody wants that shit. We'll still take it, sure, but that's not exactly what we were hoping was wrapped up under the ol' Sequel Tree... most appropriately Michele Soavi, who was going to direct the third film in the franchise, called Bava Jr's efforts "Pizza Schlock" and - when given the reigns a few years later to the Demons franchise - bent the third chapter to his own, loftier ends so hard that it was eventually retitled The Church, no longer resembling the prior two "Demons" films in anything but a few awkward call-backs about punk kids in the subway and vaguely Christian inspired demonic entities. I'll get into how many films we're inevitably re-titled to cash in on Lamberto Bava's success, but we'll get to that as a sort of bonus feature later on, I guess...

With no HD materials existing for the two Demons films, Arrow did exactly what they had to do; they organized a new scan from the original camera negatives, and did so at the Cinetecca di Bologna* film lab, not LVR Video Recording Laboratory, where the overwhelming majority of EuroCult features have been converted to HD video in the last several years. The credits and titles are in Italian, the intermission on the first film has been restored, and they're all but free of print damage, flicker and telecine judder, outside of some weird misaligned shutter based "twitter" on the second film that's on the camera negative and remains unfixable, even now in the 21st century. Whites are consistent from scene to scene, and flesh tones always look neutral and believable, with vibrant red and violet lighting giving off the appropriately saturated and unearthly look the film demands. The mastering process was actually decent - perhaps not as good as the treatment given to Phenomena, but several notches over what was granted to Lucio Fulci's The Beyond, anyway. I suspect the Demons films were scanned on a high end and well maintained CRT setup, and the results have much more in common with, say, a Universal catalog title than anything from Blue Underground or Media Blasters. While that's dim praise in the scheme of big Hollywood studios, in these circles it's still something of a revelation. In short, the lab work was above average for a pair of 25 year old European splatter films, and are absolutely on the upper end of anything Arrow Video's gotten their hands on so far.

So what happened once Arrow got a hold of these fresh scans? The results are... well, they're a mixed bag. Better than any DVD release kicking around out there, sure, but calling the discs anything more than "okay" is giving them too much, or too little credit. Each film arrives on a BD25, with an average bitrate of 18 Mb/s for the first film, and 16 Mb/s for the sequel. Before we even get into the new film transfers, let's just make one thing clear: Arrow Video COMPLETELY SUCKS at compression. Even when they've used higher bitrates than Blue Underground, their results have consistently had more blocking and banding, and the two Demons films are, sadly, no exception. Big, chunky blobs of compression artifacts and compression based banding are more or less the norm here, and while surely nothing will ever top the embarrassing, pixelated encode Arrow Video's initial BD25 presentation of The Beyond received, I'd be willing to bet these two are a depressingly close second and third.

*Cinetecca is not, for the record, the same lab that handled Alien 2: On Earth - that was Cinecitta of Rome.
Cinetecca = FilmTech. Cinecitta = FilmCity. Capish?

In a fairly rare turn of events... I'm not going to bother posting caps of this. Kevin Pyrtle and his WTF Film's Review of the Double Feature Steelbook has done a great job of snapping pretty pictures of these discs, and having seen them both in motion I think they perfectly capture what to expect from the disc in person, good and bad. Gary Tooze over at DVD Beaver has done a more than adequate comparison between the new Blu-rays and Anchor Bay DVDs for DEMONS and DEMONS 2 respectively. In terms of raw image capacity, I can't share much more of relevance than these gentlemen have, and as they both get Amazon kick-backs for this shit (I don't), it only seems fair for you to order this mess through them if you still want it. And uh, for what it's worth, I'm betting the guy who reviews 60s German thrillers could use your spare affiliate-program change more than the guy who had to branch out of his usual comfort zone to review the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. Gary's a good guy and all, and I'm not saying Kevin's a hobo or anything, it's just that eclectia is harder to get affiliate dollars for in general, so... y'know, just saying.

Demons (Part 1) is notably the better looking of the two, sporting strong detail in virtually every shot, and - just occasionally - a scene that includes well resolved 35mm grain, just as nature intended. Sadly, the completely jacked black levels and boosted gamma have left what should have been a moody experience of ghouls popping out of total darkness have been rendered somewhat flat and lifeless, with the "shadows" of the darkened movie theater being the same uniform, off-gray color. This isn't an issue of the entire disc having been mastered to analog standards either, as was the case with Santa Sangre or The H.G. Lewis Blood Trilogy Blu-rays: the matte bars on either side of the frame ARE a reference black, as are the fade-outs that begin and end the film's credits... but the movie itself? You know, the part you're actually watching 99.5% of the runtime? Yeah, that's brighter than shit, and as you can see in the DVD Beaver comparisons, there's virtually nothing in the way of additional shadow detail on the Arrow Video disc compared to the previous, rock-solid DVD transfers! If the Arrow Blu-rays were brighter and had previously hidden shadow detail I'd give this whole thing the benefit of the doubt, but it honestly looks more like someone mastered it properly, was getting complaints that it looked "too dark" from someone in control of the project, and then bumped up the gamma up to compensate, probably muttering and shaking their head the whole time. The opticals are also surprisingly grainless, but I'm not going to start pointing and shouting about DVNR since the compression makes it damn near impossible to get a consistent sense of what's the result of the HD master and what's just Arrow's usual shoddy compression.

