Thursday, February 19, 2015

New Year's Evil (1980) Blu-ray review

While Joe Six Pack might wait until Halloween to bust out the scary stuff, horror fans only have one time of year they watch fright films: all the time. Not that it ever gets old, but a sporadic way to break up the monotony is through holiday horrors. Odds are pretty good that if a film is set on a major holiday it’ll be getting a yearly viewing from most diehards… even if it’s terrible. This explains how Uncle Sam (1996) winds up in my player every July 4th. Thankfully, New Year’s Evil (1980) is not terrible, even if it is a fairly run-of-the-mill slasher. The film comes across slightly smarter than expected because it incorporates the normal festivities of New Year’s Eve into the plot, turning moments typically of celebration into fear. It also gets another bonus point for a third act reveal that is unexpected (if not a tad cliché) assuming you haven’t checked the cast list on IMDb and ruined it for yourself – which is exactly what I did.

It’s New Year’s Eve! And all the cool kids are celebrating at a taping of Hollywood Hotline, a punk rock & new wave show hosted by Diane “Blaze” Sullivan (Roz Kelly). The show is hosting a late-night countdown, with bands playing on stage and a dozen people standing by to take phone call requests. Diane gets a call from a “fan” who calls himself “Evil” and states that he will murder someone each time the clock strikes midnight in a different time zone, with her to be the final victim. Diane’s security team puts the building on lockdown and keeps her and her son, Derek (Grant Cramer), secured. Meanwhile, victims begin to arrive one per hour as the first stroke of midnight brings with it a nurse’s death. Evil records his crimes and call the show after the deed is done, playing back his promises. It isn’t long before the trail of bodies leads directly to Diane’s dressing room.

This was a fun movie, even for a first time viewer like me who has seen a hundred slashers. Is it original? Absolutely not, but it is very entertaining in a “14-year-old staying up late to watch USA’s “Up All Night” kind of way”. Having the killer strike at midnight works perfectly as a plot device, and it seems like such a natural choice to play up the film’s holiday ties. Perhaps one of the best aspects to the production is the decision to reveal the killer early on. I always find this a creepier approach than the boilerplate “hide in the shadows for 85 minutes” killers in the majority of slasher films. This guy is fairly debonair, too; think of Ted Bundy and you’re on the right track. Even better, he’s got a streak of John “Hannibal” Smith (leader of The A-Team (1983-1987), as played by George Peppard) in him because he shows up at each victim’s location wearing extremely convincing outfits. His third act skirmish with a biker gang (!) is so preposterous and deliciously B-grade cinema. Don’t forget, folks, this is a Cannon Films production – always expect the outrageous and then some.

If there’s one thing to remember the film by, however, it’s the title song; a damn catchy one, too. New Year’s Evil, as performed by Roxanne Seeman and Eduardo del Barrio, spent four days blaring the opening lines in my head before I could get it out. It plays on the Blu-ray’s menu, it opens the film and it may be used one other time; I’m not sure. It’s one of those infectious tunes that are impossible to shake. With all these vinyl companies putting out obscure soundtracks these days, someone please get this on a 7”.

New Year’s Evil is a perfectly decent slasher movie while also being highly enjoyable to watch for the sheer ridiculousness of it all – making it the ideal choice to pop on with a group of wasted friends on its namesake holiday. Or, perhaps, by yourself, Smirnoff Ice in hand, lamenting another year gone by with no social life to show for it. Either way you’re destined for Fun City.

This is the Blu-ray debut for New Year’s Evil, having previously been issued on a burn-on-demand DVD from MGM. The film’s 1.78:1 1080p image appears to have been faithfully reproduced, for better or worse. This is not a good looking film by any means, but it’s about as cleaned up as it needs to be. The print sourced from MGM is in good shape, with the only real anomaly showing up in the form of a yellow vertical line appearing 1/3 of the way across the screen for three shots. It’s a very minor defect. Line work in the shadows tends to fade into a murky mess, and black levels get pretty noisy when it’s really dark. That’s all the bad stuff. On a positive note, closeups reveal nice little details in faces and clothing textures. Colors are nicely saturated. Other than some grain spikes during night scenes, the majority of the appearance is very filmic.

The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track has exactly one issue with it, a high-pitched ringing that occurs for around ten seconds at approximately 30 minutes into the movie. That aside, this is a typically competent audible offering from Scream Factory. Dialogue is balanced and discernible, songs have a moderate presence and sound effects are given good weight. There could be a bit more oomph to the sourced music, especially that theme song, but this gets the job done just fine. Subtitles are included in English.

The film’s audio commentary features writer & director Emmett Alston, and it’s a bit on the dry side. Code Red’s Bill Olsen is on hand to moderate the proceedings, which delve into typical production speak about location shooting, budgetary concerns, how Alston got hooked up with Cannon, etc. It’s a subdued affair that even serious fans of the film may find boring.

“The Making of New Year’s Evil” is a behind-the-scenes piece that runs for nearly 40 minutes. This is yet another in a series of winning behind-the-scenes pieces from Scream Factory, featuring interviews with many cast & crew members who offer up all sorts of interesting anecdotes and reminisce fondly on their time making the movie. Stick around through the brief credits for a fun scene at the end.

The film’s theatrical trailer is included in HD.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture (1989) Blu-ray review

Confession time: I have never liked theater. The scant few shows I have attended – one of which was a performance of “The Phantom of the Opera” at the Pantages – were well executed and marginally exciting, but there has never been a single time where I felt the urge to take in a show. This apathetic view has extended to cinematic adaptations of musicals, too, although there are unquestionably great films filled with songs. The purpose of this preface is to explain why I’d never watched The Phantom of the Opera: The Motion Picture (1989), despite being acutely aware of it since childhood. As a young horror fan, who wouldn’t have been drawn in by that cover art? It sold the movie as “Freddy: The Musical”, after all, complete with “Freddy” in bold letters on the cover and Englund’s partially-obscured visage looking an awful lot like his signature character. I must’ve passed it a thousand times on the video shelf as a kid and always had the same thought, “Nope, not interested in a musical.”

Oh, what a youthful fool. First off, it isn’t really much of a musical at all. The Phantom’s compositions are obviously a main component of the film, but it isn’t like characters break out into song every time they have a monologue to deliver. And it’s good music, too. Misha Segal’s score has been singled out as one of the film’s strengths, deservedly so. Secondly, this is absolutely a horror movie. If Englund’s presence didn’t make that evident, the choice of Dwight H. Little (he of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) fame) as director and the use of Kevin Yagher and John Carl Buechler for FX work should make it crystal clear – a great deal of blood will be spilled.

Opening in present day New York City (check out that Tower Records!), Christine (Jill Schoelen) is an opera singer who wants to find something unique to sing for her upcoming audition. She and her friend Meg (Molly Shannon, in her film debut) discover a piece written by Erik Destler, a composer who they learn may have been responsible for a spate of murders in 19th century London. No matter, it’s a great song. Christine sings the piece at her audition, but before she finishes a sandbag crashes down from overhead and knocks her out. She awakens in 1881 London as an operatic understudy to La Carlotta (Stephanie Lawrence), a diva headlining “Faust”. Visions of Erik Destler begin to plague Christine, in which he tells her that only she can sing Carlotta’s parts as they should be performed. An “unfortunate accident” prevents Carlotta from going on that night, and Christine receives a standing ovation after stepping in for her.

The parallels between “Faust” and Destler’s life are then revealed, as it is shown that Destler made a deal with the Devil to ensure his music would be eternal. The catch? His face would be permanently disfigured, allowing people to love him only for his music. He’s also given superhuman strength and is seemingly immortal, so maybe not such a bad deal after all? Destler’s obsession with Christine continues to mount, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake and culminating in an attack on his underground lair in hopes of finally stopping him. Post-attack, we’re whisked back to present day New York City where Christine is waking up from her audition accident to a familiar face…

Jill Schoelen mentions in the bonus features that the film’s failure at the box office was likely due to the fact most horror fans didn’t want to see a musical any more than musical fans wanted to see a horror movie. She’s right there; many horror/comedies fail at the box office for the same reason – genre confusion and disinterest. The stage version may be most closely associated with the title, but this film version hews more to Gaston Leroux’s source novel. The only major change is of locale, from Paris to London, a decision made to give the picture a more “Hammer Studios” aesthetic. Well, that and the signature chandelier scene, which was dropped because Menahem Golan ran out of money. Golan’s name alone should have clued genre fans in to what to expect; the man built a solid career with Cannon Pictures and its hyper-violent films.

One could easily view this film as “Freddy of the Opera” thanks to Destler’s crispy-fried features being brought to life by Kevin Yagher, who handled makeup duties on three A Nightmare on Elm St. films as well as Freddy’s Nightmares (1988-1989). For most of the film Destler hides under a mask made up of the skin from his victims’ faces (he’s skilled at flaying), something he stiches onto himself periodically. When that is removed, however, he looks like Freddy Krueger with extra skin. How could he not?

It’s a shame the planned The Phantom of New York City never came together because this film ends on a sequel-setting note that could have been a worthwhile continuance. I could kick my younger self for not giving this a shot and renting it all those years ago. Thanks to strong FX work, particularly nasty kills and solid performances from horror notables, The Phantom of the Opera is an elegantly vicious retelling of a well-trodden tale. If there’s any downside here, it’s that an unrated cut couldn’t be put together. Apparently much of the gore wound up on the cutting room floor (like, you know, every horror film made around this time) and it would’ve been great to see that FX reinstated. Still, what survives is certainly worth horror fans’ time.

I don’t mind sounding like a broken record in saying Scream Factory has once again delivered a faithful, albeit unspectacular, picture for a catalog release. Maybe not all of their titles get the 2K or 4K treatment, but on the other side of the coin at least they never employ DNR or aggressive new color timing to their releases either. Phantom sports a 1.85:1 1080p image that was sourced from a clean print, free of major defects, dirt and noise. Colors are nicely saturated, especially reds. Grain is moderate and filmic, though it does spike a bit when the scene is in total darkness. As a testament to the FX work, most of the latex skin holds up rather well under the intense scrutiny of HD.

Viewers are given the option of an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track or a 2.0 stereo track. Truthfully, to my ears the stereo track appeared more focused and full, while the surround track spreads itself out too thin, resulting in a weak presence and less impact. The film was mixed in Ultra Stereo, making the loss of any rear speaker effects is negligible. Dialogue sounds a bit more present in the 2.0 track as well. The film’s songs carry a decent weight, filling out the front-end assembly nicely. Subtitles are included in English.

The audio commentary track features director Dwight H. Little and star Robert Englund. These two have a great rapport, covering every necessary base including location shooting, relationships with the other actors, the picture’s tone & look and so forth. Definitely recommended if you enjoyed the film.

