Posts Tagged ‘Arrow Films’

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Academy

Release Date: April 11, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length:

Theatrical Version – 03:58:16

Television Version – 04:09:11

Episode 1 – 47:45

Episode 2 – 55:29

Episode 3 – 42:56

Episode 4 – 47:58

Episode 5 – 53:35

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

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

Alternate Audio: English Mono Linear PCM Audio (48kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English, English SDH

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate:

Disc One – 29.99 Mbps

Disc Two – 34.67 Mbps

Notes: This 4-disc collection includes a DVD edition of the film.

Title

Luchino Visconti is often given credit for announcing the Italian Neorealist movement with Ossessione (1943), which was loosely based on “The Postman Always Rings Twice” by James M. Cain. It would have been impossible to imagine that this same filmmaker would later be responsible for—and indeed known for lush period epics like Senso (1954), The Leopard (1963), and The Damned (1969). With this string of masterpieces behind him, the legendary director turned his attentions to yet another period drama—the life and death of King Ludwig II of Bavaria in 1972.

These efforts resulted in an epic of 19th-century decadence entitled Ludwig (1973). Dominated by Helmut Berger (The Damned, The Bloodstained Butterfly) in the title role, Ludwig nevertheless manages to find room for an impressive cast list: Romy Schneider (reprising her Elisabeth of Austria characterization from the Sissi trilogy), Silvana Mangano (Bitter Rice), Gert Fröbe (Goldfinger), John Moulder-Brown (Deep End), and Trevor Howard (Brief Encounter) as Richard Wagner.

If Ludwig considered one of the director’s best efforts, it should at least be on the list of his most interesting.

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

Like so many other Blu-ray releases this set is the epitome of gorgeous packaging. One might say that it is fit for a king—mad or otherwise. The box itself—which itself is placed inside a yellow cardboard holder showcasing the film’s title—features one of the many original one sheet designs (which is quite lovely).

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Three major ingredients are included inside the box: Two separate cases (each containing both a Blu-ray and a DVD disc) and a beautifully illustrated paperback booklet containing interviews and essays that will enrich one’s understanding and appreciation of the film. Both of the two cases are decorated with a sleeve utilizing a different one sheet and the cover of the booklet features the same one sheet found on the box itself.

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

Menu - Disc 1

Menu - Disc 2

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

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Academy’s transfer is taken from a 2K restoration taken from a 4K scan of the original film negative and the result is an immaculate image. Colors are richly saturated and fine detail is simply amazing as they showcase a naturally sharp image. There is a very fine layer of grain that never becomes unwieldy and compression issues simply aren’t present. It is simply a gorgeous transfer—and this goes for both versions of the film.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

This set contains both the Italian and English soundtracks in the Linear PCM Mono Audio format. The English track was produced for the 173 minute version of the film and the audio will occasionally revert back to the Italian mix for scenes that were not in the original U.S. release of the film. There are often differences in musical accompaniment between the original Italian and the English version which can result in sudden changes in the background music between the two versions.

This reviewer would suggest watching the Italian version at least once since it represents Visconti’s original intentions for the soundtrack. However, both versions are technically solid and offer an enjoyable sonic experience—even if the English version exhibits a bit more hiss which is nearly imperceptible unless one listens for it. Since this is an Italian film, there is dubbing present in both versions of the film. What’s more, neither track is particularly dynamic and are merely solid representations of both original mixes.

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Special Features:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow includes the original full-length theatrical cut and the 5-part television mini-series version of the film. The theatrical version is superior, but it is nice to have both versions for comparison.

The supplemental package might look sparse compared to some of Arrow’s other releases but looks are often deceiving. The supplemental package offers 2 hours, 54 minutes, and 14 seconds of pertinent video based entertainment.

Disc One:

Luchino Visconti – (01:00:35)

Carlo Lizzani’s profile of Luchino Visconti is an incredibly engaging work as it features original interviews with some of the most important figures in Italian cinema: Carlo Lizzani, Claudia Cardinale, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Burt Lancaster, Francesco Rosi, Vittorio Gassman, Massimo Girotti, Luigi Filippo D’Amico, Jean Marais, Enrico Medioli, Piero Tosi, and Franco Zeffirelli. These individuals provide an interesting overview of the director’s life and work. Better yet, archival interviews are also utilized here allowing Luchino Visconti himself to make important appearances along with Silvana Mangano, Alain Fabien, Giuseppe De Santis, and Lina Wertmüller.

