Thursday, October 31

Some thoughts on Scream Factory's Day of the Dead (1985) Blu-ray

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Originally, I was planning to write a little about George A. Romero's Day of the Dead, but you're probably already aware of its positive attributes. It was one of the first horror movies I remember seeing on my weekend tape rental raids back in middle school. I loved this sequel from the first sitdown, with no knowledge of the ever-diminishing baggage it carries with longtime Romero fans, and see it as equal to Night and Dawn while furthering the commentary in much bleaker terms for mankind. Of course, back then my thirteen-year-old self just thought it was the most freakin' awesome/goriest zombie movie ever.

So naturally I've bought every subsequent U.S. video release starting with Anchor Bay's first DVD release from 1998 (roughly a year after the format debuted). What seemed like several long years later, yet only 2003, AB released their two-disc "Divimax" DVD edition. While most lavished praise upon the disc's picture quality, I found colors looked far too washed out even compared to the vintage MEDIA VHS. Then in 2007; shortly after the Blu-ray format debuted, AB released the film in their initial BD rollout. Despite again receiving praise, the picture still seemed too drab and any jump in detail or color was negligible over the standard definition Divimax presentation. It was also obvious the same HD master created in 2003 was simply brought to Blu-ray years later.

Finally this past September, Scream Factory released their Collector's Edition Blu-ray, promising a new 1080p transfer derived from a fresh telecine of 35mm materials. Now, despite this effort, some supposed videophiles are still bitching about the transfer. Claims have been bounced around about the prior dull color scheme of Anchor Bay BD being more "accurate" while others discount the SF transfer entirely due to very slight vertical stretching of the picture (which looks more proportionally correct in my opinion).

I'm not going to blindly blow Scream Factory, they have their share of just fair looking titles, but they've finally rectified what was an ultimately weak effort from Anchor Bay. The color has been brought back, sometimes maybe a touch too much, but the prior AB transfer was too bright and so desaturated the picture simply looked lifeless and flat. The improved color of the SF helps heighten the sense of depth, clothing especially exhibits this, and clarity from a lack of digital filtering, which the AB was caked with, is so great you can sometimes see the make-up on the actors. It's not a perfect presentation, the compression could be better for those with giant front projection set-ups, but this new Blu-ray is no doubt a step-up visually.

The sound quality is a complicated story. It's well known the Anchor Bay DVD and BD suffer from several (small) edits to dialogue and sound effects. These were mistakenly made during the creation of 5.1 mix for the Divimax release. This surround mix was accomplished by taking several sources of the original monaural (or "1.0") and separating the dialogue, foley (sound effects), and John Harrison's score into individual "stems" and then mixing these together with care in staging certain sounds around the five audio and subwoofer channel (or "5.1") soundfield to create a "true" surround sound track. The unfortunate edits were in the best available source for the dialogue stem and went unnoticed during the mastering of the 5.1 track.

The Scream Factory BD doesn't include this surround track, instead opting for the original monaural sound that doesn't have these edits, but there's a trade-off. This 1.0 track, despite being presented in lossless DTS, sounds noticeably worse than the Anchor Bay disc. Dialogue is often very harsh and limited in range, especially Lori Cardille, and there's a constant low background hiss that's completely absent in the AB mix. There's even several pops in the audio similar sounding to a vinyl stylus crackling over a dusty groove. The dialogue in the AB mix clearly sounds more spacious with nearly no raspiness. The overall audio experience is also preferable with the Anchor Bay. It's one of the better mono into surround upmixes with zero unoriginal effects added. So the choice is yours, but it's easy to see most choosing the Scream Factory for the lack of edits. That still doesn't change the fact it usually sounds worse than a VHS.

Although if you have the Anchor Bay Blu-ray and don't love Day of the Dead, you can probably stick with it. But fans are going to want to check out this new Scream Factory edition. The new BD also includes an brand new eighty-five documentary, produced by Red Shirt Pictures, entitled World's End: The Legacy Of Day Of The Dead. This great look into Day manages to be the one golden supplement this film really needed. Many cast and crew members are interviewed with every production stage explored with a satisfying focus on the actors. Interestingly, the film clips in this supplement are taken from the Anchor Bay transfer (and the difference is clear). All of the other extras from the AB disc are included. I imagine in a few years a new super deluxe 4K Blu-ray will appear with even superior picture/sound quality, but for now this fan is definitely happy. Worth picking up.

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