Saturday, 31 January 2015

I Know What You Did Last Summer

Several teens celebrate the end of term with a margin of excess when they run a poor guy down on country roads, and then rather than owning up to the situation they decide to dump his body in the sea.  The problem being (as if there weren't enough) it looks like he was alive at the moment they pushed him in, meaning that they're now technically murderers.  Forbidding each other to speak of the act ever again they attempt to move on with their guilt-ridden lives.  Then, a year later, they begin receiving notes suggesting that someone saw what happened.  Following that a psychotic individual begins his vengeful murder spree...
Following hot in the dust-cloud left behind by Scream in the new wave of slashers, I Know What You Did Last Summer, released in 1997, appeared at the time to be a second-rate attempt to aspire to the success of Craven's film.  Unsurprisingly the screenplay was written by the man who also wrote Scream and its sequel.  Years on I actually prefer watching Jim Gillespie's less popular foray into this particular sub-genre.  The teen leads are appealing, particularly in the case of young, very sexy Jennifer Love Hewitt and cute Sarah Michelle Gellar.  Freddie Prinze Jr.'s turn as the poor boy stumbling into a rich world is sympathetically likable while Ryan Phillippe is the punchable bully boy really responsible for the whole mess.  Anne Heche also shows up briefly as the messed-up sister of the man run down by the teens.  It's an attractively shot film, efficiently edited with some rousing music along the way.  Taken in the right mood, and without expecting high class cinema, this is one of the most enjoyable entries in the slasher film's final stab at mainstream popularity.  Oh, and occasionally it's quite violent (the killer carrying around a very nasty hook), though the absence of nudity is lamentable.  Is it original?  No, of course not - I don't think I've seen a slasher film that is especially original.  However, it entertains on its own level, and that's the important factor.

The US Blu-ray looks pretty good, backed up by a powerful Dolby TrueHD audio track.  There's also a half hour making-of (in standard definition) and Gillespie's short film Joy Ride along with a couple of other bits.  Surprisingly the director has not been too busy, going on to do D-Tox with Stallone, and Venom but little else.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Anguish

An interesting oddity dating back to 1987, and shot in Barcelona, Anguish (or Angustia, or Im Augenblick der Angst) begins with an uncomfortable depiction of a grown man's homicidal tendencies combined with his close, possibly psychic relationship with his creepy mother, before revealing that this is a film playing in an American cinema.  Some of the viewers become increasingly disturbed by what they're watching on screen, before events in 'real' life begin to imitate those of the celluloid they're experiencing.
What I particularly liked about Anguish is the manner in which it blurs the lines between reality and cinematic fiction, crossing over the events of the two worlds with gradually heightening frequency and intensity.  Whilst it can be uncomfortable viewing at time, with some particularly gruesome sequences spattered throughout (and a little unnecessary animal cruelty in my opinion), the film's fascinating tightrope walk between supposed realities, combined with occasional surrealism, result in an original piece of work, that is often bizarre, captivating, and will beg to be watched repeatedly, until you yourself succumb to its spell of demented hypnosis...

The Germans, as usual edging ahead of many other countries in their selection of enticing catalogue titles for Blu-ray, have put out Anguish (as Im Augenblick...) with an excellent 2.35:1 full HD transfer, and a choice between English (naturally, as shot) DTS HD MA 5.1 or German in the same mode.  German subtitles are there of course, but thankfully they are removable.  At 24 frames per second it runs about 85 minutes.  At times boasting the feel of a classic Dario Argento exercise, the sound mix of this film is really important, reminding me in some ways of the direction they took with Berberian Sound Studio, entwining intricate sound patterns with a deliberately confused transition between realities for both the protagonist and the viewer, and headphone-use or surround listening is encouraged.  The cover is reversible - effectively the same artwork but without the red banner at the top, and missing the huge age restriction that seems to emblazon all German disc releases.  Needless to say it was turned around instantly upon opening...  The disc also comes with an interview and trailers - not exactly padded extras-wise but the very fact that something like this appears on Blu in such an attractive audio-visual presentation is to be rejoiced.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity

Yeah, that's where they're from.  Can I have directions please...?  In the far depths of space two female astronauts escape with their lives from potential slavery using a spacecraft that ultimately plummets into the tractor beam of another planet.  There they are taken in by an eccentric hunter who initially appears to be hospitable.  They are soon warned by one of the other 'guests' that they're in danger (a matter also hinted at by the collection of severed heads on one of the walls...) and have to head out on the run through the surrounding jungles in order to once again escape with their lives.

