Saturday, June 01, 2013

Steel Demons

Goddamn it, Don...

So, here's the deal: Our old pals Don May and Jerry Chandler purchased the rights to release Lamberto Bava's DEMONS/Demoni and DEMONS 2/Demoni 2, on Blu-ray through Synapse Films. For the time being they're only selling these two films as Limited Edition steelbook DVD+BD sets through their own website, and while they acknowledge that they might do a non-limited release later they currently aren't promising jack shit. They're planning to ship the finished product "by November", but promise they'll send them out as soon as they're ready, which - if Intruder was any indicator - may well be several weeks, maybe even a few months in advance.

It's not a typical pre-order, however. For one thing, they charge you NOW, now when the product is actually going to ship. Kind of unusual and... honestly, a bit of a dick move I think. Not sure if this is part of the grand plot to pre-pay Scanavo for the access to their delicious Steelbook technology or what, but it's something you can't exactly plan for - you either pay now, or pray it isn't sold out later. The other brow-raiser is the price tag: Each steelbook is $39.95 plus $6 shipping, which makes the whole set just under $92. For reference, anyone who pre-ordered the Arrow Video steelbook from last year literally paid less than half the price Don is asking for both films after the standard Amazon discount.

That said, not only is the packaging unique - both sides feature some amazing artwork, one an "all new" take by award winning horror specialist Wes Benscoter, the other a 'clean' version of the original poster art -  but the Blu-rays themselves stand to deliver an improved presentation when compared to Arrow Video's frustrating attempts. Both will be presented on BD-50s with, presumably, moderate-to-high bitrates encodes, and the first film will feature both the "American" dub as featured on the Arrow Video BD, as well as the "European" dub (which had been featured on every prior DVD release I'm aware of). The English audio on Arrow's release was "blah" at best, and their excuse for not including the alternate dub was even worse; even members of their notoriously positive Cult Labs forum poked holes in their defense saying that it's "impossible" to sync an alternate track to a new print by one of the members doing it himself in less than half an hour.

The press release promises 'all new' HD transfers, but as we've already established talking with Don May himself, it's the same initial 2K scan Arrow Video created with Cinetecca di Bologna plus some additional color-correction. That said, I've got no qualms with that approach; Arrow Video's final transfers had 99 problems, but their scan of the OCN [Original Camera Negative] ain't one.

The discs also have a host of brand new, and - for now, at least - exclusive bonus material in the form of five new interviews each, including director Lamberto Bava, producer Dario Argento, genre writer/director staple Luigi Cozzi, composer Simon Bowsell and several others. You guys know me, I'm starting to think we've reached the point where there's not many new stories left to tell about 25 year old genre films, but I certainly can't blame Synapse for trying to fill these discs to the gills for those who never tire of heaving these people reminisce on their most beloved works. I don't think I've actually watched more than a curious minute or two of any of the bonus features on the Arrow Video set yet, so as you can imagine the presence of new extras leaves me nonplussed more than anything. Truth be told I'm surprised there's no new commentary or any material with the first film's co-star Garetta Garetta, who was more than happy to show up for the 35mm screening I saw at the New Beverly not long ago, but I can't say their inclusion would have nudged my wanting this one way or the other either.

Oh yes, you also get a replica ticket with the first set. Not quite as cool as the Japanese DVD box set including a mini-replica of the Black Sunday mask, I admit, but it was a nice little gesture to make that bitter price tag go down just a bit smoother.

Honestly... I'm not sure what to do. The tins look pretty great. I do love the first film, and Arrow Video's release - while a marked improvement over the Anchor Bay DVDs in several areas - are a mess when it comes to color grading, compression and the English audio track which was, arguably I suppose, the "original" language track. Owning several Synapse releases, I have no doubt that these will be the "Ultimate Edition" presentations I've been longing for since I first laid eyes on Arrow's middling transfer work. I don't intend for this to be any sort of popularity contest, but simply put, Don's work basically speaks for itself. If you own Frankenhooker, The Dorm That Dripped Blood, Fairy in a Cage - heck, even that awesome 42nd Street Forever Blu-ray! - you already know that their work is consistently good, and that Synapse is more than capable of producing the finest presentation of the Demons films we're likely to ever see. Sick as I am of double-dipping films in general, much less from Blu-ray to Blu-ray, I want these sets, and damn the expense!

But still, $46 a piece? Christ, that makes even Twilight Time's $35 shipped price tag on titles like Christine seem pretty fair, and at least with those damnable things you aren't sitting there wondering if your somewhat sizeable price tag is going to be replaced a few months later by a reasonably-priced mass market version.

