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Arrow Release Wrap-Up

Evil Ed

(1995; BD Release May 30, 2017)
Mild-mannered film technician Edward enjoys his job. That is, until he finds himself transferred from his regular post to the “Splatter and Gore department,” where he’s forced to edit hours upon hours of grisly video nasty footage. Traumatized by the onscreen violence, Ed starts to lose his grip on reality – with ghastly (and bloody) consequences. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Nostalgia for the days of the mom & pop home video store is often misplaced in an era when rare and cult-approved titles are literally at our fingertips. However, the unsung craft of luring unsuspecting consumers into renting super-obscure horror titles with gimmicky VHS box art has been lost in this ‘browse and click’ era, where the very concept of ‘forbidden’ has little meaning. Anders Jacobsson’s Swedish-made, low-budget horror satire Evil Ed (aka: Censor!) was one of many movies that horror fans of a certain age (including myself) only saw, because the A-PIX Entertainment video box art was too graphic to ignore. It depicts a shocked, screaming man getting his head split directly in half by a disembodied axe – his brains, blood, and face sinew spreading and splattering apart in glorious, hand-painted detail. The nonsense tagline reads “It’s a no brainer,” a delightful pun that explains the gross visual and tells the potential renter that they need to stop overthinking this and just rent the damn movie already (for the record, the company actually produced two versions of the cover, one of which was designed for the ‘family-friendly’ Blockbuster Video market and merely featured the title character with a skull for a face).

So, was Evil Ed worthy of such a stomach-churning adornment? Well, that depends on who is viewing the film. From an American point-of-view, it is a slightly better than average homage to the gory glory days of ‘80s horror. It’s well-made in a DIY, but not amateurish fashion. Jacobsson and company (according to the extras, the crew shared most filmmaking duties) does an admirable job of creating an over-the-top cinematic world that slowly spirals into more extreme camera angles and editing techniques as the title character is corrupted by violence. The constantly bug-eyed, juvenile comedy grows obnoxious after about 20 minutes (it was developed as a short subject and maybe should’ve stayed that way...), but this is usually neutralized by the charmingly weird tonal dissonance caused by the filmmakers’ attempts to disguise their Swedish roots.

Acknowledging those Swedish roots and watching the film from a Swedish P.O.V. also make it a ‘smarter’ movie – or at least a movie that is more clever than its awkward references to Sam Raimi & George Romero films would imply. In its native land, Evil Ed is a toothy takedown of the government’s long-standing film censorship board. As such, the cleverest jokes are often seated in Swedish pop-culture and may fly over the heads of American audiences. For instance, Jacobsson contrasts the outrageous violence of the in-movie horror franchise (dubbed Loose Limbs 1 through 8) with a dull, black & white melodrama that is clearly aping Ingmar Bergman’s movies, which were the only popular Swedish film exports for quite some time. And, hey, if you’re one of those people that’s just looking for a silly and ambitious DIY gore/creature effects showcase, you could do a whole lot worse than Evil Ed. I’m certainly not one to judge.

As I mentioned in my (probably overlong) introduction, Evil Ed was relatively easy to find on VHS in North America, but the US DVDs (from Image Entertainment and Ardustry Home Entertainment) were misframed (1.56:1) and included only the censored R-rated cut. Arrows Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack goes beyond expectations by not only including the unrated cut in the appropriate 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but also a completely new director’s cut (dubbed the Special Ed-ition) compiled and approved by Jacobsson himself that runs about five minutes longer than any version previously available. The two 1.78:1, 1080p transfers are taken from the same original 16mm AB negative source, which was scanned in 2K at Focus Film in Stockholm. Arrow then did their own clean-up under Jacobsson’s supervision. The 16mm source isn’t as detailed or dynamic as a 35mm might’ve been, but the scan squeezes the footage for everything it’s worth. Given the softer qualities of the format and the frequent darkness of cinematographer Anders Jacobsson’s photography, details are actually pretty sharp and elemental separation is decent, despite a general lack of hard edges. Grain structure is thick, yet natural with little sign of compression or telecine noise. The palette is predominantly tinted in a sort of Michael Mann/James Cameron blue that was very popular at the time and this new master helps to differentiate other hues – mainly pinks, greens, browns – from the fray.