“Behind the Mask: The Making of The Phantom of the Opera” is a great behind-the-scenes piece that runs for just under forty minutes. Many of the film’s principals – Little, Englund, Schoelen, etc. – are on hand to discuss the film. Scream Factory has a knack for pumping out these highly informative, in-depth pieces on making a film; just about every one they’ve produced has been a perfect complement to its corresponding movie. There’s a lot of history behind this production and the anecdotes fly left & right.

The film’s theatrical trailer, TV spot, two radio spots and a still gallery round out the extra features.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Love At First Bite (1979)/Once Bitten (1985) Blu-ray review

Horror and comedy pair so perfectly it’s almost hard to believe it took filmmakers until the 1980s to really start cranking out some pictures. All those years of pent-up humor exploded at that point, resulting in one movie after the next ditching attempts at absolute terror for a heavy injection of humor. It makes sense why the concept gained traction; after years of seeing horror icons taken so seriously many were plum for roasting. Dracula was one such easy target, what with his Eurotrash romanticism, Misfits devilock-esque ‘do and the roster of staples endemic to vampirism (crosses, garlic, etc.). He’d been indirectly blasted once before by Roman Polanksi in The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967), but 1979 would bring about his first real skewering (staking?).

Without delving too deeply into the specifics, know that 1979 was an atypical year for vampires. No less than seven (!) films on the subject saw release that year, three of which are labeled as “Disco Dracula” titles. Just think about that – not only is there a Disco Dracula subgenre, but it grew in triplicate during one year. Kind of amazing, especially when you consider disco was heavily declining by that time. Of those three films released in ’79, the only one that still has much of a cult following is Love at First Bite, starring walking skin cancer anomaly George Hamilton as Count Dracula. Just as Mel Brooks had done five years earlier with Young Frankenstein (1974), which spoofed the original Frankenstein (1931), Love at First Bite takes a direct swipe at Bela Lugosi’s Dracula (1931). It isn’t as precise as Brooks’ film, though, using only characters and concepts while ditching the Transylvanian landscape for New York City’s cluttered streets.

After being booted out of his castle to make way for an Olympic gymnastics training facility, Dracula (George Hamilton) and his faithful insectivore servant, Renfield (Arte Johnson), head off to start a new life in New York City. Not for no reason; Drac has a crush on a magazine cover model who lives there, Cindy Sondheim (Susan Saint James). A mix-up at the airport causes Dracula’s coffin to be temporarily switched with that of a recently deceased black man from Harlem – you know where that joke is headed. Things get sorted out and the Count hits the town in search of his bride-to-be, whom he is convinced he already loves. He & Cindy meet due to his magnetic personality and cocksure charm, but once her guard comes down it’s clear she’s a bit of a mess. She’s sloppy and neurotic and, yet, the Count doesn’t care because he sees her as the reincarnation of his long lost love, Mina Harker.

One fly in his ointment, however, is Cindy’s therapist – and part-time-lover – Rosenberg (Richard Benjamin), who also happens to be grandson to Dracula’s old nemesis Fritz van Helsing. When Rosenberg finds out who has been pursuing Cindy, he runs Dracula through the gamut of apocryphal methods that will supposedly kill the undead vamp. None finds much success. Rosenberg’s very public antics eventually get him arrested, despite his vocal protests that Dracula is a public menace. He’s only taken seriously when a rash of blood bank robberies and sporadic attacks get the attention of the police chief, who authorizes Rosenberg to get back on the trail of Dracula and Cindy.

First off, in case you weren’t aware this release has restored Alicia Bridges’ “I Love the Nightlife” during the show-stopping disco number. Considering that sequence is one of the film’s highlights – and, really, a perfect fit for this sort of film - it’s amazing anyone thought it was even remotely acceptable to remove it in the first place. Yea, I know… music clearances and all that. Still a boneheaded move.

Having never seen the film, I think what surprised me most was the love story, which I had assumed would be half baked so the focus remained on the humor. Instead, it’s a complicated relationship with some genuine ups-and-downs. Dracula is way into Cindy just based on her looks, but his superficial love is immediately tested when it’s shown that Cindy is far from the glamorous, put-together model he envisioned. She’s a lady with some major hang-ups in life. Truthfully, a whole lot of the humor in this film fell flat for me, and I got most of my enjoyment out of watching these two imperfect lovers try to develop an actual relationship.

Part of the humorlessness that pervades this film comes in the form of Richard Benjamin as Rosenberg. He’s just so… stiff, mono-emotive and not really a good actor. There’s a real lag during the second act when so much of the film is following his character around while Dracula takes a bit of a backseat in his own movie. At least Renfield provides some decent laughs; he’s a little less Dwight Fry and more Marty Feldman’s Igor. It’s a fun, albeit dated, film.

Outshining Hamilton’s bronze resplendence is pale Canadian Jim Carrey, in his first theatrical leading role with Once Bitten (1985). This one plays more like a ribald ‘80s teen comedy, full of horny virgins and plenty of un-p.c. humor. In a somewhat coincidental twist, this film sees an actual supermodel, Lauren Hutton, playing the role of a vampire known as Countess. She looks remarkable for someone who’s “400 if she’s a day”, according to her personal assistant Sebastian (Cleavon Little), but the upkeep on those to-die-for looks is a steady supply of virgin’s blood – three sips before Halloween to be precise. Only problem is, finding a virgin in a city like Los Angeles isn’t easy work. Luckily, one of Countess’ nights on the town coincides with high schooler Mark (Jim Carrey) and his buddies’ own evening of prospect searching. Mark’s girlfriend, Robin (Karen Kopins), refused to have sex with him the night before, so he quickly determines the next best option is to find a willing partner somewhere in Hollywood. Countess and Mark hit it off at a singles bar and the two head back to her place almost immediately.

They hook up, although Mark’s recollection of their steamy night is pretty foggy. Did they have sex? She claims so. But now he’s starting to feel weird and act very different. The sun seems too bright. His fashion sense is getting darker. He’s having incredibly bizarre dreams. And he eats raw meat and drinks animal blood without giving it a second thought. Robin is justifiably concerned. When Countess draws blood from Mark a second time, it leads directly to a dance-off face-off between Mark, Countess and Robin (set to an on-the-nose track entitled “Hands Off”). If Countess manages to siphon some virgin blood from Mark just one more time her beauty will endure, but Robin isn’t willing to let her guy go without a fight. It might be a faux pas now, but how can you not laugh at the stampede brought about by the cry of “Fag alert!”?

The humor in Once Bitten is typical of ‘80s teen comedies, but what puts it over the top are Jim Carrey’s physical mannerisms and wacky faces. Fans of his style will be cracking up watching him dance with a sweater, or when he hisses at a couple local kids, or during any of the vampiric nightmares he has throughout. His malleable punim and range of expressions are his bread-and-butter comedy, but he’s also just as able to handle the scenes of serious drama. Cleavon Little kills it here, too, as Countess’ snarky out-of-the-closet assistant who is lightning quick with his quips. Mark’s two eternally-horny buddies are so desperate to get laid it’ll make you cringe, especially when one of them continues to use his staple pickup line, which is the sort of thing a guy with no understanding of women would say to get laid. The scene in the locker room showers where the two of them are looking for a bite on Mark’s thigh, at the behest of Robin, had me rolling because it’s just so wrong.

Love at First Bite makes its Blu-ray debut on this double-feature disc, featuring a 1.85:1 1080p image that is undoubtedly a step up from previous releases. The print from which this transfer was sourced looks very clean, with only minor flecks here and there. The cinematography presents a decent level of depth which comes through clearly in HD. Detail is only moderate in medium or wide shots, but up close it’s very sharp and lifelike. Colors are accurate and saturation is where it should be. Black levels, too, are strong.

The situation is the same in regard to the 1.85:1 1080p image for Once Bitten. The majority of productions around this time tend to have similar aesthetics, so as long as the source materials are kept in great shape – which these were – the end result is pretty expected. No DNR was used on either film, leaving grain intact as a fine layer over the picture.

Both films feature an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track, and as you might’ve guessed both are more or less similar in terms of delivery, separation and overall presence. The sound design is typical of ‘80s comedies, with most of the focus on the dialogue and not much in the way of action. That’s not a complaint, just a fact. Luckily, Scream Factory has a knack for delivering solid stereo tracks, with dialogue clean, centered and well-balanced in the mix. Both films also feature source music that is presented with high fidelity, adding some weight to the track. “Once Bitten” has a little more in the way of discreet effects and separation, more dynamic, but otherwise these two are very similar. English subtitles are included for both films.

As far as extras go, there isn’t much here at all. Each film has its trailer, while Love at First Bite also gets a few radio spots.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1993) Blu-ray review

Preface: For better or worse (usually worse), I am a child of ‘90s horror. Born in ’81, my formative viewing years were the mid-‘90s, when weekends were spent walking a couple miles to the nearest Wherehouse where I’d peruse the shelves for an entire afternoon. Those halcyon days before I developed discernible taste meant that any new release on the horror shelf was ripe fruit for picking. I rented with impunity. Many of those titles were so bad no one has even bothered to release them on DVD, but one of the “prestige” (comparatively speaking) titles I kinda loved was the sequel to one of my favorite childhood horrors: Pumpkinhead (1988). Not having great taste (when you’re still a kid, of course) is actually pretty awesome because the film world is your oyster; you tend to be less judge-y regarding what you’ll watch. And I watched Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1993) - a lot. But upon receiving Scream Factory’s latest Blu-ray it dawned on me that I haven’t seen the film in probably ten years… which may not have been such a bad thing.

It is not a good movie.

For starters, the script – which suffered at least four different writers – more or less ignores everything that made the first film so great, retconning Pumpkinhead’s history and giving the enigmatic demon one of the dumbest origins ever. This is mostly because it started off life as a non-Pumpkinhead vehicle. Here, he’s actually the father (let that sink in for a minute) of a young mentally-challenged boy named Thomas who likes to play with toy trucks. Back in the ‘50s, a group of hooligan kids thought it would be fun to chase Thomas through the woods, hang him from a hook over an old mine, beat him up and kill him. How else would you spend your afternoon? Thomas’ caretaker, an old witch not named Haggis (for whatever reason), watches over him and, eventually, over his grave after he’s killed. Cut to modern day, when Sheriff Braddock (Andrew Robinson) and his daughter, Jenny (‘90s horror heartthrob Ami Dolenz), move to town. He’s got a wife, too, but she’s basically wallpaper here. Jenny immediately strikes up a friendship with the local gang of misfits, led by Danny (J. Trevor Edmond), the son of local Judge Dixon (Steve Kanaly) and wearer of dated ‘90s bad boy outfits.

