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Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

Dark Water

(2002, Blu-ray release: October 11)
Yoshimi is 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. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

When I first started writing for DVDActive more than ten years ago, my review prospects were largely limited to now-defunct boutique labels Tartan, Discotek, and Artsmagic. These companies thrived on releasing semi-recent Japanese horror in the wake of Hideo Nakata’s super-popular Ring (Japanese stylized: Ringu, 1998). Meanwhile, mainstream Hollywood started remaking every J-horror hit they could get their hands on. While I maintained affection for the work of Takashi Miike, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. and Shinya Tsukamoto, this constant onslaught of kaidan movies and their American equivalents grew exhausting. But, times change, J-horror (as well as its Korean, Chinese, and Thai counterparts) no longer dominates the market, and I’m ready to reconsider the impact of these formulaically eerie films, beginning with Nakata’s own post- Ringu series tale of aquatic terror, Dark Water (Japanese: Honogurai Mizu no soko kara, remade for American audiences by Walter Sales in 2005).

Dark Water’s greatest strengths are found in its twisted reality. Like he did with Ring, Nakata shoots the movie in a sombre, almost vérité manner, yet the mesmerizingly understated performances, deliberate pacing, and dream-like tone imply a universe where something as innocuous as a puddle of water or a child’s lost lunchbox can become a sinister omen. These mostly uneventful hints of aberration are what Nakata has constantly bested most of his contemporaries, and serve him well here, succeeding where the more pronounced startle scares fail. The screenplay – based on the book by Ring author Koji Suzuki and written by The Booth (Japanese: Bûsu, 2005) director Yoshihiro Nakamura and producer Kenichi Suzuki – is a not very subtle parable about the trials of divorce and single parenthood. As it deconstructs the stigma surrounding a working mother who is forced to raise a child alone (ultimately coming to a rather ‘problematic’ conclusion), it tosses Toshimi (played by Hitomi Kuroki) into embarrassing moral positions that would easily fit a straight-laced dramatic portrayal (she often has to choose between her professional career and caring for her emotionally fragile child). This cliché-driven narrative normalizes the situation even further, allowing for Nakata to take us by surprise as he continues to peel back reality and unleash nightmare logic.

There is an ongoing issue with the quality of Japanese home video releases from the early days of DVD. The problem is that most of us didn’t notice until these same transfers started hitting Blu-ray and 1080i/p television/streaming. Dark Water is, unfortunately, no exception. According to specs, Arrow was given the HD master directly by Kadokawa Pictures and performed their own digital restoration of the material. The term ‘HD master’ seems problematic to me, because, even armed with the knowledge that many of these mediocre Japanese HD transfers are derived from old scans, I suspect that this could just be an upconvert (related: their release of Kurosawa’s Kairo has been pushed back, though apparently for the sake of more extras, rather than a new transfer). The fuzzy details and weak blacks are problematic, but the prevailing issue is how ‘artefacty’ the image is, including both compression effects (edge enhancement and blocky gradations) and scanner noise that overwhelms the original film grain. Our own Chris Gould also suspects in his review that the contrast problems are the result of being mastered at PC levels (0-255) rather than video levels (16-235), which is another common problem for digital home video releases from Japan. True colour quality is harder to judge, because Nakata and cinematographer Junichiro Hayashi purposefully utilized sickly greens and golds, but I think that the intended palette is well-represented here.

Dark Water is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio and its original 5.1 sound. This is an extremely immersive mix without being particularly aggressive. Aside from the occasionally impactful tones of Kenji Kawai & Shikao Suga’s eerie score, the bulk of the track is devoted to the contrasts between utter silence and the louder threat of water in the form of rain, rushing rivers, dripping droplets, supernatural bubble jets, and overflowing bathtubs. There aren’t a lot of swirling directional effects, but plenty of stereo/surround involvement and plenty of LFE enhancement.