All we know for sure is that over 1/3 (or about 1,000 each) of these sets has already been bought by the public, and if these last more than a week I'll be shocked. Already I'm struggling to pull the trigger for one each - particularly when I remember what a damned slog Demons 2 is! - but the thought of doubling down and trying to flip a second set is borderline heart-breaking.


Ignatius said...

It's even better if you happen to live outside of North America. Then you get to pay $47 per steelbook at Diabolik plus whatever shipping costs they end up charging for them. I love Synapse, if they announced regular editions simultaneously I'd probably be tempted to grab the Demons steelbook at least, but this is a dick move.

I'd totally take advantage of their 50% off sale too to grab some Nikkatsu titles but, again, no international shipping.

Kriztoffer Swank said...

"The discs also have a host of brand new, and - for now, at least - exclusive bonus material in the form of five new interviews each, including director Mario Bava [...]"

Might wanna fix your little flub there. ;)

This is a totally shitty situation. There are turds on Facebook berating folks for not having high enough paying jobs to buy these, but fuck that—even if I were rolling in the dough, this is still bullshit.

I, too, have a niggling feeling to buy up these steelbooks. I hate the idea of paying nearly $100 for the fucking Demons films, but to have the ultimate editions? Man... The first movie's definitely fun. Second one's a major mess, having seen it once, but it's pretty damn fun in a different and possibly more bizarre way, what with the recurring cast playing different characters and all that.

Dammit, I hate this kind of pressure. Buy it to ensure I have them? Or wait for a regular edition and potentially miss out for good?

Maybe just stick to my Anchor Bay DVDs, I suppose.

Kevin P. said...

The 2K restorations were by Cineteca di Bologna (the same who did La Dolce Vita, if I'm not mistaken), not Cinecitta ;-)

I ended up picking up the Japanese two-pack, if only to allay my curiosity as to which dub the English 5.1 DTS-HD mix is. The screenshots I've seen assure me that at the very least the encodes are better than Arrow's hot mess. It wasn't cheap, but in a turnabout that I never thought I'd witness, the Japanese set is still less expensive than buying the two steelbooks domestically.

Some details of it are here:

I just can't drop $92 on these two films right now - end of story. I love them both, if for completely different reasons. I'm just not made of fucking money. I'll still support Synapse as I always have (picked up the DVD/Blu-ray LE of Document of the Dead yesterday, from their 50% off weekend sale), but unless they put out standard versions they're not likely to see my money on these.

Kentai 拳態 said...

Psh, "Mario"? "Cinecitta"? Whatev, you guys. Y'all are crayzay.

[Thanks, truly - article should be fixed, and my only excuse is the fact that I posted this in record time so I could hang out with the wife, who was having a pretty crumby day.]

Ignatius: Foreign customers have my sympathies on this one; typically "import" doesn't mean much with an Amazon existing in damn near every country, but Synapse can't legally ship titles overseas themselves, which leaves Diabolik as the only viable middle-man.

What's especially sad is I doubt Diabolik is making any notable cash off of this arrangement; a lot of retailers will pay up to cost for "exclusive" titles just so keep their customer base loyal and satisfied. Shoppers are fickle bastards.

Kristoffer: Look, I'm usually the first guy to tell people bitching about Twilight Time's occasional foray into genre films "THIS RELEASE ISN'T FOR YOU", but fuck any of the hate these guys are brewing. There's a big difference between paying full price knowing this is your only chance, and paying more than full price for a title that's been out for a goddamn year.

I've spent over $200 in the last month on movies, and two of them were FUNimation box sets I paid over $40 a piece for. Money isn't the same thing as justification, and Synapse's usual M.O. is only about half this expensive. Is $46 too much for DEMONS? Maybe, I can't decide. Too much for DEMONS 2? Oh fuck yes. But I kinda' want it just to complete the set, because - as you've said - it's a fascinating counterpart.

Kevin: The caps on that JP set look like the Arrow Video release always should have! I hope I can find more examples just to show to people who legitimately don't know any better how terrible the compression on those discs were. The black levels we could debate until the cows come home, but the massive compression issues were downright insulting.

If I'd spent $70 on the JP box set, I'd be done with buying these films, too. Proper 5.1 English and a not-terrible encode are about all I could ask for, and had Arrow Video done either of these things I wouldn't be eager to buy them again in the first place. Synapse will have more interviews, but honestly, I could care.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it cost arm and a leg for me, but every once in a while I'll indulge if I like the movie enough( Heck, I've started saving up on the upcoming Japanese "Dredd" Steelbook blu ray which looks too sexy to pass up:)). I completely understand why people are ticked at Synapse's tactics though.

Nicholous said...