The group - which also includes former Punky Brewster, Soleil Moon Frye - goes out for a night of drinking and driving. Fun stuff. It ends poorly when Danny hits the old witch, Ms. Osie (Lilyan Chauvin), as she’s crossing the road. Concerned, they head over to her cabin and, rather than help her, Danny punches her out and steals a vial of blood so they can perform a ritual one of the girls read about literally seven seconds earlier. It works, and now Pumpkinhead is unleashed upon the town. Instead of killing the teens first, though, the creature stalks and kills a number of townsfolk who may or may not be related in some way (spoiler: they are). Sheriff Braddock seems to be their only hope, as he has a really lame connection to this malevolent demon that will surely come in handy during the climax.

Any shred of decency this film has should be chalked up to the tenacity of director Jeff Burr, a.k.a. the man you call when your horror film needs a sequel. After debuting with the creepy little anthology, From a Whisper to a Scream (released theatrically as The Offspring) (1987), Burr spent the next five years of his career helming sequels aplenty. I’ll always respect him because, even though it was hacked up by the studio, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) rocks. Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings was no different from his other projects in that he was brought on board with precious little time to make sure his film was, you know, good. Burr even admits in the bonus features he felt the script needed a lot more work, but movies have deadlines and he had two options: make the film, or don’t. Who knows what he could have accomplished with a few more weeks to polish the script.

At least Burr makes his cast interesting. Andrew Robinson can always be counted on to do good work. Dolenz proves she’s more than just a pretty face; maybe not all that much more, but she’s got some decent chops. The smaller roles were hyped up most on the VHS back cover, including Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III alumni R.A. Mihaloff and Joe Unger, former (then current) Jason Voorhees, Kane Hodder, and scream queen Linnea Quigley. But the real player everyone came to see is the brother of Bubba, Roger Clinton, making his feature film debut. Why Burr didn’t just cast him as the lead is anyone’s guess…

For as much crapping on the film as this review has done, it is admittedly pretty entertaining. The Pumpkinhead design was tweaked a bit here, giving the beast a little more muscle and a menacing set of white eyes. Plus, unlike the recent abominations (read: sequels) that are now part of the series this creature was done practically; no CGI here. The kills look a little clunky at times, but Burr keeps the crimson river flowing freely enough that it’s all good fun. The dual revenge is a nice touch, too, ensuring we get a number of deaths across all demographics. And, to wax a bit nostalgic, there’s a certain feeling of childhood comfort that comes with watching it again all these years later. Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings is by no means a masterpiece (although compared to the third and fourth entries in the series…) but it’s entertaining enough that horror fans should have some fun watching it.

What was not entertaining was “Bloodwings: Pumpkinhead’s Revenge”, the PC game released for DOS in 1995. You are welcome to seek out those YouTube clips at your own risk.

For a low-budget ‘90s picture, the 1.85:1 1080p picture looks relatively strong. Despite having no restorative work done, detail is slightly above average and there’s a nice, fine grain structure that provides a filmic appearance. Colors look faithfully reproduced, even if they tend to lack vibrancy and pop. Black levels, however, are dark and stable. Some medium and wide shots look a tad soft, likely issues inherent to the source. It looks like a ‘90s DTV title, which isn’t such a bad thing. Also, this is the first time the film has been released in its original aspect ratio, as the previous Lionsgate DVD was full-frame.

The English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track is passable, though it’s certainly lacking any sort of real presence or range. Dialogue sounds a bit “canned” at times, but it’s presented clearly with no defects. Voices and discreet effects pan effectively across the front speakers, adding some sense of immersion to the soundtrack. There isn’t much support from the subwoofer, which remains mostly dormant throughout. It’s a competent, unimpressive effort that, much like the picture, is in keeping with the ‘90s DTV origins.

Director Jeff Burr is a fast talker on the audio commentary track, regaling listeners with stories from every step of the production. Burr has a wonderfully candid, unvarnished approach that is refreshing and makes his commentary tracks absolutely worth listening to for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of low-budget filmmaking.

Interview with director Jeff Burr runs for just over an hour. Just as with his audio commentary, Burr is never at a loss for words. He speaks for the entire duration of this interview virtually non-stop. Some of the information is redundant if you’ve heard the commentary, but his frequent anecdotes and honest storytelling will have most viewers hooked in from the start.

Re-creating the Monster – Interview with Special Effects Artists Greg Nicotero, Gino Crognale and actor Mark McCracken - The FX guys talk about watching old behind-the-scenes footage from the making of Pumpkinhead so they could see how the previous animators brought the creature to life, then making subtle changes to that design to make their beast unique. McCracken, the man under the suit, talks about his work, which from the stories they tell involved a lot of on-set humor.

Behind the Scenes Footage is entirely camcorder footage of Pumpkinhead being operated and shot on set, along with some of the on-set gags Nicotero & co. spoke of in their interview.

This Blu-ray doesn’t carry over a featurette on the making of the film found on Lionsgate’s previous release, though what is included here mostly makes up for that. Still, it would have been nice to get some interviews with the cast just to hear their thoughts on the film twenty years later. I’m sure Roger Clinton would’ve been available.

Tales From the Crypt/Vault of Horror (1972/1973) Blu-ray review

When it comes to horror anthologies, no single studio stands out more than Amicus Productions. Though the company may have existed in the shadow of Hammer’s peak output period, their most valued contributions have been portmanteau pictures that were good enough to attract some of Hammer’s top talent. After successfully producing a handful of horror anthologies scripted by famed writer Robert Bloch, the studio looked across the Atlantic to America; specifically, New York City, home to EC Comics. Amicus co-founder Milton Subotsky was a long-time fan of their comics – titles such as “Tales from the Crypt”, “The Haunt of Fear” and “The Vault of Horror” - so he convinced one of his partners to acquire the rights to a handful of their tales. Their initial production, Tales from the Crypt (1972), proved so successful that a follow-up, Vault of Horror (1973, also known as Tales from the Crypt II in some markets), went into immediate production. Fans can debate which the superior film is (for me it’s Tales) but there’s no question that the winning combination of Amicus’ horror anthology acumen and EC Comics’ strong storytelling yielded two of the greatest multi-storied horror pictures conceived.

Tales from the Crypt begins with a wraparound wherein five strangers are inexplicably drawn to aging catacombs. There, they meet the Crypt Keeper (Ralph Richardson), an enigmatic, hooded individual who proceeds to tell each of them their eventual fate. Joanne (Joan Collins) is subjected to the terror of a deranged Santa Claus after killing her husband on Christmas Eve, leaving her unable to phone the police lest they discover her dead beau’s corpse. Carl (Ian Hendry) leaves his family behind to elope with a younger mistress, but their plans of future bliss are cut short due to a violent car crash, one which Carl only appears to have survived. The Elliotts – Edward (David Markham) and his unscrupulous son, James (Robin Phillips) – do everything in their power to rid the neighborhood of kindly old Mr. Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing), a lonely widower who takes great pleasure in fixing toys for the local kids and raising a stable of dogs. When their efforts succeed beyond their wildest dreams, a visitor from the grave ensures they won’t be around long to wallow in hateful bliss. Ralph (Richard Greene) and his wife, Enid (Barbara Murphy), have fallen on hard times. A Chinese figurine they discover claims to hold the power to grant them three wishes, hardly what they should consider a blessing given the outcome of the old “Monkey’s Paw” tale. Finally, a home for the blind is being run by newly-appointed head Major William Rogers (Nigel Patrick), a stern military type who rations everything from food to heating due to “economic concerns”; this despite the fact that he continues to live and eat like a king on the premises. The poorly-treated residents of the home don’t take kindly to his cruel rules, leading them to give the Major a taste of his own medicine. The film wraps up with the Crypt Keeper letting the five strangers in on a little secret, one which becomes clearer and clearer as the finale draws closer.

The greatest strength in Tales comes not from the acting or directing – both of which are perfectly sound – but in the rich stories culled from the comics. Somewhat ironically, most of the stories come not from Tales but some of EC’s other publications, though that’s more a minor bit of trivia than a condemnation. Each segment tells a full story in brief time, often with a morality angle and always ending poorly for the amoral characters who act as though they’re above reproach. Additionally, the film nails what many anthologies often don’t: the wraparound, which here is just as intriguing and mysterious as any one of the film’s stories. Also, maybe it’s the accents, but British horror pictures tend to have an air of regality about them that elevates the material ever so slightly; a touch more prestige, if you will. There’s also a great deal of wonderful practical FX on display, in particular the zombified Grimsdyke who isn’t on screen for nearly long enough. In fact, no segment overstays its welcome, ensuring the audience is hungry for more once the credits begin rolling.

And they remained hungry, so much so that Amicus quickly shuttled a sequel into production. Vault of Horror opened the following year, presenting a storyline virtually identical to its predecessor. Unlike Tales, which included a couple stories from its namesake comic, Vault pulled entirely from other publications; in fact, the majority of the stories are actually found in Tales. Not that any of this matters; it’s more about capturing the spirit of EC Comics’ publications than slavishly adapting them.

Here, five men find themselves on an elevator heading toward a destination none of them anticipated: the building’s sub-basement, where they find a posh room housing a large table and plenty of drinks. And, so, seemingly trapped here with time to kill each recounts a recurring nightmare they have experienced. The first, Harold (Daniel Massey), tells of visiting a mysterious village looking for his sister, who just inherited a large sum of money. He finds the townspeople odd and unhelpful, but eventually tracks down his sibling whom he promptly kills so the inheritance money will go to him. Death must cause considerable hunger because he heads to a local eatery for a bite, only to realize these are not normal people… and he’s just been added to the menu. Arthur Critchit (Terry-Thomas) is a fastidiously clean fellow, unlike his young wife, Eleanor (Glyns Johns), who is unable to meet his OCD demands. She’s such a nitwit that when she does try to earnestly clean, it only produces a bigger mess. And when Arthur gets home he erupts, finally pushing Eleanor to do some erupting of her own. Sebastian (Curd Jurgens) is a magician on vacation in India. He’s also a total dick who exposes fellow magicians to their rapt audiences. When he meets a woman who does extraordinary things with a rope (not that kind of extraordinary), naturally he decides the best way to acquire her skill is to kill her. What he doesn’t count on is the rope may not need the woman to perform its magic. A scam artist, Maitland (Michael Craig) concocts a scheme to collect insurance money on his own life by using a serum to give the illusion he has died. A friend of his is set to collect the money and, after burial, retrieve Maitland from the grave so he can live high on the hog for the rest of his days. Things, naturally, go poorly for all parties involved. Finally, Moore (Tom Baker), a painter in Haiti barely scraping by on his meager wages, learns his old art cohorts have sold his “worthless” paintings for a mint. Moore visits a voodoo priest and is given the power to use his artistic abilities for evil purposes, literally painting his enemies to their deaths. Moore, however, shows he’s a bit of a moron by painting a portrait of himself, which couldn’t possibly be damaged accidentally, could it?

