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.


LoBo said...

People have said that the compression artifacts aren't visible in motion, unless you stick your head right up at the screen.

The artifacts wouldn't bother me if i don't see them in motion.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Let me put it this way; The Arrow Video transfers on Demons and Demons 2 is basically comparable to all of those Mill Creek quad-features that cram 4 movies on a BD50. Some people love them and think the quality is fantastic, and if they like it, they should buy 'em and tell Mill Creek to keep up the good work. I haven't done that with labels that do care as of late because... well, mostly because I'm BUSY and haven't had a chance to write about much of anything in a while. I've had very kind things to say about Synapse Films and even complimented Media Blasters when they didn't screw the pooch, but for some weird reason nobody wants to talk about my reviews when they're positive...

Personally, I think those discs look kind of crumby... but you know what? I can get four mediocre Hellraiser DTV sequels for ten fucking dollars. At that point, the fact that the discs look "whatever" becomes somewhat irrelevant; I'm being handed a bargain bin disc and I knew that the second I paid for it.

$42 is hardly a bargain bin release, but that's essentially the quality Arrow Video lavished upon it. It's not a TERRIBLE release overall and I'm glad to have it, but I think the results could have been substantially better, had Arrow spent less money on animated menus and more hiring some kid to sync up the stereo dubs or even found someone who knows how to use x264 in tandem with a ProRes(HQ) source. I suppose asking for a BD50 would be requesting the moon on a silver platter?

LoBo said...

Ok, i guess you will sells yours and wait for improved versions released by other studios?

My Demons and Demons 2 BDs has been shipped out and i know they look improved compared to my UK Platinum Collection, which is non-Anamorphic.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Sell it? Nah, I'm sure it'll sit on the shelf next to Riki-Oh and The From Dusk Till Dawn Collection and other "What The Hell Was I Thinking?!" discs I've bought over the years.

Make no mistake, these BDs look a lot better than the old LD masters Anchor Bay trotted out nearly 15 years ago. If the UK Platinum Collection was similar, you'll be pleased enough.

But I'm sick of "better than the DVD" being the nicest thing I can say about a BD. I want to buy something, you know, good every once in a while.

LoBo said...

Ok, My UK DVDs look like this:

What Arrow Video BDs would you say is the best they have released so far?

I would say:

Dawn of the Dead
The Beyond
City of the Living Dead (Despite the compression artifacts)

And then those who i think is worst that i have:

Battle Royale (Old DVD master + too much DNR)
Day of the Dead (May also have used an old DVD master + again too much DNR)

Tommy said...

What size is your screen Kentai? On my 42" panasonic plasma I thought Demons 1 looked substantially better than most Italian horror BD releases (haven't gotten around to demons 2 yet). And while I know that's not setting the bar too high, I was never distracted by any fact I was rather impressed. Although, I can agree the audio was kind of a mushy-mess.

Interesting rundown of all the quasi demons "sequels". I have actually obtained a copy of every one of them aside from Lamberto's version of Black Sunday. Do you know where I could track that one down? I can't get enough of that late 80's Italian garbage...luigi cozzi's "demons 6/black cat" is one of the most bat-shit-entertaining messes I have ever witnessed. Although, I am genuinely quite fond of Soavi's La Setta...that film is no joke.

Kentai 拳態 said...

LoBo: If the Arrow Video BD is "disappointing", that DVD is probably cancer. Of the penis. And it needs to be removed with an olive fork and a chisel that's actually a squeaky dog-toy.

...what I'm saying is the Blu-ray still looks a HELL of a lot better than that old thing.

Tommy: In the living room, I've got a 46" set and a couch about 7 feet away. I have a much larger living room now than I used to, and feel I could go up a few inches without dominating the new space I'm in, but... well, maybe next year?

That's not what I do any critical viewing on, though; I've also got a 23" 1080p LCD monitor, a very "studio setting" setup if you'd like to think of it that way. Most people don't sit half as close to the screen in terms of distance-to-screen-size as I do, and realize I'm one of "those people" to a certain degree - but so what? Even Arrow's own release of Phenomena holds up from a compression standpoint on this setup, even of the DVNR drags the overall experience down to a hearty "meh". If Arrow Video is capable of creating a well authored disc that holds up to scrutiny, I see no reason not to be frustrated when they don't, particularly for a release they've had two years now to perfect.

Benjamin said...

I wonder what keeps Arrow Video from using the same technology used for the Arrow Academy releases. Those for the most part have been really well done.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

Yeesh... Looks like I'll be keeping my Demons 1 & 2 DVDs. Which I got for about five bucks each and is all I'd ever want to pay for them.

So Phenomena got a pretty good transfer? I've been considering getting it.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

By the way, Kino's Blu-ray for The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 is eight bucks at Best Buy. Think I'll pick it up at that price. Even if it's as shatty as people are saying, it looks to have gotten a pretty good transfer, and I can't help supporting good horror Blu releases.

Anonymous said...

That's because the Arrow folks don't create the HD scans themselves, they just process existing transfers - if the Italians already fucked them up by using antique CRT scanners, they can't do much about it anymore...

Kentai 拳態 said...

Benjamin: The "Academy" releases usually have substantially better masters to work from, but I'm certain they're also using a superior encoder as well. I suspect that "Arrow Academy" and "Arrow Video" releases are actually handled by completely different people, but I suppose we'll never know...

Kris: PHENOMENA is a mixed bag, is all I have to say. Michael over at Land of Whimsy has a great write-up on it HERE that goes over how bad the DVNR gets, and also covers some of the funky audio glitches that come from splicing the English version into the edited-totally-differently Italian version of the film. It ain't seamless and I wouldn't even vall the presentation "pretty", but it's... better than plenty of other Arrow Video releases I can think of.

That's pretty damning praise, but if you want something substantially better than the 4:3 LBX "Uncut" DVDs with composite English language tracks (and no subtitles), this is pretty much the only game in town. It's sort of the lesser of a dozen evils more than a stellar release, but goddamn it, if that's what I have to put up with to see PHENOMENA complete in and High Definition, so be it! (The English audio kind of sucks, but at least it's Stereo...)

Dang, I was in Best Buy TODAY and didn't see HHE2! I'm probably just doing my poor brain a favor, but still...

Kriztoffer Swank said...

If you're interested in getting HHE2, it's currently up for free shipping at, so I think you can buy just that and get the free shipping (plus tax, presumably).

There's also a Blu-ray for the Female Convict Scorpion remake that's $6. From a friend, Coffin Jon, who co-hosts the VCinema podcast and knows his Asian films:

"I was actually expecting to really hate the film considering the obvious baggage its carrying - the other SASORI films, the international all-star (used loosely) cast of character actors, and artsy sensibilities, but it turned out to be an interesting take on the series."

So I'll be getting both now. Two new Blu-rays for just under fifteen bucks is pretty cool.