Perhaps even more controversial than its middling transfer is actually the monophonic English audio on the first film. The US prints and initial VHS/Laserdisc versions used a fairly crumby mono mix, while several European markets got a Dolby Stereo track, and it was - after much confusion - revealed that Arrow would be including the "US Mono" version for the film's Blu-ray debut. The voices are exactly the same, but some of the music cues and sound effects were changed for whatever reason. Offering a vanilla mono track as an option to theaters not yet equipped with Dolby equipment wasn't uncommon through the 1980s, particularly on a global scale, but by the early 1990s when competition between DTS and SDDS brought booming surround tracks to the public consciousness in a way that didn't require 70mm blow-ups, they more or less stopped doing that entirely. The English mono track sounds pretty dull and muted, but - as AV Maniacs forum member Svante Skoog was the first to point out - there's a number of scenes that do include the Dolby Stereo materials! On a pair of moderately priced headphones the difference between the scene where the survivors storm the projection room, followed by the scene with the punks snorting coke in their car is like night and day. The mono track isn't terrible by the standards I'd typically shrug and say, "It's fine I guess, it's a shitty vintage mono track" - but one needs only to switch between the Italian Dolby Stereo mix and the wimpy English mono track to see that Arrow clearly dropped the ball right into their open mouthes.

Arrow Video's even said, point black on the Cult Lab forums (a forum ran by an advertising company in their favor and with a rather Third Reich reaction to any open criticism of their product...) that they could have made a brand new 5.1 mix from the archival stem materials, but never budgeted for an audio overhaul. You guys know I'm fine with "original" audio mixes if a proper remix just isn't in the cards, but in this case, we got neither. So why not include the Dolby Stereo mix, which has already been completed? The almost hilarious excuse was that they "couldn't get the Dolby Stereo tracks to match the camera negatives", which included a few extra frames here and there, generally making sync work difficult.

 Thanks, Giger! *Sigh*

You know what? Fuck you, Arrow Video. I've synced English versions to prints that ran 6 minutes longer, defaulting back to the original language only when absolutely necessary, and I'm certain I only got a fraction of whatever it was you paid for these new scans of the negative. But somehow you guys can't fix something that's only got a couple SECONDS of added footage, even when you already have a properly synced reference point to make stretching and tweaking the Stereo materials as easy as stealing candy from a premature baby? I did that work for peanuts on the kinds of films nobody would have watched the English dubs for anyway - not on a bet! - and yet you assholes can't even be arsed to do it for what's probably going to be the most successful Italian horror release of the year? Seriously?! Arrow Video, if you guys have neither the know-how nor the budget to sync the one additional dub that already exist to what's almost a virtually identical print, you shouldn't even be in the DVD business. Just like the PAL pitched and out of sync audio on Media Blasters' otherwise not-too-terrible release of Beyond the Darkness, this sort of bullshit is completely inexcusable. You should be embarrassed, if not outright ashamed that syncing up a second English track of substantially higher quality to what's, at its core, the same exact cut of the goddamn movie, is just "too hard".

Demons 2: The Frustration Continues has substantially less calibration related problems, with appropriately inklike shadows. Unfortunately, this has come with a trade-off: Now darker areas of the screen are absolutely swimming in analog video noise! That's not normal 35mm grain, make no mistake - it's that same icky CRT generated crap I've been complaining about for ages now, and it's strange, to say the least, that Cinetecca di Bologna would generate noise on the sequel but not the first film. Was the sequel given to their "B" team who keep their old CRT scanner in a shack down by the river? Or was the first film very cautiously denoised, and the second feature just kind of slapped onto disc without getting nearly as much attention? Honestly, I can't tell. The botched compression makes it very difficult to draw any firm theories, but it'd be really, really weird for the sequel, shot a year later under similar conditions, to be so much grainier than the prior feature.

I have a really crazy guess now - it's probably wrong, but hear me out for a second. Maybe Cinetecca scanned the negative, didn't like how noisy the results were, and then turned the transfer down by, say, 10 notches to crush it out? "But Kentai, good chap...", my theoretical readers say as they toy with their monacles and tilt their top hats to one side, "If that were the case, wouldn't the transfer be too dark? Hoho, you and your wild stories!"