The result is a chronological glimpse into the life of one of Italian cinema’s most unique voices. It covers such pertinent subjects as the neorealist movement, his life and politics, his work with Renoir, his stage work, and so much more. It would be easy to fault it for stopping after a mere hour but it really does cover a lot of ground. This is the perfect introduction for cinephiles who have not yet delved into Visconti’s unique cinematic universe.

Helmut Berger: The Mad King – (16:05)

Arrow’s brand new interview (shot in 2016) with Helmut Berger (who portrayed King Ludwig II of Bavaria in the film) is interesting as Berger had appeared in some of  Visconti’s other films. The downside is that his accent has a tendency to drown his English making it somewhat difficult to understand.

Theatrical Trailer – (03:49)

A film’s theatrical trailer is always a welcome addition to a disc’s supplemental package and this one is no exception.

Disc Two:

Speaking with Suso Cecchi d’Amico – (48:12)

This archival interview with Suso Cecchi d’Amico is as engaging as it is instructive. Amico’s screenwriting credits are humbling as she has worked with some of the greatest Italian directors on many of their greatest projects. She worked with Visconti on six of the director’s films: Bellissima (1951), Senso (1954), Rocco and His Brothers (1960), The Leopard (1963), Ludwig (1972), and Conversation Piece (1974). Her conversation here discusses her experiences working with the director.

Silvana Mangano: The Scent of a Primrose – (31:12)

The Scent of a Primrose is an excellent profile of Silvana Mangano that was produced for Italian television. It isn’t incredibly comprehensive but does provide a general overview that will be instructive for anyone who isn’t familiar with her work.

Producing Ludwig – (14:16)

Producing ‘Ludwig’ is a pleasant surprise since it isn’t advertised as one of the set’s supplements, but it is actually superior to Helmut Berger’s interview (in this reviewer’s humble opinion). It is a brand new interview with Dieter Geissler and offer’s a producer’s perspective about the production. Those who admire Italian cinema should find it interesting.

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Final Words:

This is an extremely interesting work from one of the masters of cinema and Arrow’s Blu-ray set is simply spectacular. This is an extremely important release and it is nice to see that Arrow has treated it accordingly. We hope that this is an indication of what one can expect from Arrow Academy in the future.

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Review by: Devon Powell

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Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Region: Region Free

Length:

Original Ending: 01:29:59

Alternate Ending: 01:31:17

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: Original English LPCM Mono Audio (48 kHz, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 1.78:1

Bitrate: 34.95 Mbps

Notes: This title has been given an underwhelming Blu-ray release from Image Entertainment and is available in various DVD editions (including an impressive 2-disc edition from Anchor Bay).

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 “Everything you learn and know melts into what you make in a film. But I think Vietnam, more than anything, was the influence on [The Hills Have Eyes], just realizing that you could send out the nicest American kids and they’ll come back having done things they never thought they could do. That the whole nature of warfare, as it began for Americans in Vietnam, was the idea of guerrilla warfare, where there were not only no uniforms [sic], but civilians were used as a device for political gain or sway. Civilians were killed in a routine matter. It was a whole turn where, as brutal as war was, it just felt like it hadn’t quite been that low before. Now it seems to have descended even lower with Palestinians sending their kids out with bombs strapped around their waists. It’s nightmarish, you know. That was the strongest influence on those films, just coming to terms with the death of the American Dream and the loss of American innocence and [a sense of] clear good and evil.” –Wes Craven (KNAC.com, January 1, 2004)

Wes Craven achieved critical and mainstream commercial success with A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and Scream (1996), but the 1970s was an interesting era in the history of American cinema. Westerns were violent, bloody, and painted a rather grim portrait of the American dream, while Horror became a home for angry and nihilistic young filmmakers to hold a mirror up to the current culture. Wes Craven was one of these filmmakers, and he made relentlessly unsettling horror films. His seedy $87,000 debut was originally titled Sex Crime of the Century (later titled Last House on the Left), and the film is famous for its unflinching depiction of rape and murder. Here was a filmmaker who thought nothing of breaking the rules. Anything might happen, and the low budget “documentary” approach made it feel uncomfortably real (despite a few questionable acting choices).

