Posts Tagged ‘Horror’

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Arrow Video

Release Date: June 13, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:33:19

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 2.0 LPCM Audio English 1536 kbps / (48 kHz, 1536 kbps, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3151 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English (SDH)

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate: 34.89 Mbps

Notes: This package contains a DVD copy of the film in addition to the Blu-ray.

Title

Helmed by legendary producer/director Ovidio Assonitis (the man behind cult genre entries such as The Visitor and Piranha II: The Spawning), Madhouse is a crimson-soaked tale of sibling rivalry taken to a terrifying and bloody extreme.

Julia has spent her entire adult life trying to forget the torment she suffered at the hands of her twisted twin Mary, but Mary hasn’t forgotten. Escaping the mental hospital that protects the outside world from her unusual brand of psychosis, Julia’s sadistic sister vows to exact a particularly cruel revenge on her sibling this year—promising a birthday surprise that she’ll never forget.

The film is an Italian production shot entirely in Savannah, Georgia and has been released under a plethora of titles (including And When She Was Bad and There Was a Little Girl). It fuses the slasher genre with the over-the-top excess of ‘80s Italian terror—resulting in a cinematic bloodbath that the British authorities outlawed as another in a line of “video nasties.”

Seen today, however, it is difficult to understand why the British censors felt the need to ban the film. It seems quaint by contemporary standards. Audiences can see more horrifying gore in a number of more recent films and the film isn’t particularly suspenseful when one compares it with the likes of better entries into the genre (such as John Carpenter’s Halloween). Those with a fondness for the genre will find it enjoyable enough (if only for the film’s many camp elements), but it probably won’t register with most audiences.

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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 Marc Schoenbach and what is presumably the film’s original one sheet artwork (which is marginally superior to Schoenbach’s artwork for this release. As is their custom, they also include an attractive booklet that features an essay by John Martin entitled “The Occult, Octopi, and Ovidio Nasties – The Amazing Exploitation Career of Ovidio G. Assonitis” (the subject of which is more than a little self-explanatory). It should enhance the viewer’s appreciation of the film or at least provide the viewer with a contextual background.

[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

According to Arrow’s packaging, this is a “brand new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative.” We will simply have to take their word for it, because it isn’t a particularly strong image. This might very well be a result of less than stellar production elements instead of any deficiencies in the transfer and restoration. After all, Arrow Video has a solid track record with their restorations, and utilize a maxed out bitrate to make the most of their work. In any case, Madhouse exhibits warm but natural colors and a fair amount of detail and healthy gradation in dark areas of the frame. Depth is also reasonably strong during most of the exterior sequences. It is also pretty clean despite a few anomalies such as specks of dust or the occasional scratch that never become distracting. It is clear that the restoration team has done a decent job keeping such blemishes at bay. The film has a relatively soft aesthetic that isn’t helped by the fine layer of grain. The grain is fairly natural but does occasionally fluctuate and is sometimes heavier than it is throughout the majority of the film. The image sometimes goes out of focus, but this is obviously the result of the original photography. When compared to earlier DVD editions of the film, it becomes clear that this new transfer contains a bit at the top and left side of the frame. This is certainly good news as it seems closer to the original theatrical presentation.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Arrow includes both the film’s original 2.0 mix as a track and a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix for fans who prefer a slightly more dynamic sonic experience. The latter option spreads some of the ambient sounds and some of the music across the channels. It isn’t an overwhelming difference, but some viewers will likely prefer this option. Purists will gravitate towards the 2.0 Linear PCM Audio option, which is every bit as solid and represents the original theatrical experience. Dialogue is crisp, clear, and intelligible and the score is given adequate breathing room.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary with ‘The Hysteria Continues’

Some readers are bound to be asking themselves, “Who or what is ‘The Hysteria Continues’?” The Hysteria Continues is a podcast dedicated to slasher movies and the Italian Giallo genres. The four genre fanatics responsible offer a discussion (and sometimes debate) about such subjects as the film’s video nasty status, comparisons to other genre films, production design, and other such pertinent topics. Frankly, I could live without the track. The participants are really just fan boys with no connection to and little knowledge about the film’s production. They can’t even pronounce the director’s name properly.

Alternate Opening Titles – (03:01)

Aternate Title

The only real difference between this alternate title sequence and the one used in the body of this film transfer is that this sequence utilizes one of the film’s alternate titles (There Was a Little Girl).

