October 2007

 
 

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DVDs I bought or received in the month of October

HD DVD/Blu-ray/DVD
  • Black Book (R0 USA, Blu-ray)
  • Dawn of the Dead (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Day of the Dead (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Fallen Angel (R2 UK, DVD)
  • The Fly (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Halloween (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Inferno (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • The Jungle Book: Platinum Edition (R0 USA, DVD)
  • Masters of Horror: Season 1, Volume 1 (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Masters of Horror: Season 1, Volume 2 (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Mission Impossible III (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • Nikita/Subway (R2 UK, DVD)
  • Oldboy (R0 UK, Blu-ray)
  • Seed of Chucky (R0 USA, HD DVD)
  • The Stendhal Syndrome (R0 USA, DVD)
  • Suspiria: Definitive Edition (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • Veronica Mars: The Complete Third Season (R1 USA, DVD)

No question about it, this was a very Blu month. A very expensive one too, although at least I managed to snag three review copies.

 
Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 11:59 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | HD DVD | TV
 

Look what came today

Hellgate: London Collector's Edition box

Above: Hellgate: London Collector’s Edition box

Shipped from Kentucky on October 29th, due for release October 31st… arrived in Glasgow on October 31st. Of course, I ended up paying a premium in customs charges, but it’s so rare that I actually order a collector’s edition package of a game (the last one was World of Warcraft in 2004) that I’m not going to complain too much.

Considering that the actual contents of the package takes up very little space, the box is massive, and might seem like overkill to some. Basically, you get the game on a DVD, a second DVD featuring a making-of featurette, various trailers and galleries, and the score in .wav form, as well as a poster map of the various levels in the game and 106-page comic book. Not as grandiose as some of Blizzard’s Collector’s Editions, admittedly, but some nice stuff all the same.

Unfortunately, there seem to be a few hitches when it comes to the game’s optional subscription service. The subscription sign-up process has actually been removed while the matter is investigated, which, as you can imagine, is upsetting a lot of people who planned on subscribing as soon as they got the game so they could enjoy some of the exclusive Halloween content.

There’s also the slight matter of the Founder’s Option, which was promised to those who pre-ordered from selected retailers (Gamestop, from whom I ordered my copy, being one of them). Essentially, the Founder’s Option allows you to pay a one-off fee of $150 to receive a lifetime (the game’s lifetime, that is, not your lifetime) of “ongoing content”, rather than paying $10 per month for this material, as everyone else who wants this material will have to do - a good deal if you plan on playing the game for more than 15 months, which, given the developers’ track record with the Diablo franchise, is a sure-fire thing. Unfortunately (guess what?), it seems that a lot of people did not receive the pre-order keys required to enable this option, myself included. I haven’t decided whether or not I want to go down this route ($150 is a lot of money to lay down in one go, regardless of the developers’ pedigree), but, as you can imagine, I was a bit miffed to discover this oversight. I’ve emailed Gamestop and am hoping for a solution to this problem before too long, because the Founder’s Offer is only available until the end of November.

 
Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 11:16 PM
Categories: Games | Halloween | Technology
 

Halloween HD DVD review: Underworld: Extended Cut

HD DVD
In terms of bonus content, Sony Pictures’ recent US Blu-ray release of Underworld, which ports over most of the extras from the standard definition release of the extended cut, is definitely preferable. For those who are restricted to HD DVD only, however, this release provides a magnificent audio-visual presentation of the film that I struggle to imagine being bettered.

Concluding this year’s Halloween special, I’ve reviewed Concorde Home Entertainment’s HD DVD release of Underworld, a film which may not offer much in the way of seasonal cheer, but at least has vampires and werewolves in it.

 
Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 10:47 PM
Categories: Cinema | HD DVD | Halloween | Reviews
 

Halloween DVD review: Inferno

DVD
Unlike the Definitive Edition of Suspiria which I reviewed earlier today, the differences between this iteration of Inferno and the earlier Anchor Bay release are not a clear-cut case of something being “wrong”. Rather, they constitute a decidedly different-looking version of the same film, but one that is probably equally accurate to Argento’s vision. While dedicated fans will undoubtedly wish to pick up both DVDs, those only looking for one to add to their library are advised that both editions have their own strengths and weaknesses. The choice is up to the viewer.

Continuing the joint celebration of Halloween and the Italian theatrical release of Mother of Tears, I’ve reviewed the recent Italian R2 release of Inferno, Dario Argento’s third film in the Three Mothers trilogy.

 
Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 10:45 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Halloween | Reviews
 

Halloween DVD review: Suspiria: Definitive Edition

DVD
The so-called Definitive Edition of Suspiria proves to be anything but: a thoroughly disappointing release whose only claim to fame, beyond buggering up the look of the film something rotten, is its nifty tin case. And thus the quest for the definitive DVD release of Dario Argento’s masterpiece continues…

To celebrate Halloween, and to coincide with the Italian theatrical release of Mother of Tears, Dario Argento’s concluding part to the Three Mothers trilogy, I’ve reviewed the recent R2 Italian “Definitive Edition” of the first instalment, Suspiria, which comes in a nifty metal tin.

 
Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 10:43 PM
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Halloween | Reviews
 

Halloween Blu-ray review: The Descent

Blu-ray
The Descent is one of the most impressive high definition releases I have seen so far, not only for featuring a stellar transfer and solid audio support, but also for featuring one of the best modern films released on either format thus far, and for being one of the few Blu-ray releases to not only port over all of the extras from its standard definition counterpart, but also for including an array of HD exclusive bonuses. Yes, the lack of true picture-in-picture means that the effect is not as seamless as it could have been, but this is overall a magnificent release and the best Blu-ray disc I’ve seen.

As part of DVD Times’ Halloween 2007 coverage, I’ve reviewed last year’s Blu-ray release of The Descent, and excellent presentation of Neil Marshall’s superb horror film put together by Lions Gate.

 
Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at 10:39 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | Halloween | Reviews
 

Attention spookmeisters!

Halloween

Well, in just a few hours it will be All Hallows Eve, and, as promised, I have some spooktacular reviews for you. Unfortunately, the list is somewhat shorter than I would have hoped, due to my coming down with a nasty case of writer’s block, which didn’t clear up in time for me to get through my entire list of titles. Still, here’s what you can expect to see tomorrow:

  • Midnight: The Descent (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • 6 AM: Suspiria: Definitive Edition (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • 12 PM: Inferno (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • 6 PM: Underworld: Extended Cut (R0 Germany, HD DVD)

Unfortunately, I’ll be out at work all day tomorrow, so I won’t be on hand to post links to the reviews themselves until I get home. If you just have to be at the front of the queue, I suggest you loiter around DVD Times and watch out for them as they materialise. Unless you have anything better to do, that is.