The stories told in Vault of Horror are not quite as strong as those in its predecessor, but by no means is the film poor. It’s likely no accident the picture feels very much like an imitator of Tales from the Crypt given how popular that title was at the time. The tales aren’t redundant in any way, with each thematically different from the others. Conversely, three of the segments in Tales dealt with the living dead, whereas not a single one features a lumbering zombie here. Still, Vault can’t help but feeling a bit pedestrian, with no one story standing out as a clear winner. The onus of success then falls not on the writers but the actors, nearly all of whom turn in commendable performances. Terry-Thomas steals the show, if anyone does. His expressive face and trademark gap-toothed grin convey comedy and stern authority in equal parts. Plus, he was great in Danger: Diabolik (1968). The wraparound is the only piece that feels rehashed, though it’s still nicely done.

Let’s get to what’s really enticing for fans here: Vault of Horror is, at long last, available fully uncut. Horror fans know that often times literal frames can significantly impact a film’s, um, impact. This is absolutely the case with Vault, and the uncut version restores the neck tap, “odds & ends”, the result of a hammer blow and the aftermath of losing one’s hands. After watching the film for the first time, I cannot imagine having these crucial scenes trimmed. The big payoff in at least two of these stories would be greatly diminished had Scream Factory not made all the effort possible to make sure the film's integrity was restored.

Tales looks absolutely marvelous, with a sharp 1.78:1 1080p image that is outstanding. Definition is strong, thanks to the impeccable print from which it was sourced. Colors appear vibrant and strong; just look at the kaleidoscope of hues on display in Joan Collin’s home during the first story. Contrast handles well, though black levels do sporadically look a little hazy. Shadow delineation is perhaps the image’s only deficient area, with moving images nearly completely lost in dark shadows. But, thankfully, that issue crops up only once or twice. Surprisingly, there’s even a decent level of depth to the picture.

Vault also features a 1.78:1 1080p image, though it’s just a bit below Tales in terms of clarity. The print looks pretty clean, as expected given the work Scream Factory put into it. The biggest difference between the two films is Vault simply isn’t as sharp, often looking a tad softer than Tales. Grain is present and aids in a filmic look, with only minor specks appearing occasionally. Colors are saturated nicely, and black levels are stable.

Rarely does Scream Factory disappoint in the audio department, and neither of the English DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks is problematic. Both Tales and Vault enjoy strong fidelity, with excellently balanced dialogue, notable depth & range for each of their respective scores, and sound effects that carry a real weight to them. Subtitles on both films are included in English.

Don’t act so surprised there’s virtually nothing in the way of bonus features; Scream Factory said on their Facebook page that nearly all of the budget for this release went into making sure Vault of Horror was presented uncut. Film always takes precedence over supplements, but they did sneak a couple of features onto Vault. Also, if you call it a bonus, there are actually three versions of Vault of Horror included.

Tales from the Crypt holds no bonus material, but Vault of Horror includes the following:

The film’s theatrical trailer, presented in black & white, and an alternate title sequence, this one carrying the Tales from the Crypt II title.

Most fans will likely forego watching either cut included here, but for the sake of completists Vault of Horror is included in both the PG-rated theatrical version and a rare open-matte version of the BFI uncut master.

Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions (1995) Blu-ray review

There exists an irony in Hollywood that is hardly obfuscated, and that is despite being a town built on creative concepts very few people in a position of power within the industry actually embrace the creative minds behind that art. Even those writers & directors & producers who are fortunate enough to get an unconventional picture green-lighted are subject to the whims of capricious studio heads. Unless you make them a mint, in which case the doors remain wide open… until you falter just once. For these reasons, some of the very people who should be producing films are essentially locked out. People like Clive Barker, whose mind lives in the strange & unusual places we, as horror fans, want to visit. His films may be undeniable cult classics now, but none of them managed to ignite the box office save for Hellraiser, which went on to produce sequel after please-god-make-them-stop sequel. Nightbreed (1990) bombed. Five years later, Lord of Illusions (1995) limped to a tepid finish, too. Perhaps coincidentally, both Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions were compromised films, in that Barker’s original vision was sliced & diced until the films were made more “commercially viable”. Whatever the reason for their failures, the sad takeaway from all of this is Barker hasn’t worked in Hollywood since. Oh, sure, Universal jerked him off for a few years like they were ever serious about making a film based on his Tortured Souls toy line, but did anyone genuinely think that was going to happen?

Barker’s work has been enjoying a minor renaissance this year. Nightbreed finally got released on Blu-ray the way Barker had intended. He’s also working on the you-knew-it-was-coming Hellraiser remake (hey, better him than some studio hack). And Scream Factory has rescued Lord of Illusions from MGM’s Vault Hell, cleaning up his director’s cut and bestowing it upon Barker fans that have already had a boon year. The wonderful thing about Clive’s films is that he rarely repeats himself; each of his three efforts feels fresh & original. Lord of Illusions blends two of my favorite genres: horror and noir. Theatrically, it was heavier on the latter and light on the former, thanks to studio meddling. In its director’s cut the balance is restored, though ultimately it remains a flawed picture.

Somewhere out in the Mojave Desert back in ’82, cult leader Nix (Daniel von Bargen) preaches in a squalid shack to his followers, with plans to sacrifice a young girl. His ritual of devilish magic is interrupted when Swann (Kevin J. O’Connor) and a few other former cult members infiltrate his compound. Nix is shot multiple times before Swann binds his face with some medieval fetish mask made of steel and buries him in the dirt. Jump to thirteen years later and Swann is a highly successful illusionist (don’t call him a magician) working in Los Angeles, with his face plastered all over town billboards. Whatever tricks he learned from Nix have served him well in the public’s eye. Meanwhile, New York City private investigator Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) is in town on an insurance fraud claim that leads him to the apartment of Quaid (Joseph Latimore), who is nearly dead from an attack by two of Nix’s acolytes – Butterfield (Barry Del Sherman) and a skinhead guy with skin problems and pointy teeth. Just before he dies, Quaid warns D’Amour that “the Puritan” is coming. When Swann learns of Quaid death, he has his wife Dorothea (Famke Janssen) hire D’Amour to investigate things further.

D’Amour is a natural fit, having always been drawn to both the light & dark side of life, though going deeper into the world of Nix leaves in it a wake of bodies and loads of danger. But then, danger is a given when there’s a woman thrown into the mix, greatly complicating matters between Swann and D’Amour. Swann saw to it that Nix was scorched from the earth all those years ago, however it seems like the time has come for Nix to make good on his promise of resurrection.

Lord of Illusions is the sort of film that I liked well enough in theaters and have only appreciated more and more each time I watch it on home video. Horror and noir are very complementary genres. Barker doesn’t allow one genre to overshadow the other either, making this a true dichotomy of investigative work and visceral terror. D’Amour is perfectly cast with Scott Bakula, who maybe isn’t the world’s most charismatic actor but he certainly fits the mold of an everyman struggling with his place in reality. It’s a shame we’ll never get to see more of his otherworldly adventures. Credit must be given to Daniel von Bargen, too, who is devilishly good as the nefarious Nix. The actor fell upon hard times a couple years back, attempting suicide after losing a leg to diabetes. No updates on his condition have been given since then, and I sincerely hope he’s on the mend.

The film isn’t often credited for its abundance of practical FX, which makes sense since they are secondary to the story, but Barker rounded up a serious who’s-who of the makeup world. Greg Nicotero, Tony Gardner, Howard Berger, Steve Johnson, Robert Kurtzman, and Gary Tunnicliffe all had a hand in bringing the film’s gruesome body horrors to life. Barker’s films have long been known for their gross-out gags, and every little bit of FX work done here is exemplary. There aren’t many big “showstopper” pieces, though Nix’s final form is impressively decayed and imposing. And you’ve gotta love the “over the top” brain zombie at the Magic Castle.

Even in its fully fleshed-out director’s cut, Lord of Illusions remains a flawed film, largely due in part to a third act that sort of peters out. The entire film builds up the return of Nix, and Barker’s cut restores many key scenes that heighten the anticipation of his resurrection, but once D’Amour and Swann descend upon the old desert shack the battle that ensues feels less thrilling what comes before it. Barker sows the seeds for a grand finale, yet either due to budgetary reasons or simply uneven writing the end result is a little underwhelming.

According to the disc’s specs, Scream Factory has given the film’s director’s cut an all-new high-definition transfer. The 1.78:1 1080p image is an improvement over the age-old DVD, though it’s far from reference quality material. Detail and definition are moderate, looking best when the camera grabs a close-up. Colors are nicely saturated and accurate, though at times they appear a bit drab. This could have been a stylistic decision to add to the noir atmosphere. Black levels are rich & dark, with no hazy shots. The print is clean overall, with no dirt or damage present. This isn’t going to wow anyone watching it on a high-end home video system, but there are no major issues of which to speak either. Maybe (and I stress maybe) a 4K scan could have improved the results; as it stands now, this is a great effort and it’s always a pleasure to see Scream Factory ponying up the dough to improve A/V quality.

Lord of Illusions features an aggressive sound mix, with the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track conveying an aura of menace with traditional noir elements. Fidelity is strong, with the soundfield given ample range with which to play. Dialogue is presently clean and balanced, never lost in the shuffle of effects. Speaking of which, the rears are abuzz with activity frequently. There aren’t many moments of heavy bass, though when it is required its presence is clearly made known. Also included is a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track. Subtitles are available in English.

While this is ostensibly a collector’s edition, Lord of Illusions is a bit lighter in the extras department than many fans (myself included) will want to see. Wagering a guess, I’d assume the lion’s share of the film’s allocated budget went to restoring the picture, leaving little for the comprehensive, all-new extras many of Scream’s titles are known for. Still, they’ve packed in all existing material – both previously seen and unseen – they could, including an audio commentary, featurettes, deleted scenes, interviews and more.

Starting things off from the main menu is “A Note from Clive Barker”, in which the writer/director explains his director’s cut and how it restores his original vision.

Clive Barker also provides an audio commentary, one that has been around since the film’s Laserdisc days, and it’s just as insightful and engrossing as any other he’s recorded. The track is full of scene-specific notes, comparisons to the D’Amour stories, random musings and expectations for how audiences were to receive it.

“A Gathering of Magic” is another carryover from the Laserdisc, one that did not appear on the previous DVD. Here, Barker & Bakula talk about the film, while behind the scenes footage is shown and storyboards are presented.

The big beast here is the “Original Behind the Scenes Footage” featurette that runs for an hour and change. This never-before-seen piece features extensive interviews with Barker, who delves deep into the film’s story while puffing away on a fat cigar (something I’ll bet he now regrets). Considering no comprehensive piece was commissioned for this release, this is the next best thing.

A handful of deleted scenes are presented, with commentary from Barker, running for just over three minutes. There are a couple more bits with Nix’s cult, and a little more of D’Amour, too.

New to this release is “Interview with Storyboard Artist Martin Mercer”. Mercer tells of how he stayed with Barker for six months, at his home, to work on the film. Storyboards he drew are then shown and compared to the filmed scenes. They are impressively close in detail and direction.