Directed for Taryn Productions by Ken Dixon in 1987 Slave Girls From Beyond Infinity is a pleasing science fiction romp on a very limited budget that makes up for shortcomings in the epic department with several gorgeous women who spend the entire film wearing very little.  While acknowledged scream queen Brinke Stevens might be present, for me the star of the show is Hungarian-born Elizabeth Kaitan (credited here as Cayton).  She's got a cute voice, lovely face, perfect body, and next to the other woman comes across as much more voluptuous - to see her running around scantily clad for almost an entire film is pretty much worth paying for the film alone.  Pity that she was never more widely famed in the eyes of genre fans as the other scream queens of the era were.
The sets are cheap, and the effects are base level.  Oddly the dialogue is not overtly humorous, which feels offbeat when spoken by actors who are clearly in quite ridiculous situations, but because of this restrained nature in the delivery I feel that the material works quite well.  I was never a fan of the OTT Troma style of script delivery.  I do, however, feel that the exploitation elements could have been enhanced somewhat (and given a 70 minute running time, there was certainly room for it!).  Considering the girls have next to nothing on for most of the film, there is surprisingly little in way of nudity (although it is thankfully there to some extent).  If you're gonna do it, then go the whole hog!  As a Saturday night after-drinks film though, this is not a bad way to end it.

Once released in the US by Cult Video, 88 Films in the UK many years later put out a DVD (as part of their Grindhouse Collection) with similar credentials on the surface.  The full frame (probably as shot) transfer is merely okay - serviceable.  I suspect a Blu-ray upgrade will never be on the cards unfortunately.  Luckily the 88 disc does improve a little on sharpness over the old disc, and colour is much more bearable than the red-hued transfer of old.  The Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack is, again, functional.  While both discs have a batch of trailers to enjoy, along with a couple of other minor titbits, the 88 disc excels by including a feature length documentary also by Ken Dixon called 'Famous T&A', which is basically exactly what it states, featuring clips of actresses who have at one time or another bared their flesh for Charles Band (and other) productions.  Rough quality standard definition (closer to VHS quality actually) does not detract much from the novelty factor of having this grimy little piece as a bonus, so well done to 88 for including that.  The final advantage of the 88 disc is that is has a reversible cover with alternate artwork on the rear.  I prefer the main cover (pictured) as it replicates the art of the old video tape that I once owned many moons ago.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Puppet Master II

A posse of creepy autonomous puppets resurrect their creator in a cemetery during the dead of night.  Returning to the derelict Bodega Bay hotel where they formerly reaped havoc they gradually pick off a team of paranormal researchers that have moved in there temporarily, while Toulon, their exhumed master, masquerades as the new owner of the place.  Toulon himself recognises the resemblance of one of the investigators to his lover from decades previous, who may be reincarnated here in good old Egyptian fashion.
Continuing with a near-identical vein to the first entry in a very long series, Band obviously realised that the formula worked well enough to be a success and decided not to change it much at all.  I do feel that the exploitation elements could have been embellished - gore and nudity are there only in small doses - but essentially the puppets themselves are the draw of the show here, so I guess most of the attention is focussed on them.  They're given life by various means and it's always pleasing to watch stop motion (which makes up much of the technique used) photography in action.  They are suitably sinister designs all round.  The main problem for me is Richard Band's composition, a near relentless whiny soundtrack that rarely seems to consider the on-screen sequence that it is depicting (e.g. you might get the same feel of music in the background for someone walking across a corridor as you would for somebody else being drilled through the head).  I really try to see the appeal in Richard's work but for me his material sometimes strips a film of its dramatic potential.  While the film as a whole could have been tightened up, there are good moments spattered throughout- Charlie Spradling looks as good as ever (remaining somewhat underused in my opinion) and there's a great Action Man sequence with his child owner (who is whipping the soldier - that never happened in Toy Story!) then finding a real living doll...

