Blu Ray Disc:
Reviews of Selected Titles by John Gray
Ahhhh... the format wars continue, and thanks to Anchor Bay, we get Blu Ray discs of some classic horror films just in time for Halloween.
Let's start with my favorite of the bunch, and favorite all around film of all time....the one, the only, the classic....John Carpenter's Halloween. Now, keep in mind the film is thirty years old, and there remains deficiencies with the source material, though nothing too severe. Overall, it's a clean print, with no major blemishes or anomalies to mar the picture. However, there are dirt speckles here and there, and considerable film grain visible in some shots. Colors are also somewhat dull by today's standards, and frequently inconsistent. I notice occasions when hues seemed to fluctuate slightly within a single shot, or vary noticeably from shot to shot. Fleshtones also were a bit lacking to me, with faces somewhat reddish instead of a vivid orange. Again, Halloween looks far from awful, but certainly not on par with the color reproduction seen on today's modern transfers.
That said, this is still a good-looking presentation of a film almost three decades old. Blacks are rock solid, and contrast quite good. The image does pop quite often, especially some of the night scenes, which can look nearly three-dimensional. Sharpness is also not too shabby, though a bit soft most of the time. I was almost impressed with the lack of any pixelization -- for a transfer minted from a print that's somewhat inconsistent, I noticed no blocking or other motion artifacts, even on the grainiest scenes or those with a lot of fast action. The 5.1 sound mix is great and the extras are minimal. Nothing new, but certainly fun to revisit the Carpenter/Curtis/Hill commentary, and Fast Film Facts is pretty cool for people who don't want to endure a full length commentary, and the "Halloween: A Cut Above the Rest" featurette is a nice addition to the disc.
Moving on to the best transfer of the bunch, George A. Romero's masterpiece Dawn of the Dead. Technical clutter aside, Dawn looks better on Blu Ray than ever. Color reproduction on Dawn of the Dead is improved considerably over the standard DVD release, especially the richer reds and more vibrant blues in dark scenes. Fleshtones, too, look more accurate. Contrast is a bit brighter as well, which gives the picture added depth, and blacks are nice and solid. There is visible grain present, but it is appropriate to the film's age, and hardly excessive. The source material, however, does suffer from occasional dirt and speckles. Nothing severe, but the print is not absolutely pristine. Detail is impressive for a film from the seventies, though the image still looks a tad dated. Some shots suffer from an obvious softness, and overall three-dimensionality can't compare to a modern transfer. Ultimately, Dawn of the Dead is a strong catalog effort from Anchor Bay, and should please fans of the film. The 5.1 sound mix is excellent, and the extras (while trimmed a bit) are a nice addition. With Dawn we get audio commentary with George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Chris Romero and Perry Martin, Fast Film Facts, "The Dead Will Walk" featurette, on-set home movies, Monroeville Mall Tour, and a Monroeville Mall commercial.
Now, Day of the Dead being a tad newer, you would think it would look at least a little better than Dawn, but surprisingly it does not. Don't get me wrong, the picture quality looks great and hosts an image that delivers spot on colors, hues, and highlights. Details are well rendered, giving a the film a more dimensional look than was ever possible in the standard definition releases. The opening title sequence is just as soft and grainy as on the standard DVD, and the same interior sequences still appear a bit subdued. As noted prior, these shortcomings appear to be attributes of the original source material and not new imperfections caused by the high-definition mastering, blu or red. Audio is well rendered in a 640kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix, on par with the standard DVD disc. Directional effects are improved here and the low-end channel plays a more active role than before. For a film of this age, the high-definition treatment has definitely improved its replay value. As for the extras, we get Audio commentary with George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Cletus Anderson and Lori Cardille, Audio commentary with filmmaker Roger Avary, "The Many Days of Day of the Dead" featurette, Fast Film Facts, Behind-the-scenes videos, Audio interview with Richard Liberty, and a Gateway Commerce Center Promo.
Now, on to Evil Dead 2, which I had expected to look a little better. But still, it's twenty plus years old and a low budget 16mm film... what do you expect? Given the circumstances, the film looks great! The image is quite sharp and well defined (minus the fine line of grain that runs throughout the entire film). The colors are brighter this time around and the contrast is more striking than the standard DVD, again stemming from an improvement in the overall look of the film itself. The audio comes by way of a 640bps Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix, working to improve the soundstage beyond the capabilities of the former standard DVD release, yet the low end, improved though it is, doesn't seem to perform to its fullest potential; it rumbles but never to the level of punch we've come to expect of late. Extras are slim and the same as the standard DVD... but still worth a second look. Audio commentary with Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Scott Spiegel and Greg Nicotero, Fast Film Facts, Behind the Screams featurette, and The Gore the Merrier featurette.
And finally, we have Masters of Horror: Season 1 Volumes 1 & 2. Given that these are practically brand new, you would think they would look better than the previous films discussed in this review... but surprisingly, they don't. The grain in these releases are very noticeable, but I'm not shocked given that these were shot for cable. I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting much image-wise from 'MOH.' These short films have been released and re-released so many times already on disc, in versions that were good but not mind-blowing, that I already assumed this would just be another ho-hum transfer, high-def or not.
However, it is blu ray and Anchor Bay has done a very fine clean-up job on this one. Colors are also terrific, with rich, natural hues and no oversaturation. Fleshtones, too, are nice and orange-y. The image is also nice and detailed, from the wide shots of cityscapes that look sharp and three-dimensional, to close-ups that reveal every little pore on the actors foreheads. Contrast also excels across the entire grayscale but is not overpumped, which gives the transfer plenty of pop without sacrificing realism. They boat a nice 5.1 sound mix and the extras are nigh... only boasting audio commentaries with cast and/or crew on each disc.
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