Archive for the ‘Arrow Video’ Category

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: May 09, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length:

Eros + Massacre: Theatrical Version – 02:45:15

Eros + Massacre: Director’s Cut – 03:36:25

Heroic Purgatory – 01:58:07

Coup D’Etat 01:49:51

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC)

Main Audio:

Eros + Massacre: Theatrical Version – Japanese Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Eros + Massacre: Director’s Cut – Japanese Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 768 kbps, 16-bit)

Heroic Purgatory – Japanese Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 768 kbps, 16-bit)

Coup D’Etat Japanese Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 768 kbps, 16-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio:

Eros + Massacre: Theatrical Version – 2.35:1

Eros + Massacre: Director’s Cut – 2.35:1

Heroic Purgatory – 1.33:1

Coup D’Etat 1.33:1

Bitrate:

Eros + Massacre: Theatrical Version – 31.88 Mbps

Eros + Massacre: Director’s Cut – 25.99 Mbps

Heroic Purgatory – 23.49 Mbps

Coup D’Etat 24.49 Mbps

Notes: This release includes DVD editions of each film. In total, there are seven discs included in this package (three Blu-rays and four DVDs).

SS01

“One could say that in this film there are two times, chronologically speaking: ours and that of fifty years ago—Osugi’s time.  In this sense, one could say that it deals with the problem of time, but for me what’s important is the present. Reflecting on the present is also reflecting on the future: it is at the same time wanting to change the present and seizing a hold of that which will become the future. This is the subject of the film and not Osugi as a historical character per se. The fundamental theme is: how to change the world, and what is it that needs to be changed?  Reflecting on the present situation through the medium of an era already past, I came to believe that Osugi’s problems continue to be ours.

Osugi is very well known in Japan—one could say almost legendary: he is someone who spoke of free love.  He was assassinated in 1923 by an official of the state, massacred by the power of the state. This is what all Japanese historians believe, but this historical estimation only enlightens the past and not the future. In making this film, I wanted to transform the legend of Osugi by means of the imaginary. Sure enough, Osugi was oppressed by the power of the state in his political activities. But most of all, he spoke of free love, which has the power to destroy the monogamous structure, then the family, and finally the state. And it was this very escalation that the state could not allow. It was because of this crime of the imaginary (or ‘imaginary crime’) that the state massacred Osugi. Osugi was someone who envisioned a future…

… I would like to remind you of the murder attempt [during] the second part of the film—the knife penetrating Osugi’s neck, filmed in a realistic manner: this is the plain and simple representation of the narrative.  In filming this attempt a second time, my intention was to destroy this narrative, to deform the actual event, in order to enter into Osugi: I thought that maybe Osugi preferred to be killed—in contrast to what the first version of the attempt showed. It comes right after he starts to consider the destruction of the revolution he desired; it was after this destruction that he began to speak of free love, in other words, of an imaginary crime. In this version of the attempt, then, it should not come about because of jealousy, not due to a psychological element, but from a political cause.  Thus I had Osugi say: ‘Revolution is only the renunciation of the self,’ or ‘in love and terror, there is ecstasy.’ In having Osugi say this, I wanted the spectator to feel the absence of revolution in the present situation. For the third version of the attempt, I tried to show the contrary view, namely Noe, the attacker. In opposition to Kurosawa, it is always the renunciation of the self that is important for me: it is only this way that communication with Noe and Itsuko is possible, and only by means of it that one is able to think the future.” –Yoshishige (“Kiju”) Yoshida (Cahiers du Cinéma, October 1970)

As the above quote about Eros + Massacre—undoubtedly the strongest entry in the director’s trilogy of Japanese radicalism—suggests, Yoshida’s trilogy is both innately political and extremely sexual (not that either of these traits is mutually exclusive).

A contemporary of Nagisa Oshima (Death by Hanging, In the Realm of the Senses) and Masahiro Shinoda (Pale Flower, Assassination), Kiju Yoshida started out as an assistant to Keisuke Kinoshita before making his directorial debut at age 27. In the decades that followed he produced more than 20 features and documentaries, yet each and every one has proven difficult to see in the English-speaking world.

Perhaps this is because one must have at least a general contextual knowledge of Japan’s socio-political landscape during the nineteen sixties and seventies to fully appreciate his work. Eros + Massacre, Heroic Purgatory, and Coup D’Etat form a loose trilogy united by their radical politics and an even more radical shooting style. Eros + Massacre (presented here in two different versions) tells the parallel stories of early 20th-century anarchist (and free love advocate) Sakae Osugi and a pair of student activists. Their stories interact and intertwine—resulting in a complex work that is arguably Yoshida’s masterpiece. Heroic Purgatory pushes the dazzling cinematic language of Eros + Massacre even further, presenting a bleak but dreamlike investigation into the political discourses taking place in early seventies Japan. Coup d’état returns to the past for a biopic of Ikki Kita, the right-wing extremist who sought to overthrow the government in 1936. Yoshida considered the film to be the culmination of his work and temporarily retired from feature filmmaking following its completion—though he would return to the director’s chair over a decade later to make A Promise in 1986.

SS02

The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Academy’s packaging for this release will no doubt impress anyone with a fondness for classic Japanese cinema. Four items are held in a very sturdy box featuring an attractive design. Three of these items are clear cases which hold the Blu-ray and DVD discs. Each case features its own reversible decorative sleeve. The first case houses the Blu-ray and DVD Editions of the Director’s Cut for Eros + Massacre, the second holds that same film’s Theatrical Version, and the third actually includes a Blu-ray disc featuring both Heroic Purgatory and Coup d’Etat and two DVD discs (one for each of these two films).

The fourth item included in the box is a small limited edition softbound book featuring essays about Yoshishige Yoshida and the films included in the set. Contributors include David Desser (co-editor of the Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema), Isolde Standish (author of Politics, Porn, and Protest: Japanese Avant-Garde Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s) and Dick Stegewerns (author of Kiju Yoshida: 50 Years of Avant-Garde Filmmaking in Post-War Japan). Each of the essays offers instructive information and analysis that should enhance the viewer’s appreciation of these films.

Disc 1 - Menu

Disc 2 - Menu

Disc 3 - Main Menu

Disc 3 - Heroic Purgatory Menu

Disc 3 - Coup D'Etat

All of these discs contain menus that are somewhat different than those on most Arrow releases, but they are all attractive and easy to navigate.

SS03

Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

With the exception of the director’s cut of Eros + Massacre, each of these transfers offers equally solid transfers. The director’s cut is more than three and a half hours in length resulting in a slightly lower bitrate than was used for the theatrical version (which was only two hours and forty-five minutes in length). However, we feel that the significant decrease in picture quality is the result of an inferior source print. The longer director’s cut is noticeably too bright and blown out—which reduces fine detail significantly.

The rest of the three transfers are much better with Heroic Purgatory being marginally superior to the others. All feature strong contrast with nice black levels and showcase a fair amount of fine detail. The image isn’t as razor sharp as contemporary films, but one feels that these represent the originals rather faithfully. Coup D’Etat features a few moments of disappointing clarity but it really isn’t anything to complain about.