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The Hills Have Eyes was made by this same anarchic director for approximately $230,000. Taking a detour whilst on route to Los Angeles, the Carter family run into trouble when their campervan breaks down in the middle of the desert. Stranded, the family finds themselves at the mercy of a group of monstrous cannibals lurking in the surrounding hills. With their lives under threat, the Carters are forced to fight back by any means necessary.

As grueling a viewing experience today as it was upon initial release (although much less shocking in the wake of torture-porn), The Hills Have Eyes was undoubtedly a huge leap forward in the evolution of Wes Craven. He still had a relentless disregard for convention and good taste, but experience had taught him a few things. This film is better made than his previous effort. Arrow’s Blu-ray packaging calls The Hills Have Eyes Wes Craven’s “masterpiece.” This is stretching their credibility rather thin, because while the film is certainly a major entry in the director’s filmography; it is a far cry from his best effort. Having said this, it is essential viewing for avid horror freaks. Skip the remake and watch the original.

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The Presentation:

5 of 5 Stars

This is the epitome of wonderful packaging. It is such an attractive release that it might be difficult to do it justice here. Three items are held in a very sturdy box featuring artwork by Paul Shipper: The Arrow Blu-ray disc, a collector’s booklet, and a reversible foldout poster featuring both the original one sheet and the new Paul Shipper design.

 limited-edition

The Blu-ray disc is housed in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with a reversible sleeve that allows fans to showcase either the Paul Shipper artwork or the film’s original one-sheet. It is nice that Arrow has also offered fans the opportunity to utilize the film’s original one-sheet art because we feel that the new art is a bit busy. However, this is a matter of taste and there is little doubt that some will prefer the alternative. In addition to the Blu-ray disc, the case houses six postcards featuring various foreign posters used to market the film upon its original release.

The collector’s booklet includes an interesting essay by Brad Stevens that discusses various 1970s horror tropes employed by the film and a consideration of the entire franchise by Ewan Cant. As is usual, the book is illustrated with related artwork and still photography.

menu

The disc’s animated menu utilizes footage from the film and is easy to navigate. Everything about this release is remarkable, and Arrow should be commended for their efforts.  

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The Hills Have Eyes was given a 4K restoration that was supervised by producer Peter Locke and this allows for a superior image transfer than those included on the previous Blu-ray release from Image Entertainment. The Super 16mm source and low budget nature of the film’s production seem to limit the results somewhat, but this cannot be blamed on Arrow’s transfer. The important thing is that this is a fantastic representation of the 16mm source. The booklet included with the Blu-ray detailed the film’s restoration process in technical detail:

“The film was scanned in 4K on a Northlight Film Scanner, selecting the reels in the best condition from two separate 35mm CRI elements struck from the 16mm AB Negative reels, which have been lost… Grading was performed on a DaVinci resolve and restoration was completed using PFClean.” –Liner Notes

 In some respects, this restoration transfer should probably receive a five-star rating, because the film probably looks as good as it possibly can on Blu-ray. Unfortunately, the limitations of the source keep it from looking as wonderful as people expect from the format. These expectations brought us down to a slightly unfair four stars. (Note: We had a similar experience grading the disc’s audio transfer.)

This is a much brighter presentation than viewers remember watching on previous home video releases and this allows for a significant increase in detail. Colors are more vivid than one might expect and appear to be relatively accurate if flesh tones are any indication. Purists will celebrate the fact that Arrow hasn’t scrubbed the image of its original grain (and there is a significant amount). Arrow should also be congratulated for rendering the transfer with a much higher bitrate than the Image release. The earlier disc had a bitrate of 17.99 Mbps while this disc nearly doubles this number at 34.95 Mbps. This accounts for the marked increase in detail and clarity. Fans of the film should be smiling.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow has opted to represent the film with a linear PCM track at 24-bits that remains faithful to the films Mono origins. Purists will certainly be pleased with this decision, but there will be a few who might prefer a manufactured surround experience such as the 5.1 track that was included on the original Anchor Bay DVD. These viewers should be informed that Anchor Bay’s 5.1 track was merely blown up mono and never sounded like a legitimate surround experience. In any case, such an experience wouldn’t likely add much to their enjoyment. The film’s gritty aesthetic is part of its charm. Dialogue sounds a bit clearer on this disc than in previous releases and ambiance and music are given room to breathe. One cannot imagine that the film could sound any better than this considering its low budget “grindhouse” origins. Weaknesses in the track result from these origins and cannot be improved upon.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Arrow offers up a fabulous supplemental package that goes beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations. There is no fewer than three feature-length audio commentaries and two full hours of legitimately informative video-based supplements. Disregarding the aforementioned commentary tracks, the disc provides over 2 hours of video-based supplemental entertainment. Other studios need to be paying attention. This is how you do it!