Running the Madhouse – (12:40)

Edith Ivey’s interview is somewhat short, but the actress does recall some interesting tidbits of information about the production. Ivey portrayed Amantha Beauregard in Madhouse and doesn’t seem to have any real affection for the film. In fact, she seems genuinely shocked that anyone would even be interested in hearing about it. She talks about Ovidio Assonitis and his demand for histrionics (our words not hers).

Framing Fear – (19:32)

Roberto D. Ettorre Piazzoli discusses his working relationship with Ovidio Assonitis and his cinematography in the film. He makes a few comparisons to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Many will agree that this is the best of the three included interviews do to its scope. One simply feels that it covers the most territory.

Ovidio Nasty – (07: 44)

Ovidio Assonitis (producer/director) reveals the classic films that influenced Madhouse. It is nice to hear from Ovidio himself, but one feels his interview is slightly anemic compared to the other two interviews (neither of which was particularly comprehensive).

Theatrical Trailer – (03:04)

The theatrical trailer has been rarely seen in recent years before Arrow decided to include it on this disc, and fans should be thrilled to have it here (even if it isn’t particularly unique).

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Final Words:

Madhouse was a made-to-order slasher knock-off with over the top performances and questionable logic that should appeal to viewers looking for a campy romp through typical 1980s slasher schlock. It is one of those “so bad that it is good” movies. Arrow Video has provided genre fans with a decent upgrade to the previous DVD editions and has included some interesting supplemental material to sweeten the deal. However, it certainly isn’t for everyone.

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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.]

Menu.jpg

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.

SS06

Review by: Devon Powell

 

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Universal Studios

Release Date: April 18, 2017

Region: Region Free

Length: 01:57:07

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 24-bit)

Alternate Audio:

5.1 Spanish DTS

5.1 French DTS

Dolby Digital DVS (Descriptive Video Service)

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, English SDH, French, Spanish

Ratio: 2.39:1

Bitrate: 34.89 Mbps

Note: This release includes a DVD, a digital, and an UltraViolet copy of the film.

Title.jpg

“What’s really interesting about [Dissociative Identity] Disorder is that it’s controversial. Even in the field, they’re saying I’m not sure any of this is legit. A lot of people. I believe in it, 100%. It’s interesting—it’s almost like what you’re asking is what the field is asking themselves. How much of this is fact? How much of what you’re saying can be proved? … But everything was [taken] from documented cases. The person who was blind and then some of their identities could see. One identity has diabetes but none of the other identities have diabetes. One has high cholesterol, one doesn’t, one is allergic to bee stings, the rest aren’t. Your body chemistry is so affected by your mind. We know this. We just haven’t been faced with this. We know we can give ourselves an ulcer. We know we can raise our blood pressure. We know that we can give ourselves hives. If we can do those things, what other things can your mind do? We know the placebo effect exists. I so much wanted to make a movie about the placebo effect—were all just walking around, accepting the Placebo Effect? Everybody just knows that a certain percentage of us can cure our diseases because we think we have the cure—but it’s sugar? Your cells are cured! You change your cells.” –M. Night Shyamalan (Empire Online, January 24, 2017)

Despite some somewhat ridiculous negative publicity surrounding the film’s portrayal of Kevin’s Dissociative Identity Disorder (for alleged stigmatization of the mental illness), Split can safely be called an enormously successful thriller. It asks interesting questions while also delivering a well-balanced and suspenseful blend of dark comedy and horror. This film is M. Night Shyamalan’s strongest effort in well over a decade—topping even The Visit, which was considered a return to form for the director.

Much has been written about James McAvoy incredible performance in the film but Anya Taylor-Joy’s portrayal of Casey Cooke is just as noteworthy. Casey is an outsider dealing with an unknown troubled past. This sounds like yet another genre cliché, but Shyamalan uses this genre trope differently than we have seen it used in the past. He doesn’t use her backstory in order to give the superficial impression of a three-dimensional character. Her backstory is woven into the very fabric of his story and its various themes.

“The conversation was about the things that happen to us, that change us. Is that bad? Is it always true that being normal is the right place? That non-suffering is the way of life, you know? I think Casey’s character feels that as well: she feels detached from everyone because she feels so different. She’s had a different experience. These kind of healthy girls that she’s with, she can’t really relate to them. They’re not mean—they’re actually really nice. It’s the flip of a [conventional] horror movie—normally, they’re bad girls who are having sex and doing drugs, so they get killed. It’s a flip in this movie: you’re in a life—threatening situation because you’re good. I was explaining this to everyone; ‘These are the nice girls.’” –M. Night Shyamalan (Den of Geek, January 17, 2017)

One doesn’t want to be too specific (it would be a crime to give too much away before allowing readers to see the film)—but when one really considers some of the thematic concerns hiding beneath the surface of Split, it isn’t terribly surprising to learn that the roots of the project reach all the way back to Unbreakable.