Kentai- you know what would make your wife's day crumby? Some nice Demons steelbook preorders ;-)

I agree with your opinion on the money-up-front being to possibly finance the discs. To me the whole thing seems like a carefully calculated move inspired by the Twilight Time genre releases. It's as if Don thought: "ok, 3,000 is an amount that is verified as being limited enough to fire-up collectors, but also high enough to move a hefty amount of items. Now what would I need this to cost to make it worth it (or to pay back the loan I took out to nab the licenses)? $46? Hmmm, that's higher than Criterion MSRP... I know, I'll say 39.99 but then charge 6 for shipping even though everything else in my store ships for free!"

Although I also think that there is a real chance that what these steelbooks are doing is funding the eventual regular releases, which is... blargh.

Conspiracy theories aside, I ordered them. I love the first and get enough self-hating enjoyment out of part 2 to warrant owning something definitive. And the covers are really pretty great.

But man do I hope this won't be the plan for the Argento films Synapse has the rights to.

Kevin P. said...

Kentai: My thoughts exactly. Three caps for each film is nothing to base a whole opinion around, but that said, fuck if what I see in them doesn't blow Arrow's encodes out of the water. Arrow has done some really really good work as of late, and have been raking in my money in kind, but these were just an embarrassment.

Should the Japanese set pan out as I expect it will (I'll be sure to post my thoughts on it once it arrives) I doubt I'll ever have need to pick up the DEMONS films again. That said, standard packaged reissues from Synapse at more standard prices could easily force a double dip (again...), on the first film at the very least.

X-human said...

I pulled the trigger on it rather reluctantly. I don't mind an exclusive limited edition steel book at top shelf prices. I mind the fact that there's nothing else on the lower shelves.

But Synapse is a pretty straight shooter. Although Facebook is apparently all aglow about this release, everywhere else people aren't at all happy about it.

They have until November, plenty of time to announce a standard version. They've already shifted a few things around during this announcement, I expect they'll commit to standard releases shortly.

But I'm keeping an order just in case. Fortunately I held off on the Arrow release, partially because at the time I myself had some financial difficulties. If you're in the same financial situation I was in then, missing out on a Blu-ray release or two is the least of your worries.

Ignatius said...

I also wonder if this isn't a tactic to try and get those who were planning to upgrade their Arrow discs to double-dip now rather than later.

While there are plenty of collectors like ourselves who would end up getting the Synapse release because of the upgrade in quality, if you've already got the Arrow set it's a bit easier to sit on your hands for the moment when there's so much other stuff coming out.

Heck, I've been planning to replace my Arrow copies of Inferno and Deep Red with BU discs for a few years now. And I will get around to it, but I doubt BU gives a fuck about my good intentions when they don't have my money. I imagine Synapse wants to get any potential double-dippers to take the plunge now rather than a few years down the line.

docvoltage said...

Ummm...isn't it their job to make money???

Seriously, I can't believe anybody complaining about this. It's a plastic disk in a painted metal box, fer chrissakes. You won't die of cancer if you don't get it. And it's not the lost complete negative of METROPOLIS that someone wants to set on fire. It's the umpteenth variant edition of a cheesy middling Italian trash film.

I love the damn thing too, but I sure don't have the grand sense of entitlement to heap abuse on Synapse for selling it at a price point that puts it out of my reach. Either you can afford it or you can't (I can't). BFD !

It's capitalism, baby! Roll with it.

Kevin P. said...

My comparison between the Arrow and Eclipse (Japanese) Blu-rays of DEMONS 2.

Kentai 拳態 said...

As expected, Eclipse mops the floor with Arrow's smudgy encode. I can see people taking my reaction as someone who was expecting "too much" or whatever, but my god, if this doesn't prove how poorly Arrow's literal AVC encodes were, I don't know what else could!

Thanks for sharing, Kevin. I'm sure I'll do much the same once Synapse unleashes the steel beasts... can't say I expect them to look dramatically different from the JP discs, though. The more I mull it over, the less okay I feel about Don May suggesting that Synapse created "new HD masters" when they're just color-correcting what already exists. It's appreciated, for sure, but at what point does the word "new" cease to mean anything?

I am now curious what hardware Cineteca di Bologna was using, as the super-sharp grain in DEMONS 2 (when cleared of the nasty compression issues Arrow Video dusted on top) has a certain... "look" to it. A lot of grain, certainly, but not a whole lot of detail within it, and as this is reportedly a scan of the OCN - and I have serious doubts that a Dario Argento produced feature would be shot on 16mm - it's certainly interesting to see just how gritty this new masters is, particularly when you compare how comparatively clean titles like Arrow's ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS and ALIEN 2: ON EARTH are by comparison.

Wouldn't surprise me if what we're seeing a top-of-the-line CRT scan, without any especially obvious digital manipulation after the fact. That's not meant to be a complaint, really, just an observation.