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Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

A Fish Called Wanda

(1988); BD release date: October 10, 2017
Archie Leach (John Cleese) is a weak-willed barrister who finds himself embroiled with a quartet of ill-matched jewel thieves – two American con artists named Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Otto (Kevin Kline), an animal-loving hitman named Ken (Michael Palin), and London gangster named George Thomason (Tom Georgeson). Only he and Ken know the whereabouts of the diamonds, prompting plenty of farce and in-fighting (as well as some embarrassing nudity and the unfortunate demise of some innocent pooches)… (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Following their remastered version of John Frankenheimer’s Ronin (1998), Arrow Video is once again bucking their arthouse/cult standard with another mainstream-friendly release – Charles Crichton’s A Fish Called Wanda. Initially, I wasn’t too thrilled to revisit this particular pillar of late-’80s comedy, but I realize that I had been taking the film for granted, as I’m sure many others have, too. It’s easy for those of us of a certain age to forget about a time when Kevin Kline wasn’t an Oscar winner, Jamie Lee Curtis was still considered a Scream Queen, and screenwriter/star John Cleese wasn’t really a household name outside of Britain. A (much) smaller contingent of viewers may still be burning from the disappointment of its 1997 spiritual sequel, Fierce Creatures (1997). While the script certainly matches sarcastic wit with Cleese’s Fawlty Towers-era performance/writing, it is interesting to note how far he moved away from the absurdity of Monty Python, in effect creating a very American mainstream-friendly story that doesn’t cut ties with its British comedy roots. The key element is, of course, the characters, who move the twisty plot forward while the audience attempts to suss out how each of them are going to screw it up. Crichton, who had been directing movies in the UK since the ‘40s (and editing them since the ‘30s), also adapts well to then-modern Hollywood standards with colourful compositions and subtly sweeping camerawork. I don’t think it has aged quite as well as its fans, but A Fish Called Wanda is certainly still worth its ardent following.

A Fish Called Wanda had a healthy life on home video, including non-anamorphic, anamorphic, and special edition DVDs, as well as a Blu-ray from Twentieth Century Fox that was released across dozens of territories. It’s not hard to find. To set their Blu-ray apart, Arrow has gone back to the original 35mm negative, which was scanned in 4K at Pinewood Studios, then remastered in-house. I don’t have access to the Fox BD, so this review is based on the merits of the Arrow transfer alone. Cinematographer Alan Hume’s naturalistic photography doesn’t lend itself to the punchiest or sharpest 1080p transfer, which leaves me to focus more on the authenticity of the image. Grain can be heavy – even snowy at times – but the structure is fine and rarely shows signs of scanner noise or posterisation. Colour quality is warm and pastel, just as I remember it looking on VHS and DVD. Though I think the contrast levels are a bit undercranked, its black levels and highlights are consistent with the hue qualities.

Arrow has included Fox’s 5.1 DVD/BD remix in DTS-HD Master Audio alongside the original 2.0 mono soundtrack in uncompressed LPCM for the first time. In this case, I very much endorse choosing the mono track, which is well-balanced, distortion-free, and quite dynamic for a single-channel mix. The remix spreads the music out a tad and has a few stereo/surround bibs & bobs, but, on the whole, it actually sounds flatter, because the ambience turns so much softer. In addition, the otherwise centered dialogue exhibits some iffy reverb and echo effects. John Du Prez’s score is a singularly strange and very dated mix of ‘80s pop, elevator music, and soap opera-style symphonics. As mentioned, the music sounds better in mono, even bereft of the spread.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with screenwriter/star John Cleese – This first track was originally recorded for the special edition DVD. It is a well-prepared and thorough exploration of the movie; one that more than once implies that Cleese himself co-directed the film (something that is verified in the other extras).
  • An Appreciation by Vic Pratt (16:55, HD) – The BFI National Archive co-curator praises the film, traces its production history, and discusses its roots in older British cult comedies.
  • Interview with Roger Murray-Leach (7:31, HD) – The production designer fondly recalls planning stunts, picking props, staging practical effects, and location scouting.
  • Image gallery
  • Trivia track
  • Trailer
  • Archival extras from the Fox Blu-ray/DVD:
    • John Cleese’s Final Farewell Performance (48:03, SD) – A 1988 behind-the-scenes documentary featuring loads of rough footage from the set and interviews conducted by Iain Johnson with Cleese, Crichton, Curtis, Palin, and Kline. It has a made-for-TV vibe, but is still a solid portrait of the film and Cleese’s creative process.
    • Something Fishy (30:32, SD) – A 15th anniversary retrospective featurette with Cleese, Curtis, Kline, Palin, executive producer Steve Abbott, and director of photography Alan Hume.
    • On Location (16:31, SD) – A made-for-TV tour of the film’s locations hosted by actor Robert Powell.
    • A Message from John Cleese (4:56, HD) – Cleese introduces the film with his typical humour.
    • 26 deleted/alternate scenes, including Cleese introductions (29:37, SD)