A photo gallery rounds out the supplements.

Halloween - Complete Series Limited Edition Box Set (1978-2009) Blu-ray review

Horror fans, most of whom have long since grown weary of studios double-dipping on their favorite titles, finally have cause to celebrate. Rather than piecemeal releasing every film in a series ad nauseum (which they’ll still find a way to continue doing), many companies have begun to release complete series collections. This September alone sees the hi-def release of sets featuring every picture from franchises such as The Exorcist, Saw, Leprechaun and, most unexpectedly, Halloween. Considering the rights to various entries lie with different studios, it seemed highly unlikely a complete Halloween box set would ever be made available. Thanks to a joint, temporary partnership between Shout!/Scream Factory, Starz/Anchor Bay and the Weinstein Company, fans of The Shape can finally put all their eggs in one attractive little basket. The announcement was enough to whip fans into a frenzy, especially when it was announced the set would feature the home video debut for one of horror’s most sought-after holy grails: the legendary producer’s cut of “Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers” (1995).

Elation from that revelation aside, what else of value is here for fans? Finally seeing the oft-reviled sixth entry in a cleaner form than the ubiquitous bootlegs that littered the horror convention circuit is a major draw, but there’s got to be more than just a recut version of a tepid entry to entice people to cough up $100+ on redundancy. This set was made for hardcore Haddonfield fans, and more than likely the majority of them have purchased every film in the series numerous times on differing formats. Many of the discs included here are identical to current releases – releases likely sitting on fans’ shelves – and when excitement is held aside it looks an awful lot like people are dropping serious coin for an alternate cut of an unpopular entry and… that’s it?

Not exactly. It depends on how much of a bonus feature viewer you are. The set includes nearly all of the supplemental material found on prior releases (more on that later), along with newly-produced, in-depth featurettes that are absolutely fantastic. These new behind-the-scenes pieces dive deep, churning up all kinds of information on the sequels that will captivate fans eager to learn all they can.

This review will closely examine all of the new content presented, while taking a cursory pass at what is carried over. As previously mentioned, this set was made with fervent fans in mind; fans who likely own all of these films on Blu-ray already. For those of you who don’t, or if you only have the films on DVD and are looking to make the jump to hi-def, then just stop reading now and buy this set. It will not get any better than this; especially since Scream Factory has said the licensing agreements that made this set possible expire next year, meaning this deluxe limited edition might actually be limited after all. Regardless, odds are you know the films, you like them to varying degrees, and you just want the details on this hulking Blu-ray behemoth. What will follow is a disc-by-disc breakdown, covering what’s new, what’s old and what’s gone. And rather than review films in long form most have seen a hundred times, each one is getting a haiku (somewhere, a Dead Right Horror Trivia player just broke a sweat).

Disc One: Halloween (1978)

Little Mikey kills/Shatner face stalks all the girls/A franchise is born

Aside from the disc art, this is the exact same 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Anchor Bay issued last year in an attractive DigiBook package.

The picture – 2.35:1 1080p - remains the same, and it contains the same robust English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surround sound track found on that release, but this edition adds the original mono mix in, Dolby TrueHD, for those purists out there. Previous releases have offered a mono option, but they were either a downmix or taken from the revised audio, and not the true original mono track.

What’s New:

Well, hey, look here - an audio commentary track, featuring director of photography Dean Cundey, production designer/editor/jack-of-all-trades Tommy Lee Wallace and The Shape himself, Nick Castle. Can I just say how refreshing it is to hear some perspectives on making the film not coming from Carpenter or Curtis? Not that they aren’t excellent commentators, but hearing from others who were involved allows for additional technical details and anecdotes, which are in no short supply between these three. Wallace keeps course here, asking questions of the other two while highlighting the many hats he wore on set. There’s such a great rapport between these old friends it’s palpable, making this an excellent track that is a must-listen.

What’s Returning:

- Audio commentary with co-writer/director John Carpenter and actress Jamie Lee Curtis - The Night She Came Home!! featurette - On Location: 25 Years Later featurette - TV version insert scenes - Trailer - TV spots - Radio spots

Disc Two: Halloween (1978)

Anchor Bay must’ve had some old stock of the first Blu-ray released in 2007 lying around, because that’s what this disc is. It’s inclusion is a nice touch, not only because this features the controversial color timing that was “corrected” (quotes because some loved it while others abhorred it) for the 35th Anniversary Edition release – which will allow fans to watch the film transfer of their choosing - but there are some bonus features found on this disc that weren’t on that edition, too. The picture is presented in 2.35:1 1080p, while the audio offers a lossy English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound track, uncompressed PCM 5.1, or a mono mix.

What’s New:


What’s Returning:

- The old Criterion laserdisc audio commentary, featuring co-writer/director John Carpenter, actress Jamie Lee Curtis and producer Debra Hill - Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest featurette - Trailer - TV spots - Radio spots

Disc Three: Halloween II (1981) – Theatrical Version

I shot him six times/Less stalking and more slashing/Loomis and Michael go boom

If you are an owner of Scream Factory’s current disc, then you are also the owner of this disc, which is identical to what was released a few years back. Nothing has been added, nothing has been removed. Although, if you want to get technical it does lose the reversible cover art, electing to only offer the original theatrical key art. Tech specs remain unchanged – 2.35:1 1080p, with audio in English DTS-HD MA 5.1 or 2.0 options.

What’s New:


What’s Returning:

- Audio commentary with director Rick Rosenthal and actor Leo Rossi - Audio commentary with stunt coordinator/actor Dick Warlock - The Nightmare Isn’t Over – The Making of Halloween II featurette - Horror’s Hallowed Ground – The Locations of Halloween II - Still gallery - TV spots - Radio spots - Trailer - Alternate ending with optional commentary by director Rick Rosenthal - Deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Rick Rosenthal

Disc Four: Halloween II (1981) – Television Version

This is the same DVD included with the previous issue of Halloween II by Scream Factory, featuring the TV cut of the film, presented in 1.33:1 4x3 with a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track.

What’s New:


What’s Returning:

- Download Film Script (stick the DVD in your PC and follow the instructions)

Disc Five: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Tom gets all the girls/Six more days till Halloween/You’ve got to stop it!

Do you own Scream Factory’s prior excellent release? Then you own this disc. Nothing new has been added, though it may irk some to know the reversible cover art has been done away with here, too. Tech specs remain unchanged – 2.35:1 1080p, with audio in English DTS-HD MA 5.1 or 2.0 options.

What’s New:


What’s Returning:

- Audio commentary with director Tommy Lee Wallace - Audio commentary with actor Tom Atkins, moderated by Michael Felsher - Stand Alone: The Making of Halloween III: Season of the Witch - Horror’s Hallowed Grounds – The Locations of Halloween III - Still gallery - TV spots - Trailer

Disc Six: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Back to Haddonfield/Michael is at it again/Loomis looks melted

Anchor Bay issued both this film and its direct sequel on Blu-ray back in 2012. This disc sports the same 1.85:1 1080p image, along with an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound track.

Unfortunately, it also features the same sound synch issues that affected the first release; a glaring problem which, according to reports, is actually exacerbated on this new release. The problems start around the 45:30 mark, when Jamie is wandering the streets alone, having lost her group of trick-or-treaters, before bumping into Rachael. The character’s lips are clearly not matching up with their words, some lines much more obviously than others. The issue persists for a good ten-minute chunk before correcting itself. Fans have brought this problem to the attention of both Scream Factory and Anchor Bay via their respective Facebook pages, and the response has been… less than helpful. The problem doesn’t lie with Scream Factory since Anchor Bay first issued the disc, and while AB acknowledges there is an issue their response essentially suggests fans “enjoy what is an otherwise great set.”

I have to call bullshit on that. I understand a lot of time, effort, etc. went into culling this big box together, but paramount to everything – packaging, bonus features, what have you – should be A/V quality. Period. Fans may enjoy the bells and whistles, but they’re buying the films. Films that are going to get watched many, many times. To release a disc with a known audio defect simply because you didn’t want to pony up and pay to re-author it properly isn’t excusable; it’s lazy. I can only hope that by the time of this writing, there is an exchange program put into place that will allow fans to receive corrected copies of the film.

What’s New:

Plenty, but those features have been saved for the bonus disc included in this collection.

What’s Returning:

- Audio commentary with director Dwight Little & author Justin Beahm - Audio commentary with actors Danielle Harris & Ellie Cornell - Theatrical trailer

What’s Missing:

A panel from the Halloween 25th anniversary convention covering both Halloween 4 & 5, which ran for nearly twenty minutes, has been excluded. Considering how much ground is covered in all the supplements included here, however, its loss is insignificant.

Disc Seven: Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Kind loner heals Mike/Better stab him and get home/Who’s this Man in Black?

Just like Halloween 4, this disc is identical to the previous Anchor Bay release. Tech specs remain unchanged with a 1.85:1 1080p picture and audio available in English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound. Thankfully, there are no audio defects to be heard here.

What’s New:

As with H4, the new material is saved for the bonus disc.

What’s Returning:

- Audio commentary with Don Shanks and author Justin Beahm - Audio commentary with director Dominique Othenin-Girard and actors Danielle Harris & Jeffrey Landman - Halloween 5: On Set featurette - Halloween 5: Original Promo featurette - Theatrical trailer

What’s Missing:

Nothing from the prior Blu-ray, but if you’re a real stickler the Anchor Bay Divimax DVD contained an introduction to the film with Danielle Harris and Ellie Cornell.

Disc Eight: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) – Theatrical Version

New mythology?/Look, Mommy, it’s raining red/Bye, Dr. Loomis

The sixth entry in Michael Myers’ story is part of the “Miramax trilogy” that also includes the two subsequent sequels, H20 and Resurrection. Fans are already aware these films have often been given less-than-stellar (or even average) releases, both here in the U.S. and in Canada. Previous issues included a stand-alone release from Echo Bridge Entertainment, various double-and-triple-features with the following sequels, and a Canadian release from Alliance that crammed the all three films onto one Blu-ray disc. And all of these releases were in 1080i, with audio that was severely lacking.

This new release is roughly on par with those prior editions, sporting a 1.78:1 1080p image and English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 stereo offerings. The picture enjoys a minor boost in quality thanks to this progressive (rather than interlaced) transfer, though it’s still far from exemplary. Colors look a little oversaturated, black levels suffer from crush sporadically, and there are telltale signs of edge enhancement application. Still, these are deficiencies most viewers might not even notice, let alone ruin their enjoyment of watching the film. Audio-wise, the multi-channel track features a wider range and a host of discreet effects, even if the rear speaker assembly isn’t employed as often as it should be. Of all the released editions of the film available in North America, this is undoubtedly the best presentation it has enjoyed, even if it’s far from perfect.