Extras include:
  • Hideo Nakata: Ghosts, Rings, and Water (26:03, HD) – The director discusses his early career, specifically the making-of Don’t Look Up (Japanese: Joyû-rei, 1995), Ring, and Dark Water, as well as his influences and opinion of the horror genre.
  • Koji Suzuki: Family Terrors (20:20, HD) – The author talks about his upbringing, his process, and becoming Japan’s pre-eminent horror novelist.
  • Junichiro Hayashi: Visualising Horror (19:16, HD) – The director of photography runs down his technique and his collaborations with Nakata.
  • Vintage making-of featurette (15:50. SD) – A behind-the-scenes EPK from 2002.
  • Archival featurettes:
    • Actress Hitomi Kuroki interview (7:59, SD)
    • Actress Asami Mizukawa audition footage/interview (4:38, SD)
    • Co-composer Shikao Suga interview (2:54, SD)
  • Trailer, teaser, and TV spots


 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up


Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

The Initiation

(1984, Blu-ray release: November 8th)
Kelly’s new sorority has a special initiation ritual in store for her – an after-hours break-in of her father’s department store. But what begins as a night of harmless college fun turns sour when, once inside the enormous mall, Kelly and her fellow pledges find themselves locked in for the night… with a deadly intruder stalking the corridors. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

Larry Steward’s The Initiation, not to be confused with Brian Yuzna’s Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990), was released towards the end of the slasher genre’s ‘golden era’ and was sort of forgotten in a sea of sorority-themed murder movies, such as Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974), Joseph Mazzuca’s Sisters of Death (1977), and Mark Rosman’s The House on Sorority Row (1983). It’s not even the only college-set slasher to feature a performance by Daphne Zuniga – she appeared in Jeffrey Obrow/Stephen Carpenter’s The Dorm that Dripped Blood the year before (1983). Initially helmed by BJ and the Bear (1979 -1981) director Peter Crane, who fell behind schedule, The Initiation was completed by Stewart, who was also mostly known for his work on television. Screenwriter Charles Pratt Jr. sticks to the college slasher bible in terms of the set-up, in which attractive, hip young people are isolated and picked-off by a mysterious killer with ties to the main character/Final Girl. His remarkably unremarkable version of the formula gets a boost from its melodrama and pseudo-scientific babble; both elements that the director(s) openly embrace(s). The stalking, the slashing, and the sorority rush week shenanigans all converge with the main character’s nightmares and a shocking event from her past (which is shown to the audience in the first scene). When this mish-mash works, The Initiation actually has more in common with ‘70s era Italian giallo movies than a typical, mid-’80s North American slashers.

Every excuse to delve into dream logic, Freudian jargon, and soap opera antics pulls the film closer to greatness, while the valley girl arguments and extended party sequences feel as if they’ve sprung from an entirely different movie. Perhaps this is where the division between Crane and Stewart – one of them drove the tone into odd places while the other drove it back towards the bloody violence, suspense, and gratuitous nudity that audiences expected at the time. The fact that both filmmakers cut their teeth on TV might have even worked to this particular movie’s advantage, because it ends up with a unique, though probably not intended flavour, as if a typical daytime drama is being attacked by the violence and T&A of an R-rated horror movie. It’s just as awkward as it sounds (especially the forced nudity, which practically screams ‘studio mandate’), but in a thoroughly enjoyable way. The murder sequences are pretty gory by 1984 standards (the time after parent groups complained about Friday the 13th). During the bloodiest kill, the filmmakers even cut between a victim’s cries of pain and a nearby friend’s cries of joy as she orgasms, even though equating sex & violence was a huge no-no for the censors in many countries (including the UK, where the scene was originally cut by almost a minute) at the time. The weapon of choice for the early murders is a gardening trowel (itself a means to set up a red herring), but extends to a machete, a hatchet, a bow & arrow, a hunting knife, and a harpoon gun when the killer discovers the mall’s sporting goods store.

Initiation isn’t the most popular movie of its era, but it has enjoyed easy availability on home video in North America. Following Thorn EMI’s VHS, the first DVD was an anamorphic release from Anchor Bay, which was reissued as a double-feature with Jim McCullough’s Mountaintop Motel Massacre (1986), then again by Image Entertainment. For its Blu-ray debut, Arrow has created a new 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer using a 2K scan of the original 35mm camera negative that had been remastered in-house at Pinewood Studios. The results are an authentically film-like image that recreates the purposefully ‘foggy’ look that Stewart/Crane and cinematographer George Tirl were going for. Grain levels may appear a little too thick for some viewers, though I think the real issue is that the levels have been cranked a bit too high. This doesn’t only blow-out some white levels and washout some of the finer detail during both dark and bright sequences, but it makes the grain itself appear quite black. Fortunately, there aren’t many other print damage issues (a smattering of dots here and there) and compression artefacts are basically nil. The occasional blurry corners of the frame appear to be an intended fisheye effect.