And you'd think you would be correct, fine sir... but what if they crushed the black level to hide the scanner noise, and then turned the black levels back up to where they started, effectively resetting the contrast and gamma, even at the loss of stable IRE 0 black levels? "Fixing" the problem of CRT generated scanner noise without really doing anything but sacrificing a stable black level? Aha, now I can hear you spitting your earl gray all over your waistcoat! Before you all think I'm crazy, I've had to do that with analog sourced that only had noise after a certain frequency... the difference was I didn't turn those frequencies back down. Why would I? Whatever damage is done via clipping has already happened; resetting them after the fact only makes it even more obvious that low or high frequency information has vanished.

Oh yeah, Demons 2 is given a "meh" sounding mono track for both English and Italian, for whatever reason. As even the goddamn Roan Group LD had a Dolby AC3 5.1 track, I call bullshit with a 5.1x multiplier. I almost wish I were angrier about the whole thing, but... come on guys, it's Demons Goddamn 2, what do you want from me. That doesn't make it acceptable - not by a long shot! - it just means that I'm going to have to force myself to watch this thing a second time and was looking at this from a point of academia, not legitimate fanboy fury. I'm running out of steam here so if you do love Demons 2, just copy/paste the above indignation as you see fit. Problem solved.

Say, remember how I mentioned Lucio Fulci's The Beyond a while back? Now here's the thing, Arrow treated that film in a pretty similar fashion; "restoring" it from the negative with boosted gamma and squeezing it onto a BD25 with no regard as to how crappy it would actually look. Honestly, were it not for the fact that the opening were presented in black and white - NOT the intentional sepia coloring that the cinematographer had written at length about when Blackest Heart Media published a comic adaptation about a decade ago - I think that would have been the end of it... but While They Were At It, Arrow Video also bumped up the bitrate and fixed the black levels. Yeah, I know, they also added more DVNR and the disc still looks pretty crumby, but the important thing is that Arrow Video, by fixing these issues, acknowledge that these aspects were, indeed, below par. The Beyond was an act of raising the bar for consistency and quality; these two Demons BDs lowers it right back down to where they started when they knew they were in the wrong.

In short, Demons and Demons 2 certainly look better than Anchor Bay's 2007 "Remastered" DVDs, but... they just don't look especially good. They actually sound worse being the mono mixes and all, even if they're lossless. You get a few new interviews and even a choice between a steelbook double feature, or a pair of reversible-cover slipcases with the usual Arrow Video swag (this time being a "proper" sequel in the form of an original comic book), but... so what? Arrow's swag has always been impressive, but the films themselves should be the major draw, not how awesome the fucking box art is. The bottom line here is surprisingly simple: Do you want to pay fourty bucks and change for this slapdash work? The Anchor Bay "Remastered" DVDs are dirt cheap and fairly adequate, if not spectacular. Arrow's presentation is better, yes, but by enough? That's a tougher call than I'd like to admit, particularly at the $25 each or so price tag and the Region "B" locked status of the discs. (All of the bonus content is "NTSC Friendly", for those who have issues with PAL on their region-hacked players.)

If Demons is a personal pleasure, guilty or otherwise, this is - in many respects - the best release we're probably going to get for some time. Anchor Bay has remained quite silent on these titles since 2007, and even if they do own the rights - and they do for several more years - I'd be surprised if they best Arrow Video by a notable margin; the best there is to hold out for is that somebody releases them without the fucked up black levels on the first film, and maybe produces an encode that doesn't block up like a DVD made a decade ago. I'm still glad I finally have an HD copy of these awesomely silly flicks to call my own, I'm just disappointed that the Anchor Bay "Special Editions" still manage to sound better and have superior level calibration.

It's a real shame that Arrow Video didn't even reach the standard they had set for themselves a year ago with Phenomena. Mind you even that wasn't perfect, but it was still a hell of a lot better than these. The price isn't awful and they are Region "B" locked, so weigh that in and decide if the promise of so-so HD presentations are worth the hurdles and just be done with it. I'll try not to speak more on this subject unless someone else pops up with an English language release in the next year or so.

BONUS BULLSHIT: There was, technically, a feature called "Demoni 3" in Italy, but Umberto Lenzi's 1991 Caribbean zombie feature known as "Black Demons" in the US has so little to do with these kitschy splatter films that it actually made more sense when bootleg VHS traders called Lamberto Bava's 1988 TV movie "Demons 3: The Ogre", despite the fact that the Italian title (La Casa Dell'orco) was, itself, piggybacking on the Italian title for the Evil Dead films, La Casa ("The Cabin")!