 
Posted: Tuesday, October 30, 2007 at 10:08 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | HD DVD | Halloween | Reviews
 

Madre di musica

CD

Messaggerie Digitali has made the score to Mother of Tears available as a downloadable album for the price of €9.90. Personally, I’m going to wait for my order of the physical CD from MovieGrooves, which should be dispatching in early November, but the Messaggerie Digitali site allows you to sample the first 30 seconds of each of the 46 tracks. Just be warned that the track titles are very spoiler-intensive.

 
Posted: Monday, October 29, 2007 at 11:36 AM
Categories: Cinema | Dario Argento | Music
 

In sickness and in health…

Sometimes, it seems as if every horror fan apart from myself has seen Showtime’s Masters of Horror series in its entirety. Now with two seasons of thirteen episodes each to its name, it seems like everyone has an opinion on each and every one of them. Until recently, I’d only seen Dario Argento’s two offerings, Jenifer in Season 1 and Pelts in Season 2. My phenomenal disappointment at their lacklustre quality played no small part in my lack of interest in seeking out the rest of the series: after all, if my favourite director couldn’t manage to bring anything to the table, what hope was there for the rest of ‘em?

Recently, however, I picked up the first two volumes of Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray release of Season 1, containing episodes by John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, William Malone, Argento, Lucky McKee and John Landis. Impressed by McKee’s theatrical debut, May, one of my favourite horror films of the last decade, I jumped straight to his tale, Sick Girl, not sure at all of what to expect.

Sick Girl

What’s strange is that, although McKee only has two feature films under his belt (one of which hadn’t been released when Sick Girl aired, and which I’ve yet to see), it’s still clear from the outset that his “style” is all over the production in a way that it just wasn’t for Dario Argento with Jenifer. If you’ve seen May, you’ll immediately recognise this as the work of the same director. All of his obsessions are present: we’ve got quirky outcasts, we’ve got lesbians, we’ve got Angela Bettis (playing a quirky outcast lesbian - how’s that for value for money?), we’ve got gloomy old buildings, we’ve got a slow, building sense of dread, we’ve got Jaye Barnes Luckett’s off-kilter score, we’ve got a scene in which two lovers watch a movie that can only be described as the creation of a deranged mind… Essentially, Sick Girl is treading much of the same ground as May, but McKee has got this formula down pat, and I for one didn’t object to a second outing.

The plot focuses on Ida Teeter (Bettis), a throaty-voiced scientist whose speciality is bugs. So fond of her beloved insects is she that her apartment is filled with them, much to the disgust of her frosty landlady, Mrs. Beasley (Marcia Bennett), and, when an unusually large and vicious, and seemingly unknown, specimen is mysteriously delivered to her door, she can’t keep the excitement out of her voice. Things get going when Ida, egged on by her lab partner, Max (Jesse Hlubik), plucks up the courage to approach Misty Falls (Erin Brown), a shy, reclusive girl who spends each day drawing pixies in the foyer of Ida’s workplace, and ask her out. Quicker than Max can say “ladies in lust”, Ida and Misty are having hot, rambunctious sex on the sofa, and Misty is moving into the apartment. It’s all sweetness and fairycakes… until, that is, Ida’s new bug takes a liking to Misty and… well, you can probably guess what happens next.

Sick Girl

Okay, not the most thrilling of plots, as I’m sure you’ll agree, but McKee handles it with applomb. Like May, it goes nowhere in a hurry, taking care to establish its characters and allow the audience to come to like them before the “horror” segment of this Masters of Horror episode gets going. And Ida and Misty are likeable. They’re both quirky and oddly charming, and McKee portrays them with affection rather than as grotesque parodies of social outcasts. Yes, they’re weird, but in an endearing and frequently amusing way.

Much of this is down to the performances of the two leads, with Angela Bettis, while not delivering to quite the same level as she did in May, handling the awkward and stone-faced Ida with considerable skill. Erin Brown, meanwhile, seems to be channeling Amber Benson, initially at least. Beyond the more obvious issue of her orientation, Misty is so similar to Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer in terms of shyness, clothes, hairstyle and mannerisms that it’s a wonder 20th Century Fox haven’t sued for plagiarism. She’s also very good in the role, though, and handles her character’s slow transformation effectively. I was surprised, to put it mildly, to discover that she is actually a porn actress, better known to her fans as Misty Mundae.

Sick Girl

Once the horror elements begin to fly, they do so with abundance. The climax is a deliciously twisted piece of filmmaking, with one of the most over the top but strangely convincing transformation I’ve seen in a while, all created with practical effects (no CGI muck here). I read a review which described this as the David Cronenberg film that David Cronenberg never made, and I can definitely see the similarities between this and the likes of Naked Lunch (and, presumably, The Fly, which I should be seeing for the first time soon), in its merging of humans and prosthetic insects. And hey, just in case this sounds like a bit of a downer, McKee even throws a happy ending at us out of left field, albeit one laced with a hefty dose of black humour.

One of my main criticisms of Jenifer and Pelts was that their scenarios were too thin and inconsequential to fill an hour’s running time. With Sick Girl, conversely, I felt exactly the opposite: I wanted the episode to last longer, and I suspect that, if it had, it would have avoided the third act seeming so rushed. It might also have allowed more depth to be given to the secondary characters, Max and Mrs. Beasley, who are merely one-note stereotypes (the sex-obsessed man and the “degenerate”-hating old woman). Still, for what it was, I enjoyed Sick Girl considerably more than I was expecting to. I’m not quite sure how McKee got to be labelled as a Master of Horror on the back of two films, but this episode confirmed my belief that he is a filmmaker worth watching out for.

 
Posted: Friday, October 26, 2007 at 10:26 AM | Comments: 4 (view)
Categories: Blu-ray | Buffy the Vampire Slayer | Dario Argento | Reviews | TV
 

This is going to set you back several Disney dollars… (Part 3)

You can view Part 1 (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Alice in Wonderland) here, and Part 2 (Peter Pan to The Black Cauldron) here.

DVD

The Great Mouse Detective [a.k.a. Basil the Great Mouse Detective] (John Musker, Ron Clements, Dave Michener, Burny Mattinson, 1986) - Draw between all the current releases, which all present the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and with the original stereo audio replaced with a 5.1 remix. The Region 2 UK release features scratchier opening credits due to the title having been replaced with the UK variant, Basil the Great Mouse Detective, but otherwise the transfer is comparable to its Region 1 counterpart. Both versions that I have seen feature what seems suspiciously like missing sound effects during the climactic fight between Basil and Ratigan, but, not having seen an earlier, non-remixed version, I can’t say for sure.

Oliver & Company (George Scribner, 1988) - All the current releases present the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and with the original stereo audio replaced with a 5.1 remix. The Region 1 release, however, gains a bonus cartoon short, Lend a Paw, not found on any other version.

DVD

The Little Mermaid (John Musker, Ron Clements, 1989) - The 2006 Platinum Edition is the version to go for, as it features an anamorphic presentation and the most extras. Its Dolby Digital 5.1 track is presumably derived from the 6-track audio that accompanied 70mm screenings of the film. Please note, however, that, unlike the now OOP Limited Issue version, it has been cropped from 1.66:1 to its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It also suffers from DVNR artefacts.