 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up


Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

Children of the Corn

(1984); BD release date: October 3, 2017
A young couple travelling cross-country find themselves stranded in the small town of Gatlin, where they meet a mysterious religious cult of children. With no adults in sight, the terror brews as the new arrivals find the secrets of the prospering corn fields and the children who inhabit them. Led by the mysterious Isaac and the unhinged Malachi, the blood-curdling secrets of the children of Gatlin are soon revealed to their new ‘outlander’ guests. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Following (one, two, three…) eight increasingly terrible STV sequels (the first of which was released nearly a decade after the original), poking fun at the Children of the Corn franchise has become a running gag in horror communities, but it’s important to acknowledge every once in awhile that Fritz Kiersch’s original film was actually pretty terrible on its own merits. Based on the short story by Stephen King (first published in Penthouse in 1977, then as part of the Night Shift collection in 1978), Children of the Corn was thrown together for $800k and shoveled into theaters alongside about a dozen other quickly-made, cheap-looking King adaptations that very nearly devastated the critical reputation of the author’s work on film. The concept is sound, but evil children almost always read better on the page than they do on the screen, because it is so very difficult to convey scariness when you’re dealing with non-evil child actors. There are exceptions (Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s Who Can Kill a Child?, or ¿Quién puede matar a un niño?, 1976, for example, and a film King might have seen and partially based his story on), of course, but it doesn’t seem that Kiersch was the man for the job. His tone-deaf instincts constantly undermine his efforts, from the dopey narration, to the amateurish framing (it’s as if the production couldn’t figure out how to deal with the height differences between the actors), and glacial pacing. At the risk of inciting fan wrath, I’d argue that the only thing saving Children of the Corn from utter ruin is its shock value – something that is inherent in King’s original story. Perhaps if the filmmakers hadn’t tried so hard to make a multiplex-friendly picture and just gone for broke with gory and campy elements, their adaptation would’ve worked.

Children of the Corn made its biggest impact on home video and cable TV, so it’s not surprising that Anchor Bay Studios milked it for about a decade of DVD and Blu-ray releases, and slightly repackaged re-releases. Now it’s Arrow’s turn and they’re, once again, going the extra mile with a complete remaster, beginning with a new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative. Again, I don’t have access to the barebones AB disc, so I won’t be making a direct comparison on this page. Children of the Corn is another largely naturalistic film; though, unlike A Fish Called Wanda, it spends much of its runtime in the dark and in the elements. This gives Kiersch and cinematographer João Fernandes quite a bit to chew on, so to speak, and leads to a rather broad range of shades, as well as some decent dynamic range. Grain levels can be inconsistent, but the grittier moments are usually tied to outdoor sequences or composite shots, so the change makes sense. Colour quality is neat, tidy, and a good representation of Fernandes’ ‘perpetual sunset’ look without any notable blooming.