Puppet Master II (1990) is a relic of the VHS era when films were being churned out specifically with the intention of putting them out in video stores.  The 88 Films Blu-ray is a nice way to experience the film.  The full HD image (1.78:1 running 88 minutes at 24 fps) is lively, bright, and often very attractive to look at - a noticeable improvement over DVD.  The DTS-HD MA audio track that makes Band's score sound better than it has any right to.  The extras package is the same as the DVD, with a Charles Band commentary, an introduction to the film itself running a couple of minutes, a 21 minute historical making-of documentary, plus plenty of trailers.  The package is presented with reversible cover art so you can switch it around if you prefer, and an eight page booklet talking about Puppet Master II, the series itself, Band and Full Moon, and contains snippets of information/interview quotes from Charles Band.  It's a nice read, rounding off a good package that improves on its American cousin (which had mere Dolby Digital audio and no booklet or reversible sleeve).

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Sleepwalker

Sleepwalker was made in 1984 by a promising film-maker called Saxon Logan.  It's a politically underscored drama about two obnoxious couples who after an evening meal head back to stay the night at the rotting house owned by one of them.  Unfortunately one of the group is afflicted with violent somnambulist tendencies and the night will end in tragedy.  Running at only 50 minutes in length Sleepwalker is about right in its pacing.  It's a thoroughly British affair, although the characters are hardly an attractive representation of our over-filled island.  There is a fine air of decay, particularly in the home (English man's castle...?) and as the story threads its way to the finale it is evident that some influence emanates from the Italian giallo cinematic movement.  There is also a reminiscent touch of the TV series Hammer House of Horror - I feel that Sleepwalker could almost have been a part of that series.

The Rank studio did not take well to the film back in the mid eighties, putting an end of Saxon Logan's fiction movie career before it really got started, but it's heartwarming that it was later rediscovered (thanks partly to Kim Newman arousing interest in the then-forgotten film some time ago).  It's wonderful that BFI have taken films like this to exhume for the more open-minded among contemporary audiences, as it has recently been scanned and mastered for Blu-ray, with excellent results.
The BFI release is also packed with two of Logan's earlier short films also mastered in HD (Stepping Out running at 11 minutes and made in 1977, plus Working Surface, 16 minutes, 1979), which are curiosity pieces making the package feel very complete as far as Logan's fiction work is concerned (he went on to cement himself as a documentary film-maker).

However, BFI have also kindly included another film which, whilst not made by Logan, is thematically linked to the main film in the pack.  Running at 45 minutes the 1971 film Insomniac is the only fiction work directed by Rodney Giesler (also a documentary maker).  This is about a very average sort of man whose initial difficulty sleeping leads him to enter a lucid dreamworld of perpetual daylight and populated by people who exhibit an aversion to light.  At a party he meets the perfect female before eloping with her.  The surreal aspect of this film I feel could have been pushed a lot further, though it is a nice piece that could easily have been left buried forever.  The primary strength of the film arrives in the presence of the vividly beautiful Valerie Ost (who also appeared briefly in Corruption, Satanic Rites of Dracula, and a few Carry-On films in bit roles).

The menus of the disc provide options to watch all three Logan films or a double bill of the two main features if you wish.  You'll also find a 72 minute conversation from 2013 with Saxon Logan where he talks about his inspiration (Lindsay Anderson, Hammer films surprisingly, and even more of a surprise is his appreciation for giallo), his education in the mechanics of making films, his experiences making the films contained in this pack, etc.  It's a fascinating piece with none of the press-kit approach rubbish you find as extras to most mainstream films.  Logan is a coherent, level-headed talker who had talent but couldn't quite take it where he wanted due to the fact that his work wasn't really understood at the time.  The occurrences pertaining to the screenings of Sleepwalker, both at the time of its release and the rediscovery years later, are obviously deeply meaningful to the man, something underlined by a particularly poignant moment towards the end of the conversation when he struggles to contain the emotions that are obviously packed inside.  A brilliant, essential interview for anyone interested in film, almost worth the price of admission alone.