The Rescuers Down Under (Hendel Butoy, Mike Gabriel, 1990) - All the current releases present the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and include the same extras. The Region 1 Gold Collection release features a Dolby Digital 4.0 track, whereas all other releases have a 5.1 track. The original theatrical mix was presumably stereo, making neither track ideal.

Beauty and the Beast (Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, 1991) - I don’t own the one on DVD. All releases present the film in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, matted from the CAPS native 1.66:1, and feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 presumably derived from the 6-track audio that accompanied 70mm presentations of the film. The 2-disc Platinum Edition was released in all territories, although I am under the impression that the OOP Region 1 version suffers from compression and edge enhancement issues, more so than the Region 2 releases, which are also affected. Note that a single-disc “Special Edition” was released in the UK, which features minimal extras and includes only the new extended version of the film, which includes a “newly rediscovered” song, so it should be avoided.

Aladdin (John Musker, Ron Clements, 1992) - All releases are the same in terms of content, presenting the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and with its original Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix (plus a “Disney Enhanced Home Theatre remix), along with copious extras spread across two discs. Having seen both the Region 1 and Region 2 UK releases, I would say that the Region 1 version has a marginally better transfer (comparison here).

DVD

The Lion King (Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff, 1994) - All releases are the same in terms of content, presenting the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and with its original Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix (plus a “Disney Enhanced Home Theatre remix), along with extras spread across two discs. Please note, however, that all versions are derived from the 2002 IMAX re-release, which features some modified animation and effects, as well as a different Walt Disney Pictures logo and static (rather than scrolling) end credits. It also features a newly-integrated song, the Morning Report, which can be disabled from the setup menu.

Pocahontas (Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg, 1995) - Go for any one of the various 2-disc releases (10th Anniversary Edition in Region 1 territories, but released under different labels elsewhere), which feature the most extras and present the film anamorphically in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with its original Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix. Avoid the earlier single disc releases, which are non-anamorphic and have very poor image quality.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, 1996) - I don’t own this one on DVD. All releases present the film in its matted theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, cropping a small amount of information compared with the native CAPS 1.66:1 ratio, and feature the original Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix. The Region 1 release also features a DTS track and an audio commentary not found elsewhere, but has poorer image quality than the various PAL releases (comparison at Bjoern’s Place).

Hercules (John Musker, Ron Clements, 1997) - I don’t own this one on DVD. All releases are non-anamorphic and present the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, accompanied by the original Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The Region 2 re-release (i.e. not the one distributed by Warner Home Video) comes with an additional featurette.

DVD

Mulan (Barry Cook, Tony Bancroft, 1998) - All UK releases have been cut to remove a headbutt (although the film was initially released uncut erroneously, and copies of this recalled UK disc now fetch a hefty price on eBay). The best version is the Region 4 Australian 2-disc Special Edition, which presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, accompanied by the original Dolby Digital 5.1 mix plus several extras. The Region 1 Special Edition includes the same extras but has poorer image quality, especially during the final third of the film (comparison here). The UK Special Edition features a DTS track but is cut. The earlier single editions feature minimal extras and a film-sourced transfer matted to 1.78:1, with the Region 1 version being non-anamorphic.

Tarzan (Kevin Lima, Chris Buck, 1999) - All versions present the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, while most versions feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track; the Dutch, Scandinavian and UK Special Edition releases feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The 2-disc Region 1 Collector’s Edition boasts some additional featurettes not found on other releases. Also note that the old UK Collector’s Edition is missing the audio commentary, but that it is included on the newer UK Special Edition. Avoid the various single-disc editions, which are lacking most of the extras.

Part 4 will follow in the not too distant future…

 
Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2007 at 10:58 PM
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD | Technology
 

The digital restoration bandits claim another victim

DVD

If you’ve read even a few posts on this site relating to the image quality of DVD and HD materials, you’ll know that to call me a bit of a perfectionist would be understating the case somewhat. Simply put, I believe that, if you’re going to do a job, you should make sure it’s a good one, and that there is no excuse for the vast majority of substandard transfers being put out at full price.

Now, poor presentations are bad enough when they are simply the result of a bad encoding job. Edge enhancement, filtering, over-zealous compression - all these things, when added at the stage when the DVD itself is being encoded, are disappointing to say the least, but they are not the end of the world. Someone else can always come along and try again later - see What Have You Done to Solange? for an example of a poor quality older edition being superseded by a new edition which went back to the original source materials and rectified the mistakes that had previously been made. It becomes so much worse, however, when a company spends a large amount of money to restore a film and, in the process buggers it up. Such a situation is always problematic because, often, the new master that is created becomes the de facto standard for any number of future iterations. Create a high definition master of an ageing film and, for some time to come, this master is going to be used by every Tom, Dick and Harry who wants to release the film on DVD, HD DVD, Blu-ray or any format of their choice, rather than going through the costly (and, in their eyes, pointless) process of returning to the original source materials and creating a new master.

Now, along comes Suspiria, one of my favourite films of all time, and one which has a very distinctive look that is absolutely paramount to its enjoyment. Basically, mess up Suspiria’s transfer, and you mess up the whole experience. Now, recently, a brand new restoration of Suspiria was commissioned, going back to the original negative (which, apparently, was in a state of some disrepair) and minting a fresh high definition master. This master, it seems safe to assume, will be with us for some time to come, and is likely to be the first port of call for any company wanting to release the film.

I have but a single question for Technicolor, who handled this restoration:

What the fuck have you done to one of my favourite films?

Here is a screen capture from the 2001 Anchor Bay release of the film. It shows a flash of lighting illuminating the screen as Mater Suspiriorum’s lair self-destructs.

Suspiria

Now, take a look at the same frame as seen in CDE’s so-called “Definitive Edition”, recently released on DVD in Italy in a special commemorative metal tin.

Suspiria

It gets worse. Suzy rushes down the corridor as it rips itself apart before her very eyes. Anchor Bay:

Suspiria

CDE:

Suspiria

Ayeee! Crayola attack! Goodbye, shadow detail! Hello, blown-out highlights!

Want more? Anchor Bay:

Suspiria

CDE:

Suspiria

Suzy is as horrified as I am when someone shines a yellow floodlight at her!

There’s just no stopping these restoration “artists” and their state of the art technology. Anchor Bay:

Suspiria

CDE:

Suspiria

Think you’ve seen it all? Think again. Anchor Bay:

Suspiria

CDE:

Suspiria

They’re having a laugh, surely? Anchor Bay:

Suspiria

CDE:

Suspiria

I hope you chumps kept the damn receipt when you commissioned this! Anchor Bay:

Suspiria

CDE:

Suspiria

Suzy and I are kindred spirits. After the horrors we had both encountered, the only way we could come to terms with the ordeal was to laugh it off.