The original mono soundtrack is presented in uncompressed LPCM audio. This is a relatively low-impact track, though the film was produced at a time when it was becoming more common for even low-budget movies to be mixed for stereo, so the sound design is still well-layered. Dialogue has a natural, consistent quality with minor hiss and only a couple of issues with the sound floor dropping out. The party scene features loud, neatly separated pop tunes and Gabriel Black & Lance Ong’s electronic score neatly underlines these effects.

The all-new extras include:
  • Commentary with The Hysteria Continues – Members of the slasher/ giallo-themed podcast Justin Kerswell (also writer at hysterialives.co.uk and author of The Slasher Movie Book, 2012), Eric, Nathan, and Joseph (no last names given and I can’t seem to find them) try to make sense of the plot, note the connections to other movies, examine the careers of the cast & crew, and crack mostly funny jokes. This track is good fun all-around.
  • Sorority Saga (21:17, HD) – An interview with Charles Pratt, Jr. in which the screenwriter discusses film school, developing The Initiation as his feature writing debut, the producers changing directors, the film’s soap opera twists (it appears it was done on purpose!), and the movie’s legacy.
  • Pledge Night (18:36, HD) – Actor Christopher Bradley talks about trying out for the role (apparently he only got it because the other guy in the running left town), the hectic pace of the shoot, the woes of working with special make-up effects, the rest of the cast, the silly script, and his post Initiation career.
  • Dream Job (13:34, HD) – In the final interview featurette, actress Joy Jones recalls her career in film and theater, reiterates the story of the director change, and relays fond memories of the film, despite it being a difficult production.
  • Extended party scene (1:07, HD, no audio)
  • Trailer


 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up


Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up[h]Creepshow 2[h] (1987, Blu-ray release: December 13)
George A. Romero’s most profitable brush with the mainstream was 1982’s Creepshow, which was distributed by Warner Bros. Yet, his ‘independent spirit’ made it difficult to redeem his earned industry caché and he was forced to dial back his plans for his third ‘Dead’ film, Day of the Dead (1985), as well as Creepshow 2, which was reduced from five shorts to only three. Romero himself wrote the screenplay (with uncredited help from Lucille Fletcher), based it on Stephen King’s stories, rather than having King himself adapt them, and handed off directing duties to Creepshow’s cinematographer, Michael Gornick. The results are certainly a step down from the heights of the original film, which is perhaps the best film of its kind (or at least a very groundbreaking one in terms of its comic book qualities), but Creepshow 2 is better than its lack of reputation may suggest.

In the first chapter, Old Chief Wood'nhead, a local Native American elder gives valuable tribal heirlooms to a small town hardware store owner as a token of appreciation for lending them money over the years. Soon after, ne'er-do-wells rob the store, kill the owner and his wife, and steals the heirlooms, prompting the store’s wooden Indian mascot to spring to life and seek bloody revenge. Here, the film’s greatest strengths and weaknesses constantly overlap. Gornick and Romero get a lot of mileage out of juxtaposing of folksy charm and comic book aesthetic, thanks to George Kennedy & Dorothy Lamour’s adorably sappy performances and cinematographer Richard Hart & Tom Hurwitz’ outrageous photography. Yet, the material is stretched paper-thin and the continued attempts at ‘natural’ character development grows tedious. In turn, the bloody retribution is way too quick.

In the second chapter, The Raft, promiscuous, drug-abusing college students take a trip to an isolated lake where they’re marooned on a raft by a slimey, man-eating blob. It is an improvement in pacing and entertainment value, despite its derivative concept or perhaps even because of it. The simplicity of a monster eating nearly naked co-eds fits the anthology format nicely, even without the benefit of the typical EC Comics irony. The creature/gore effects are also appropriately gruesome, setting the stage for Chuck Russell’s 1988 bigger-budget Blob remake.

