Full disclosure: I don't own Scream Factory's new Special Edition Blu-ray release of PHANTASM II. I've actually never seen the sequels to Phantasm, which I'd always hoped would fix itself by way of nice context-fueled special editions, but Scream Factory discs are rare in local shops and I'm slowly gravitating away from ordering everything now that 90% of what I want is readily available close by. In other words, this is something I've been eyeing for a while, but have yet to pull the trigger on.
With that in mind, I really can't comment on the disc proper, and as such you should take anything I have to say as the word of a casual observer looking at other people's examples. I can't say if the disc is a train wreck because I don't own it, and I want everyone who reads the following paragraphs to keep that fact in mind.
That said, CAPS-A-HOLIC has done a 1:1 comparison with the Anchor Bay UK DVD, and... I refuse to stamp this as a you-know-what without owning the disc myself to examine it in detail, but suffice to say, these comparisons are incredibly damning. If anything, the UK DVD caps appear to have more detail on close ups and less in the way of clipped highlights... and I have a theory as to why. Again, theory - don't own the disc, didn't make the comparison. Just calling this as I see it.
So, let's say you have a decent PAL Digibeta source. You can upscale it to 1080p using a smart-sharpening filter that warps edges to be slightly crisper, but you'll still have to crop off the edges to avoid vertical blanking info and any other distortions associated with SD video. Then, you can process the "HD" master using scratch repair filters on the upsampled master, which produces MORE SUBTLE ARTIFACTS than if you were to simply run an SD scratch repair filter. That said, it'll still SMOOTH OVER THE GRAIN SLIGHTLY, leaving slightly less detail than if you'd left well enough alone. You can tweak colors and contrast to your liking, though if you don't keep tabs on the levels you could end up with CLIPPED WHITES and COLOR CASTS that look... unnatural, is a nice way of putting it.
Not that this is an upscale of a PAL SD master. There's just... nothing about these comparisons especially suggesting that it's not. THIS SHOT is the absolute best I can come up with, and if that's as good as it gets and it is from a dated HD source, we may have another Re-Animator or Versus level master on our hands, a D5 tape so unimpressive that it's improvement over NTSC is marginal, at best.
Make of that whatever you like, I'm kind of done. Just pointing out these obvious weaknesses and letting everyone else make up their own minds.
Come to think of it, this reminds me of that Euro HD master for THE FOG that, despite wiping the floor with the piss poor R1 release, was clearly a PAL master converted to 1080p by less than ethical means. It's also worth noting that Scream Factory's parent company, Shout Factory, has released several Jackie Chan BD double features using crumby SD upscales provided by the film's distributors Fortune Star, so clearly they're "willing" to resort to upscales when that's what they're given.
Much as I want to give Cliff the benefit of the doubt on this one, there's just NO DEFENDING THIS CRAP as anything but an upscaled DVD master.
If you want to own Phantasm II, this is clearly the release to get - nothing else is even worth mentioning, even if this isn't an ideal presentation. That said, if you really want to throw money at something that might, potentially, further Don Coscarelli's zany career, go buy JOHN DIES AT THE END on Blu-ray instead. It's really fun!
UPDATE: According to Cliff MacMillan, head of Scream Factory (Shout Factory's cult-horror division), and I quote:
"It's an HD transfer approved by the Don Coscarelli."
I want to believe him, and it's not as if Universal is well known for keeping high quality HD masters of its less-than-top tier catalog titles on hand, but... well, for reference, I thought that THEY LIVE was an "okay" transfer at best (and isn't even as nice as the Italian BD), and yet THIS is how dramatic an improvement it has over the old PAL DVD.
Further muddying the waters was a PM that "CMAC" sent to another forum member, which was reposted, and then quickly deleted from the thread afterward when asked if Shout Factory knowingly released NTSC upscales on Blu-ray for their recent batch of Jackie Chan double features:
"These are the master furnished to us by Fortune Star. I questioned them regarding them being uprez SD transfers and they told me "no, they were transfers done in Canada a few years ago".
It's bad business to say "Sorry, all the fan boys say you are lying that these are SD masters"
Should I contact them and tell them they are liars?"
I'll not call the man a liar, only point out that, if true, this film is sorely in need of a new HD telecine. At this rate, I might need to get my hands on the disc proper just to do some proper experiments...