Right, joking over, Technicolor has some serious explaining to do. Unless this is a simple case of a technical glitch that somehow made its way past every single stage of quality control (and I don’t see how it could be), then someone is guilty of tampering with, nay, wilfully vandalising a work of art in the worst possible way. Let’s see if I can do the same. Don’t you think Whistler’s Mother looks better with the contrasts jacked? Not even Mr. Bean could do as admirable a restoration job.

Whistler's Mother

And hey, how about the Mona Lisa? That could do with some light digital tweaking for the twenty-first century, couldn’t it?

Whistler's Mother

I mean seriously, guys, Jesus! Did no-one stop to think that maybe, just maybe, what you were doing was a bit shitty? This is not how you treat a classic that has built up a justly deserved reputation for being one of the most visually spellbinding films ever created. Seriously, this makes what Anchor Bay did to the film’s audio mix on their DVD seem virtually irrelevant. “Definitive Edition” my left teste.

 
Posted: Wednesday, October 24, 2007 at 6:59 PM | Comments: 25 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Technology
 

DVD image comparison: Inferno

DVD

The release of the Italian DVD of Inferno in October 2007 is a pretty major event, because it marks not only the first time the film has been released on DVD in its native country, but also because it means that the US Anchor Bay release is no longer the only official DVD release of the film in the world (an unauthorised German version, a bootleg of the Anchor Bay DVD, has also been doing the rounds for some time). The lack of variety has meant that there has been little sense of perspective on Anchor Bay’s release - i.e. how good it actually is, how accurate a representation of the film it is - until now.

The Italian release is by the original theatrical distributor, 20th Century Fox, who treated the film absolutely shabbily at the time of its original release, and, until now, didn’t seem to want to know about it. This new release, which includes menus in both English and Italian, begins with the traditional Fox logo and fanfare (seeing this at the start of a Dario Argento film is a truly surreal experience, like two distant worlds colliding), but other than that, both versions are identical in terms of film content, with both featuring English credits and location type.

This is where the similarities end, however. A brief glance at any of the screen captures I’ve posted should reveal that two completely different masters have been used, demonstrating massive differences in terms of brightness and colour palette. Broadly speaking, the Italian release is lighter throughout, improving the shadow detail considerably (see how much clearer Example 10 is on the Italian DVD, for instance). The blacks aren’t truly solid, though, suggesting that some artificial brightening may have been applied. It’s also clear that the Anchor Bay release is noticeably cropped, with a considerable amount of additional information visible on the left and right of the frame in most shots, as well as a smaller amount at the top and bottom. The difference becomes less pronounced at around the film’s half-way mark, however (Example 12 onwards), with the increased visual information generally only being significant on the left hand side of the frame.

Inferno

Above: Anchor Bay; Below: 20th Century Fox

Inferno

In terms of detail, the Fox release appears to show more than that of the Anchor Bay, although some of the perceived sharpness is the result of edge enhancement. It’s not the most severe I’ve ever seen, but it does add a degree of “digitalness” to the image that we could have done without. The compression is definitely much improved on the Fox DVD, utilising a significantly higher bit rate on a dual layer disc (the Anchor Bay disc is a single layer affair). This leads to better presentation of the film grain, as well as helping to make the details stand out better in darker areas. Overall, I think the Fox transfer has the better technical presentation, but the edge enhancement lets the side down.

Moving on to the colour palette, and this is where things get tricky. It certainly doesn’t take a genius to see that the two are very different colour-wise, and I’m at a loss to decide which one is the more accurate. Comparing it with my PAL UK LaserDisc (from Encore) certainly doesn’t do much to shed light on the subject, as the colours on that release are all over the place thanks to the analogue technology. For the most part, the Anchor Bay transfer is considerably more saturated, with colours that at times verge on the extreme. Inferno, like its predecessor, Suspiria, was always intended to have moments of dazzling primary colour, but some of the examples posted here make me slightly suspicious that Anchor Bay indulged in a bit of colour pumping. In particular, if you look at Example 9, you can see that, when lightning strikes on the Anchor Bay version, the entire screen is tinted a strong blue, whereas, on the Fox DVD, a more natural white is shown. Is this a similar case to the Halloween debacle, where the lab timing has been ignored for the Fox release, or is Anchor Bay guilty of jacking up the colours for their version? Anyone want to contact Dario Argento or Romano Albani to get their input on the matter? I suspect that’s the only surefire way of settling this controversy!

In a purely aesthetic sense, I can’t decide which of the two I prefer. This is such a visually-driven film, using composition, lighting and colour to evoke mood, and as such, I suspect that the experience will change quite substantially depending on which version you watch. I do know, however, that I’m not keen on the oddly flat lighting on Eleonora Giorgi’s face on the Fox DVD in Example 6 (the Anchor Bay transfer is much more aesthetically pleasing in this shot). In the end, I’m not going to call it either way. Take your pick.

Inferno

Above: Anchor Bay; Below: 20th Century Fox

Inferno

For audio, the Anchor Bay release provides a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix of the English language version, plus a 2.0 surround mix in the same language. The latter is, however, not derived from the film’s original stereo theatrical mix, but is instead a downmix of the 5.1 remix. The Fox DVD, meanwhile, provides the original English stereo mix, along with the original Italian mono mix, and optional subtitles in both languages, the English subtitle track serving as a translation of the Italian dialogue rather than a transcription of the English. In terms of clarity, the Italian mono track fares the worst, coming across as somewhat muffled, although it is listenable enough. The two mixes on the Anchor Bay DVD fare the best in a technical sense, demonstrating a decent level of clarity, although, given that both tracks are remixes, they cannot really be considered to be representative of Argento’s original intentions. The English stereo track on the Italian DVD, by contrast, initially sounds a lot harsher and more strained, with some noticeable crackling during the first few seconds. The clarity definitely improves as the film progresses, with things improving leaps and bounds after the opening credits, and the differences soon become quite negligible, although the Anchor Bay remixes continue to have the slight edge in terms of overall fidelity. Purists, however, may prefer this slightly weaker quality stereo track to the remixes offered by Anchor Bay.

In terms of extras, the Anchor Bay release is definitely the winner, boasting a trailer, gallery, talent bios and an interview featurette, whereas the Italian release features only the trailer (in poorer quality, and with burned-in Spanish subtitles).

Overall, I’m really not sure how to call this. Both releases have their definite strengths and weaknesses. I suspect that it ultimately comes down to how important you consider it to be to have access to the original stereo English recording and the Italian language version. If you want both of these, then the Fox release is for you. If, however, neither of these are important to you, then it essentially becomes a question of which of the two transfers you find to be more aesthetically pleasing. Use the screenshots I’ve provided and decide for yourselves!

Go ahead and check out the full comparison here!