The original stereo soundtrack is presented in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 alongside a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix. Though this was a Swedish production, it was made for international release, so all the dialogue is performed in English with the exception of some of the movies-within-a-movie. With a few exceptions, all of the Swedish actors were then dubbed by different actors who had American accents and most of the effects were added in post. This is a rare case where I’m actually going to recommend a remix over the original track, because the 5.1 version doesn’t change the basic structure of the mix and manages to regulate the dialogue in the center channel. In comparison, the stereo track has some bleeding and inconsistency issues when it comes to dialogue. Given the degree of ADR and foley used in the original mix, it’s not surprising that could be easily adapted without losing its essence all these years later. The music is by Henriksson & Lindh, a group I can’t find a lot of additional information on (they only has one composer credit to their names). Their whimsical, cartoonish score is mixed alongside pop and novelty songs from E-type, Happy Nite Quartet, It's Alive, and Mango Kings, and gets a decent fidelity boost from the 5.1 remix.

Extras include:
Disc 1 (Special Ed-ition Cut):
  • Introduction to Special Ed-ition with Jacobsson and editor Doc (4:13, HD)
  • Keep ’em Heads Rollin’ (45:32, HD) – An extensive and amusing retrospective documentary with Jacobsson, Doc, second unit director/production manager/etc. Kaj Steveman, co-writer/producer/etc. Göran Lundström, and actors Johan Rudebeck, Camela Leierth, and Par Löfberg. It includes storyboards, uncut dailies, an international language dub comparison, and behind-the-scenes footage/photos.
  • Before Ed (9:47, HD) – More with the filmmakers about their pre- Ed short films, including HD footage from said movies.
  • Beyond Ed (10:13, HD) – A follow-up to the previous featurette in which the filmmakers discuss what they’ve been doing since Evil Ed’s release.
  • Reconstructing Edward (21:05, HD) – This featurette covers the restoration and creation of the new Special ED-ition cut.
  • New Scenes (6:10, HD) – Jacobsson and Doc breakdown the newly instated footage.
  • Deleted Scenes (21:36, HD) – Concerning the many scenes that were not reinstated. The scenes themselves are workprint quality with their original Swedish-accented dialogue.
  • Bloopers
  • Special Ed-ition trailer, English trailer, three Swedish trailers, and two satirical teasers.
  • Still gallery

Disc 2 (Unrated Cut; disc 3 is a DVD copy):
  • Lost in Brainland (3:06:39, HD) – A much, much longer version of the retrospective documentary on the first disc. There is nary a stone left unturned as the filmmakers cover the entire production, from conception, to release and reaction.
  • Lost in Brainland bloopers (4:14, HD)


 Arrow Release Wrap-Up

 Arrow Release Wrap-Up

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 Arrow Release Wrap-Up

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Arrow Release Wrap-Up

Madhouse

(1981; BD release date: June 13)
Julia (Trish Everly), a verbalization teacher for Deaf children (a controversial method in the 21st century), is the complete opposite of her insane, violent, and hideously deformed twin sister Mary (Allison Biggers). For most of her adult life, Julia manages to avoid her sister, but, as their birthday approaches, their uncle, Father James (Dennis Robertson), presses for reconciliation. The reunion is soured when Mary escapes the insane asylum with her giant, vicious rottweiler in tow and starts murdering all of Julia’s friends.

Like many of the films that ended up on the British Board of Film Classification’s (BBFC) list of banned films as part of the Video Recordings Act of 1984, Ovidio G. Assonitis’ Madhouse (not to be confused with the 1974 Jim Clark film starring Vincent Price and Peter Cushing) is almost exclusively known for its ‘video nasty’ status. More often than not, the films marked exclusively by such infamy don’t have a lot more to offer and would be better off forgotten. For instance, I doubt that even the most ardent Jess Franco fan really needed Devil Hunter (aka: Mandingo Manhunter ,1980) to be preserved for posterity. But Madhouse (aka: There Was a Little Girl and And When She Was Bad) is the kind of weird, mixed-reference, nebulous nonsense that Euro-horror fans probably would’ve rediscovered it and put on a pedestal, eventually. BBFC offending violence aside (fans assume that a single scene where a very fake dog is graphically killed was just too realistic for the censors), its ‘value’ as a piece of exploitation entertainment is found in its lurid melodrama and strange drive to be at least four different movies at once – a shock-a-minute daytime soap opera, a giallo-style murder mystery, a post- Friday the 13th body-count movie, and a haunted house picture that pays homage to, of all things, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Oh, and a killer dog movie, I guess? The resulting film is amusingly goofy, in a sort of My Bloody Valentine meets Lifetime Original Movie way that only a shlock-meister with Assonitis’ claut could deliver.