[Note: The only noticeable omission from the earlier home video releases of this film is a documentary on Wes Craven’s filmography. The program basically ran through the Craven filmography and included surface level interview commentary about each film up to that point in his career. However, Arrow Video has more than made up for that minor omission with a set of new superior additions.]

Audio Commentary with Wes Craven and Peter Locke

It is nice to have this engaging commentary from Wes Craven and Peter Locke ported over from the original DVD release of the film. The track repeats some of the information found elsewhere on the disc (including the incredible “making of” documentary), but it is rarely dull. It is probably the strongest of the three commentaries because it offers an account of the production from the actual filmmaker’s perspective.

Audio Commentary with actors Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Susan Lanier and Martin Speer

The actor’s commentary is perhaps less prone to give the listener concrete details about the making of the film, but all four participants are engaged and seem to be having a good time as they share general recollections about their experiences. There are some genuinely interesting anecdotes shared here, although it must be said that many if not all of these are discussed in the excellent documentary or the commentary with Wes Craven and Peter Locke. What stands out is how much fun they seem to be having re-watching the film some 40 years after they shot it. Even those who might be disappointed with the lack of practical knowledge shared here will no doubt enjoy listening.

Audio Commentary by Mikel J. Koven

Mikel J. Koven’s academic commentary offers an examination of The Hills Have Eyes and how the film owes a debt to the legend of Sawney Bean. Koven reads from the earliest published account of the legend in an effort to draw parallels between Sawney Bean and The Hills Have Eyes before drawing direct comparisons between the two. He also discusses the film’s various sequels and remakes in the same context. Those looking for an incredibly dry scholarly analysis of the film need look no further. However, viewers will want to stay on the main road if they prefer technical and anecdotal accounts of the production. What is nice about this track is that it offers the kind of theoretical examination that is missing in the other supplements.

Alternate Ending – (HD) – (11:35)

It’s always interesting to examine alternate endings but—as is often the case—one is glad that the filmmakers didn’t use this inappropriate “happy ending.” It drains the film of its power and the themes presented throughout the film aren’t quite driven home as effectively as it is in the “official” ending. One can even choose to watch the film with this ending instead of the theatrical ending but few will want to do this more than once.

Looking Back on ‘The Hills Have Eyes’(54:35)

This “making-of” documentary features interviews with Wes Craven, Peter Locke, Michael Berryman, Dee Wallace, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lanier and Eric Saarinen. They discuss in candid detail the trials and tribulations that went into the production in relatively comprehensive detail. This documentary was created for the film’s DVD debut and has been carried over to this fabulous disc. It might be the best supplement included here, and it is essential viewing for fans of the film (and for fans of the genre in general).

Family Business: Interview with Martin Speer (16:08)

Martin Speer was conspicuously missing from the “making of” documentary but Arrow makes up for his absence by offering this interesting stand-alone interview. Here he divulges some of his recollections from his experience working on the low budget production such as auditioning, stunt work, working in the elements, and special effects. This is a very nice companion to the included documentary.

The Desert Sessions:  Interview with Don Peak (11:00)

Don Peak is engaging and informative as he discusses writing and recording the film’s score. This short interview is another well-done piece that should be of special interest to anyone who has an interest in film scores. There is really quite a bit of value packed into this eleven minutes.

Never-Before-Seen Outtakes – (18:58)

One feels privileged to have the opportunity to watch this material. There are few truly amusing moments included in this reel of scrap footage but it is certainly interesting to see small glimpses behind the scene of the film.

Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots:

US Trailer – (02:43)

Vintage trailers are always amusing curiosities but what is striking about this trailer is that Wes Craven’s name is already being touted as a selling point due to the surprise success of The Last House On The Left.

German Trailer – (02:46)

This German trailer seems to be the same as the American trailer dubbed in German with “Hügel der blutigen Augen” written under the film’s American title. It is certainly interesting to hear the footage in German.

TV Spots – (01:54)

These TV Spots aren’t dissimilar from the theatrical trailer and utilize much of the same footage. The most interesting of these contain an opening text-based warning: “The following spot is for a new motion picture already acclaimed a terror classic. It might not be suitable for viewers under 17. You have five seconds to make your choice: turn the dial or discover… The Hills Have Eyes.

Image Gallery – (00:40)

The discs image gallery is really pretty standard and contains a collection of stills, advertisements, and posters used in the marketing of the film.

Original Screenplay (BD/DVD-ROM Content)

The PDF copy of the film’s original script is an interesting artifact and an instructive reading experience. It is really nice to have it included it on the disc.

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Final Words:

Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes is an essential exploitation film for anyone who has a particular fondness for horror. This is gritty balls-to-the-wall filmmaking with no regard for rules and reverence. Meanwhile, Arrow has been described by cinephiles as “The Criterion Collection of horror and exploitation.” Anyone who has ever wondered why they have such a great reputation should indulge in this great limited edition release as it is a sterling example of why the aforementioned description is absolutely on target.

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 Review by: Devon Powell

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Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: October 11, 2016

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:41:05

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4 AVC Video)

Main Audio: 5.1 Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio (3584 kbps / 48 kHz / 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 34.94 Mbps

Notes: This title was previously released on DVD but this is the film’s Blu-ray debut in North America.

title

“The remake thing did not happen just for Asian horror remakes, Hitchcock remade [one of] his own British thrillers. Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Yojimbo were well re-made—or cleverly adapted. In that sense, I am honored that three of my films, Jyoyu-rei, Ringu, and Dark Water were re-made. At the same time, I did have mixed feelings like, “Why can’t my Japanese original films [sic] be released in the US first?” –Hideo Nakata (HorrorTalk.com, April 29, 2011)

Personally, it is difficult not to agree with Nakata—especially considering the fact that his originals work quite well on their own. This is especially true of Dark Water (Honogurai mizu no soko kara). Nakata’s original film towers high above the re-make which is barely even remembered by audiences today. It is merely a footnote in J-Horror history (and Hollywood’s J-Horror remake craze). Actually, it wouldn’t be completely inappropriate to give Nakata the lion’s share of the credit for ushering J-Horror into America’s collective consciousness. In any case, it was after terrifying worldwide audiences with the blockbuster classic Ringu and its sequel that the director returned to the genre with Dark Water—another highly atmospheric tale of the supernatural. It became yet another critically acclaimed hit. However, it did not earn the same level of worldwide praise. David Kalat wrote of this in the limited edition booklet included in this Arrow release:

“Good as it is—brilliant, heart-aching, and anguished—by 2002, Dark Water was simply one of many. Ring [Ringu] had changed the world. And in the world that it had changed, it was no longer possible for one lone movie to stand out so distinctively. J-Horror had successfully littered the world with numberless copies of itself.” – David Kalat (Dead Wet Girls, Liner Essay, 2016)

Even a surface level examination will uncover many obvious connections to Ringu. In addition to the fact that Hideo Nakata was the primary creative force behind both projects, Dark Water was based upon “Fuyu suri mizu” (“Floating Waters”) which was a short story by Koji Suzuki (who had written the novel that Ringu was based upon). The film and was also beautifully shot by Jun’ichirô Hayashi—the same cinematographer who shot Ringu (not to mention Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse). However, Dark Water is an entirely different kind of thriller.

The story follows Yoshimi, a single mother struggling to win sole custody of her only child, Ikuko. When they move into a new home within a dilapidated and long-forgotten apartment complex, Yoshimi begins to experience startling visions and unexplainable sounds, calling her mental well-being into question, and endangering not only her custody of Ikuko but perhaps their lives as well. Dark Water successfully merges spine-tingling tension with a family’s heart-wrenching emotional struggle. The result is a subtly unsettling Japanese horror film that mixes psychological terror with the supernatural in interesting ways.