 
Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2007 at 10:53 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Technology
 

Movie madness

DVD

Yesterday was quite a delay for deliveries for me, starting with the arrival of the third and final season of Veronica Mars from DVD Pacific. Veronica Mars is not a show that I wholeheartedly adore, but I did enjoy the previous two seasons on DVD to varying degrees, and I found myself with a definite desire to hear how the story ends (although, by all accounts, there is little sense of closure in the final episode due to the amount of confusion as to whether the show would be picked up for a fourth season). If nothing else, the move out of the high school environment which dominated Seasons 1 and 2 should provide a much-needed change of pace, while I understand that, mindful of how difficult it was for viewers to get into the previous seasons midway, the producers broke Season 3 into several “mini-arcs” rather than going for one continuous year-long mystery.

HD DVD

Up next: the 2-disc Collector’s Edition of Mission Impossible 3 on HD DVD, also from DVD Pacific (dang, those guys should be paying me royalties!). From the brief glance that I took at it when it arrived, the transfer is every bit as good as I remembered - a virtually flawless presentation and one of the few times I can remember seeing a film photographed in anamorphic Panavision looking this good in high definition I suspect this is due to the fact that Panavision has lost a considerable amount of popularity with filmmakers in recent years, with Super35 tending to be the preferred process for shooting 2.39:1 titles these days. As a result, most Panavision titles released in HD are older, catalogue titles, many of which come from weaker masters. Not so with Mission Impossible 3, which is crisp and clear throughout, with nary an edge halo or soft shot to be found, and only a couple of compression issues preventing it from receiving full marks (we’re talking 9.9/10 stuff here).

The third and final delivery yesterday was the R2 Italian release of Inferno, from DVD.it. This particular release, which is very interesting, will be the subject of a dedicated post that I hope to upload at some point tonight.

HD DVD

Finally, today, the HD DVD release of Seed of Chucky arrived from, you guessed it, DVD Pacific. (Oh, shut up - I like this film, even if it’s in a “so bad it’s good” way.) I really wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of image quality for this one, but I’m pleased to report that it looks very fine indeed. It comes from a film element rather than a digital intermediate, but it’s one of the best film-sourced HD transfers I’ve seen recently, especially from Universal, who have churned out some decidedly underwhelming-looking catalogue titles this year. A handful of shots, and even a couple of entire scenes, look noticeably softer than the rest of the film, but at its best, it has a nicely crisp appearance without looking processed in any way. A very high 8/10, and it would have been a 9 if not for the softer scenes.

 
Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2007 at 5:15 PM | Comments: 1 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | HD DVD | TV | Technology
 

This is going to set you back several Disney dollars… (Part 2)

You can view Part 1 (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Alice in Wonderland) here.

Peter Pan (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, 1953) - The 2006 Region 1 Platinum Edition includes the most extras, as well as the original mono audio mix. Non-Region 1 releases of the Platinum Edition ditch the original mono mix. Older releases, including the now-OOP Special Edition and Limited Issue versions, also omit the mono track and most (if not all) of the extras.

DVD

Lady and the Tramp (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, 1955) - The best available version is the Region 1 2-disc Platinum Edition, which includes the 2.55:1 Cinemascope presentation of the film with its original 3-channel audio. A 1.33:1 version is also included, but this is just a pan and scan presentation of the Cinemascope version rather than the differently framed Academy version that was released for theatres not equipped for Cinemascope (this version has never been released on DVD). The Region 2 versions of the Platinum Edition ditch the 3-channel mix and pan and scan version. The OOP Limited Issue release features only a 5.1 remix and has much poorer image quality, slightly cropped to 2.35:1, plus a complete lack of extras. At all costs avoid the older, non-Platinum Region 2 releases, which are presented in pan and scan only.

Sleeping Beauty (Clyde Geronimi, 1959) - I don’t own this one on DVD. All editions are currently OOP, although a Platinum Edition is scheduled for release on DVD and Blu-ray in October 2008. None of the previous releases include the mono audio that accompanied Academy ratio presentations of the film, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix found on every DVD is presumably derived from the 6-track mix accompanying 70mm prints of the film. Avoid the older, single-disc Region 2 releases, which are presented in 1.33:1 pan and scan; the various 2-disc Collector’s Editions all include the original 2.35:1 presentation (unlike Lady and the Tramp, the 1.33:1 prints were merely cropped rather than reframed), while the UK release features a DTS 5.1 track. The US version, however, contains a commentary not found elsewhere, so it basically comes down to a choice between audio and extras.

101 Dalmatians (Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman, 1961) - I don’t own this one on DVD. All releases are currently OOP. They all present the film in the preferable 1.33:1 Academy ratio rather than the 1.75:1 theatrical ratio (see here for an explanation to this controversy), and feature 2.0 surround audio rather than the original mono mix. A 2-disc Platinum Edition is due out in March 2008, and is expected to feature the original mono audio (on the Region 1 release, at any rate), and be matted to the theatrical 1.75:1 ratio.

The Sword in the Stone (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1963) - All current releases present the film in the preferable 1.33:1 Academy ratio rather than the 1.75:1 theatrical ratio (see here for an explanation to this controversy), and present the audio in a 5.1 remix rather than the original mono recording. Judging by footage shown in the documentary on Platinum Edition release of The Jungle Book, a new edition will be released in matted widescreen at some point in the future.

DVD

The Jungle Book (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1967) - The recently released 2-disc Region 1 Platinum Edition includes the best selection of extras and also includes the original mono audio mix (no word yet on whether the mono mix is included on Region 2 editions, but judging by recent trends, this is probably unlikely). Note, however, that it is presented in a matted theatrical ratio of 1.75:1 rather than the preferable 1.33:1 Academy ratio (see here for an explanation to this controversy). The various OOP single-disc releases present the film in its Academy ratio, but feature poorer image quality and remixed 2.0 surround audio.

The Aristocats (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1970) - I don’t own this one on DVD. All the current releases present the film in the preferable 1.33:1 Academy ratio rather than the 1.75:1 theatrical ratio (see here for an explanation to this controversy), and present the audio in a remix (2.0 surround in Region 1 territories, 5.1 for Region 2) rather than the original mono recording. A 2-disc Special Edition is due out at some point in the future, presumably with a matted 1.75:1 transfer and the original mono audio mix.

DVD

Robin Hood (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1973) - All pre-2006 editions present the film in the preferable 1.33:1 Academy ratio rather than the 1.75:1 theatrical ratio (see here for an explanation to this controversy). The OOP Region 1 Gold Collection release features the original mono mix, while all other versions include only a 5.1 remix. The recently released Most Wanted Edition ditches the mono track and presents the film in a matted 1.75:1 ratio. The Region 2 UK release is also confirmed to suffer from severe DVNR artefacts (evidence here), but I have no idea whether the Region 1 version is similarly affected.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery, 1977) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The OOP Region 1 25th Anniversary Edition presents the film in its intended 1.33:1 aspect ratio and features only a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix instead of the original mono track. The more recent Friendship Edition features similar specs, but boasts an improved transfer and includes some additional extras. Region 2 releases appear to correspond to the Region 1 25th Anniversary Edition in terms of specs and bonus materials.