“I wrote this character [Kevin] and a bunch of the scenes you saw in the movie for the Unbreakable script. He was the original antagonist and David Dunn was going to meet him in the original script. I couldn’t get it right. I couldn’t get the balance right. It just kept wanting to eat away at the other movie, [so] I pulled Kevin out. I wanted a really slow burn movie and Kevin’s not a slow burn. I said, ‘let me pull him out for a second and concentrate on these other two characters.’ I came up with the idea for Elijah [Mr. Glass]. He was always an advisor. The three of them were always in it but he went from benevolent advisor to the opposite of David Dunn! It became so obvious. Then I said I’d do this next as the next piece in this, but I guess I felt that the reaction at the time was weird and wonky to Unbreakable—especially in the United States. ‘What is this? A movie about comic books?’ The studio didn’t want to sell it as comic books because they felt comic books were not sellable… Ironically now, Disney, that’s all they do.” –M. Night Shyamalan (Empire Online, January 24, 2017)

Unbreakable

Bruce Willis as David Dunn in Unbreakable (2000)

It seems that early drafts of Unbreakable found David Dunn (Bruce Willis) bumping into one of Kevin’s alter egos instead of bumping into the man in the orange suit. He then went to save the girls.

“Some of the Kevin Wendell Crumb scenes were already completely written all the way back then. One of the ‘Patricia’ scenes, the ‘Hedwig’ introduction scene—those were written over 15 years ago. I have them written by hand in my notebooks.” –M. Night Shyamalan (Entertainment Weekly)

This is quite a revelation. This reviewer has always felt that Unbreakable ties with The Sixth Sense as M. Night Shyamalan’s best film and it has legions of other fans who bombard the director with questions about a follow-up. After watching Split, the chances of this happening suddenly seem somewhat likely. We only hope that M. Night Shyamalan hires Eduardo Serra as a cinematographer to help him capture the film’s fluid camera style and James Newton Howard to write a follow-up to his original score… I am digressing but this digression is relevant—and those wondering why this is relevant will have to watch the film.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 Stars

 Universal protects the discs in a standard Blu-ray case with a sleeve featuring better than average film-related artwork. The case itself is protected with a slipcover showcasing the same artwork.

Menu

The disc’s static menu features artwork from the film’s original one-sheet accompanied by music from the film. It is both attractive and easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Mike Gioulakis’ digital cinematography is perfectly represented here with excellent clarity. Noise is never an obvious issue (even if it is present in a few scenes). Fine detail is always impressive as fabrics, textures, pores, wrinkles and a vast array of minutia are easily visible throughout the duration of the film. Colors accurately reflect those seen in theaters and are mostly subdued with certain exceptions (like the yellow in Hedwig’s jacket). Contrast is accurate and black levels are deep without unintentional crushing. Universal’s maxed out bitrate keeps compression issues from marring the image. This is simply an outstanding transfer from Universal!

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Sound Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio offers exactly what genre fans desire and expect from a surround mix. It manages to be simultaneously subtle and dynamic while each of the elements including dialogue, effects, sonic ambiance, and music are well prioritized. This is an excellent representation of the film’s theatrical mix and has very much the same effect.

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Special Features:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Deleted Scenes – (14:37)

Scenes with optional Introductions by M. Night Shyamalan – (26:37)

This collection of scenes deleted from the final cut of the film (together with the Alternate Ending) is by far the most substantial supplement included here, and the fact that they include short contextual introductions by Shyamalan only sweetens the deal. Unfortunately, it seems that there is quite a bit of deleted footage that wasn’t included here. M. Night Shyamalan has revealed in various interviews that the original rough cut of the film was three-hour hours in length—and it is difficult not to feel short-changed by these fourteen and a half minutes of deleted material. Where are the other 45 minutes?