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The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses their Blu-ray and DVD discs in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with reversible film-related artwork. There is a newly commissioned Manga-book style cover by Peter Strain that actually surpasses the film’s original one-sheet (this is rare). This is one of Arrow’s best designs but it is nice that Arrow has also offered fans the opportunity to utilize alternative artwork that makes use of one of the film’s original one-sheet design. This reviewer usually opts to flip the sleeve to feature the one sheet art, but this is a rare exception. There is also an attractive booklet that includes an interesting essay by David Kalat (author of J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge, and Beyond) and an examination of the American remake by Michael Gingold. These essays are enhanced with a number of production stills.

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

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

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Picture Quality:

3 of 5 Stars

Dark Water is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio… The high-definition master was made available by Kadokawa Pictures. Additional restoration work was performed at Deluxe Restoration, London to remove dirt and debris and improve overall picture stability.” –Liner Notes

It is impossible to know to what extent the film has been cleaned up but it must be said that Arrow’s “restored” transfer looks less than completely satisfying. It is difficult to judge if the issues are due to inadequacies in the original source print or if they are the result of an older high definition transfer that was never meant for Blu-ray release. Detail is limited and less striking than one expects from Arrow but the relatively high bitrate used for the image transfer has kept distracting compression anomalies at bay.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The disc’s robust 5.1 Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio mix showcases the film’s impressive yet understated sound design masterfully without showing its seams and Kawai’s score is given not only room to breathe but space to play with the viewer’s mind. It is quite difficult for this English-speaking viewer to testify about the clarity of the Japanese dialogue but it should be said that it is well mixed and prioritized. The overall experience of this solid sound transfer is most effective.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow has provided over 1 hour and 38 minutes of video based supplemental material here for fans of the film to enjoy and although the merit of these short programs vary, each is a welcome addition to the disc. Upon final analysis, one feels that the disc might not live up to some of Arrow’s other releases but this might be because they have set the mark so high in the past. In any case, there isn’t any doubt that the disc offers more than most Blu-rays.

Hideo Nakata: Ghosts, Rings, and Water – (26:03)

Those initially reluctant to indulge in Hideo Nakata’s interview because it is in Japanese will be pleasantly surprised. While watching an interview in a foreign language can be more challenging than watching an image driven film, Nakata is consistently engaging as he speaks about his career as a film director, working on Ringu and Dark Water, and his feelings about the horror genre in general.

Koji Suzuki: Family Terrors – (20:20)

Koji Suzuki’s interview is equally engaging. Japan’s “preeminent horror novelist” discusses his writing career and how he became known as a horror author. He also talks at length about his work with Hideo Nakata on both Ringu and Dark Water. This interview should thrill fans of either one of these films (and fans of Suzuki’s writing).

Junichiro Hayashi: Visualizing Horror – (19:16)

Also engaging—though admittedly to a lesser degree—is this interview with Junichiro Hayashi about his career as a cinematography, the methodology of being a cinematographer in Japan, his collaboration with Hideo Nakata, and his aversion to horror films. There is quite a bit of good information here, and it is well worth the viewer’s effort.

The Making of Dark Water – (15:51)

The strongest of the archival supplements is this “making of” featurette. It consists of behind the scenes production footage and forgoes the usual surface level interviews that usually accompanies such footage. The result is an objective glimpse behind the curtain that should please fans of the film and anyone interested in filmmaking in general.

Interview with Hitomi Kuroki – (08:00)

This archival interview with Hitomi Kuroki (who portrayed Yoshimi Matsubara) barely manages to go beyond the usual EPK commentary that one expects from such interviews but she does manage to divulge some interesting information here. In any case, it is nice to have the interview included on the disc.

Archival Interview with Asami Mizukawa – (04:39)

The most interesting aspect of this archival interview is Asami Mizukawa’s audition footage. The actual interview is somewhat standard EPK material but it is an interesting artifact nonetheless.

Archival Interview with Shikao Suga – (02:55)

Shikao Suga discusses the pop song he wrote for the film’s final credits. This is standard EPK material and is obviously geared towards promoting one’s interest in seeing the film. Interestingly, the song discussed here feels oddly out of place in the film. One is thankful that it is only featured in the end credits.