SS04

Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Each film features a solid lossless mono track—with the theatrical version of Eros + Massacre given a slightly more technically robust transfer. Each track represents its respective film nicely and the sound design featured in each of the films is often quite interesting. Some will no doubt lament the lack of a more dynamic mix of these films, but all that matters to this reviewer is that each track is a reasonably flawless reflection of the original source, and these tracks certainly fall in line with those expectations.

SS05

Special Features:

4 of 5 Stars

8 Scene Commentary Tracks for Eros + Massacre (Theatrical Version) by David Desser

9 Scene Commentary Tracks for Eros + Massacre (Director’s Cut) by David Desser

10 Scene Commentary Tracks for Heroic Purgatory by David Desser

7 Scene Commentary Tracks for Coup d’etat by David Desser

These scene commentaries by David Desser will fascinate anyone with an interest in Japanese cinema (especially if they also happen to have a fondness for scholarly analysis). Each is highly informative and make valuable contributions to one’s understanding and appreciation of these films.

Yoshida …or: The Explosion of the Story – (30:10)

It is nice to find a documentary about Eros + Massacre included on this set—especially one that features Yoshishige Yoshida himself! This French production also includes contributions from Mathieu Capel and Jean Douchet. It is a very strong addition to the disc.

Introduction to Heroic Purgatory by Yoshida – (06:08)

Introduction to Coup d Etat by Yoshida – (05:22)

Yoshida offers slightly more substantial introductions to Heroic Purgatory and Coup d Etat than one might expect. Introductions usually don’t provide much in the way of valuable information or analysis, but these are actually worth the viewer’s time and the disc space that they occupy.

Eros + Massacre (Theatrical Version): Discussion with David Desser – (11:21)

Eros + Massacre (Director’s Cut): Discussion with David Desser – (09:08)

Heroic Purgatory: Discussion with David Desser – (09:14)

Coup d’etat: Discussion with David Desser – (08:51)

David Desser’s exclusive discussions are also well worth the time that it takes to watch them. Desser is the author of Eros + Massacre: An Introduction to the Japanese New Wave and obviously has a passion for Japanese cinema (even if he can come off as a bit dry). Much like his scene commentaries, the information that he reveals along with some analysis adds to one’s appreciation of these films.

Eros + Massacre Theatrical Trailer – (03:30)

Heroic Purgatory Theatrical Trailer – (03:04)

Coup d Etat Theatrical Trailer – (02:58)

One always hopes that the original trailers will be included in a Blu-ray package—especially when the films are as obscure and unusual as these happen to be.

SS06

Final Words:

Devotees of Japanese cinema should certainly see this interesting trilogy and Arrow’s wonderful boxed set is currently the only way to make this happen

Review by: Devon Powell

 

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: April 18, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length:

Original Theatrical Version01:53:14

Director’s Cut02:13:53

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate:

Original Theatrical Version34.08 Mbps

Director’s Cut34.04 Mbps

Notes: This title also includes DVD copies of each version of the film.

Tite

Ambiguity is frowned upon by marketing departments…Everyone wants to put something in a box [or] a specific category. And that’s unfortunate because to me the great films break those barriers. They spread far and wide in their reach. So now we’re blessed. It’s been fifteen years and people now just let the film exist. They let it be what it needed to be, which is its own weird self—its own thing. And luckily people have supported it in such a way that now ‘Donnie Darko can just be ‘Donnie Darko.’ It doesn’t have to try and be something else.” –Richard Kelly (Flickering Myth, December 16, 2016)

The “ambiguity” pervading Donnie Darko makes writing about the film almost as difficult as trying to market it—but it also makes for an incredibly rich viewing experience. The film wasn’t the only thing being projected onto that giant screen in October, 2001. The viewer’s own interests, baggage, experiences, and concerns were also projected comfortably into that same space. It allows for personalized interpretation and the result is that the film is still being discussed all these many years later.

“It’s about what each viewer wants it to be about. I like to let people come up with their own answers. I see it as more of a science fiction story. I see it as a superhero story in a lot of ways. Other people see it as a movie about mental illness, or they see it as a film about a dream. They’re all equally valid theories, I guess.” –Richard Kelly (Vice, December 19, 2016)

So ask not what Donnie Darko means, ask what Donnie Darko means to you.

SS01

The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

It is impossible to think of a Blu-ray release of a single film with superior packaging to this gorgeous release of Donnie Darko—even if it does include two very different cuts of the same film. Arrow has really gone above and beyond the call of duty with this release, but this is what sets Arrow apart from similar labels.

Limited Edition

Three items are held in a very sturdy box featuring new artwork by Candice Tripp: There are two Digipak cases—one for each of the two cuts of the film—and each case houses both a Blu-ray disc and a DVD containing that particular cut of the film. The third item is a ninety-two-page hardback collector’s book that includes a short “Foreword” by Jake Gyllenhaal, a new four page essay about the film entitled “Donnie Darko, Adolescence and the Lost Art of Remembering and Forgetting” by Nathan Rabin, an archival article about the film and its director from a 2001 issue of Film Comment Magazine entitled “Discovery: Richard Kelly” by Mark Olsen, an archival thirty-page interview with Richard Kelly from “The Donnie Darko Book” entitled “Asking Cosmic Questions” by Kevin Conroy Scott, a new four-page essay about the late Patrick Swayze’s career and his image-bending performance in Donnie Darko entitled “The Cult of Patrick Swayze” by Jamie Graham, and an essay about Richard Kelly’s post-Darko career entitled “After Darko: How Richard Kelly Adapted to the Apocalypse” by Anton Bitel. All of these writings are instructive and add to one’s appreciation of the film, and it is beautifully illustrated with production stills and promotional materials. Candice Tripp’s artwork features prominently on all three of these items.

All of this would be pretty amazing all on its own, but Arrow goes even further by including a few surprise in a folder-like compartment within the Digipak cases. The Director’s Cut includes an envelope addressed to Roberta Sparrow from “Darko” that is labeled as “extremely important.” Inside the envelope is seven art cards. The first art card features the same design that is showcased on the front of the box on both sides. The other 6 cards have different designs on the front and part of a larger image on the back. When they are put together correctly they form that same front cover image. (In short, the cards act as a kind of puzzle—albeit one that is incredibly simple to solve.) The Theatrical Version’s case holds a reversible poster that features the film’s original one-sheet design on one side and Candace Tripp’s new cover artwork on the alternate side. It is a toss-up as to which I prefer because both designs are very good.

Menu - Theatrical Cut

Menu - Director's Cut

Both of the discs include animated menus that utilize footage and music from the film and are easy to navigate. Everything about this release is remarkable and Arrow should be commended for their efforts.

SS02

Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

“[I received] a wonderful phone call to get from Arrow. They’re a great company and they take great care of these restorations. I think it was an issue where, after fifteen years, the rights were being renegotiated and had changed hands and Arrow was very aggressive about wanting the film. They campaigned for the right to restore the film and this is something I had always wanted to do.