What’s New:

To my knowledge, none of the previous editions have had any bonus features, so the little bits featured here are all new, even if they’re mainly ephemera.

- Theatrical trailer - TV spots - Still gallery

Disc Nine: Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) – Producer’s Cut

Now, the Holy Grail/This is what we waited for?/What are these dumb rocks?

Here it is, folks: the unicorn of horror filmdom - Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers Producer’s Cut, presented in beautiful HD with improved audio and an absolute heaping helping of bonus goodies. You didn’t think this day would come, did you? Well, it has.

Here’s the thing – it’s absolutely awesome that Scream Factory/Anchor Bay have teamed up to bring this rarely-seen gem to home video, giving fans the last jewel in the Michael Myers crown. This version only existed in whispers and apocryphal tales before becoming a denizen of the bootleg circuit, where rabid fans would gleefully exchange their hard-earned money for something that looked like it was recorded from a twelfth-generation VHS tape. All those years of frothing at the mouth imaging what could have been are now over with this release, which allows fans to compare both versions as presented in equal quality.

Frankly, neither one is very good. Have you ever watched a movie as a kid, loved the hell out of it, and revisited it decades later only to discover what you had fallen in love with was actually a bad film? This producer’s cut invokes a similar feeling; all those years of pent-up demand, wondering what footage this mythical cut contained, and the experience of watching it ends with the same sense of deflation provided by the theatrical cut. Great modern example: the two differing cuts of the fourth entry in The Exorcist series, neither of which is worth anyone’s time. Shrader’s lost cut only held a semblance of promise until it was shown, when everyone realized it, too, sucked a great deal. These films aren’t that bad, but they’re far from satisfying.

Personally, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for the theatrical cut because it was the first Halloween film I saw in theaters. I remember dying to see the film after watching Halloween 5 and being desperate to know who this Man in Black was. In fact, I can recall an interview with Joe Chappelle (I think?) in Fangoria, where he said the answer to the Man in Black’s identity was contained in the first film, which I then watched obsessively, scrutinizing every frame and bit of dialogue trying to yield some clues. It turns out Chappelle’s clue referred to a brief bit when Loomis is at Smith’s Grove and a “Dr. Wynn” is paged by the nurse. Totally obvious, right?? Anyway, even with my rose-tinted view I can say the theatrical cut is far from a good film. In the canon of the series, I’d rank it above 5, Resurrection and both of Rob Zombie’s films.

The producer’s cut is very different in terms of thematic content. The theatrical cut is much more a traditional slasher film, whereas the producer’s cut contains more of the rune/ritual stuff. The mid-‘90s were a time when many slasher icons were being redefined and taken to new places, eschewing the standard storylines they’d all followed up to that point. Freddy went meta. Jason disappeared for 90 minutes before getting dragged to Hell. Leatherface listened to heavy metal and learned how to read. Pinhead became an astronaut. Michael Myers joined a cult. Farrands’ script veers wildly off the trodden path, suggesting Michael has been under the control of a clandestine group of hooded druids who use him to do their bidding. Michael’s actions are controlled by his “caretaker” and lunar cycles and planets and… what? It gets convoluted. Origins are rarely fun, especially when they come this late in the game. Who cares why Michael kills? The producer’s cut makes odd choices, like keeping Jamie around past the opening (she dies in the TC) only to kill her off later on after serving no real purpose. And don’t even get me started on Paul Rudd’s rocks freezing Michael in place. Considering Michael is relegated to background player status for a lot of his own movie, I’d rather see the bloody, gratuitous theatrical cut. Still, this makes for an interesting, alternate oddity in the canon and its inclusion here is a huge selling point.

In terms of A/V quality, the producer’s cut looks a bit better than the theatrical cut, featuring the same 1.78:1 1080p picture. Setting aside the fact that virtually anything would have looked better than what’s out there, the image here is highly defined, with a healthy layer of film grain and no visible print damage. Colors are accurate and black levels, though a little hazy at times, are generally strong. The fact that you’d be hard-pressed to tell this transfer from the theatrical cut should be an indicator as to how good it looks, relatively speaking. Audio quality is just as strong, with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track with clear & clean dialogue. Fidelity is good, with a decent range to the soundfield and nicely balanced effects. Surrounds don’t get as much use as they should, but the discreet effects used up front almost make up for it. Sure beats the VHS I’ve been playing for years, I’ll tell you that.

What’s New:

Everything, and there’s so much of it. Most newly-produced, some vintage material.

Kicking things off is a highly informative audio commentary track featuring screenwriter Daniel Farrands and composer Alan Howarth. Barring a commentary from Chappelle (that will never happen), this is a must-hear is you want to know everything detail major & minor about the making of this troubled production. Farrands talks about the original script, what was changed, what was kept, his ideas for the series, and so much more. Interesting note: he originally wrote the role of Dr. Wynn for Christopher Lee. How awesome would that have been? Howarth interjects with minimally, but with good anecdotes.

Acting Scared – A Look at the Film’s Cast features interviews with both Mariah O’Brien and J.C. Brandy, with both actresses talking about their own careers, getting their respective roles and how they feel about the alternate cut of the film.

The Shape of Things – A Look at Michael Myers’ Murder and Mayhem is all about sculpting the film’s masks and creating the special FX.

Haddonfield’s Horrors – The Sights of Halloween 6 takes a look at production design & cinematography. Of all the films in the series, I would arguably say this one nails the atmosphere of Halloween better than most.

A Cursed “Curse” – An Interview with Producers Malek Akkad & Paul Freeman features both men, interviewed separately, discussing getting the film together, story concepts, initial visions and more.

Full Circle – An Interview with Composer Alan Howarth finds the legendary composer discussing how he approached the score for this entry.

Jamie’s Story – An Interview with the Original “Jamie” Actress Danielle Harris features this film’s almost-Jamie discussing why she didn’t reprise her role here. Hint: $$$.

Cast & Crew Tribute to Donald Pleasence is full of gushing about the late actor. There aren’t many stories, just lots of kind words.

The original teaser trailer, released as Halloween 666: The Origin of Michael Myers is included. For those of us who vaguely remember seeing this on TV and swearing it was real, now you have eternal proof.

Archival Interviews & Behind the Scenes Footage features vintage footage of the principal cast & crew talking about the project, along with some B-roll on-set shots.

Behind the Scenes Footage is almost 25 minutes of footage shot by Farrands during the 1st week of production. It’s all handheld and very candid.

Alternate Deleted Scenes (Not Present in Either Cut of the Film) presents roughly seven minutes of footage that isn’t very revelatory or different, but those who want to see all they can will dig these odds and ends.

Finally, there’s an Electronic Press Kit from 1995 with some interviews and the usual stuff found in those puff pieces.

Disc Ten: Halloween: H20 (1998)

Laurie Strode is back/That ending will never stick/Michael cannot die

Now we move on to what may arguably be the best sequel in the series, Halloween: H20. Personally, because my opinion certainly matters, I give Halloween II the edge only because this film has some ‘90s teen horror moments that I hate. And before anyone says Halloween III: Season of the Witch is the best sequel, know you’re right. But I don’t consider it part of this series, really. It should just be retitled “John Carpenter’s Season of the Witch”. But I digress.

H20 has been released on Blu-ray before, but it was either the incorrect aspect ratio (Echo Bridge) or in 1080i (Alliance). This release restores the intended 2.35:1 aspect ratio and presents it in full 1080p. Anyone who prefers the “open” 1.78:1 image put out by Echo Bridge should understand that this film might have been shot on Super 35 but it was composed for scope. So the only picture information you are “losing” is the stuff the filmmakers meant to lose in the first place. As far as quality goes, this bests the Echo Bridge edition, though not by much. Detail is much stronger and colors appear more vibrant, but there’s still a murky veneer that infiltrates many of the nighttime images. A proper remaster may have helped here. The English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track utilizes a contemporary sound design that allows for great fidelity and a wide range for effects to be placed discreetly. Dialogue is balanced and clean, and there’s a decent low end to the mix.

What’s New:

More or less, everything here is new. Previous Blu-ray releases held no bonus material, and what little was on the DVD release isn’t of importance.

Remember that time this movie came out on DVD and it claimed to have an audio commentary track with director Steve Miner and actress Jamie Lee Curtis that wasn’t actually included? Well, here it is. The two are moderated by Repository of Halloween Knowledge Sean Clark, who knows when to let the main participants speak and when to chime in with questions to keep the track on… track. Curtis dominates, though, with few moments of silence heard.

Blood is Thicker Than Water – The Making of Halloween: H20 is one of the main reasons fans should be buying this set. This in-depth piece – which runs nearly an hour - features interviews with Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Harnett, and other members of the film’s cast & crew. Lots of ground is covered here, delving into aspects of the production both big and small. As a nice touch, archival interview clips with Moustapha Akkad and L.L. Cool J are included to help round out cast & crew thoughts on the film. There is also a good amount of time dedicated to talking about the many masks used during filming, which sometimes change from shot to shot. Capping off with Jamie’s role as Laurie Strode, the piece ends with some talk regarding her (weak) demise in Resurrection. Featurettes like this are exactly how bonus features should be done.

Scenes with John Ottman’s Score presents around 25 minutes of footage featuring original composer John Ottman’s compositions. Dialogue has not been mixed in, with the score being isolated completely.

Vintage Interviews & Behind the Scenes Footage contains over 45 minutes of on-set interviews as well as footage of the film being shot. Every principal gets some face time here – L.L., Miner, Curtis, Williams, Hartnett, etc.

The disc also includes a theatrical trailer, TV spot and still gallery.

Disc Eleven: Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

Finally back home/”Trick or treat, muthafucka”/A franchise is dead

Unsurprisingly, the final nail is the original series’ coffin is dumped here with little fanfare. Resurrection is truly a terrible film; an unredeemable sack of rancid meat that stinks worse each time you open the bag. Maybe it’s kind of cool that Myers has finally returned home. What isn’t cool is populating the film with some of the most annoying teens to ever grace the silver screen. Even worse, we have to contend with both Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks, who we don’t even have the satisfaction of seeing killed. At the time, bringing Rosenthal probably seemed like a great idea; in hindsight, it was a death knell. The series should have remained dormant for a long while after the events of H20, but Moustapha Akkad absolutely refused to let Michael Myers die. Can’t blame the guy, it was his cash cow, after all. The film commits any number of cinematic atrocities, but the worst is killing off famed heroine Laurie Strode so ignominiously. Make it grand if you’re gonna do it.

Tech specs are similar to what was released on Blu-ray by Echo Bridge, which was a surprisingly strong release considering their track record. The 2.35:1 1080p image here may actually be a little weaker than that release. Film grain appears overblown and noisy, moreso than before, and black levels definitely seem anemic. Colors look good for the most part, and detail is strong in close-up shots. Medium and wide shots, however, look a bit dull and drab. This has never been a particularly good looking entry in the series – and it isn’t likely to leave most fans’ sets – but expect little in the way of visual impressiveness despite being a newer entry. At least the audio handles well, with a strong English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track that provides a boisterous, enveloping soundfield to immerse viewers in the world of Dangertainment.