Not content to leave you with this, BFI also include an attractive booklet presenting written pieces on each element on the disc, with transfer information and stills.  The films are also provided on a DVD in the same pack, but as they were scanned at 2K they really are best viewed on Blu-ray for the most authentic representation.  Sleepwalker and Insomniac generally won't appeal to the average mainstream movie fan, but for those interested in the heritage of British cinema, more arthouse oriented viewers, or possibly even fans of the giallo, this is a great package to have in your collection.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Frankenstein and The Monster From Hell

Locked up for dabbling with 'sorcery', a young doctor finds that he shares the asylum with his hero in science, Victor Frankenstein, who has faked his own death in order to continue with experiments and effectively control the weak-willed corrupt manager of the place.  Together the two scientists use various pieces of dead prisoners to construct a monstrosity that eventually awakens to produce dire consequences.

This film marked the end of an era for Hammer and horror films generally, as well as the career of its director and the man at the very birth of the studio's Frankenstein series, Terence Fisher.  The gothic literary adaptations and mutations of the 50s and 60s came to an interesting conclusion here, and they couldn't go on when across the water the Americans were delivering the likes of The Exorcist and Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  Frankenstein's monster failed to shock audiences any longer, although this particular epitaph was actually quite nasty in many ways, with some strong moments of gore and violence though oddly absent nudity (something which had become a staple of Hammer's output during the early 70s): the female lead, a mute played by Madeline Smith (The Vampire Lovers) remains fully clothed up to the neck throughout.  Peter Cushing, once again in the role of the baron, looks decidedly skeletal here but continues to deliver his usual perceptive portrayal of the character.  Taking FATMFH out of its difficult context in the history of horror it's not a bad film at all, with a beautifully grim setting (almost entirely in the asylum), an ugly, tragic creature at the heart of the tale, and some unprecedented brutality.
Released on Blu-ray in the UK as a dual edition pack, the three disc set contains two DVDs alongside the Blu.  On the Blu (and spread across the other two discs due to the substantially lower storage capacity of DVD) the film is presented as you would have seen it theatrically (my favourite ratio, 1.66:1) and, as an optional extra, in its un-matted 35mm form at 1.37:1 (i.e. more information seen at the top and bottom of the screen), accurately moving at 24 frames per second in either case (sped up to 25 fps on the DVDs, naturally).  Obviously if you're viewing on a 16x9 widescreen display then the 1.37:1 version will have thick black bars at the sides, whilst the 1.66:1 version will have very thin black bars at each side.  Preference will depend on the viewer ultimately, and one can argue the virtues of each until the full moon sets, but it's fantastic that we're actually given the choice and the viewer can sample each before settling down to the enjoy the film.  Detail on the 1080p Blu-ray transfers is set at an excellent standard, whilst the DVDs can't compete but still look reasonably good considering they're Standard Definition.  On the audio side, the mono (uncompressed LPCM on the Blu-ray, compressed Dolby Digital on the DVDs) is clear and as decent as you can expect.

What else do you get?  There's a commentary track with two of the main actors (Shane Bryant, who plays Frankenstein's protégé, and Madeline Smith) moderated by classic horror lover Marcus Hearn.  Secondly you get a great documentary directed by Hearn about the making of the film, with plenty of interviews from surviving participants incorporating some enticing anecdotes about Cushing (including some images of his extensive notes on the script).  This runs for 25 minutes.  The next documentary focuses on the director himself, again a fine piece and this time running at 13 minutes.  A 7 minute animated gallery features shots from the set, some lovely posters/advertising materials, promotional stills of the likes of Smith, make-up work-in-progress of the monster (David Prowse), etc.  All of these extras are on both the Blu-ray and one or the other of the DVDs, the only extra remaining that is not on both is a PDF of a 30 page booklet, which is only on the second DVD and accessible via a PC of course.  I would have preferred a printed version of this but I guess they saw this as a cost-cutting measure.  There's a lot of information about the production of the film and reactions to it post-release, and overall it's a nicely presented companion.  The booklet also goes into significant detail on how the film was restored for high definition presentation, and makes one appreciate the work involved.

