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.


Kriztoffer Swank said...

"Looking forward" to getting my copy in the mail, ha ha. (Was too lazy to drive to a store.)

By the way, thought it worth mentioning that DeepDiscount currently has one of their "25% off select items" sale, and there are some good cult flicks that can be had cheap like Thou Shalt Not Kill...Except for $15.30.

But what's really interesting is I've discovered they stock UK Blu-rays at a ridiculously good price. For $9.78, hell yeah I'll pick up Arrow's Phenomena, and Bay of Blood is only $10.64. Nightmare on Elm Street set is $29.99 (though currently out of stock—hopefully I'll receive it). These are some damn good deals.

Too bad Four Flies isn't available for a nice low price. Looks I'll have to use Amazon UK for that.

X-human said...

Unfortunately there seems to be this odd desire by some people to have blurry, smeary, color boosted transfers. In their minds grain, print damage and deep blacks must be eliminated at all cost including fine details. Basically they don't like the look of film but just want VHS.

Then when they get what they want they say it's not worth the upgrade. There's recently been a resurgence of VHS with new collector's editions in classic big boxes and even Troma's on board. I like those boxes but too but why can't a Blu-ray be in the middle?

The HD community really needs to stop catering to people happy with VHS and instead let HD provide a more film like transfer for those that can appreciate it. I applaud Kino for their efforts on this front. I agree with your last blog that Kino's going full steam ahead with their cult releases and I worry about them releasing titles Redemption went bankrupt selling.

If only I didn't hate Wes Craven movies I'd buy this. But I'll buy almost anything else from Kino so that should make up for it.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Kriztoffer: Uh... enjoy, I guess? I suppose there's worse direct to video dreck out there, but know that this is by far the worst thing Craven's ever let congeal between his butt cheeks in 40 years. I was hoping it'd at least be a collection of silly bad ideas; instead it simply has no ideas at all other than "Motocross is scary, right?"

X-human: Salutations, friend.

I'm curious if Kino is working with someone else (likely the film's copyright holders) in some sort of "Look, it's us or nothing!" capacity. Without hopefully sounding like a dick, the fact is a lot of the people who care about Bava and Rollin and, I'm sure, even Craven's catalog that extends further than Freddy are getting too old to care about buying their movies again. A lot of people - myself included, occasionally - revisit these films out of nostalgia, and for that purpose, DVD - heck, even VHS! - is probably good enough for most people.

With that squarely in mind, I "get" why the Retro VHS is a hit with people older than myself. I don't share in their enthusiasm for the format, but yeah, the old video boxes were kind of cool, and I can't tell you how excited I was to own the big ol' clamshell release of Shocking Asia or the "big box" for Breeders so many years ago.

Believe you me, whatever respect I have for Craven diminishes every time I see something I've missed over the years. ANOES is still a masterpiece, there's some good stuff in HHE and I feel like LHOTL is one-half of a classic and one half kooky 'I don't know how to make a movie yet' clumsiness... but everything else? It varies from "Eh, whatever" to "Why did anyone give him a budget for this shit?"

X-human said...

Oh don't get me wrong, I have Alternative Cinema's recent VHS release of The Basement and even imported Nekromantik's DVD edition in a VHS case. I've been tempted by retro-released Nail Gun Massacre and The Toxic Avenger. But these editions are just the tip of the ice berg that doesn't look so bad and can even be scenic.

Under the ice we have people who insist that the ONLY way to see Texas Chainsaw Massacre or H.G. Lewis's movies is to see them on VHS. Despite the fact that the films themselves predate the format. There's this mindset that "film-like bad!" "VHS-like good!" Whether they knowingly intend it to look VHS or not when they crank the DNR up it's still the same result. To me a waxy, blurry, color boosted image might as well be VHS.

The only reason something should look like VHS is because it was shot on VHS. I don't mind splices, I don't mind scratches, I don't mind reel change indicators, I don't even mind hair in the gate. What I mind is digital tinkering digital artifacts and incompetent transfers.