What’s New:

Vintage Interviews & Behind the Scenes Footage hasn’t appeared on any previous Region 1 release, though it may be the same material that was found on Region 2 copies of the DVD. As you’d expect, it’s a bunch of talking heads and on-set footage. Nothing special, but its inclusion is appreciated.

What’s Returning:

- Audio commentary with director Rick Rosenthal & editor Robert A. Ferretti - Alternate endings with optional commentary by director Rick Rosenthal - Deleted scenes with optional commentary by director Rick Rosenthal - Web Cam Special with optional commentary by director Rick Rosenthal - Featurette: Head Cam - Storyboard Analysis - Set tour with production designer Troy Hansen - Set interview with Jamie Lee Curtis - Theatrical trailer - Home video TV spots - Still gallery

What’s Missing:

Other than a note of apology from Rick Rosenthal? Nothing, it seems.

Disc Twelve: Halloween (2007) – Director’s Cut

One good fucking scare/Michael fucking Myers, fuck/Man, fuck this movie

Rob Zombie’s pastiche of white trash suburbia horror is easily the most divisive film in the series. He deserves a modicum of credit for getting exactly two things right: the production design is strong, and the Myers mask is easily the best to appear in the series since the first film. Otherwise, it’s half a movie featuring an origin nobody wanted, followed by compressing Carpenter’s original film into half its original running time. And, Christ, if Scout Taylor-Compton’s Laurie Strode isn’t one of the most annoying characters to ever appear on screen then I don’t want to know who is. Anyway, the less said here, the better.

This is the same Blu-ray released by TWC, with a 2.35:1 1080p transfer and English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound audio.

What’s New:

Mercifully, nothing.

What’s Returning:

- Audio commentary with writer/director Rob Zombie - Deleted scenes - Alternate ending - Bloopers - The Many Masks of Michael Myers - Re-Imagining Halloween - Meet the Cast - Casting Sessions - Scout Taylor-Compton Screen Test (Laurie Strode) - Theatrical trailer

What’s Missing:

The theatrical cut, which should be considered the superior version simply because it doesn’t feature that horrendously gratuitous rape scene during Michael’s escape. It got a Blu-ray release in Canada, on a double-feature disc with the theatrical cut of its sequel, but in the U.S. it’s only ever been released on DVD. Personally, the best version of this film was the workprint that got floated around near the time of the film’s release, but even that is a mostly-unwatchable piece of crap.

Disc Thirteen: Halloween (2007) – Bonus Disc

This disc houses exactly one extra, but it’s a big one: Michael Lives: The Making of Halloween is a gargantuan documentary that covers every conceivable aspect of the film’s production, clocking in at a whopping 4 hours and 20 minutes. It is arguably better than the film itself and well worth watching, even if you don’t like the movie.

Disc Fourteen: Halloween II (2009) – Director‘s Cut

Transient Michael/An existential journey/Fucking fucking fuck

The adventures of Hobo Myers continue. I’ve noticed some people who still hate Zombie’s first film have decided to give this one a major pass because he tries to do something different. He does, yet it’s still an abysmal failure; an incoherent mess full of puerile scripting, over-the-top brutal violence, and nonsensical hallucinatory sequences.

Once again, this is the same disc that was released before, with no new additions. Zombie switches up aspect ratios between films, shooting this with a tighter 1.85:1, and this disc features the same 1080p transfer previously issued. Audio, too, remains unchanged with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track.

What’s New:


What’s Returning:

- Audio commentary with writer/director Rob Zombie - Deleted & alternate scenes - Blooper reel (which, surprisingly, doesn’t just play the entire film) - Audition footage - Make-up Test Footage - Uncle Seymour Coffin’ Stand-Up Routines - Captain Clegg & The Night Creatures Music Videos

What’s Missing:

As with the last film, we don’t get the theatrical version here. This director’s cut runs around 14 minutes longer, and doesn’t feature added rape-y scenes, so it’s probably the one to watch if you’re feeling masochistic.

Disc Fifteen: Bonus Disc

Here’s the treasure trove, people. Shoved unceremoniously into the casing of Halloween II (2009) is this disc, exclusive to the deluxe limited edition box set. Why wasn’t this given its own case? I mean, you’ve already got ten cases in this set, so what’s one more? Most people won’t even open up Zombie’s cinematic bowel movement of a sequel, meaning many may overlook the fact there’s a disc chock full of goodies stashed away in there. It’s a mix of new and vintage material, and not exactly well-organized in terms of menu, so let’s break it down.

What’s New:

The Making of Halloween 4 is another comprehensive warts-and-all featurette, running over 45 minutes, from the guys who put together the in-depth featurette for H20. Just about every major face shows up here to discuss their time on set, and there’s also talk about the problems the production faced regarding making the right mask. It’s almost hilarious how a mask that seems so simple in design has been a source of constant contention on the set of every single sequel.

The Making of Halloween 5 also comes from the same team as the other two great featurettes. This featurette still manages to be interesting despite the fact the film isn’t all that great. One nice touch I liked: each of these featurettes has a custom carved pumpkin in the background, featuring the art for the film they’re discussing.

Interview with Make-up Effects Artist Tom Burman on Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a nice, unexpected piece, featuring the FX artist discussing his work on that sequel as well as his career in general. He also did The Devil’s Rain (1975)!

There are also a handful of new Horror’s Hallowed Grounds episodes included here. While it would have been nice to have every episode either in one place (on this disc) or on a disc with their respective films, that would’ve required all kinds of re-authoring of discs and this was clearly the easiest option. Included here are new episodes for Halloween 4, Halloween 5, Halloween 6, and an extended cut of the original Halloween episode. As a bonus, there’s also an episode shot on the last day of the Halloween – 35 Years of Terror convention (which was co-produced by yours truly), featuring host Sean Clark and a handful of the series’ actors visiting the local filming locations in Pasadena, CA.

What’s Returning:

Halloween (1978) Extended Version in HD (TV inserts in standard definition). I considered putting this in the “new” category, but it isn’t really new. It’s odd that it says “extended version in HD” when the extended scenes are in standard definition. Even worse, word is that Anchor Bay has the film elements for these additional scenes, meaning the only reason they aren’t in HD here is because it would have cost money; and, more likely, because they need something to hook fans into buying another edition of the film down the line. The HD version used here is the print from the 35th anniversary edition, with English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio. The additional scenes don’t look all that bad, but clearly a bump to HD would have made them appear seamlessly within the film.

- Halloween Unmasked 2000 featurette - The Making of Halloween 4: Final Cut - Inside Halloween 5 - Interview with producer Moustapha Akkad - TV spots for Halloween 4, Halloween 5, Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009) - Radio spots for Halloween III: Season of the Witch - Halloween, Halloween 4 and Halloween 5 still galleries

The set comes housed in a large, sturdy slipcase, with each film housed in a black Blu-ray eco case. There’s a thick booklet, full of production phots from the series and an essay by Fangoria’s Michael Gingold.

Is this the final, definitive set to end all sets? Of course not. There will always be a new angle to sell these films over and over, but for most fans this set represents the end of the line. Previous editions of the first three films and Zombie’s films covered all the ground they had to, and the bonus features afforded to the middle sequels has now done that job, too. I’m aware some people are still frothing at the mouth over Don May Jr.’s reels of outtakes and alternate scenes not being included here. Their inclusion would have been welcomed, but, really, hours of raw footage with no audio shouldn’t be a deal breaker for anyone. Fans can and will nitpick this set into oblivion, yet the fact remains that just getting all of this together was a monumental achievement.

Clive Barker's Nightbreed (1990) - Limited Edition Blu-ray review

”I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker.”

Nearly every horror fan is familiar with the above quote, taken from another one of the genre’s titans, Stephen King. This was said sometime in the mid-‘80s, when Barker’s “Books of Blood” were hitting paperback in the U.S., before he’d even crept into the film industry with Hellraiser (1987). King’s words weren’t just hyperbole designed to move copies of Barker’s books, however, because the promise was there. Clive was a visionary in so many ways. Even today, years after his most revered and cherished works have been released, Barker’s name hangs firmly in the upper echelon of horror. It’s a rare talent that can master so many mediums – art, literature, and cinema, specifically - with such a distinct vision that remains fully intact… usually. Of those three, cinema is easily the most fickle, as Barker quickly found out on his second film, Nightbreed (1990).

Hellraiser, his first foray into cinema, had a relatively small budget (about $2 million), with Barker being given almost total creative freedom to make the movie he wanted. Other than some cuts forced by the studio to tone down violence, the movie released to theaters was the film he intended to make. Well, to get a bit more technical the studio did also force him to change the film’s name from the original novella title, “The Hellbound Heart”, to something more horror-y. He encountered this exact same problem with Nightbreed - which was going to be called “Cabal” since, that too, was the original novella title. And this time around they gave him a lot more money – approximately $11 million. Armed with a sack of cash, a wealth of monstrous characters from his novella, a crew of England’s top special FX artists, and the expanse of venerable Pinewood Studios, Barker set out to make “the Star Wars of horror movies” as he put it. It was an ambitious undertaking. Barker was building an entire universe on screen. There were hundreds of characters, literally. Sure, the principal faces only numbered a dozen or so (which is still large), but all-in there are some 300 monsters in total. I know this because one of the bonus features included here mentions how Nightbreed held a Guinness World Record at one point in time for having the most made-up characters in a movie.

Once shooting was completed, Barker delivered his cut to the studio. They balked. Reshoots were done in Los Angeles to punch up some of the plot (mostly related to David Cronenberg’s character) and Barker recut the film once again. It still wasn’t accepted. At this point, original editor Richard Marden left, refusing to butcher the film further, and the top brass brought in another editor to chop it down to a final running time of 102 minutes with credits. A far cry from the 2+ hours Barker had originally assembled, and even further from the vision he had in mind. This watered down version was released to theaters during prime dumping season – February – where it didn’t even recoup its modest budget. A home video release followed and, while a strong cult following quickly developed, the door had effectively closed on the world of Midian.

Cut to over two decades later and the artistic integrity of “Nightbreed” has finally been reclaimed. The story of how the ball got rolling is covered somewhat extensively within this package; watch the supplements, read the booklet, and learn the facts. Suffice it to say very few people ever thought this day would come, Clive among them. But to understand what makes the Director’s Cut work so well, we must first express why the theatrical cut does not. What it all boils down to is marketing and cold feet. Studios only love originality when it makes them money, but they’re afraid to embrace new things for fear of losing that money, causing them to stick to trodden paths. See the catch here? Nightbreed was simply too ambitious, which you would have thought the executives knew considering they greenlighted Barker’s film based on that vision.