The movie was never transferred properly. It was a very poor transfer for many years. So I had a window where I could devote time to helping—getting into the restoration in a very deep way. That was a great opportunity because it’s something that the film always needed and it was good that we were able to do it now. Otherwise, it would have been having it done without my input. That would have been so stressful for me. I spent a lot of time obsessed with every shot of the movie, this is very much an approved restoration.” –Richard Kelly (The Hollywood News, January 09, 2017)

Richard Kelly’s enthusiasm for this 4K restoration transfer from Arrow Video is evident in the above quote, and he has every right to be proud of this beautiful work as it is absolutely breathtaking. The technical specifics of the restoration were detailed in the beautiful book that comes with this set:

Donnie Darko has been exclusively restored for this release by Arrow Films… The original 35mm camera negative [from the somewhat grainy 800 ASA 35mm stock] was scanned in 4K resolution on a pin-registered 4K Lasergraphics Director scanner at Deluxe Media, Burbank. Although the original 35mm camera negative served as the primary restoration source for both the theatrical and director’s cut versions, a 35mm digital intermediate element was scanned for some sections unique to the Director’s Cut.

Film grading and restoration were completed at Deluxe Restoration, London. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris and light scratches were removed through a combination of digital restoration tools. Additional grading was performed at Deluxe, Culver City, under the supervision of director Richard Kelly and director of photography Steven Poster.” –Arrow Video (Limited Edition Collector’s Book)

The resulting image is noticeably superior to the somewhat disappointing previous transfers of the film—including the problematic Blu-ray editions from Fox Home Entertainment. The two versions of the film are given their own Blu-ray disc allowing for the disc’s maxed out bitrate—and better quality.

It should be stressed that the film was shot on a high-speed film stock that resulted in a rather grainy image and some of the lens filters used by Steven Poster intentionally gave the film a softer look. In other words, viewers shouldn’t expect a grain-less razor-sharp image. This is celluloid—and it is beautiful! The layer of grain simply makes the transfer look more filmic and never gets in the way of fine detail—which becomes all the more impressive when one compares the image with previous transfers. The difference is revelatory! Rest assured that the color grading reflects the filmmaker’s original intentions with fantastic black levels that are deep without going overboard.

The transfer is also relatively free of any noticeable digital anomalies and artifacts such as aliasing, banding, blocking, noise reduction issues, or etcetera. What we get is a perfect 1080p representation of the original photography (which wasn’t always perfect), and this is all that any reasonable viewer should expect.

SS03

Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio transfer for the theatrical version of the film is technically superior (48 kHz, 4160 kbps, 24-bit) to the one used for the director’s cut (48 kHz, 2542 kbps, 24-bit)—but neither track is anything to complain about. Both represent the original audio mixes honorably. Dialogue is always crisp, clear, and well prioritized in both versions of the film. Both mixes also have some effective separations and it should be said that the film’s noteworthy music sounds amazing on these lossless tracks. There are certainly differences between these tracks in terms of the music, sound effects, and even the mixing—and both have a slightly different effect on the audience. However, both are excellent even if the director’s cut is more dynamic.

SS04

Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

This release is absolutely stacked with supplemental materials and includes all of the extras from the film’s many previous home video releases along with a few brand new additions from Arrow. There are three feature-length commentary tracks, about four and a half hours of video based material, and even commentary tracks for several of the supplements. It is actually a bit overwhelming!

THE ORIGINAL THEATRICAL VERSION – (DISC 1):

Audio Commentary with Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal

Perhaps the best of the three commentaries included in this set is this discussion by Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal. It is conversational and incredibly informal but still manages to relay enough information about the film and its production to make it worthwhile.

Audio Commentary with Cast and Crew

The cast and crew commentary features Sean McKittrick (Producer), Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Holmes Osborne, Mary McDonnell, Katherine Ross, Beth Grant, and James Duval. Each participant reveals fond memories from the set and there are discussions about the film’s meaning—but one laments the time that is wasted on congratulatory praise. The resulting track isn’t quite as informative as the other two tracks but is always engaging. Fans will certainly want to give it a listen.

The Goodbye Place (1996) (08:43)

This was Richard Kelly’s first film effort and was made while attending USC as a class project. Shot in black and white without any traditional dialogue (only voice over is used), the short tells the story of a young abused boy who is offered refuge by a group of mysterious strangers who might be responsible for many unsolved disappearances. There are definitely elements of the film that remind one of Donnie Darko. It is a wonderful addition to this incredible set.

Deus Ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko – (01:25:32)

Deus Ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko is a brand new feature-length documentary about the making of Donnie Darko and its lasting legacy. The documentary was directed by Daniel Griffith and includes new interviews with Richard Kelly (Writer and Director), Sean McKittrick (Producer), Steven Poster (Cinematographer), Sam Bauer (Editor), Michael Andrews (Composer), April Ferry (Costume Designer), James Duval (Frank), and Robert V. Galluzzo. ‘Behind the scenes’ footage from The Donnie Darko Production Diary, production stills, articles and reviews, and footage from the film itself is utilized to illustrate the various revelations divulged by these participants.

The result is a comprehensive examination of the films making and reception. One is reminded of those incredible “making of” documentaries that were made in the early days of laser disc and DVD—a time when “special features” were actually special and not merely a tired marketing gimmick. This is a documentary with meat on its bones!

20 Deleted and Alternate Scenes – (31:54)

(w/ Optional Commentary by Richard Kelly)

Many of these scenes are included in the director’s cut of the film, but it is nice to have these included if only for the optional commentary track that plays over these scenes. The track was recorded well before the film was given a director’s cut and appeared on the original DVD release of the theatrical cut. It is quite evident that Richard Kelly wasn’t terribly happy about losing some of these scenes.

Those who haven’t already indulged in the director’s cut might wish to watch that particular version of the film before viewing these scenes. One feels that the experience of both will be more rewarding this way.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:28)

It is nice to see the original theatrical cut included here. It isn’t nearly as unique as the film that it promotes, but one can’t have everything.

Director's Cut - SS

RICHARD KELLY’S DIRECTOR’S CUT – (DISC 2):

Audio Commentary with Richard Kelly and Kevin Smith

It is nice that a commentary is included for the director’s cut, but this particular track seems like a missed opportunity. For one thing, Kevin Smith isn’t the best moderator in the universe and many of the questions that one hopes will be answered in this director’s cut track aren’t even discussed. Richard Kelly does reveal some interesting information here (some of it new to this track), but one certainly hopes for more revelatory information.

The Donnie Darko Production Diary – (52:54)

(w/ Optional Commentary by cinematographer Steven Poster)

The Donnie Darko Production Diary is an archival fly-on-the-wall documentary charting the film’s production. It is made up entirely of ‘behind the scenes’ video footage and is completely free of interviews to provide context. The result is an interesting look at the film’s production and this is without any doubt the most significant supplement on this particular disc.

To make this addition to the disc even sweeter, Steven Poster provides an informal commentary track for the documentary that reveals some interesting tidbits of information about the production that is impossible to gather from the raw footage alone.

B-roll Footage (04:37)

Viewers who have a fondness for “behind the scenes” footage will be happy to see these short clips from the set of the film.