The initial pressing of this Icon-released set back in May 2014 was flawed with some stalling issues on the Blu-ray.  This was corrected quite quickly and the versions available now are fine to watch, resulting in this now being the definitive presentation of quite a reasonable and gruesome latter-day Hammer.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The Last Horror Film

After the relatively huge success (for a low budget gutter level violence-fest [that's a recommendation by the way...]) of Bill Lustig's Maniac Caroline Munro and Joe Spinell were once again paired up following a drive from the original backers, probably in the hope of repeating the financial rewards.  As before, Munro is a celebrity beauty while the 'beast' is Spinell in another unhinged schizophrenic role.  Very unhinged.  His character, Vinny, embarrassingly envisions himself as a world class film-maker as he becomes increasingly obsessed with actress Jana Bates (Munro).  When he hears that she is to appear at Cannes film festival he packs his suitcase and 16mm camera to head off for the exotic region.  During the frenzy at Cannes people begin dying - anyone who seems to have anything to do with Bates.  All the while Vinny is grabbing footage with his camera and occasionally calling back home to lie to his mother that his work is becoming a great success (he doesn't even appear to have completed a film).  He is also working his way ever closer to Bates.

The film sits itself uncomfortably within the slasher sub-genre that was still booming around the time, but it's really unlike anything else that falls into that category.  It's quite kooky in many respects and the more forgiving side of me would suggest that the film's offbeat nature is deliberately humorous at the same time as being marginally satirical.  There is plenty of actual Cannes footage and at its best The Last Horror Film plays as an almost love ode to cinema.  In fact most of the story seems to be an excuse to show off the footage that director David Winters managed to capture on location (there is a certain amount of improvisation evident that can be endearing).

Whilst Maniac was a brutally sleazy affair, this one begins as if it's going to tread in the same footsteps, before veering off to the glossy flair of Cannes.  This is juxtaposed against Vinny's screwed up thoughts and actions, managing to keep one foot in the sleaze pit that spawned it.  Again, Spinell does pull off his messed up character surprisingly well (sometimes too well - witness the freaky transvestite dancing that's perhaps a little too scary): almost a tragic mother-loving train-wreck of a person, unrealistically infatuated with a film star while simultaneously excited by onscreen violence - amusingly at one point, when this characteristic is inter-cut with Bates explaining at a conference that she doesn't feel there is a connection between horror films and psychological disturbance.  Again, I would like to think the irony was a deliberate move.  I do feel that, particularly after the final scene has taken place, this film is supposed to be taken much more lightly than the viewer might initially expect.  There are certainly a couple of funny moments, one of my favourites being when Vinny is stalking the grounds of a castle in which Bates is staying.  It's quite a sight seeing his slightly overweight ass running away from pursuers while he's insistently carrying his bulky camera everywhere he goes.  The mother is quite a highlight too, simply because she is unbelievably badly acted/dubbed by Filomena Spagnuolo (Spinell's real life mother).  I wouldn't say this film always works, and I wouldn't even describe it as very good, but it does have a rather messy personality all of its own somehow, and there is some enjoyment to be derived from its quirks even if it never truly goes to places that could have elevated the whole endeavour.
88 Films have unleashed the 'uncut version' on the UK market, thankfully as a Blu-ray.  Playing in full AVC-encoded HD at 24 frames per second and running to 87:37 (minus 15 seconds for the opening statement) the transfer is taken from several sources.  88 have chosen to include the two previously excised goriest moments (a heart extraction and a chainsaw body split) from the only place they could get them - a VHS tape.  This material literally only lasts a few seconds and I think it's better that it's there than not, so personally I feel this is a good fan-motivated move.  The majority of the transfer has been constructed using either 35mm negative or prints - this means some of the footage can look grainy and appropriately grindhouse, but when it shines this disc really makes the film look way better than you'd ever have expected.  The best material exhibits loads of detail with great depth.  I was very pleased with this presentation.  Audio (billed as LPCM mono but filtering through two channels) is pretty good - the lively music track comes across as bold and enjoyable, dialogue is mostly clean, although there are some patches of hiss and crackle during quieter moments.  For a film of this type I was not overly concerned by anything, but some might find the more damaged elements to be a little distracting.  Somehow I can't imagine The Last Horror Film being better presented than it is on 88's Blu-ray.