The plot was “tightened” and focus shifted more toward Cronenberg’s Dr. Decker and his battle with Boone (Craig Sheffer), a patient who dreams of a world where monsters live - Midian. Decker tries to convince Boone he’s the one responsible for a spate of familial killings that have occurred recently, when the reality is it’s Decker doing the dirty work. Boone absconds to Midian, is initially spurned by the inhabitants (during one of the film’s best sequences… Peloquin (Oliver Parker) and Kinski’s (Nicholas Vince) introduction is fantastic), and winds up “dead” after a run-in with local law enforcement due to Decker’s meddling (“He’s got a gun!”). Because Peloquin gave him a chomp on the shoulder, however, Boone revives as one of the “Breed”, once again making his way back to Midian, where he is now welcomed with open arms. Boone’s girlfriend, Lori (Anne Bobby), also makes a visit to Midian and tries to find her man. She does, but she also finds Decker and the Nightbreed, who don’t take kindly to her being a “Natural”. Boone and the tribe clash over her presence, leading to both of them being banished by Lylesburg (Doug Bradley, but voiced by an unknown German actor), leader of the Breed. Boone can’t stay away, though, and soon law enforcement agents are brought in at the behest of Decker. What follows is an all-out war on Midian, with Boone galvanizing the typically-peaceful inhabitants to fight for their turf. And, of course, it all culminates in a showdown between Boone and Decker.

Barker had meant for this to be the story of two troubled lovers – Boone and Lori – and how they navigate the tribulations of the two worlds each inhabits. It wasn’t supposed to be the routine slasher/creature feature hybrid that wound up being the theatrical cut. Truly, if you watch both versions back-to-back it’s clear the studio cut is a desperate attempt to corral Barker’s imagination into something audiences were familiar with. Too much emphasis is placed on Decker, leaving other subplots to languish thanks to unscrupulous editing. The theatrical cut is not a bad film per se, but even fans agree it feels truncated and incomplete.

This brings us to the Director’s Cut – finally, right? All the proper film elements had been located, allowing Barker the ultra-rare opportunity to go back and re-cut the picture to his specifications. Unlike, say, the recently released Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers Producer’s Cut (1995), Barker had actually shot the film he wanted to make without great compromise; that part came during editing. Also unlike that film, this is truly something to be proud of. Nightbreed’s Director’s Cut is a wholly superior film in nearly every way. Barker added an additional 20 minutes of footage, as well as including 20 minutes of alternate takes, and the final product feels every bit like the film it always should have been. Decker’s storyline is now just one of a few major subplots, with more emphasis added to Boone and Lori’s relationship. There’s also much more in Midian, in particular the final assault which is replete with new monsters, new footage and a completely different ending… which I wasn’t totally nuts about. Without spoiling anything, I’ll simply say many characters are left in a place vastly different than the theatrical cut. The theatrical ending held promise for the future of Midian; this ending goes for something more intimate and less utilitarian. It’s not bad, just different and maybe not as good. But all of the additions to the film help a great deal. This is a remarkable achievement, both for Barker and for the film’s fans.

I do have one very minor qualm, though: there’s a weird edit at the end, when Lylesburg is preparing to release the Berserkers and one of the plaid-clad yokels pops his noggin with a rifle shot. In the theatrical cut the redneck sort of plays around with the red dot a bit before firing, whereas in the Director’s Cut nearly as soon as the dot appears on Lylesburg’s forehead the shot’s impact is shown. Barker’s choice? I don’t know; seems arbitrary. Most won’t notice this but I watched them back-to-back and it was glaring.

Much debate has been had over how this affair would look & sound. The theatrical cut has existed on DVD with a decent transfer for years. This new cut of the film began life as a VHS tape – under the moniker of “The Cabal Cut” - and it looked rough. Really rough. Because film elements were located, and because Scream Factory wisely put some money into new color timing and a new sound mix, the results are spectacular. It doesn’t look rough anywhere at all, and the audio is almost perfect, too. There were one or two scenes where it sounded like a tape source had been used for dialogue (specifically, when Lori meets Boone at the auto mechanic shop where he works near the beginning), but the quality didn’t dip to a level where it became unacceptable. These are minor complaints. In fact, the English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track is quite robust, with a strong presence and deep, resonating bass. It positively smokes the theatrical cut’s weak-by-comparison English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo offering. Danny Elfman’s score was composed during his prime years, full of the wonderment and ethereal stoicism that are his trademarks. I’d say it’s arguably one of the finest scores he’s ever done. As strong as the track is for most of the film, it really kicks things up a notch once the big battle happens at the end. I swear my subwoofer rumbled for ten minutes straight. Visuals come in the form of a 1.78:1 1080p transfer. The theatrical cut came straight from an interpositive source, and it looks very good considering no real restoration work was done to it. Similarly, the director’s cut looks nearly identical. Detail is very strong during daylight scenes, of which there are actually quite a lot. Night shots are mostly stable, but can get a bit iffy when darkness really sets in. There’s a slight bit of crush in a few scenes, nothing too major. Honestly, I was just amazed the entire time that here’s this long lost cut of Nightbreed and it looks killer in HD. There are no glaring problems to nitpick.

Not content just to lovingly restore a cult classic, Scream Factory also spoils us with an embarrassment of riches in the bonus feature department. If you’re a serious Midian aficionado, you’ve probably pre-ordered the Limited Edition three-disc set. You will be pleased. Here’s the thing: I’m glad they included the theatrical cut of the film for the sake of posterity, but I’ll likely never watch it again. Barker’s vision is realized with this Director’s Cut. This is how it should have been. Looking back on the theatrical cut, it feels so inferior in light of how much Barker’s cut enhanced the picture. The theatrical cut will be reserved for those who watch it to waxy fondly on nostalgic memories, and even they might opt for the new cut nine out of ten times simply because it’s a better movie. Additionally, the Limited Edition also features a bonus Blu-ray disc full of exclusives. It’s all great stuff, featuring a mix of new interviews and old footage. But first, let’s dive into disc one…

Writer/director Clive Barker and restoration producer Mark Allan Miller collaborate on an audio commentary track that I would describe as lively and occasionally struggling for clarity. First off, I’m pleased to hear that Clive has a smoother speaking voice after having some throat problems in recent years. He now sounds very British and very old, despite not being very old. It’s the sort of voice that should be narrating the migration of birds on a BBC nature special or something. Both of these guys are exuberant about being there, finally watching what Clive had tried to make all those years ago. Miller, of course, recalls in detail all of the events which led to this historic moment. Clive, meanwhile, is so damned excited that he spends the entire track tripping over his words to get them out. Take a shot every time he says “Um, um, um” and you will die. You can’t blame him, though. It’s great to hear the man so enthused about the project and every frame of footage he was able to add back in, including that musical number, which is awesome by the way.

Tribes of the Moon: The Making of Nightbreed is a documentary that runs for over an hour. Barker, strangely, doesn’t participate here, but we do get Craig Sheffer, Anne Bobby, Doug Bradley, Hugh Ross (wearing his King Rocker shirt!) and a few other notable names. This lengthy piece gets in detail about what Midian means to these actors and in general, as well as discussing their respective characters. Bradley recalls a lot about Clive’s early days, when the two first became friends. Other topics include make-up application processes, the production design, marketing, Bradley’s voice being ADR’d out of the movie and this new cut of the film.

Making Monsters: Interviews with Make-up Effects Artists features over 40 minutes of interviews with artists Bob Keen, Martin Mercer and Paul Jones. The three, interviewed separately, talk about the wealth of ideas everyone had on set, designing the monsters (specifically the Berserkers) and the contribution of Tony Gardner to the film. Interesting takeaway: Clive insisted all the Berserkers have a large phallus, something I never noticed before seeing the clip included here.

Fire! Fights! Stunts! – 2nd Unit Shooting is an interview with Andy Armstrong who, as the title suggests, did all the second unit filming. His work was mostly capturing action, of which there was a lot considering the scope of the final battle. He worked well with Barker, and the two collaborated closely on making sure the action scenes looked big for a film with their modest budget.

The disc also includes the film’s theatrical trailer in HD.

That’s what you get with the regular Blu-ray edition. With the Limited Edition, you’ll also get a bonus disc that includes:

Deleted scenes. There’s around 23 minutes worth, most involving Lori, Detective Joyce, or Decker. There are some interesting moments in here, though most will agree all was wisely trimmed. Anything good is now back in the movie. The quality here ranges from Blu-ray to rough VHS, with some scenes employing both to piece events together. That can be a little jarring, but at least the audio is consistent, even if nearly all of it is tape-sourced.

Monster Prosthetics Masterclass is an interesting account of the process by which actors are made up into monsters, with Bob Keen detailing every step of their work. Some behind-the-scenes footage of Malcolm Smith being done up as Ashberry is shown along with his words.

Cutting Compromise is a really great interview with editor Mark Goldblatt, the man brought in by the studio to deliver a “tighter” film. Original editor Richard Marden is no longer with us, but it’s equally fascinating to hear from the guy responsible for chopping Barker’s vision down to size. Goldblatt has some good stories and speaks candidly, admitting right away that he felt Marden’s cut of the film needed work. He basically did what the studio told him, with no input from Barker.

The Painted Landscape is five minutes of artist Ralph McQuarrie’s artwork as compared to the final picture, set to the film’s score.

Matte Painting Tests features the actors walking around with the matte painting in place, similar to how it appears in the final film. This footage is also set to the score.

Makeup Tests is exactly what it sounds like, featuring footage of various characters being worked on. Again, set to the score.

Stop Motion Lost Footage briefly discusses the production’s aspiration to do more with stop-motion animation, but it was cut further and further due to budget. The Director’s Cut restores some of this footage, though it does feel a bit out of place but is by no means unwelcomed.

Extended Torture Scene is a full three-and-a-half minutes of the Crusade-like killings of the Breed as shown when Rachel tells her story.

Rehearsal Test made me laugh a little. It’s the actors doing the film’s opening run through the graveyard sans costumes. Weird seeing them out of character.

Finally, there are Extensive Still Galleries that look at Early Sketches, Deleted Scene, Poster & Pre-production Art, On the Set of Nightbreed and The Cast & Crew.

All the theatrical cut has on it is a trailer, the same one included on the Director’s Cut disc one.

Also in the package is a thick booklet, which includes an overview of how this Director’s Cut came to be, as written by Mark Allan Miller, along with some character spreads for the various Breed. Everything comes housed in a sturdy side-loading slipbox, with a separate Blu-ray case for each cut of the film.

This is the set Nightbreed fans have dreamed of owning. If there’s maybe one thing I would have liked to see, it’s a lengthy piece covering the process whereby this cut came to be, but all the facts are presented here in one form or another; a featurette may have felt redundant. Casual fans will have zero complaints about what’s included on the standard edition, while serious fans will be extremely pleased by the Limited Edition’s offerings.