One of the absent deleted sequences is now legendary in fan circles and would have made Unbreakable fans very happy indeed:

“There was another version of the credit sequence which was [a] comic book, which was graphic images of The Beast and then David Dunn and then Elijah and then them all mixing together. When I saw it done I was like, ‘This is a fucking home run,’ and then when I put it on the movie it didn’t work… It’s one thing to say, ‘You saw an origin story,’ but to go into other characters… David Dunn is reacting to the news of The Horde. End of story. If you keep going it starts to undermine the movie you just saw.” –M. Night Shyamalan (We Got This Covered)

However, even though there is much missing from this collection, the nine scenes included on the disc are both entertaining and instructive:

Casey at Party – (01:14) or (02:52)

This scene originally opened the film and features an out of place Casey at a birthday party. The scene obviously would have led directly to the sequence that ended up beginning the film. It is really a pretty strong character moment.

Meeting Shaw – (02:07) or (04:03)

This scene is one of three deleted scenes to feature Shaw—a character deleted from the film’s final cut. Shaw is Dr. Karen Fletcher’s neighbor and a professor with knowledge of the human brain. Fletcher obviously has an inappropriate crush on Shaw and their scenes together highlight her loneliness. This and the other two scenes also deliver information about the power of the human brain to the audience.

Shaw Has a Party – (02:17) or (03:15)

This scene occurs at Shaw’s apartment during a get-together and finds Dr. Fletcher feeling slightly jealous of three other women while also feeding more information to the audience.

Shaw’s Date – (02:16) or (03:49)

The final scene finds Dr. Fletcher calling on Shaw when he is about to go on a date. His date argues with her about Dissociative Identity Disorder and this leads to an awkward moment between Fletcher and Shaw. All three of the “Shaw” scenes are interesting, but it is easy to see why they were deleted from the film.

Girls Talk – (00:52) or (02:02)

Some of this short scene features in the film’s theatrical trailer (which is inexplicably left off of the disc) and is a short dialogue between the three kidnapped girls about their kidnapper’s intentions.

Patricia Talks Meat – (01:56) or (03:24)

This is an extended scene with new content—including creepy dialogue about the feeding habits of animals and the number of teeth in a tiger’s mouth—but it is essentially about Casey trying to persuade Patricia to let them eat their meal in the kitchen area (so that she can leave the room).

Casey Tells Her Dad – (01:13) or (02:30)

This is a deleted flashback that finds a younger Casey telling her Dad that she doesn’t want her Uncle to go with them on hunting trips.

Hide and Seek with Hedwig – (01:48) or (02:35)

This is an extension of a scene in the film where Hedwig plays “hide and seek” with Casey before leading her to his room.

Maybe We Are Crazy – (01:03) or (02:14)

Dennis questions their plan after attacking Dr. Fletcher.

Alternate Ending – (00:32)

 Scene with optional Introduction by M. Night Shyamalan – (01:37)

The Horde looks down at school children from the top of a building lamenting about “all those unbroken souls.” It is a much darker ending in some ways but it is also a much weaker image than what is in the final film. It is very interesting to see what was originally envisioned.

The Making of Split – (09:50)

This isn’t the comprehensive look behind the making of Split that fans will be anticipating. It is really more of a catch-all general discussion about the film put together from the usual navel-gazing EPK material. One feels that this release really deserves a bit more than a ten-minute discussion that reveals about a minutes worth of worthwhile information.

The Filmmaker’s Eye: M. Night Shyamalan – (03:40)

The Filmmaker’s Eye is a standard EPK promo camouflaged to look like a discussion about M. Night Shyamalan’s working methods—it utilizes some of the same interview clips found in the “making of” featurette and the information could’ve been included as part of the “making of” piece.

The Many Faces of James McAvoy – (05:38)

The Many Faces of James McAvoy is yet another short EPK that repeats a few clips from the other segments and never really delves any deeper than “James McAvoy was perfect casting and gave an excellent performance.” It’s nice to have it here but—like the piece on Shyamalan—this could’ve been included as part of the “making of” featurette.

Someday, we hope that Blu-ray producers will learn that quality trumps quantity. They aren’t fooling anyone.

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Final Words:

Split is a fun thriller that solidifies M. Night Shyamalan’s return to form and Universal’s Blu-ray release contains excellent image and sound transfers of the film!

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Review by: Devon Powell

Blu-ray Cover.JPEG

Distributor: Warner Bros.

Release Date: October 25, 2016

Region: Region A

Length: 81 min

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio:

English Descriptive Audio

Spanish (Latin) Dolby Digital

French (Canadian) Dolby Digital

Portuguese Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish (Latin), French (Canadian), & Portuguese

Ratio: 2.40:1

Bitrate: 32.81 Mbps

Notes: This release includes a DVD and Ultraviolet copy of the film and Warner Brothers is also releasing a DVD-only edition of the film.