Assonitis spent most of his career as a producer. He was sort of like a dollar store Dino De Laurentiis, which still put him head and shoulders above most of his Italian counterparts in terms of the revenue at his disposal. His other work as a (co)writer/(co)director includes the dopey, but popular Exorcist rip-off Beyond the Door (Italian: Chi sei?, 1974), the inexplicably star-studded Jaws rip-off, Tentacles (Italian: Tentacoli, 1977), and Piranha II: The Spawning (1978), the non-funny sequel to a Jaws spoof that is known for being James Cameron’s directorial debut (turns out Assonitis was an uncredited co-director on that one). The one thing his films have in common is the fact that they are desperately trying and failing to appear American-made. Given the generic and predictable qualities of Assonitis’ script (co-written by Stephen Blakely, Roberto Gandus & Peter Shepherd) Madhouse would probably disappear into a sea of movies that impersonated Brian De Palma impersonating Alfred Hitchcock, if it wasn’t for Assonitis’ inescapably Italian sensibilities. Every stylistically American choice is overridden by patently Italian pacing issues, hammy performances, and abstract framing choices. I assume that this will be to the chagrin of the normal film-goer, but this impossibly strange tone is like catnip to us abnormal Italian horror fans even more than the gore.

Madhouse was removed from the BBFC list and released completely uncut in the UK for the first time in 2004 on non-anamorphic DVD from Film 2000. Here in North America, it languished on VHS (there were at least two releases, one from Virgin and one from VCL), because it wasn’t forbidden – it was just another horror movie on the shelf. Its Video Nasties rep eventually caught up with it stateside and Dark Side released a decent, anamorphically enhanced DVD. Arrow’s new 1080p, 2.35:1 Blu-ray transfer was created using a 2K scan of the original 35mm negative. Cinematographer Roberto D'Ettorre Piazzoli’s oh-so-’70s soft focus and diffused lighting really should be wreaking havoc with clarity, but the new scan actually does a fantastic job recreating the plushness without any posterization effects. In addition, the textures and finer details aren’t smoothed over. Grain structure, though occasionally snowy, appears accurate. I decided against including comparison caps from the Dark Side DVD, but I did compare for my own sake, and, while the BD has huge detail, range, and colour quality advantages (specifically in terms of overall warmth), some viewers might find the DVD’s higher contrast levels preferable to the BD’s softer tones and slightly brown blacks.

Arrow is presenting Madhouse in both 2.0 stereo (uncompressed LPCM) and a 5.1 remix (DTS-HD Master Audio). In this case, the 5.1 remix isn’t culled from a 2.0 track, but from the original 4-track stereo mix, which makes it sort of special (I’m surprised such a film even had a 4-track mix, myself). I suppose it’s actually more like 4.1 track, but it’s still neat. And, before you say anything, yes, this is an Italian-made picture, but the dialogue was all performed in English. Given the better-than-usual source, I’m going to recommend the 5.1 mix over the stereo track. The sound is richer, especially where Riz Ortolani’s electro-symphonic score is concerned (some might argue that it’s too rich and modern-sounding), the dialogue is more clearly centered, and the LFE gives the whole thing a tasteful little bit of bounce. For the most part, the stereo effects are identical and the remix track has only occasional volume advantages, usually, again, when it comes to the more lively and wider-spread musical tracks.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with The Hysteria Continues – The team of Justin Kerswell (moderator and author of The Slasher Movie Book), Joseph Henson, Erik Threlfall, and Nathan Johnson approach this commentary in pretty much exactly the same way they approach their own podcast tracks. It features pertinent behind-the-scenes information, but with a personal and amusing slant.
  • Running the Madhouse (12:40, HD) – Actress Edith Ivey (who plays the ill-fated landlord) recalls her greater career, beginning with radio soaps and ‘50s television, and continuing through to movies, including Madhouse. Her fond memories are surprisingly sharp (considering the sheer number of films she made, not her age) and she is refreshingly not judgmental about the genre.
  • Framing Fear (19:32, HD) – Cinematographer Roberto D'Ettore Piazzoli discusses his earliest work, collaborations with Assonitis, the invention of the Steadicam, and shooting Madhouse.
  • Ovido Nasty (7:44, HD) – In Arrow’s final new and exclusive featurette, Ovidio G. Assonitis (who appears to be interviewing himself…) talks about making, selling, and marketing Madhouse, as well as the other movies he considers the film’s biggest influences, Wallace Worsley’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), Robert Weine's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). Frankly, I think he just chose three movies he thought would be considered classics, because I don’t see any relation.
  • Alternate There Was a Little Girl opening titles (3:01, HD)
  • Trailer