Theatrical Trailer – (01:13)

For the most part, this Japanese theatrical trailer isn’t much different than those made for most domestic horror films. Unfortunately, the inappropriate pop song (by Shikao Suga) featured in the opening moments of the trailer doesn’t establish the appropriate mood for what is about to follow. The rest of the trailer plays out as anyone might expect and showcases a few of the film’s creepy moments. Having said this, one cannot say that the result does the film justice. However, it is nice to have such marketing materials included.

Theatrical Teaser – (00:37)

The teaser trailer is a slight improvement over the previous trailer and features much of the same footage.

TV Spots – (00:50)

Some of these TV Spots also include Shikao Suga’s inappropriate pop song and suffer from its inclusion, but one cannot say that seeing these promos isn’t interesting.

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Final Words:

Fans of J-Horror will no doubt wish to indulge in this terrific release of one of this subgenre’s seminal works. In many ways, the simple premise allows for a more consistent tone than Ringu enjoyed. It is certainly less convoluted than that earlier effort and the relative simplicity allows for a more consistent tone.

Review by: Devon Powell

 blu-ray-cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: October 04, 2016

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:34:01

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English Mono LPCM (48kHz, 16-bit)

Subtitles: English SDH

Ratio: 1.85:1

Bitrate: 31.98 Mbps

Notes: This title was previously released in various DVD editions.

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“Katrina is a very human type of vampire—meaning she has a lot of memories. So, her personality is that of a regular person. Meaning: She remembers love, she remembers the sun… She is a very good vampire because she’s survived for 2000 years. She’s from Egypt.” –Grace Jones (The Today Show, 1986)

Forgive me. Perhaps I’m a bit closed minded, but nothing about Katrina (the most iconic vampire represented in Vamp) strikes me as “regular.” One assumes that such bizarre people probably exist, but you don’t see many of them shopping at the nearest Wal-Mart. Who knows, though? This was the eighties. Nothing about the eighties seems particularly normal in retrospect.

This critic has always had difficulty with the vampire sub-genre. (Let the Right One In is an exception.) These films seem much too ridiculous to inspire any fear—partly because of the accepted aesthetic of the creature makeup when a vampire turns. Why must these poor souls become so outlandishly distorted? Such things tend to rouse laughter instead of screams. This particular issue is probably less relevant when discussing Vamp because it is designed as a horror-comedy.

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Grace Jones is shown here in full vampire make-up.

As a matter of fact, more than a few critics have noted that it bears more than a passing resemblance to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours—another bizarre journey through urban nightlife that feels like a waking dream. Of course, After Hours is the work of a master filmmaker, and Vamp is Richard Wenk’s feature debut. If you are wondering who Richard Wenk is, then the point has been adequately driven home. While After Hours walks a fine line between the absurd and the real, Vamp falls into an abyss of the absurd. What’s more, lines are delivered in the boldest of strokes—as if to drive home the comedic elements. Anyone who has ever seen an eighties film will recognize this particular tendency as one of the decade’s more prominent cinematic attributes.

The setup is solid enough (if not particularly original). Keith (Chris Makepeace) and AJ want to make the right impression at college and devise a plan to get them into the best frat house on campus. They head to the “After Dark Club” in their effort to find a stripper for a party their friends won’t forget, but the club is the home base for a den of vampires led by Kinky Katrina (Grace Jones)!

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The Theatrical One Sheet.

The film was a clear influence on From Dusk Till Dawn, but Vamp is more idiosyncratic. The film’s stylistic flourishes are extremely theatrical and are obviously inspired by the comic book aesthetic. The lighting is given a lurid color scheme of magenta and green, and the composition makes liberal use of canted angles. Nell Dickerson, who worked with the film’s lighting department claimed that the film’s budget influenced these stylistic decisions.

“In horror films, the set and lighting are especially intertwined. Part of that is the lack of budget to build the expensive set. It’s easier, quicker and cheaper to create the atmosphere with lights and gels.” -Nell Dickerson (Man Is the Warmest Place to Hide, July 16th, 2012)

Whatever the reasons were, the aesthetic choices made by Richard Wenk and his crew have made a lasting impression on everyone who has seen the film. Vamp polarized audiences upon its release and continues to do so to this day, but no one forgets having seen it. Perhaps this is the reason why Vamp has such a strong cult following. It is one of those unusual critical failures that simply won’t fade into the night… The green and magenta lighting continues to illuminate (even if you wish that it wouldn’t).