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“People have been afraid of the dark probably since the dawn of time… It’s something even I feel in my bones.  So, rather than deny that impulse, we’re saying, ‘You were right.  You were right to be afraid because there is something there.’  We took that fear and created a monster out of it.”  -David F. Sandberg (Press Book)

David F. Sandberg’s quote cuts through to the heart of his debut feature’s core concept. Children and adults are both liable to imagine all sorts of things once they turn out the lights. People like knowing what lies before them and seek control of their surroundings. It is natural to fear darkness. What child doesn’t imagine malignant forces lurking in the nether regions of their closets or the shadows that lurk beneath their beds? Our imaginations create all sorts of monstrosities… But what if those monstrosities weren’t imagined? What if there is a malignant force that feeds on darkness and finds nourishment in our fear of it?

Lights Out was built on this concept, and it proves to be a relatively solid foundation on which to build a simple horror story. When Rebecca left home, she thought she left her childhood fears behind.  Growing up, she was never really sure of what was and wasn’t real when the lights went out…and now her little brother, Martin, is experiencing the same unexplained and terrifying events that had once tested her sanity and threatened her safety.  A frightening entity with a mysterious attachment to their mother, Sophie, has reemerged.  But this time, as Rebecca gets closer to unlocking the truth, there is no denying that all their lives are in danger—once the lights go out.

David F. Sandberg’s debut feature was created from a screenplay by Eric Heisserer that was based on Sandberg’s own short film.  Marketing materials for the film make an obvious effort to credit James Wan as the creative force behind the film, but it is clear that he is merely the marketing muscle. He served as producer on the project along with Lawrence Grey and Eric Heisserer. This approach must have been reasonably efficient because the film proved to be an overwhelming success at the box office.

Of course, this probably has as much to do with the positive word of mouth that the picture generated amongst young horror audiences. Having said this, it sometimes feels that this period in cinema history is an extremely low ebb for the horror genre. There have been a few brilliant horror entries in recent years, but most have simply been engaging but immediately forgettable. This entry seems to fall somewhere between these two extremes. The film is quite effective and has a hauntingly effective ending that should disturb reasonably intelligent viewers, but it isn’t quite as good as it could have been.

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The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

The disc is protected in a standard Blu-ray case with film-related artwork that originated on the film’s American one sheet (this artwork has been altered slightly). The presentation earns points for using the one-sheet artwork for this release because home movie marketing art is nearly always inferior. One can only hope that this becomes a trend.

 The menu utilizes the same image found on the cover but also crudely incorporates a still of the “Diana” entity. This was a mistake because the cover image would have served their purposes and the result would have been vastly superior. It is impossible to understand why anyone would have made such a decision. A loop from Benjamin Wallfisch’s score plays over this tacky image.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Warner Brothers has mastered their video transfer at the relatively high bitrate average of 32.81 Mbps, and this loving care results in a superior image that showcases the sharp detail captured in the film’s digital source materials. Marc Spicer’s lighting is typical of many horror films and features an abundance of shadows amongst pools of light. It is nice to report that these solid blacks seem to accurately reflect the original concept without running into any of the distracting anomalies (such as the crushing of image detail) that this sort of design sometimes creates on home video. The frame showcases quite a bit of depth and the transfer is up to this task as it renders each frame with remarkable clarity. There may be small traces of video noise that seem to be inherent in the source, but this never becomes problematic or distracting.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 Stars

Luckily, the 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio is an equally impressive if incredibly subtle sound mix that leans towards a more quietly menacing aesthetic for the most part. The sound design is extremely effective in its creepiness and creates an almost imperceptible paranoia in the viewer (or listener). The mix makes noble use of the various surround channels. It seems to wrap around the viewer as it sets the up for a few jump scares that are more effective due to the contrasting silence. Dialogue is consistently clear and mixed naturally and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score is given room to breathe some extra life into the overall soundscape.

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Special Features:

3 of 5 Stars

Three “Deleted” Scenes – (1080P)(13:58)

It is always nice to see what is left on the cutting room floor and this selection of deleted footage is obviously a welcome addition to the disc. As a matter of fact, it is a rather substantial supplement that provides a glimpse into a potentially very different film experience.

The first scene finds Rebecca as she is investigating her stepfather’s death. She calls the detective handling the case and he drills her about her mother and her mental health. He implies that her mother might have had something to do not only with her stepfather’s death (which we know isn’t at all true) but also her own father’s disappearance. It is a nice scene but ultimately unnecessary as it never actually leads to anything that happens later in the film.