Audio options include the original 2.0 stereo soundtrack in LPCM and a 5.1 remix in DTS-HD Master Audio – both developed from the 4-track stereo masters. While 4-track material lends itself to a 5.1 remix and the discrete centre channel helps to separate dialogue, I have to heavily recommend going with the 2.0 track in this case. The remix loses the impact of a number of sound effects, as they’re softened into near-silence and spread into the surround channels. The stereo track maintains a steady volume level and neither track features any notable high-volume distortion. Jonathan Elias’ eerie, theme-heavy score (arguably the best thing about the film) fares slightly better in 5.1, due to the LFE boost, but sounds rich and clean either way.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with critics John Sullivan and Justin Beahm – This newly recorded track features childrenofthecornmovie.com’s Sullivan and horror journalist (Delirium, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Fangoria, et cetera) Beahm, who delve deeply into making of Children of the Corn.
  • Commentary with director Fritz Kiersch, producer Terrence Kirby, and actors John Franklin (Isaac) & Courtney Gains (Malachai) – The second track is similarly fact-filled, but with a more personal slant. The commentators spend a lot of time catching up with each other and telling behind-the-scenes anecdotes.
  • Harvesting Horror: The Making of Children of the Corn (36:15, HD) – This retrospective featurette includes interviews with Kiersch, Franklin, and Gains. It overlaps with the cast & crew commentary quite a bit, but is more focused and very well edited – though my review disc did have some frame rate issues (specifically for this extra, not the film).
  • It Was the Eighties! – (14:07, HD) – Star Linda Hamilton recalls her first lead film role ( The Terminator was released later that same year) and tells charming stories from the production.
  • ...And a Child Shall Lead Them (50:52, HD) – An extensive interview with actors Julie Maddalen (Rachel) and John Philbin (Amos, the ‘birthday boy’), who are recorded separately, but answer the same questions about their careers and the making of the film.
  • Field of Nightmares (17:19, HD) – Writer George Goldsmith discusses the adaptation process.
  • Stephen King on a Shoestring (11:18, HD) – Producer Donald Borchers briefly talks about gaining the rights to Children of the Corn, changes to the story, and casting.
  • Welcome to Gatlin: The Sights and Sounds of Children of the Corn (15:29, HD) – Production designer Craig Stearns and composer Jonathan Elias discussing their contributions to the film.
  • Return to Gatlin (16:29, HD) – Sullivan hosts this tour of the film’s original Iowa shooting locations.
  • Cut from the Cornfield (5:30, HD) – Actor Rich Kleinberg recalls an infamous lost sequences where the ‘Blue Man’ is killed and crucified (this includes a still, but no footage from the scene itself).
  • Storyboard gallery
  • Trailer
  • Disciples of the Crow (18:56, HD) – The coolest extra in this packed collection is this short film adaptation of King’s story from writer/director/editor John Woodward. It was released a year before Kiersch’s version. It was previously available in parts on Youtube, but not in HD.


 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up


Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

Blood Feast

(1963)
Note: This is the same disc that was included with Arrow’s larger Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast collection, so I am reusing sections from that review

A catering store owner named Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) hatches a scheme to appeal to the ancient Egyptian goddess Ishtar by murdering co-eds and combining their body parts as a blood offering.

Herschell Gordon Lewis, aka: The Godfather of Gore, who died just over a year ago on September 26th, 2016, is perhaps the most important bad filmmaker in the history of the medium. He was best-known for his groundbreaking gore films, which bent censorship laws and laid the groundwork for hyper-violent movies of all genres. He was also a one-time advertising executive, author, English professor, and studio director who has compared his movies Walt Whitman poems – “They’re no good, but they were the first of their kind.”

Though he had made ‘Nudie Cuties’ and similar innocent sex comedies for a number of years prior to his foray into horror, the legend of Herschell Gordon Lewis really begins with Blood Feast. Every vital piece of his burgeoning Splatter Movie formula is present – stiff performances from amateur actors (many of whom would show up in future Lewis projects), a bare minimum plot (the original script was reportedly only 14 pages long), eye-rolling jokes, and the best gore effects/production design that $24,500 can buy. Blood Feast is, by all logical accounts, an awful movie that checks every box on the neophyte filmmaker laundry list, yet it’s colourful, funny (sometimes on purpose!), and short enough (only 67 minutes) to be entertaining in spite of itself. The violence was somehow still shocking enough to keep the film banned in several countries until the 1990s. I suppose that Lewis’ clumsy approach lends an uncomfortable air to the footage – as if it could be a real snuff film (minus the mannequin legs and cow tongues). Blood Feast had a spiritual, but unofficial sequel in the form of Jackie Kong’s Blood Diner (1987) and Lewis himself made a belated sequel in 2002 called Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat.

For a long time, Something Weird Video was H.G. Lewis’ home on North American home video. In fact, it appears that most of their releases are still in print (and the ones that aren’t are available for download from SWV’s site). Over the years, SWV only issued five Lewis flicks on Blu-ray (with help from Image Entertainment). These include a triple-feature Blood Trilogy release of Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs, and Color Me Blood Red, and a double-feature containing Wizard of Gore and Gore Gore Girls. According to their notes, Arrow scanned Blood Feast’s source materials in 2K and the completed film grading and digital restoration in house.