The film ends on a high note with The Hitch-hiker. This time, a woman rushing home from an overnight affair strikes a roadside hitcher and leaves the scene of the crime. Unfortunately for her, the poor sap she hit doesn’t stay dead. The Hitch-hiker feels the most like something Romero himself might’ve directed, unlike the first two episodes, which feel pretty detached from his stylized black comedy. It features a perfectly punchy tempo, fulfills the EC brand of morality tale storytelling, and features some delightfully nasty gore effects.

Romero & Richard P. Rubinstein’s Laurel Entertainment produced both Creepshow and Creepshow 2, though the second film was distributed by New World Pictures. As a result, Warner Bros. maintained video distribution for the first film stateside, while Creepshow 2 has bounced around a bit. Anchor Bay first released it on DVD in 2001, then recycled their transfer for a Divimax special edition and various other barebones re-issues. For the film’s Blu-ray debut, Arrow has scanned the original 35mm interpositive in 2K and restored/remastered the material (again at Pinewood Studios). Creepshow 2’s smaller budget means it doesn’t have the special effects or production values of its predecessor, but it is directed by a cinematographer who helped develop Creepshow’s comic book-inspired palette, so it is slick and amazingly colourful. The first two stories look particularly sharp and clean, due to their flashier/brighter lighting schemes. There’s loads of information in the backgrounds of wider shots and close-up textures are tightly knit. The third story was shot largely in the elements at night, which creates some balance issues and upticks in grain. While it is a grand upgrade over the almost indiscernible DVD, Arrow may have boosted contrast a little too high in an effort to unveil extra detail, because there are some black pooling issues and a few rough gradations. This is also one of the more dirty prints I’ve seen from Arrow in a while. Still, the problems are never excessive, the colour quality is rich, and its overall detail ‘bounce’ is fantastic.

Arrow has included the original mono (scanned from the 35mm source) alongside stereo 2.0 and 5.1 remix options, presumably taken from the Anchor Bay DVDs. The mono and stereo tracks are presented in LPCM and the 5.1 is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. I’m a bit confused on what the ‘appropriate’ track is in this case, because the movie was reportedly presented in stereo as well as mono. Either this is the original stereo, or a mixdown of the remix. To my ear, however, the 2.0 track is the best in terms of balance, clarity, and consistent volume. Its tones are almost identical to the single-channel track, but the two-channel spread serves the musical soundtrack much better. The score, which is credited to Les Reed and Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman, also sounds nice on the 5.1 track, but the centered dialogue/incidental effects seem muffled and some of the updated surround effects don’t really work.

Extras include:
  • Commentary with director Michael Gornick – This track, moderated by Perry Martin, was originally recorded for Anchor Bay’s US/UK special edition DVDs. Gornick has a velvety radio-friendly voice and fills the track with facts and figures from start to finish. Martin helps him on his way with pertinent questions, but doesn’t have to do much to keep the director focused.
  • Screenplay for a Sequel (10:45, HD) – A new interview with Romero, who discusses the legacy of EC Comics, the original Creepshow, Creepshow 2 production woes, Gornick’s work as director, and the series’ legacy.
  • Tales from the Creep (7:59, HD) – The next Arrow exclusive interview is with make-up artist Tom Savini, who appeared as the physical manifestation of The Creep in Creepshow 2. He talks about his passive role on the film as an actor only. He also mentions his ‘pay or play’ contract with New World, which means he was paid for directing the movie even though he didn’t.
  • Poncho’s Last Ride (14:44, HD) – Actor Daniel Beer (Randy during the Raft segment) recalls a series of behind-the-scenes anecdotes, including the time he almost died of hypothermia from swimming in the freezing lake water.
  • The Road to Dover (13:31, HD) – The last new extra is an interview with actor Tom Wright (the Hitch-hiker), who runs down his earlier career and the process of creating a character using his skills as an actor and stuntman.Anchor Bay DVD featurettes:
    • Nightmares in Foam Rubber (32:02, SD) – A substantial interview featurette with special make-up effects artists Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero
    • My Friend Rick (2:43, SD) – Berger recalls hunting down and, later, working with make-up legend Rick Baker.
    • Behind-the-scenes footage (5:50, SD)
  • Image gallery
  • Two trailers and a TV spots


 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

 Arrow Year-End Review Round-Up

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-rays and 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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