The Rescuers (Wolfgang Reitherman, John Lounsbery, Art Stevens, 1977) - All available releases present the film in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, which appears to be an accurate reproduction of its intended framing, and feature a 5.1 remix in place of the original mono audio.

DVD

The Fox and the Hound (Art Stevens, Ted Berman, Richard Rich, 1981) - All available editions are presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, which appears noticeably cropped, suggesting that this is a pan and scan job rather than an open matte affair like the 60s and 70s productions. All releases dump the original mono audio mix in favour of a remix (2.0 surround on the OOP Region 1 Gold Collection release, 5.1 for all other versions).

The Black Cauldron (Ted Berman, Richard Rich, 1985) - All releases present the film in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of its 35mm screenings (a 2.20:1 ratio was used for the Super Technirama 70mm version); however, all but the French Region 2 release are non-anamorphic. The French release, which also includes English subtitles, seems therefore to be the preferred edition to get. All releases feature a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which I presume is derived from the 6-track mix that accompanied 70mm prints of the film.

Part 3 will follow in the not too distant future…

 
Posted: Monday, October 22, 2007 at 11:29 PM
Categories: Animation | Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD
 

This is going to set you back several Disney dollars… (Part 1)

Count Fosco, a good friend of mine, was recently inquiring about the subject of Disney animated features on DVD, and it occurred to me that a post dealing specifically with the available versions and which ones are the best would be a good idea. Disney, after all, has a rather annoying habit of releasing a film on DVD for a limited period, deleting it and then re-releasing it a few years down the line, and, as a result, there are several different iterations of many of their animated classics. This post isn’t meant to be taken as completely gospel, because I don’t own every single Disney film on DVD, but, generally speaking, I’ve tried my best to point out instances where I am unsure about a specific title.

So, without further ado…

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (David Hand, 1937) - I don’t own this title on DVD (surprisingly). Of the various editions released, the most preferable seems to be the now out of print Region 1 2-disc Platinum Edition from 2001, which features the original mono track (the Region 2 UK release claims to have a stereo track instead, but I can’t confirm whether or not this is a mislabelled mono track). A new Platinum Edition is expected in 2009.

DVD

Pinocchio (Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske, 1940) - The old Region 1 Gold Collection release is long OOP, but the currently-available Region 2 UK Special Edition features a very nice transfer, despite limited extras and a lack of the original mono audio mix. A Platinum Edition is expected in 2009.

Fantasia (James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe, Norman Ferguson, Jim Handley, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, 1940) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The 60th Anniversary Special Edition and 3-disc Collector’s Edition (bundled with Fantasia 2000) are both OOP. A Platinum Edition is expected at some point, but there is currently no estimated release date.

Dumbo (Ben Sharpsteen, 1941) - No known version contains the original mono mix. The recent US Big Top Edition has the most extras, although it does drop a few that were included in the earlier and now OOP 60th Anniversary Edition. It also has a cleaner transfer, although the 60th Anniversary Edition (the one I own) probably looks more faithful to the film’s original intended look.

DVD

Bambi (David Hand, 1942) - This film wasn’t actually released on DVD until 2005, as a 2-disc Platinum Edition, which is now OOP. Unusually, the Region 2 releases all seem to include the original mono mix, meaning that any of the available releases of this film should be adequate. Please note, though, that all releases suffer from some noticeable “drifting” artefacts.

Saludos Amigos (Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, 1942) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The OOP Region 1 version is edited to remove a racial stereotype; I’m unable to confirm whether the Region 2 releases are similarly affected.

The Three Caballeros (Norman Ferguson, 1944) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The OOP Region 1 release includes the original mono mix. I don’t have access to the specs for the Region 2 version.

Make Mine Music (Bob Cormack, Clyde Geronimi, Joe Grant, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Joshua Meador, 1946) - I don’t own this one on DVD. All releases appear to be edited to remove an entire 8-minute short, “Martins & Coys”.

Fun and Fancy Free (Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, William Morgan, 1947) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The Region 1 release is preferable for including the original mono mix; all other versions feature a 5.1 remix.

Melody Time (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, 1948) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The Region 1 release is edited to remove a cigar from one of the shorts; the Region 2 UK release is unedited. Note, however, that the US release features the original mono mix, while the UK release appears only to have a 5.1 remix.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (James Algar, Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, 1949) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The Region 1 release is preferable for including the original mono mix, whereas the Region 2 releases are 5.1 only.

Cinderella (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, 1950) - I don’t own this one on DVD. The 2-disc Platinum Edition is the only current release of this film, and, as all territories appear to include the original mono mix, any version should suffice.

DVD

Alice in Wonderland (Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, 1951) - The 2004 Region 1 2-disc Masterpiece Edition includes the original mono mix and the best assortment of extras. Avoid the various Region 2 (and Region 4) editions, which junk most of the extras plus the mono mix so that the film can be sold on a single disc. The old OOP Gold Collection release features a poorer transfer and minimal extras, and is also missing the mono mix.

Part 2 will follow in the not too distant future…

 
Posted: Monday, October 22, 2007 at 8:09 PM | Comments: 2 (view)
Categories: Animation | Cinema | DVD
 

Halloween: what can you expect?

Halloween

In just a few days’ time, it will be Halloween, and, naturally, I’m planning a splurge of horror-themed reviews for DVD Times. Last year, I concentrated mainly on covering HD DVD releases, but this year, things are going to be a little more balanced across the three formats I cover. So, provided I can actually churn them out within the next 8-9 days, here’s what you can expect to see:

  • The Descent (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Halloween (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • House of 1000 Corpses (RA USA, Blu-ray)
  • Inferno (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • Suspiria: Definitive Edition (R2 Italy, DVD)
  • Underworld: Extended Cut (R0 Germany, HD DVD)

Now, I’m aware that that’s a bit of a tall order, particularly given that I also have work commitments and my PhD to think about, not to mention a review of the Blu-ray release of Oldboy, plus one of Blue Underground’s new release of The Stendhal Syndrome when it arrives, so I don’t want to promise anything. I’ll do my best to finish as many of them as possible, though.

 
Posted: Monday, October 22, 2007 at 7:41 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | HD DVD | Halloween | PhD | Reviews
 

The optimum Mother of Tears experience

Mother of Tears

Source: Dark Discussion

Dark Discussion is reporting that Optimum Releasing has picked up the UK distribution rights to Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears, with a view to releasing it on DVD in February or March 2008. A general theatrical release is, unsurprisingly, not planned, but Alan Jones is apparently trying to persuade Optimum to put together a screening of the entire trilogy in London with Argento himself in attendance.

Bear in mind that Optimum are also a supporter of high definition media, currently releasing HD DVDs and also supporting Blu-ray as of November. They haven’t released a whole lot of HD content as of yet, but in their most recent press release they stated an interest in responding to “the demand for a greater variety of product”, so it’s possibly worth contacting them and asking them to consider releasing Mother of Tears on either or both formats. I’ve sent them an email (info@optimumreleasing.com), and I would strongly encourage you to do likewise.