The extras are nice: there's an audio commentary with associate producer Luke Walter, an enjoyable interview with Walter (who was also good friends with Spinell) running 23:51, a Lloyd Kaufman introduction (3:38), some grimy promo footage for the doomed Maniac 2 project (8:06), an interview about the project gestation with Mr Lustig, who was invited to direct at one point but Vigilante was happening at the time (3:42), a Q&A session with Caroline Munro from Glasgow in 2011, which is generally unrelated to Last Horror Film but information-packed none the less (11:07), some TV spots, and an 88 Films trailer reel showing off many of their Blu-ray released items (which runs 21:55 in total).  The cover is reversible, with some original cover art on the rear if you want to switch it around, plus the case contains a booklet.  It seems like 88 Films have gone over and above for this crazy Section 3 (i.e. nearly banned in the UK) movie.  It's never going to hit classic status but if you're remotely interested in checking this out or owning it then this is the disc to get.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

8K/4K/2K Resolution Comparisons

With 4K becoming more of an understood term in the world of home cinema and arguments appearing here and there tossing around opinions whether it will be of any benefit or not, I thought I'd undertake my own little experiment to see how it might compare with HD resolution.  I am not an expert on the matter and if there are any genuine errors in the following text please feel free to correct me.  The following is intended to take a look solely at factors regarding resolution itself - whether a film on disc (or broadcast/download) actually looks excellent or ugly depends on a large number of factors, whether that be down to the efficiency of the encode, the nature and quality of the source material, how well the source has been scanned and with what kind of equipment, to what extent the outcome has been tampered with digitally and whether that tampering has been applied intelligently or not, through to what is used to view the end result, etc.  No analysis can take all of that into consideration, although a number of excellent screen grab comparison websites have enlightened us over the years as to how drastically different the same film can look on different discs, sometimes even across the same format.  Therefore, as I say, this will focus purely on the resolution aspect.

Note that to view the composite image properly your browser should be set to 100%, and if you wish to view the full res images at the bottom of the page you would probably need to download them as your browser or blogger may only show them up to a certain size, and without looking at them with every pixel visible you can't really make a true comparison.  A quick look by me on blogger showed the 8K and 4K images at the same size and consequently, because the former was substantially scaled down in this respect, there is no apparent difference in detail!  The composite image successfully makes the point as far as I'm concerned, however.

As I understand it, Ultra HD (UHD) exhibits resolutions of 3840 x 2160 (current full HD is 1920 x 1080), hence UHD is four times the resolution of full HD (we'll leave 720p out of the equation as it's not really of concern).  It is also being referred to as 4K - it's not technically 4K as that terminology refers to an industry standard that has, appropriately enough, just over four thousand pixels in width (specifically 4096, with 2160 in height), but I guess UHD is fairly close thus the term 4K is being adopted to mean the same thing.  From here on in, any reference I make to 4K or 8K is in the context of a home cinema environment.

There is debate regarding how much resolution is required to extract all of the detail out of a 35mm negative - until actual demonstrations have taken place this would be difficult to determine.  Personally I suspect that many older films in particular will not significantly benefit from UHD or above on the size of screens that are used in most homes.  I believe the average screen size in the UK is around 42".  Where I think UHD will come into its own is when it's displayed on larger screens (perhaps the average size will continue to go up over coming years) and the source material is of exceptional quality, for example if it's taken from a high resolution digital source or IMAX film.