The second scene isn’t so much a deleted scene as it is an alternate version of a scene that still exists in the final film. Rebecca and Martin discuss who Diana is and her connection to their mother. As presented here, the scene seems to be an extension of an earlier scene that is still in the finished film, but the filmmakers seem to have reshot the scene to occur a short time later and in another room. The alteration was an improvement.

The most interesting and certainly the most substantial deleted scene is the film’s original ending. The film’s ending raised quite a few eyebrows upon its release and for very good reason. David F. Sandberg has discussed the two endings at length in various interviews:

“Originally, we actually shot—not a different ending, but sort of an additional ending. After the whole thing went down at the house, the movie actually went on for almost 10 more minutes where we find out that this didn’t get rid of Diana, you know, and now depression has consumed Martin instead because his mom’s suicide affected him that much. She came back one more time and they dealt with her once and for all. But the interesting thing was that when we showed that to test audiences, they just hated it. They fill out these forms and there were people who wrote just across the entire form, ‘Get rid of the second ending.’ They found that having Diana return made Sophie’s sacrifice in vain. It was really interesting because you hear about test audiences and you think, ‘Oh, it’s going to be all dumb ideas.’ But it was surprising to find that it was actually something thoughtful…

…Because they felt that Sophie was sort of sacrificing herself for her children and to save their lives, and if Diana just came back right after, then, you know, she’d done that for nothing. So what we did was, we tried just cutting off the movie where it now ends and showing it to test audiences again and people loved the movie. The scores went up like 30 percent or something—just from cutting off the last few minutes. But now it was this feeling of, ‘Oh, shit.’ Even though people loved it, it could kind of be interpreted as… that suicide helped them, that it was the solution.” -David F. Sandberg (Interview with A.A. Dowd, A.V. Club, July 30, 2016)

It is difficult to fault the filmmakers for cutting off the film’s second ending because it simply doesn’t work. The original ending feels like the film ends twice. The first ending is what one might call a false happy ending. On the surface, it seems like a traditional “Hollywood” happy ending: evil is defeated and the three principal characters can move on with their lives. However, this isn’t quite true. Rebecca and Martin will always have to live with the pain resulting from their mother’s suicide. What could be more horrific than that? Having said this, it is important to remember that this is a horror film. The disturbing ending is in some ways very true to life. Many people who suffer from depression actually believe that they are doing what is best for their families. This is precisely why calling those who commit suicide selfish is absolutely ridiculous and completely untrue. They simply aren’t of sound mind. It is actually a very powerful ending… but could people misread it? Absolutely. We can only hope that the film’s inevitable sequel will focus on the pain and aftermath caused by the mother’s suicide.

The alternate ending only serves to muddy the waters. The filmmaker’s intentions aren’t at all clear, and everything about the ending feels forced and unnecessary. Actually, it is almost always a mistake to give a film two endings—the single exception might be the double ending included in the original Alien. Knowing where to end a film is important, and knowing not to end a film twice is simply common sense.

Of course, all of this controversy only makes the inclusion of these deleted scenes more substantial. Most would probably say that I scored the supplemental package rather high, but one prefers quality over quantity. Frankly, it has become unreasonable to expect much more than a collection of deleted scenes from a standard studio Blu-ray release in recent years. Actually, deleted scenes are becoming a rare part of the Blu-ray experience. Certainly, the most anyone can expect beyond this is shallow EPK fluff and theatrical trailers. While it wouldn’t have hurt Warner Brothers to include the film’s two theatrical trailers here, one certainly doesn’t miss having to sit through lifeless EPK fluff. The age of comprehensive “making of” documentaries has now passed.

Having said this, there is a glaringly obvious supplemental omission here. Since Lights Out is based on an original short by David F. Sandberg, the fact that the short isn’t included on this disc seems almost lazy. The aforementioned mini-movie is less than three minutes in length, but it would have made for instructive viewing had Warner Brothers seen fit to include it. File this oversight under “missed opportunity.” Had the disc included the short, we would have probably given this package an extra star.

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Final Words:

Those looking for a contemporary horror selection to help them celebrate Halloween could certainly do worse than Lights Out. This Warner Brothers Blu-ray release offers a solid transfer of the film and is the best way to view the film in one’s home environment.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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

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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.

title

“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.

Still

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)!

one-sheet

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.

menu

 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