15 Archival Interviews: Richard Kelly, Mary MacDonnell, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, James Duval, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holmes Osborne, Noah Wyle and Katharine Ross, producers Sean McKittrick, Nancy Juvonen, Hunt Lowry, Casey La Scala, and Steven Poster (14:20)

These are the standard publicity interview clips that are often sent to the various news (or entertainment news) outlets so that they can edit them into their coverage about the film. Of course, this means that the comments made are somewhat generalized and not very revealing, but they are a nice look at the film’s publicity.

They Made Me Do It Too: The Cult of ‘Donnie Darko’ (30:17)

They Made Me Do It Too: The Cult of ‘Donnie Darko’ is loosely connected to the inferior They Made Me Do It featurette—but this is less esoteric and more relevant. (See below to read about that particular supplement). This half-hour documentary is an examination of the film’s reception in the UK versus its US release. The film was released much later in the UK giving the film time to gain some word-of-mouth momentum, and this resulted in superior box-office success. Journalists and fans discuss their opinions as to why this happened while also revealing what the film means to them. The “They Made Me Do It” art exhibition is briefly discussed here, but it is simply part of the bigger conversation about the film’s impact on the culture.

4 Storyboard to Screen Comparisons (07:58)

Four storyboarded scenes are compared to the film’s final footage. This feature should be instructive viewing for feature filmmakers.

Mad World by Gary Jules (03:21)

The music video for this hit Tears for Fears cover track (which features at the end of the film) utilizes a generous portion of Donnie Darko footage—and is an essential addition to the disc as the song is very much a part of the film’s success story.

Cunning Visions Infomercials (w/ Optional Commentary) (05:43)

Those who have already seen Donnie Darko will remember the Cunning Vision video that Mrs. Farmer forces on her students. Now you can see this footage in all its glory—and there is even a very silly mock commentary track included for this footage.

#1 Fan: A Darkomentary (13:18)

Apparently, a promotional contest was held to determine Donnie Darko’s biggest fan—wherein various fans submitted videos proving their devotion to the film. The winner would have their video included on the Director’s Cut DVD release of Donnie Darko. This is the winning video and is actually pretty amusing, but it is difficult to believe that it wasn’t staged.

They Made Me Do It (04:48)

They Made Me Do It is a look at a group of graffiti artists and their Donnie Darko inspired artwork. This exhibition of artwork was probably some sort of publicity gimmick for the director’s cut (although this isn’t made clear) and was based in the UK. Some of the artwork is interesting, but this particular featurette isn’t as essential as many of the other supplements included here.

Director’s Cut Trailer (00:55)

The theatrical trailer for the “director’s cut” release is fairly standard but it is nice to have it included on the disc.

TV Spots

This collection of television spots provides the viewer with an interesting look at the film’s marketing campaign which apparently didn’t work incredibly well considering the fact that the film wasn’t a box-office success. The collection includes five separate spots:

Sacrifice – (00:32)

Darker – (00:32)

Era – (00:32)

Cast – (00:17)

Dark – (00:17)

Picture Gallery

This picture gallery is the standard collection of promotional stills and is probably another carryover from the previous DVD release. They probably would’ve been more enjoyable as additions to the included collector’s book, but it is nice that they have been included in some form. 

SS05

Final Words:

Soon after the original theatrical version of the film was released on DVD, Richard Kelly expressed his dissatisfaction with that release and announced his desire to release a director’s cut:

“I kind of hope to assemble a director’s cut. I’d really love to be able to do a Criterion double-disc for this. If the movie ever catches on and earns a degree of success on home video then maybe they’ll let me do that down the road with a slightly longer director’s cut where I can put some of these scenes back in the film. I’d really love to be able to do that if they’d let me have my original poster art and packaging—not the lowest common denominator packaging [that they used for the current DVD edition]…

…I was given pressure to cut 10 minutes from the film… We were having a lot of trouble getting a distributor and they heard through the grapevine that Miramax still wanted the film, but that Harvey Weinstein would only look at the film if it were 10 minutes shorter. That’s his rule. They made me cut 10 minutes because they heard that that was Harvey’s rule. And it probably isn’t even Harvey’s rule, you know? It was almost like they said, ‘We don’t know what to do, but you have to cut 10 minutes.’ And I was like, ‘Why not eight minutes?’ And they said, ‘No, it has to be 10.’ It became idiotic and frustrating.” –Richard Kelly (Stumped Magazine)

Kelly later confessed that he enjoys both versions of the film but insists that the director’s cut of the film “is a lot closer to what premiered at Sundance Film Festival.”

“I don’t favor one cut over the other. That’s why when we decided to do a restoration we decided to do it on both cuts and have both available. I was able to make more enhancements to the director’s cut because there was some stuff that wasn’t finished properly, and we improved the visual effects in some places. I had to spend more time on the time travel book, and I wanted those who wanted to know more to have access to that information. Both cuts have their virtues and I’m not completely satisfied with either of them, but they are what they are. But it was great being able to go back and getting the image re-enhanced. It looks so much better, especially on the big screen. People have never seen it in this way and it’s a significant change.” –Richard Kelly (Culture Whisper)

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter which version of the film one prefers—because Arrow Video has included both versions in what may be their best release of a single film so far. That “Criterion” package he mentioned all those years ago has finally seen the light of day—only it is an Arrow Video release! Needless to say, Criterion has some pretty strong competition.

SS06

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: April 11, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:16:25

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: Italian Mono Linear PCM Audio

Alternate Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English, English SDH

Ratio: 1.66:1

Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps

Notes: This release includes a DVD edition of the film.

Title.jpg

Caltiki – The Immortal Monster (1959) is a surprising film that combines a gothic horror aesthetic with a typical 1950s science fiction plot that is essentially a re-working of the same concept that gave audiences The Blob (1958)—although references to outer space and alien lifeforms are less explicit. While this is probably the minority opinion, this reviewer actually prefers Caltiki – The Immortal Monster to its American predecessor. This is mostly due to the fact that the Italian film’s gothic horror aesthetic gives it an eerie atmosphere that helps to sell the rather outlandish premise while simultaneously enhancing the scares. The Blob is more cartoonish in its treatment and uneven in its tone.

The film was a collaboration between Riccardo Freda (The Vampires, The Horrible Dr. Hichcock) and Mario Bava (Black Sunday, Black Sabbath). It seems that Freda wanted to give Bava an opportunity to prove his talents as a director, so he engaged him as the film’s cinematographer and special effects artist before leaving the project during the production. Bava would then take over as the film’s director. All of this was done in an effort to prove Bava’s talents to the film’s producers.

It should be said that the design for Caltiki is similar but more interesting than the design used for The Blob—even if its main ingredient is tripe. It was a missed opportunity if critics didn’t exploit this fact in some of the film’s more negative reviews. However, the film stands as one of the more interesting science fiction monster movies released during the late fifties, so any negative reviews should be swallowed with a grain of salt. The set-up for Caltiki is more exotic than the one used in The Blob: A team of archaeologists led by Dr. John Fielding (John Merivale, Circus of Horrors) descends on the ruins of an ancient Mayan city to investigate the mysterious disappearance of its inhabitants. However, the luckless explorers get more than they bargained for when their investigation of a sacrificial pool awakens the monster that dwells beneath its waters—a fearsome and malevolent god named “Caltiki.” Cinephiles with a fondness for the genre will certainly enjoy Caltiki – The Immortal Monster as it is a unique and unforgettable sci-fi chiller which showcases the talents of two legendary cult filmmakers.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys and the film’s original Italian one-sheet design.