CD

In related news, the soundtrack to Mother of Tears is being released in Italy by the label Edel to coincide with the film’s theatrical release at the end of the month. MovieGrooves hope to have copies in stock by early November, and I’ve already got mine pre-ordered. I’m very curious to hear the score in all its glory - I’ve heard mixed reports about it, but the Jerry Goldsmith/Omen-esque snippets that I’ve heard in various trailers and the like sound quite enticing, and, if nothing else, it suggests something of a change of pace for Argento and Claudio Simonetti.

 
Posted: Monday, October 22, 2007 at 7:38 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | HD DVD | Music
 

Blu-ray bonanza

Blu-ray Blu-ray

On Friday, I received a couple of packages from DVD Pacific, containing the first two instalments of Masters of Horror: Season 1 on Blu-ray. Volume 1 contains John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns, Stuart Gordon’s Dreams in the Witch-House and William Malone’s The Fair-Haired Child, while Volume 2 contains Dario Argento’s Jenifer, Lucky McKee’s Sick Girl and John Landis’ Deer Woman. Hmm, something slightly wrong about the first Argento title I own in HD is comfortably the worst thing to which his name has ever been attached (then again, I haven’t seen all of the pre-Bird with the Crystal Plumage westerns that he wrote, so there could be some clunkers among them as well). Still, we all have to start somewhere, and I wanted to pick these discs up, given that Argento’s shameful contributions are the only episodes I have seen of either season of Masters of Horror. I just hope some of the other filmmakers were able to bring a little more of themselves to the table.

As for the treatment of the episodes on Blu-ray, you may already be aware that, barring the audio commentaries for each episode, all of the extras from the standard definition releases have been dumped. Classy, Anchor Bay, real classy. Anyone would think you didn’t care about what you were putting out. Oh, wait a minute - judging by Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Evil Dead II, that much is pretty clear.

Anyway, unlike most Blu-ray and HD DVD releases, these discs are encoded at 1080i rather than 1080p. The reason for this seems to be that the closing credits for each episode scroll at 60 Hz, necessitating the episodes themselves to be stored as such. Personally, I’m glad Anchor Bay didn’t try to deinterlace them themselves, as such results are rarely pretty. As for the image quality, it’s reasonably good. All the episodes have a similar soft, rather diffuse look, but I suspect it may turn out that they look as good as the source materials allow.

Blu-ray

I’ve also received a check disc for Tartan’s upcoming UK Blu-ray release of Oldboy. The image quality is… eh, passable. I’ve seen worse, but I’ve seen a lot better. Looks rather murky and edge enhanced. I’ve been tasked with reviewing the technical components of the disc for DVD Times - we already have plenty reviews of the film itself, so there’s no need to repeat what others have already said.

See you at the movies!

 
Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 10:44 PM
Categories: Blu-ray | Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Reviews | TV | Technology
 

I am fury!

This is House of the Dead. Apparently.

Above: This is House of the Dead. Apparently.

While my month’s free subscription to Amazon UK’s DVD rental service is still active, I’m doing my best to work my way through as many awful films as possible. I may not be as experienced a connoisseur of Z-grade movie garbage as Baron Scarpia, but I’m doing my best to make up for lost time, and last night I had the dubious honour of sitting through Dr. Uwe Boll’s big screen adaptation of the arcade game House of the Dead.

You have to admire Dr. Boll. He consistently churns out garbage so bad that rats would turn their noses up at it, and yet still somehow manages to get funding for multiple projects and attract A-listers like Ben Kingsley and, er, Tara Reid. He seems to have made it his mission to wreck virtually every successful video game franchise of the past decade (although Halo and Silent Hill, it would seem, are safe, for now at any rate) - a laudable aim given that Hollywood Pictures had already set the bar phenomenally low with Super Mario Bros. The man is so adept at tooting his own horn and acting like a complete blow hole that it’s hard to find any sympathy for him when the critics trash his latest train wreck (although I must admit that I did feel just the teeniest bit sorry for him when 90% of his audience got up and walked out during his presentation at the Penny Arcade Expo of the opening scenes from his new film, Postal).

Anyway, enough of that. I’d previously seen Boll’s take on Alone in the Dark (review here, and had come to the conclusion that it would be difficult to conceive of a worse film. So horrifying was the experience that it very nearly drove me away from Boll’s filmography completely. However, last night, undeterred, I popped in House of the Dead, and quickly realised that Alone in the Dark was merely foreplay to my glorious encounter with the true face of Dr. Uwe Boll.

House of the Dead is a film so staggeringly inept and mind-bogglingly idiotic that I deem Boll to be either completely mad or a ground-breaking genius whose talents will only come to be appreciated after several generations. This is a film in which, with every line of dialogue spoken, you feel that the actors are doing their damnedest not to crack up. A film in which a group of snot-faced teenagers (at least, I’m assuming they’re meant to be teenagers - the actors playing them are all at least in their mid-20s) arrive at a rave to find it deserted and a blood-stained shirt on the ground, only to promptly separate to go exploring or have a shag (one participant goes so far as to boast about how quick he can make it). A film in which said teenagers (one of whom wears a one-piece jumpsuit with the stars and stripes on it, while another has a halter top cut so low that her jiggling breasts threaten to pop out at any second), when confronted by seemingly endless hordes of the undead, spend a whole lot of time running around, flapping their arms about and getting bitten, before inexplicably turning into expert gun-slingers/martial artists/sword-wielders (delete as applicable) and going at it to the backdrop of heavy metal that would give 80s Dario Argento a headache and slow motion that would cause John Woo to blush. Oh, and, to spice things up a bit, Boll randomly inserts clips from the original video game, presumably because, without them, you’d never know that this is supposed to be an adaptation of House of the Dead.

But wait! Surely it can’t be all that bad? After all, as Dr. Boll himself points out,

HOUSE Of THE DEAD was in a lot of territories a very big success. In Middle East, Russia, Spain, Thailand and South America was the movie similar to the USA and KANADA two weeks in the TOP TEN and a long time in the Video/DVD-Charts.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, I only saw it on DVD on a 40” LCD. Perhaps, had I seen it at the cinema, I would

recognize that the CINEMASCOPE look of the movie and the sound are absolutly A LIST and not one percent less quality as RESIDENT EVIL or UNDERWORLD.

Preach it, Herr Doktor!

In HOD we have a lot of GORE and a lot of action. Much more as in Resident Evil. The big battle in front of the house with the MATRIX and TURN TABLE effects, over 100 blood effects and 11000 cuts in 13 minutes will be film history in a few years because in NO OTHER FILM EVER was a similar scene. Also Rodrigez or Tarantino ever made a scene like this escalating action scene in HOD.