Personally I watch material on either a 100" (approx) projector screen or a 46" LED TV.  I feel that HD material (mostly delivered via Blu-ray Disc) can look absolutely stunning on either, subjectively speaking of course, although I generally prefer the scale offered by the larger screen from a projector.  If I'm watching DVDs I feel that they look okay on the TV, sometimes surprisingly good (although that's largely down to some incredible technology built into my Sony that improves standard definition over the way it looked on older generation sets), but on any larger scale it just doesn't cut it against HD.  Like many serious home cinema fans and movie collectors nowadays, I prefer to see a film in the best available quality, both in terms of video and audio, and that must come from a Blu-ray rather than a DVD.  I am quite excited to see what UHD or 4K can offer us in the home (it would roughly equate to what most cinemas currently offer from their projectors) but the following experiment was undertaken with as much objectivity as I could muster, at the very least to quell my own curiosity in a realistic manner.

What I've done below is to show a quarter section of an 8K (in home cinema terms - four times the resolution of UHD) 'source' (from a photograph I took myself) - the reason I used a quarter section is because the camera will not take the equivalent of 8K images, hence I've had to take a 10 megapixel image and consider a cropped area of it as 25% of 8K for the purposes of this experiment.  This is followed by a quarter section (to maintain comparative consistency) of a UHD duplicate of that source.  This I feel simulates the resolution of a UHD image when taken from a higher quality original and can be compared accordingly.  I've then also taken a HD duplicate from the source to simulate how you might see the image on a Blu-ray Disc.  Because there is now some debate regarding whether it's better to scan a negative or print in 4K in order to create a film for HD, or just create a HD master from the outset, I've also created a HD image from the '4K master'.  I appreciate that this does not necessarily reflect how a moving film might be scanned in reality but at the moment it's the closest thing that I can use to make an estimated judgement in the comparison of resolutions.  How this would look in the home would also depend greatly on equipment and screen size, as mentioned in the opening paragraph.

To summarise, and each of the following is an equivalent resolution only, the first shot simulates 25% of an 8K source, the second 25% of a 4K capture of that source, the third 25% of a 2K capture of that source, and the fourth is 25% of a 2K capture of the 4K version.  I've then rescaled everything but the 8K back to the same overall dimensions in order to facilitate comparative analysis of the detail that remains.  The full grabs are at the bottom of this article but for the sake of ease on the part of the reader I have encompassed a small section of each grab in this 600 x 600 panel to illustrate my points.
My conclusions are as follows: When the source is of adequate quality (in this case a good quality 8K image), the UHD version of it shows a noticeable improvement over a conventional HD iteration.  Regarding the 4K master for the purposes of a HD final output as opposed to a 2K master leading to HD final output, I could see no discernible difference.  The HD version looks rather inadequate next to UHD, although as I say, in general 35mm terms I would imagine that a HD capture gives almost all worthwhile detail on the screens most people use at home.  Whilst still exhibiting a small loss of detail UHD demonstrates notable potential to outclass HD if the material is right, so I will be looking forward to seeing how this one pans out over the next few years.  There are already UHD sets available of course (and a small number of projectors), generally too expensive for the layman to consider, but it's when playable material becomes available that this arena will start to get really interesting.

If anyone has any thoughts (or amendments) you're welcome to forward them to me, but either way I hope you've found this little analysis useful or at least mildly interesting.

Paul W J Martin


25% of '8K' source (compressed to JPEG for the purposes of uploading to the net):
25% of 'UHD or 4K' scan of source:

25% of 'HD or 2K' scan of source:

25% of 'HD or 2K' scan or '4K master':

Sunday, 20 July 2014

City of the Dead

In the secluded village of Whitewood a witch is burned at the stake in an opening similar to Bava’s Mask of Satan - but not before she summons satanic help that will ensure she returns from the dead and cause the village to be forever encompassed by the curse of witchcraft. 300 years after the burning a young college student who is studying the paranormal decides to take her research to a higher level by actually visiting a village that was known for its witchcraft in the darker ages - that of Whitewood. Upon arriving it seems to be a place that has stood still in time, where the denizens are given to acting abnormally and the church is out of bounds. It’s not long before she vanishes prompting concerned friends to retrace her steps to find out what’s happened to her. Something sinister is still going on in Whitewood it would seem…
Apart from the fact that a few elements haven’t dated too well (e.g. the ‘hip’ college teens), this is a tremendous supernatural horror from 1960 with mountains of beautiful atmosphere - the village itself is a joy to behold, with dilapidated buildings and omnipresent mist, populated by strange people who seem to be trapped in time somehow. Oh, and a demented priest. The B&W cinematography is absolutely gorgeous and I think this is one of the best genre films before the more violent and hard-hitting era that was to begin with the 70s.