Italian One Sheet

The Original Italian One Sheet

There is also an attractively illustrated booklet that includes three interesting essays: “Gothic Monstrosity, Radioactive Terror” by Kat Ellinger, “Deconstructing Caltiki” by Roberto Curti, and “Caltiki, More or Less by Tim Lucas. In addition to these essays, Arrow includes the usual credits and transfer information.

 [Note: The aforementioned booklet is only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]

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The animated menus utilize footage and music from the film and are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The collector’s booklet contains the following information about Arrow’s restoration transfer:

Caltiki — The Immortal Monster was restored by Arrow Films and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 with mono sound. All restoration work was carried out at L’Immagine Ritrovata, Bologna. As the original camera negative for this film has been lost, an original 35mm combined dupe negative was deemed to be the best-known element in existence. The material was scanned in 2K resolution on a pin-registered Arriscan with a wetgate and was graded on Digital Vision’s Nucoda Film Master. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches were removed through a combination of digital restoration tools. Overall image stability and instances of density fluctuation were also improved.” –Collector’s Booklet

Although one laments that the original negative for the film has been lost, the restoration team was still able to deliver a solid image with excellent contrast and strong black levels. Detail isn’t optimal but it is fairly impressive when one considers the film’s age and the fact that the original negative doesn’t exist. The grain structure is thick and gritty but resolves naturally enough and there aren’t any compression related issues evident.

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Sound Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

The collector’s booklet also includes information about the audio restoration and transfer:

“The original Italian mono soundtrack was transferred from the dupe negative using the Sondor OMA/E with COSP Xi2K technology to minimize optical noise and produce the highest quality results possible. There are times in which audio synchronization will appear slightly loose against the picture, due to the fact that the soundtracks were recorded entirely in post-production. This is correct as per the film’s original theatrical release.” –Collector’s Booklet

Actually, Arrow provides two audio options—an Italian mono LPCM audio mix (with optional English subtitles) and an English mono LPCM audio mix. The English mix was derived from multiple sources due to the fact that the original English master no longer exists. There are no issues with the track worth noting, but the Italian mix is a better option. The original Italian mix is in excellent shape and seems to accurately reflect the source elements without any anomalies to distract the audience. It isn’t particularly dynamic and music can sound boxy, but it is doubtful that it ever sounded any better than it does here.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Full Aperture Version – (1080P) – (01:16:54)

This version of the film includes a textual introduction prior to the film:

Caltiki — The Immortal Monster was designed to be exhibited in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1, and is presented in this form on the default viewing option on this disc. However, an examination of the elements revealed that, while a significant amount of the film had been shot with an in camera hard matte, much of it—including most of the effects shot created by the film’s uncredited second director Mario Bava—was in fact shot with no in-camera matte present. An open matte presentation, therefore, preserves more of Bava’s remarkable effects work.

In consultation with Bava historian Tim Lucas, a decision was made to also provide this alternative, full aperture viewing option, which presents the film as directly captured 35mm dupe negative and provides both an expanded view of the film’s effects and a fascinating insight into its “mixed parentage.” –Introduction

This version is an interesting curiosity but certain aspects of the transfer are too distracting for casual viewing. Those who wish to watch this version will do so to analyze the framing differences between the two versions and to determine which shots were hard-matted.

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Tim Lucas

Tim Lucas—author of Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark and a number of other books on horror cinema—offers an informative commentary track but there are times when this video watchdog critic is a bit too studied in his approach. This is a small complaint, and there is plenty here for both Bava fans and fans of Caltiki — The Immortal Monster.

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Troy Howarth

Troy Howarth is the co-author of The Haunted World of Mario Bava, So Deadly, So Perverse: 50 Years of Italian Giallo Films (Volumes 1 & 2), Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films, and a number of other cinema-related books. His commentary is an informative discussion about Caltiki — The Immortal Monster and the cinema of Mario Bava. One only wishes that Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava were alive to provide a commentary for the film. First-hand recollection is simply superior to researched reiteration.

Introduction by Stefano Della Casa – (00:21)

Stefano Della Casa’s brief introductory comments don’t really add up to very much, but one appreciates Arrow’s efforts to carry over any existing archival supplementary material—even if they aren’t particularly enlightening.

Alternate US Opening Titles – (1080P) – (02:24)

One on the more interesting additions to Arrow’s supplemental package is this alternate opening titles sequence that was made and used for the film’s release in the United States.

From Quatermass to Caltiki – (18:13)

Kim Newman’s discussion about Caltiki — The Immortal Monster and the classic monster movies that had an influence on the film is incredibly entertaining and informative. Especially interesting is his comments about the early Universal monster movies on the film and his opinions as to why the science fiction genre didn’t translate as easily to Italian interpretation.

The Genesis of Caltiki – (21:33)

This archival interview with Luigi Cozzi is presented in Italian with English subtitles and finds the filmmaker discussing background information about the production of Caltiki — The Immortal Monster, the film’s pace in Italian cinema’s history, details about the distributor, and other pertinent subjects. Fans will no doubt agree that the information revealed is both informative and diverting.

The Return of Caltiki (19:05)

Stefano Della Casa’s archival interview is more worthwhile than his empty introduction and covers quite a bit of territory—including a few short analytical comments bout the film and Riccardo Freda’s career and legacy, the differences between American and Italian horror films, opinions about Caltiki — The Immortal Monster, and a range of other subjects that horror fans will find worthwhile.

US Theatrical Trailer – (02:07)

The film’s US trailer is in line with other genre trailers of the era and is a nice addition to the disc.

French Caltiki Photo-comic (BD-ROM)

A digital edition of a 54-page photo comic is available as BD-ROM content and is an interesting artifact.

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Final Words

Viewers with an affection for 1950s low budget science fiction will enjoy this Italian take on the genre and Arrow’s new Blu-ray is the perfect way to experience the film.

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Review by: Devon Powell

 

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: April 18, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:38:14

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: Italian Mono Linear PCM Audio (48kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 34.83 Mbps

Notes: This release includes a DVD edition of the film.

Title

Cinephiles with a fondness for Italian cinema will find themselves immediately absorbed in Elio Petri’s The Assassin (L’Assassino). The film was released within months of Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte and also shares the familiar talents of Marcello Mastroianni, this time as dandyish thirty-something antique dealer Alfredo Martelli—a man arrested on suspicion of murdering his wealthy older lover, Adalgisa (Micheline Presle). The film has often been compared to Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen above Suspicion, but there are also similarities to Orson Welles’ film adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. There are plenty of Kafkaesque scenes in Petri’s film as it becomes less and less important whether Martelli actually committed the crime as his entire lifestyle is effectively put on trial.