Just to maximize confusion, X-Rated Kult DVD in Germany released it as "Ghosthouse II". Why'd they do that? Well, because Umberto Lenzi's awesome splatter film Ghosthouse was known as 'La Casa 3' in Italy, acting as the "official" sequel to Evil Dead 2 before Army of Darkness was even a thing! The "real" La Casa 4 was actually Witchery, a relatively infamous pile of cheese that stars Linda Blair and David Hasselhoff, and 'La Casa 5' was actually known in America Beyond Darkness... but that's the 1990 haunted house film directed by 'Clyde Anderson', not the 1978 Joe D'amato necrophilia romance thriller Beyond the Darkness (Buio Omega), which was released on American video under the title BURIED ALIVE.

Confused? Angry? Well don't worry, friends, it gets ever so much worse; The Church was released as "Demons 3" in Japan (ironic really), and Soavi's follow up, The Sect, became "Demons 4". Clearly the connections were getting pretty thin here, but Argento produced the lot of them, so... whatever, I guess?

Japan wouldn't quit with the clever alternate title bullshit and turned Bava's 1989 TV feature La Maschera del Demonio into "Demons 5". This was kind of a weird call since the Italian title itself is actually a remake of Mario Bava's 1960 thriller, which was released in America as Black Sunday, and remains one of the most respected and praised "Gothic" horror features of the era. For what it's worth, the Japanese casette actually bears the English moniker "Demons V: The Devil's Veil", which is about the least sleazy way you could sell Bava Jr's TV version of one of Bava Sr's most celebrated films.

Finally, stretching the connection further than any prior entry, Luigi Cozzi's 1989 supernatural horror film Il Gatto Nero, which - obviously - is Italian for "The Black Cat"... but suspiciously has nothing to do with the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same translated title. In fact, Lucio Fulci adapted the Poe story as Gatto Nero in 1981, but forget all of that, since Cozzi's "Black Cat" is actually... wait for it... the final Third Mothers film, and one that was - I can't stress this enough - produced by Dario Argento! But Japan had already turned Argento's Deep Red into "Suspiria 2" and released Inferno as a stand-alone experience, so I guess they thought tying this back into its actual continuity would have been, like... too confusing. (As if it weren't already too confusing.) So somebody in Japan shrugged, called it "Demons 6: Du Profondis", and that was the end of marketing increasingly unrelated horror films as dingle-berries to Lamberto Bava's Demons cycle.

Oh wait, did I say "finally"? That was a lie. Japanese distributors also took Soavi's as-of-this-writing final masterpiece, Dellamorte Dellamore, and called it "Demons '95". As far as I know, yes, that's the sordid end of it.

'Till next time, friends!

P.S. - Just for the charming folks at the Cult Labs forum:
(Click it to see a full sized, lossless 1080p frame from the disc)

The above screenshot is from the actual Demons 2 disc, saved out to lossless PNG (to save bandwidth). If y'all think this looks "good", that's your opinion. I think it looks like poorly compressed blotchy crap. That's my opinion. I write this to have a little fun as a digital video professional, a fan, and an OCD perfectionist. If that's not how you roll, why the hell do you even care what I have to say?

Look, I like Demons. (I also think Demons 2 is kinda shitty and a weak retread of the original with nothing but some hilarious schlock to offer, but... whatever.) The last thing I wanted to see was exactly what you see above, and anyone with the Anchor Bay DVD knows that the mono audio is a disappointment compared to the original, intended mix.

The audio is poor, the video is mediocre. It's a crumby release. What the hell am I supposed to say? More importantly, why shouldn't I voice my frustration that this release kind of sucks? I don't get free screeners, I don't get Amazon kickbacks, and the only thing being "professional" gets me on this site are slightly less insulting flames from behind computer screens... wow, whoop-dee fuckin' doo. I was fair, I was honest, and Arrow Video's unimpressive quality speaks for itself. Feel free to trash talk me, though - the more you guys rant and rage, the more hits I always manage to get! (Go figure, huh?)

For better or worse, the personal insults convinced me to put up the above clarification. As for the whole pasty, friendless, buggering Midnight Legacy bit? That's cute. These days I work 40 hours a week doing a job where all I do is look at digital video and figure out what's wrong with it, and how to fix it, before it gets sent off to providers looking for the highest quality content possible. I'm the guy who has to explain to independent film makers why their documentaries look like shit, and explain to major players in the field why a certain movie's original production methods prevent it from looking like a major Hollywood release. In short, my keen eye, knowledge of digital film conversion tactics and general film production is my professionalism.

And yes, I mentioned Alien 2: On Earth once, as a footnote, because it was perfectly relevant.

You know who's releasing some really stellar discs right now? Kino International. Make you guys a deal, when Rollin's Living Dead Girl comes out, I'll show you guys how I react when I'm handed a product that doesn't suck. Then you can decide if I'm a constant asshole, or just upset that I had a less than stellar presentation to review here.