There are low-grade releases of City of the Dead (AKA Horror Hotel) available both in the UK and US, but the US VCI DVD remains the definitive presentation after all these years, effectively disposing of all others - you owe it to yourself not to view this film on one of those effortless public domain-type releases. For their 2-disc UK release Redemption ported everything here except the commentaries, though downgraded the image with an NTSC to PAL transfer. VCI’s correctly framed picture looks very nice for standard definition, the sound is well represented, and there are essential extras: a commentary with Christopher Lee (who has a smaller role in the film), another commentary with director John Llewellyn Moxey, an indispensable and riveting 45 minute interview with Lee that is pure talk and no unnecessary interruptions with movie clips - he’s lived a truly enviable life. Further to that there are shorter interviews with Moxey himself and Venetia Stevenson, plus more. VCI's is a great disc of a classic film - get it!

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Bloodsucking Freaks

Having seen this a couple of times years ago on dupe VHS, and never particularly liking it, I thought I'd give it another go on Blu-ray, as it has now surprisingly been released on the format uncut in the UK by 88 Films.  Oddly, despite the fact that the film is entitled Bloodsucking Freaks, 88 have chose to separate the 'Blood' from the 'Sucking' on the cover, but I'm not intending to nitpick.  The film itself is scarcely plotted, vaguely about a theatre owner, Sardu, whose magic shows of torture and murder are actually using real victims and not actors.  Mostly women, they are being abducted from various locations for the purposes of being used in the show, or to be kept in some sort of dungeon downstairs.

Considering that this was made in the mid seventies, it certainly is a nasty, depraved little number.  Yes, the gore is not always up to Tom Savini standards, and it is thoroughly amateurish at times (Joel M Reed could hardly be considered a master of his art) but it refuses to acknowledge any barriers, and even today there are bound to be a few things in here that make any viewer wince.  It does periodically feel like the entire endeavour was to create something to shock and nothing else, which may be true, thus the endless torture and screaming can occasionally become a little wearing.  However, there are elements of sadomasochistic eroticism present, albeit not realised as well as they could be, plus it marks itself as a precursor to what would eventually become known as the 'torture porn' sub-genre of horror that popularised itself from Hostel/Saw onwards (although I think it has justifiably ran out of steam now).  Personally I think the writer/director was influenced by The Sinful Dwarf which was released a couple of years previous to BSF, and with which it shares a number of elements such as the depraved dwarf himself along with the dungeon of captured women and the intensity of some of the lengths gone to in the name of shock.  Whether one considers it to be entertaining or not will of course depend on the viewer.  The nastiness forces you to keep your eyes on the screen, whilst the silliness will infrequently instil a laugh or two.  Mostly though BSF earns its place, rather questionably I guess, in film history for being one of the forefathers of torture porn.
Shot on 16mm it was never going to look amazing on any format - on Blu-ray this presentation looks truly 'Grindhouse' and I suspect it's been transferred from a beat-up print.  Scratches and marks are in abundance, though in some way this is how the film is meant to be seen.  Resolution is not amazing but I think if you did see this at a cinema then it would not look vastly different to what you're seeing on this Blu-ray (I'm guessing the DVD will not look hugely inferior, but given the option I always get the Blu-ray for the most accurate representation of the source).  Audio suffers from its origins too, with hiss/crackle noticeable in places.  88 have included many extras, mostly junk from the Troma archives.  Eli Roth (Hostel, appropriately) also provides an audio commentary, whilst elsewhere there are about 25 minutes of VHS quality Troma trailers, which are good for recreating the Grindhouse experience at home.  A booklet has been included and suitably depraved new artwork created (although you can flip this around from one of two other front covers if you want, including original poster art).  The first thousand copies or so also come with a limited slipcase, which is pictured above.  88 Films have put together a commendable release for BSF, continuing a streak (aside from the odd hiccup) that is gradually rising them towards loftier heights.