Petri was certainly one of the more underrated Italian directors of his generation and while L’Assassino was highly acclaimed on its original release, it has been unjustly neglected ever since.  The film is a remarkably assured debut from one of the cinema’s sharpest chroniclers of Italian social and political realities. Petri said that he wanted to reflect the changes wrought by the early sixties, and to examine “a new generation of upstarts who lacked any kind of moral scruple.” Well, we can only say that he got off to a strong start with this film.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw and what is presumably the film’s original poster art. There is also an attractive booklet that includes an interesting essay by Camilla Zamboni entitled “Elio Petri’s L’assassino,” an archival analysis of 1950s Italian cinema by Elio Petri himself entitled, “Italian Cinema: A Castrated Elephant,” and a selection of contemporary reviews. These writings are enhanced with a number of production stills.

 [Note: The aforementioned booklet is only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]

Menu

The animated menus utilize footage and music from the film and are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The following textual information appears in Italian before the film begins:

“The digital restoration of L’assassino was made from the original camera negative which was missing the first and last roll, and from a first-generation interpositive. These two elements were scanned at 2K resolution for this restoration. The grading was carried out by referring to the original print version that was held by the production company Titanus in the archives of the Cineteca di Bologna. The sound was extracted from a 35mm negative and digitally remastered.”

One can certainly see a slight difference in quality when comparing the first and last reels to the rest of the film, but it is nice to report that the differences in quality aren’t radical enough to call attention to itself. Contrast and black levels are extremely pleasing, and the image usually displays a pleasing sharpness despite the organic layer of grain evident throughout the film. Depth and clarity are quite decent throughout most of the duration as well, and the image isn’t marred by the ravages of time. Dirt and debris have been cleared along with any scratches, water damage, or any other unfortunate anomalies. What’s more, the image looks as if it is free of any overzealous digital tampering.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow’s Italian mono linear PCM audio track (with optional English subtitles) is a solid representation of the film’s original mix. Some will lament the lack of a more dynamic surround option, but this would not accurately reflect the film’s original sound. Piero Piccioni’s jazz score sounds great on this lossless track as do some of the effects. Dialogue also seems to be clearly rendered, but not having an ear for the Italian language puts this reviewer at a disadvantage. It is simply impossible to make this statement with any authority. Sonic anomalies such as his, hum, dropouts, or pops never mar one’s enjoyment either.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Elio Petri and L’Assassino – (09:41)

This interview with Italian cinema expert Pasquale Iannone serves as an introductory overview of Elio Petri’s work, but his authority is somewhat muted by his tendency to glance at his notes. It is worth seeing, but those looking for an in-depth study about the director will no doubt be disappointed.

Tonino Guerra: A Poet in the Movies – (51:15)

This documentary about Tonino Guerra (a great Italian screenwriter) was released in 2008 and focuses on Guerra’s life and prolific career working with some of cinema’s most important auteurs—including Elio Petri, Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Michelangelo Antonioni, Andrey Tarkovsky, Francesco Rosi, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, and many others. The program is fueled by archival interview footage of Tonino Guerra himself discussing an incredibly wide variety of subjects that will fascinate anyone with a fondness for world cinema. These interviews are often illustrated with footage from a variety of films—and while the result is a bit one-sided, it really does make for very instructive viewing.

Theatrical Trailer – (03:45)

The original Italian theatrical trailer (with optional English subtitles) rounds out the disc rather nicely.

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Final Words:

Arrow Academy gives devotees of Italian cinema the gift of an extremely strong transfer of this underappreciated classic.

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Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: April 25, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:51:23

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: Italian Mono Linear PCM Audio (48 kHz, 1152 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps

Notes: This release includes a DVD edition of the film.

Title

“A wonderful film that moves on waves of feeling. Francesco Rosi, who has one of the greatest compositional senses in the history of movies, keeps you in a state of emotional exaltation. A simple image has the kind of resonance that most directors never achieve.” -Pauline Kael (The New Yorker, 1981)

Francesco Rosi established himself as one of the greatest chroniclers of Italy’s stormy postwar history with such riveting classics as Salvatore Giuliano, The Mattei Affair, and Illustrious Corpses. Three Brothers (Tre Fratelli) explores similarly knotty social and political territory through the seemingly straightforward story of three siblings returning to their native southern Italy to pay homage to their late mother. However, their various professions—a judge in Rome (Philippe Noiret), a spiritual counselor in Naples (Vittorio Mezzogiorno), a factory worker in Turin (Michele Placido)—have a profound effect on their response to this reunion.

Three Brothers even received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film but lost the golden statuette to Mephisto. It is only right that all these years later that Arrow Academy is awarding the film with this excellent Blu-ray release.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses the Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve featuring the choice of newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin and what is presumably the film’s original poster art.

There is also an attractive booklet that includes an interesting essay by Millicent Marcus entitled “Beyond Cinema Politico,” another essay written by director Francesco Rosi entitled “In Opposition to Life, In Opposition to Death,” a 1981 interview with Francesco Rosi about Three Brothers conducted by Michael Ciment, and contemporary reviews of the film. Arrow enhances these interesting writings with several production stills.

 [Note: The aforementioned booklet is only included with the first pressing of this particular release.]

Menu

The animated menus utilize footage and music from the film and are reasonably attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

We aren’t sure, but it seems that this Arrow Academy release may very well be the film’s home video debut in North America. The booklet’s usually detailed information about the transfer is somewhat vague, so we aren’t entirely certain as to the source of this transfer. Contrast and black levels seem to be accurate and the image is relatively sharp considering its age. Colors are also well-rendered and exhibit natural flesh tones. Grain is well resolved and looks natural as well and there aren’t any troublesome digital anomalies—although one can detect moments of aliasing. One can also detect some minor dirt and a few minor scratches, but these aren’t terribly noticeable unless one is looking for them. Depth isn’t particularly impressive either, but one suspects that this isn’t an issue with the transfer but a reflection of the film’s production. All in all, this is a solid but unexceptional transfer.

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Sound Quality:

3 of 5 Stars

The Italian mono linear PCM audio track is also solid as it is in keeping with what one expects from Italian film productions—meaning that it seems the film’s audio was added in post-production. One scene finds a slight fluctuation between ambient audio when Philippe Noiret is speaking, and this is no doubt a result of replacing the original production sound with dubbed dialogue (as Noiret wasn’t a native Italian speaker). Piero Piccioni’s subtle score sounds good in the lossless environment as do the other elements, and this track seems to reflect the original theatrical mix.

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Special Features:

2 of 5 Stars

Archival Interview with Francesco Rosi – (01:12:12)

This audio-only interview with Francesco Rosi was recorded in London during the summer of 1987 and is presented here with various photographs in order to enhance one’s experience. English is the predominant language throughout the interview with some a few moments of translation. Many topics are covered here but Rossi’s 1987 production of Chronicle of a Death Foretold seems to be the predominant focus. Even so, this is an instructive interview that will please fans of the director.

Original Theatrical Trailer – (03:20)

The film’s original Italian theatrical trailer is also included on the disc with English subtitles.

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Final Words:

Francesco Rosi’s Three Brothers is a character-driven story about family. It has an understated grace that is rare and Arrow Academy’s release seems to be the only way one can experience the film on home video.

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Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover.jpg

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: April 25, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:31:56

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 Italian Linear PCM Audio

Alternate Audio: 2.0 English Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English, English SDH

Ratio: 1.66:1

Bitrate: 34.99 Mbps

Notes: This package also includes a DVD copy of the film.