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The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Arrow Video houses their Blu-ray disc in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case with reversible film-related artwork. There is a newly commissioned comic-book style cover by the “Twins of Evil” that makes use of the film’s magenta and green color palette. This is one of Arrow’s better designs, but it is nice that Arrow has also offered fans the opportunity to utilize alternative artwork that makes use of one of the film’s original one-sheet designs.

Alternate One Sheet - Reverse Blu-ray Cover

This vintage one sheet was used for the Arrow disc’s alternate cover.

There is also an attractive booklet that includes an interesting essay by Cullen Gallagher about the film and what it has to offer. This booklet also includes film related photographs and artwork.

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 The disc’s animated menu utilizes footage from the film and is easy to navigate. It is rare that such an obscure film receives such an attractive release, and Arrow should be commended for their efforts.

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Picture Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

As is usually the case, Arrow’s transfer is quite strong technically. The film’s unusually lurid color scheme seems to be accurately rendered here and is enhanced by an impressive level of detail and clarity (for a film that is 30 years old). It is nice to see that the transfer keeps a healthy layer of film grain intact, and this gives the film an old school texture that cinephiles will enjoy.  A few minor imperfections that seem to be inherent in the source do admittedly arise on occasion (such as light flicker and the occasional soft shot). 

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The mono LPCM track is also quite solid and handles all aspects of its mix adequately. Some might wish for a more dynamic mix to exercise their expensive sound systems, but purists will be more than happy that Arrow opted to represent the film’s original mono origins. This is a very nicely rendered sound transfer.

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Special Features:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Dracula Bites the Big Apple (1979) – (22:03)

Before he signed on to make his feature debut, Richard Wenk directed this quirky short that brought Wenk the attention of Donald P. Borchers. Borchers was apparently so impressed by this idiosyncratic “musical” short that he approached the director about collaborating on a feature film. This project became Vamp.

Dracula Bites the Big Apple shows even less restraint than Vamp and is an unusual experience in its own right. It is nice to have this included here, but the silly humor isn’t for everyone. One might even begin to wonder how such a film managed to earn him the trust of Borchers.

One of those Nights: The Making of “Vamp”(44:30)

This brand new documentary featuring interviews with director Richard Wenk, stars Robert Rusler, Chris Makepeace, Dedee Pfeiffer, and Gedde Watanabe should be a lesson on how to approach retrospective documentaries. Make no mistake: this isn’t the same tired EPK fluff that takes up space on so many Blu-rays. Here viewers are actually given a bit of information about how the project came together, their experiences working on the film and the fondness that they all have for the film. Especially amusing is the cast’s recollections about working with Grace Jones, but it would be a shame to ruin this for everyone by talking about it in detail!

Behind-the-Scenes Rehearsals – (06:41)

Grace Jones seems to be enjoying herself as she rehearses her vampire attack scene with Richard Wenk. It is actually rather interesting to see them figure out the various beats of the scene. This particular footage adds much more value to the disc than one might guess.

Blooper Reel – (06:14)    

It is interesting to see the few bloopers from “behind the scenes” of Vamp that are presented here. A fairly large percentage of the footage is set to Genesis’ “I Don’t Care Anymore” (for inexplicable reasons). Fans of the film should defiantly find this worth watching.

Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots:

This gallery of trailers and television spots are amusing for their interesting glimpse into the marketing of this cult classic.

Trailer #1 – (01:27)

Trailer #2 – (01:58)

TV Spots – (03:44)

They all have quite a bit of footage in common, and this can become repetitive but it is nice to have them all here to compare.

Image Gallery

Finally, there is a slide show of various production stills and promotional materials. Some of the publicity items are especially interesting.

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Final Words:

Arrow’s new Blu-ray release of this title is beyond reproach, but Vamp isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It can’t be described as a particularly effective horror film, and the intentional comedy sometimes feels strained. However, it somehow manages to engage the viewer throughout its entire duration, and those in the proper mood will likely enjoy what the film has to offer.

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Review by: Devon Powell