 Arrow Release Wrap-Up

 Arrow Release Wrap-Up

 Arrow Release Wrap-Up

 Arrow Release Wrap-Up

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Arrow Release Wrap-Up

Spotlight on a Murderer

(1961, BD release date: May 30th)
When the terminally ill Count Hervé de Kerloquen (Pierre Brasseur) vanishes without trace, his heirs are told that they have to wait five years before he can be declared legally dead, forcing them to devise ways of paying for the upkeep of the vast family château in the meantime. While they set about transforming the place into an elaborate son et lumière tourist attraction, they are beset by a series of tragic accidents - if that's really what they are... (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

I’ll end this group review with one of those things that is not like the others. Arrow recently brought their Arrow Academy imprint to the US, seemingly in an effort to separate their cult and prestige titles. I’ll cop to coupling Georges Franju’s Spotlight on a Murderer (French: Pleins feux sur l'assassin) with the other films here out of convenience, but Franju’s work tends to skirt the line between cult and prestige, so I’m pretty comfortable with the way things worked out. Spotlight on a Murderer was the director’s third feature-length film, following his standard drama debut, Head Against the Wall (French: La tête contre les murs, 1959) and his groundbreaking horror classic, Eyes without a Face (French: Les yeux sans visage, 1960), and before his pulp superhero bonanza, Judex (1963). Spotlight on a Murderer revels in the same stylish, self-aware Gothic-meets- nouvelle-vague visuals as the films that surround it, though with more emphasis on a comedic tone. The imagery is deceptively simple and cleverly choreographed for maximum impact without drawing too much attention to the filmmaking process.

The screenplay was co-written Pierre Boileau and Pierre Ayraud (aka: Boileau-Narcejac), who, among other things, wrote the novels D'entre les morts (the basis for Hitchcock’s Vertigo, 1958) and Celle qui n'était plus (the basis for Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, 1955). They also adapted Jean Redon’s Eyes without a Face for Franju. Their story here follows Agatha Christie’s whodunit formula from head to toe with relish and a dab of metatext. Though this ‘serious mystery/semi-satirical execution’ slant certainly isn’t out of the ordinary for Christie and her contemporaries, Boileau & Ayraud’s indulgently tongue-in-cheek technique does end up anticipating more direct, modern whodunit spoofs, like Robert Moore’s Murder by Death (1976), Jonathan Lynn’s Clue (1985), and Robert Altman’s Gosford Park (2001).

Spotlight on a Murderer appears to have never been released on DVD and may not have even been released on North American video at all (a cursory internet check only turns up evidence of a French tape), so this Blu-ray Combo Pack (BD/DVD) is pretty exciting. The HD master was supplied by Gaumont Film Company, who ‘restored it from the original film elements.’ It’s not a particularly descriptive explanation of this black & white, 1.37:1, 1080p transfer, but the final product is plenty impressive, anyway. Grain structure is relatively thick, but it’s always consistent and rarely interferes with hard lines and fine details. Dynamic range is strong, despite the dreary, Gothic qualities of cinematographer Marcel Fradetal’s photography. Black levels are deep (with the exception of some of the darkest scenes, where they appear a bit gray), but rarely so deep as to crush the subtler changes in shading, and white levels remain subtle, as to not bloom or cause edge enhancement.

The film is presented in its original mono French in uncompressed, LPCM 1.0 sound. The tracks are quite clean for a film of this age, including clearly-stated and separated dialogue, tidy incidental sounds, punchy foley effects, and crisp, surprisingly bassy music. There is occasional distortion, specifically slight warping and high volume dialogue hiss, but the overall consistency is steady and impressive. Composer Maurice Jarre’s eclectic score, which is augmented by songs by Georges Brassens, has such fidelity that it could often be mistaken like a stereo track.

Extras include:
  • Le Courrier du Cinéma (27:14, HD) – A vintage 1960 production featurette that was shot on location and includes interviews with Franju and actors Pascale Audret, Pierre Brasseur, Marianne Koch, Dany Saval, and Jean-Louis Trintignant.
  • Trailer


 Arrow Release Wrap-Up

 Arrow Release Wrap-Up

 Arrow Release Wrap-Up

 Arrow Release Wrap-Up

 Arrow Release Wrap-Up

*Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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