Title

There are probably those of us who hear the name Django and immediately picture Jamie Fox in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. What these individuals may not realize is that in 1966, a very different Django was released upon the world. Sergio Corbucci’s Django (which featured Franco Nero in the title role) told the story of an ex-soldier in the Union army who becomes involved in a war between a group of racist militants and a gang of Mexican bandits. The racist militants happen to be led by Major Jackson—the same man who killed Django’s wife sometime before the story begins. Django plays each group against the other in his bid for revenge against Jackson.

The film was an enormous success at the box office and as a result, the character appeared in many completely unrelated films during the late sixties and early seventies. One of the better films to cash in on the character’s popularity is Preparati la bara!—or Django, Prepare a Coffin. The film was directed by Ferdinando Baldi and stars Terence Hill as the titular character. One shouldn’t be confused by Hill’s resemblance to Franco Nero (or by the fact that Nero was originally offered the role). This film is best experienced as a stand-alone film as it completely ignores the backstory established in Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 film.

Django, Prepare a Coffin again finds Django out for revenge on the man responsible for the death of his wife, but the circumstances surrounding her death are completely different. In this film, Django is responsible for transporting gold between various depositories and he and his wife are carrying out these duties when they are ambushed on the orders of a crooked politician named David Barry. They are both left for dead, but Django survives to bury his wife—and eventually makes up his mind to bury the man responsible as well. Time passes and we learn that Django has been laying low while earning a living as a hangman—and this is when the film becomes really interesting… I hate spoilers. Don’t you? You should simply watch the film if the set-up sounds at all appealing. It’s a surprisingly fun ride.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses both discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve. One side features original cover artwork that is reasonably attractive but some fans will probably prefer to utilize the side showcasing the film’s original one-sheet design. There is also an illustrated collector’s booklet with an admiring essay entitled “The Dead Are in Their Graves” by Howard Hughes (author of Spaghetti Westerns). This text examines the film’s production and celebrates its virtues.

The disc’s animated menu utilizes footage from the film and is easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow utilizes a 2K restoration transfer taken from a 35mm interpositive print and the film has never looked better on home video.  It isn’t going to take anyone’s breath away, but none of the issues are likely to trouble most viewers. First of all, there is the occasional scratch or speck to be found and the print has felt the ravages of time—but none of this ever becomes distracting. There are also moments in the film that are surprisingly soft for a 2K transfer. However, it should be stressed that these are simply moments. Most of the film is reasonably detailed and there are times when shots when the clarity of the image truly impresses. There may be a few contrast issues as the image can bloom at times, but this might have been inherent in the source. There is a filmic layer of well-resolved grain that never becomes unwieldy, and digital anomalies such as banding, edge enhancement, DNR, and aliasing aren’t noticeably present. Colors seem to represent the film accurately (if other spaghetti westerns from the era are any indication)—with a lot of orange and earthy tones. If the picture leans a bit to the yellow side of the wheel, this seems consistent with other films from the genre. One can only speculate as to what the original print looked like.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow gives viewers an option between two very different 2.0 mono linear PCM audio tracks—one in the film’s original Italian and the other dubbed in English. It should go without saying that the English mix contains some slight synch issues, but we are not here to criticize what couldn’t have been avoided here. The original Italian track was digitized from the original soundtrack negative and showcases more energy than one expects from a mono mix due to the film’s robust sound effects—which are rather exaggerated and unnatural. This is an issue that is inherent in many of the low-budget Italian films of the era. As a matter of fact, any legitimate complaint that one might register would be inherent in the film’s source. The transfer is a faithful reflection of the source sound and this is all anyone has a right to expect.

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Special Features:

2 of 5 Stars

Django Explained: Interview with Kevin Grant – (08:32)

Kevin Grant (author of “Any Gun Can Play: The Essential Guide to Euro-Westerns”) lends his expertise about the genre to this interesting discussion about the duality inherent in the character of Django while examining the reasons behind his popularity. It is an extremely engaging—albeit brief—interview that isn’t quite long enough to provide any sort of comprehensive examination. However, fans will certainly be happy that Arrow has seen fit to include it here as it is certainly worth their time.

Theatrical Trailer – (03:04)

Blu-ray discs somehow seem incomplete when their trailer isn’t included, so it is nice to see this included here. The marketing team chose to emphasize the action in this trailer without giving any real clue as to what the film’s plot might be. It rounds out the disc quite nicely.

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Final Words:

Django, Prepare a Coffin is a great example of those low-budget “grindhouse” spaghetti westerns that were so popular years ago, and Arrow Video offers viewers a solid transfer of the film that enhances the viewer’s enjoyment of the film significantly.

Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: April 11, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length:

House – 93 min

House II: The Second Story – 88 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Audio:

House

5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

English Mono Linear PCM Audio

2.0 English Linear PCM Audio

House II: The Second Story

5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

2.0 English Linear PCM Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.85:1

Note: Arrow also released a four film boxed set of the entire series that is only available in the UK (Region B).

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 “Filmmakers Sean S. Cunningham and Steve Miner scored hits with several simple Friday the 13th films but tackle a more complex story here with embarrassing results… Though much of this nonsense is played tongue-in-cheek, an audience can hardly be expected to swallow the screenplay’s arbitrary approach to Cobb’s character… The monsters are fake and rubbery, better suited to a comedy than a film in search of scares.” –Variety (December 31, 1985)

Variety’s review of the film captures the reception bestowed upon House by critics upon its release and it seems to be blissfully unaware of the fact that House isn’t intended as a straight horror film. It was designed to be a hybrid of both horror and comedy. The story is somewhat familiar to genre fanatics as it tells the story of Roger Cobb, a horror novelist struggling to pen his next bestseller. When he inherits his aunt’s creaky old mansion, Roger decides that he’s found the ideal place in which to finish his new book. Unfortunately, the house’s monstrous supernatural residents have other ideas.

Critics were never going to be enamored with the film, but those who curb their expectations and accept its over-the-top B-movie sensibilities will agree that House manages to balance the horror and comedy elements rather nicely. Unfortunately, House II: The Second Story—which was rushed into production after the box office success of the first film—isn’t as successful at maintaining this balance. The sequel follows Jesse as he moves into an old family mansion where his parents were mysteriously murdered years before. Plans for turning the place into a party pad are soon thwarted by the appearance of Jesse’s mummified great-great-grandfather, his mystical crystal skull, an assortment of ridiculous hybrid creatures, and the zombie cowboy who’ll stop at nothing to lay his hands on it. The entire movie plays like one of those terrible made-for-television movies that air on the Disney channel every year during the Halloween season. One might even call it horror-lite as it seems to have been designed specifically for ten-year-olds.

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video’s packaging for this release is nothing short of amazing. Three items are held in a very sturdy box featuring a beautiful design that is an interesting upgrade of the “corpse’s disembodied hand” concept popularized by the original one-sheet designs. Two of these items are the Blu-ray discs. It is nice to find that each disc is housed in its own clear Blu-ray case with reversible sleeves. Interestingly, the new artwork for both movies is more in line with a Scream Factory release than Arrow’s usual aesthetic—but it doesn’t ultimately matter because the reverse of both features the iconic original one-sheet designs and these are superior (and more in keeping with the excellent new box art). Also included in the first film’s case is a sleeve containing information about the new restoration transfers.