Arrow issued the following statement in along with this collection:
Quote: Although the best existing elements were sourced for this project and every attempt was made to present the films in this collection in the highest quality possible, some of the films still exhibit varying degrees of damage that could not be digitally repaired to our satisfaction....Throughout the restoration workflow process, our priority was to retain the original photochemical look of the films rather than create unwanted digital artefacts by heavy handed picture cleanup. Therefore, many of the films in this collection exhibit "warts and all" appearance, in keeping with their distribution history and physical condition.

Blood Feast is presented in 1.85:1 (the Limited Edition Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast set included a bonus disc with a 1.33:1 version of the film that is not available here) and is more detailed than its DVD counterpart, including tighter element separation (the use of soft focus and zoom techniques mean that patterns are usually somewhat fuzzy), though it’s the more vivid colour quality that makes the upgrade really worthwhile. This is important, since the almost Technicolor-esque hues were one of the only things setting Lewis’ earlier movies apart from their grimy grindhouse counterparts. Grain levels vary, but tend to appear natural, rather than noisy/snowy. While flecks and scratches shimmy throughout, there’s very little in the way of actual compression noise or artefacts.

Blood Feast’s original mono soundtracks was transferred from directly from the 35mm prints and is presented in uncompressed 1.0 LPCM. The sound quality is particularly patchy, because so much of the footage was shot without production sound, though Blood Feast is generally more consistent than some of the other movies Arrow remastered for the bigger Lewis collection. Distortion effects are largely corrected, though there are still buzzes and pops sprinkled throughout. I’m reasonably positive that nothing could be done to make the vocal performances less tinny, so we’re just gonna have to live with it. The music, supplied by Lewis himself, tends to have decent depth and bass accompaniment.

Extras include:
  • Bonus movie: Scum of the Earth – Made the same year as Blood Feast and released several months later, Scum of the Earth (not to be confused with S.F. Brownrigg’s 1974 picture) was an early entry (the first, according to some sources) in the ‘roughie’ subgenre. Roughies obeyed the confines of period censorship by avoiding graphic violence and nudity, but actually tended to be more sinister than the splatter movies, because they derive their shock value from cruelty and blatant misogyny, rather than corny stage effects. While the barbarous torture and murder of women is a common theme throughout many of the director’s film’s, this extremely problematic subject matter can be overlooked when it’s doctored-up in ridiculously graphic violence and flamboyant performances. For what it’s worth, Scum of the Earth is comparatively well-made enough to feel like a ‘real’ B-movie noir from the era. Lewis, who has expressed some regret for hatching the roughie trend, comes closer to achieving a dreadful tone here than he did during any of his actual horror movies.
  • Director intros (1:32, 1:11, HD)
  • Blood Feast commentary with director H.G. Lewis and producer David F. Friedman, moderated by Something Weird Video’s Mike Vraney (obviously taken from the SWV DVD)
  • Blood Perspectives (10, 54, HD) – Filmmakers Nicholas McCarthy ( The Pact, 2012) and Rodney Asher ( Room 237, 2012) discuss the impact of Blood Feast.
  • Herschell’s History (5:18, SD) – A 2007 interview with Lewis in which he discusses Scum of the Earth.
  • How Herschell Found His Niche (7:15, HD) – Lewis on his early Nudie Cuties and The Adventures of Lucky Pierre (including some HD footage from the film).
  • Archive interview with Lewis and Friedman (18:28, SD) – This interview was recorded in 1987.
  • Carving Magic (20:31, HD) – A 1959 informational short featuring Blood Feast actor Bill Kerwin.
  • Blood Feast outtakes (45:55, SD) – This reel of raw footage is almost as long as the movie itself and runs through music from the film.
  • Scum of the Earth Clean Scenes (4:36, SD) – These are alternate, ‘cleaner’ versions of some of the movie’s nude scenes.
  • Promo gallery:
    • Blood Feast[/i] trailer, radio spot, and theater announcement
    • The Adventures of Lucky Pierre trailer
    • Three Bares trailer
    • Bell, Bare and Beautiful trailer


 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video October Wrap-Up

 Arrow Video October 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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