There you have it! A lot of gore and a lot of action! Turn table effects! Over 100 blood effects and 11,000 cuts in 13 minutes! Truly this film deserves to go down in history! I was completely wrong! This is a masterpiece and a prime example of why Dr. Uwe Boll is the saviour of modern cinema. Why, he could be this generation’s Ed Wood - that’s how good he is.

Jesus fucking Christ. Now I absolutely must see Bloodrayne.

PS. If you still need convincing of Dr. Boll’s awesome talent, you can watch the entire fight scene, with its turn table effects, 100 blood effects and 11,000 cuts, on YouTube.

 
Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 2:14 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Games | Reviews
 

A pretty developed sense of perversion

Wholesome girly antics in Enigma Rosso

Above: Wholesome girly antics in Enigma Rosso

Throughout the 1970s, hundreds (if not thousands) of gialli were made, and, although many of them are now readily available on DVD, the vast majority are either lost entirely or only available in severely compromised grey market editions, usually copied countless times from already iffy materials. One giallo that I’d been wanting to see for some time was a 1978 offering called Enigma Rosso, also known as Rings of Fear, Red Rings of Fear, Virgin Killer (a pretty misleading title), Trauma (not to be confused with the 1993 Dario Argento slasher of the same name), and various other diverse titles. It bears the distinction of being the final part in the group of films unofficially referred to as the “Schoolgirls in Peril” trilogy, the first two instalments of which, What Have You Done to Solange? and What Have They Done to Your Daughters?, were helmed by the gifted and underrated Massimo Dallamano. Dallamano’s life was cut short when he was involved in a car crash in 1976, but he collaborated on the script for Enigma Rosso and, as far as I can gather, fully intended to direct it. The reigns ended up being passed to Alberto Negrin, and the buzz on the Internet has always been that the end result was nothing like as good as the first two films in the trilogy.

Until recently, the only version of the film that was circulated on a wide basis seemed to be a murky-looking, VHS-sourced pan and scan presentation of the English language print, which, with PAL speed-up, ran for approximately 81 minutes. Recently, however, the same version of the film (albeit with Spanish credits) showed up on DVD in Spain, non-anamorphic and with Spanish audio only but in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I bought this DVD back in August, and, a few days ago, put the finishing touches to my own personal composite version, which marries the English audio from the VHS dupe with the transfer from the Spanish DVD. The results, while far from ideal, are certainly preferable to either version on its own. I understand that several different cuts of the film were prepared for different markets, so presumably other versions exist which feature additional and/or alternate footage, but, for the time being, this is probably the best we’re going to get.

The plot sees Inspector Gianni Di Salvo (Fabio Testi, who also played the lead in What Have You Done to Solange?) investigating the death of a teenage girl, Angela Russo, whose body is discovered washed up on a riverbank. In predictable giallo fashion, it quickly emerges that something incredibly seedy has been going on, involving Angela and her three friends, quaintly known as “the Inseparables”. They, and the various employees of the St. Theresa’s boarding school, quickly begin dropping like flies, and Di Salvo, finding himself faced with a killer with, in his own words, “a pretty developed sense of perversion”, teams up with an unlikely accomplice, Angela’s younger sister, Emily (Fausta Avelli).

It immediately becomes apparent that this third instalment in the trilogy is very much a companion piece to its predecessors, as familiar elements crop up throughout. Peeping tom scenes of girls in showers? Check. Late night motorbike chase through the streets of Rome (at least I think it’s Rome - the locations used are fairly anonymous)? Check. Sordid sexual antics and corruption at the very core of society? Check. Back street abortion? Check. Negrin seems intent on combining the amateur sleuthing elements of Solange with the police thriller exploits of Daughters, and the result is rather confused and not altogether satisfying. There isn’t enough detective material to make an interesting poliziottesco, while at the same time the amateur detection scenes are too limited for a solid giallo. Negrin seems to want to both have his cake and eat it by catering to both markets, when in reality the end result ends up pleasing neither.

A lot of the confusion, I suspect, stems from the sheer number of writers involved. The English print credits Marcello Coccia, Dallamano, Franco Ferrini, Stefano Ubezio, Negrin and Peter Berling for the final screenplay (while the Spanish print, predictably, gives a completely different, and smaller, list of writers). A lot of gialli seem to have been written by committee, but I can’t recall ever seeing another with this many names attributed to its script. Another reason may have been the multiple cuts supposedly prepared for different territories. This would certainly explain the setting up and abandonment of multiple subplots, including Di Salvo’s rather unconventional, seemingly non-exclusive relationship with a shoplifter who may of may not be his wife, as well as the established-then-abandoned-then-reintroduced partnership between himself and young Emily.

Or it could be that Negrin was simply being sloppy. This is the only film I’ve seen by this director, but it suggests that he wasn’t half as effective a filmmaker as Dallamano. The peeping tom shower scene has a clumsy, leering quality that lacks the thematic justification of the similar scenes in Solange (confounded even further once we learn the identity of the voyeur), while the cross-cutting between scenes of an abortion being performed on one girl and flashbacks to a raucous orgy involving herself and her friends falls flat on its face. This is the sort of parallel that Dallamano would have been able to draw in a more subtle way, but Negrin, lacking his skill behind the camera, has to resort to crasser, more obvious techniques. Riz Ortolani’s score, too, doesn’t really work, frequently throwing menacing stings into completely innocuous situations.

As for Testi and his character Di Salvo, he’s pretty much your typical 70s macho cop protagonist. His preferred method of investigation is to barge into people’s bedrooms in the middle of the night, haul them out of bed half-naked and scream “Who killed Angela Russo?” at them. He also knows just how to set people at their ease: confronted with a room full of stone-faced, prudish schoolteachers, he bellows “Someone with a cock this big raped Angela Russo!”, spreading his arms wide to demonstrate. He also performs a rather intriguing interrogation on a suspect prone to motion sickness by taking him to a theme park and hauling him on to a roller coaster ride, and he’s as likely to enjoy a nice meal and bed down for a kip on the premises of a suspect as he is to actually do a decent day’s work in the office. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t think we ever see him setting foot inside a police station, while the oversized cardigan that he wears for the film’s duration robs him of much of his credibility - odd, given that, in The Big Racket and The Heroin Busters, I had no trouble believing in him as a cop.

In the final analysis, Enigma Rosso is comfortably the weakest of the trilogy. The final solution is disappointing and seems to be based more around hammering home the familiar message of corruption taking place in the very foundations of society than actually providing a satisfying explanation to the murders. There are definite moments of inspiration here and there, and it’s rarely boring, but it lacks the depth of Solange and the high octane rush of Daughters. Oh, to know what Dallamano had in mind for this one.

PS. I haven’t forgotten about The Giallo Project. In fact, I hope to get it started up again very soon. Think of this as a sneak peak at where I hope to end up in the somewhat distant future.

 
Posted: Sunday, October 21, 2007 at 1:17 PM | Comments: 5 (view)
Categories: Cinema | DVD | Dario Argento | Gialli | Reviews
 
 

 
 
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