Limited Edition

Limited Edition Contents

The third item included in the box is a beautiful limited edition hardbound book entitled The House Companion by Simon Barber. At 148 pages in length, this is a substantial addition to the set. The book contains an introduction and eight chapters—two for each of the four films in the House series. The first of the two chapters devoted to each film is always an essay containing plenty of production information while the second contains the film’s original press materials (or press book). More pages are devoted to the original film than to any of the three sequels but this is as it should be.

Both discs contain animated menus that utilize footage and music from the film and both are attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

HOUSE

3.5 4 of 5 Stars

Sometimes video transfers are difficult to judge fairly without expert knowledge about a film’s original source materials. This particular transfer is a case in point. According to the insert included in this package, House was “exclusively restored in 2K resolution for this release by Arrow Films” and is presented in its original 1.85:1 ratio. Without knowledge of the original image, it is difficult to know for sure if what seems to be framing issues with this transfer doesn’t actually represent the original release. If it accurately reflects the original, then it easily earns four stars. If these perceived flaws are mistakes in this particular transfer, we give it 3.5 stars.

 Apparently, the film was scanned from the original 35mm interpositive before being graded, so it seems somewhat reasonable to give Arrow the benefit of the doubt. The result isn’t perfect, but it is much better than this film has looked on home video prior to this release. Grain structure isn’t perfect throughout the entire film but this never distracts from one’s enjoyment and it resolves organically without experiencing unsightly compression problems. Colors seem to reflect its source rather nicely for the most part, though skin tones can exhibit a rosy hue. Detail is strong enough—especially in the closer shots. Some of the optical effects limit the quality of the picture, but this isn’t the fault of this transfer. In fact most of the issues seem to be the result of the film’s low budget production. This may very well be the best this film will ever look.

HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY

4 of 5 Stars

House II: The Second Story was given exactly the same restoration treatment with similar results, although we feel that this transfer exhibits a more stable grain structure than the original film. Colors look as if they accurately represented here as does contrast and clarity. Detail looks very good and is probably the transfer’s finest attribute. The biggest issue here involves the less than perfect shadow detail in certain sequences, but this is probably won’t detract from one’s enjoyment.

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Sound Quality:

HOUSE

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow offers three High-Definition audio options (although there isn’t much difference between the Mono Linear PCM and the 2.0 Linear PCM). The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is noticeably more dynamic with some effective separations but all of the tracks are adequately prioritized and never exhibit any troublesome issues.

HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY

4 of 5 Stars

Only two audio tracks are offered for House II: The Second Story, but there isn’t any reason to complain as both the 2.0 Linear PCM and the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio offer a solid listening experience and exhibit good fidelity. The 5.1 mix is certainly a more vigorous sonic experience that offers more room for effects and the Harry Manfredini score to breathe, but both tracks are clear and well prioritized.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

HOUSE – (DISC 1):

Audio Commentary with Steve Miner (Director), Sean S. Cunningham (Producer), Ethan Wiley (Screenwriter), and William Katt (Actor)

This audio commentary is one of the most enjoyable commentary tracks that I’ve heard in quite some time as all four participants seem to be having a lot of fun as they discuss the film and its production. Unlike many commentary tracks, the participants don’t merely describe what is happening on the screen—and they never run short of information or fun banter either. What’s more, it is an irreverent track without any pretension—these guys know their audience! Some will probably complain that some of the information was included in Arrow’s excellent new documentary, but this overlap is to be expected as it covers quite a bit of territory.

Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House – (01:06:39)

At over an hour and six minutes in length, this brand new documentary features interviews with Sean S. Cunningham (Producer), Steve Miner (Director), Ethan Wiley (Screenplay), Fred Dekker (Story Contributor), Harry Manfredini (Composer), William Katt (Actor), Kay Lenz (Actor), Barney Burman (Effects/Make-up), Brian Wade (Effects/Make-up), James Belohovek (Effects/Make-up), Shannon Shea (Effects/Make-up), Kirk Thatcher (Effects/Make-up), Bill Sturgeon (Effects/Make-up), Richard Hescox (Artist), William Stout (Artist), and Kane Hodder (Stunt Coordinator). Reading this list of contributors should indicate just how comprehensive this documentary really is, and we are happy that the interviews given were edited into a single worthwhile documentary. It proves that quality trumps quantity. One wishes more releases would include this sort of comprehensive retrospective.  This is probably the crown jewel of the set’s supplemental package.

The Making of House – (24:07)

This vintage program—which seems to be an episode of some obscure television show—also takes a look ‘behind the scenes’ but isn’t nearly as comprehensive. However, it is better than many EPK featurettes as it offers a glimpse behind the curtain and gives viewers the opportunity to see how the film was sold to the public. Fans will love it!

Theatrical Teaser – (01:27)

Theatrical Trailer #1 – (00:59)

Theatrical Trailer #2 – (01:28)

TV Spots – (01:31)

The three included theatrical trailers are most definitely products of the 1980s and are fun to watch. The television spots are interesting as well but one’s enjoyment is dampened somewhat by the unfortunate quality of the video source.

Stills Gallery

This is a collection of some of the stills and artwork used in the film’s marketing campaign.

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HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY – (DISC 2):

Audio Commentary with Ethan Wiley (Writer and Director) and Sean S. Cunningham (Producer)

This is another lively track but it isn’t quite as fun as the one offered for the first film. However, those who enjoy the film will certainly enjoy this commentary track as it is an instructive diversion.

It’s Getting Weirder! The Making of House II: The Second Story – (57:38)

This retrospective documentary about the making of House II: The Second Story is nearly as comprehensive as Arrow’s retrospective about the original film and is every just as engaging. It includes new interviews with Sean S. Cunningham (Producer), Ethan Wiley (Writer and Director), Harry Manfredini (Composer), Arye Gross (Actor), Jonathan Stark (Actor), Lar Park Lincoln (Actor), Devin DeVasquez (Actor), Hoyt Yeatman (Effects Supervisor), Chris Walas (Effects/Make-up), Mike Smithson (Effects/Make-up), and Kane Hodder (Stunt Coordinator). Conspicuously missing is Bill Maher and John Ratzenberger—but this isn’t at all surprising.  The documentary covers all aspects of production—including the rushed development of the project which explains many of the film’s deficiencies.

Making House II: The Second Story (Vintage EPK) – (14:38)

The vintage EPK is an interesting curiosity for its glimpse behind the scenes and as a marketing tool. It contains the usual navel-gazing publicity interviews and is heavily padded with footage from the two films.

TV Spot – (00:33)

The included television spot gives one an indication of how this sequel was marketed.

Stills Gallery

This is a collection of some of the stills and artwork used in the film’s marketing campaign.

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Final Words

Move over, Scream Factory! Arrow Video has once again given horror fans an incredible gift. House: Two Stories is beautifully packaged, contains solid restoration transfers of both films, and includes a comprehensive assortment of supplemental materials. It easily earns a recommendation for horror fanatics.

Review by: Devon Powell