released in 2010 by Johnny Legend
video: 1080p / 1.78:1 / B&W / Mpeg-4 AVC
audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
discs: 1 x 25GB BD-R / 1 x DVD-R / All Region
supplements: Interview with Arch Hall Jr. by Ray Dennis Steckler, Arch Hall Jr. Video Songbook, Epilogue to The Sadist by Johnny Legend
The Sadist is available now through Amazon.com and Diabolik DVD.
Between Something Weird / Image Entertainment’s latest H. G. Lewis offering and Arrow Video’s long-delayed and predictably problematic treatment of Lamberto Bava’s Demons films, I’ve had about all I can take in the way of disappointing cult Blu-rays for this month. A pity, really, as I had sincerely hoped that at least one of those, if not both, would turn out all right. But if there’s one good thing about disappointment it’s that it can leave you open for the best kind of surprises, and Johnny Legend’s outwardly dubious high definition treatment of schlock icon Arch Hall Jr.’s one really good film is a surprise indeed.
Unlike the other two titles I mentioned, Legend’s The Sadist Blu-ray isn’t a new release at all. He first began offering this 2-disc Blu-ray / DVD combo online in 2010, and continues to give any sort of wide-release model amiss in favor of selling it himself, one copy at a time. Having been long devoted to the DVD issued by historian David Kalat’s All Day Entertainment in 1997 (most notable now for its feature commentary with The Sadist‘s renowned cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, and still available for those who missed out on it), it took me a while to work up the steam to give the Blu-ray a go – it was expensive after all, $29.95 plus shipping through most outlets. As is so often the case, however, my love of cinema ultimately overrode any good financial sense, and I finally broke down and ordered The Sadist Blu from Diabolik DVD on Friday. $30 was still a tough pill to swallow, but in retrospect I’m glad I did.
Before I get to the goods, it must be said that the outward impression of this Blu-ray doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. The sleeve art is nicely designed, if a bit over-populated with glowing critical quotations (there are even more on the back), but has the deficiency of being physically too tall for the sleeve it inhabits and sticking out about half a centimeter beyond the cellophane. With regards to the case itself, this may be the first time I’ve ever received a Blu-ray in one that’s completely devoid of any sort of Blu-ray logo. I honestly don’t hold either of these things against the release (as quibbles go they are the very definition of minor), but some may find the next bit more difficult to stomach. Having been produced in too low a run to warrant the expense and effort of standard replication, The Sadist is presented on a single-layer 25GB BD-R as opposed to the pressed discs we’re all familiar with. As one Blu-ray.com forum member noted of it, “BD-arrrrgh!”
With all the above taken into account I found myself expecting the very worst from this release when the package arrived yesterday, and it was with no small amount of animosity that I removed it from its resealable plastic baggie to check out the disc proper. Thankfully I soon found my low expectations to be thoroughly and delightfully trounced. Who could ever have thought that Johnny Legend would succeed where mainstream labels like Arrow Video and Image Entertainment failed?
The cover for The Sadist notes that it is sourced from a “new high definition transfer from the original 35mm master print”, and while the “new” bit may be a little suspect (this is the same transfer that was sourced for Legend’s DVD edition after all) the rest is difficult to argue with. Legend presents The Sadist in full 1080p at the comfortable matted ratio of 1.78:1 (the case incorrectly lists a taller 1.66:1), and I was floored by the results. It must be noted that this is not sourced from a pristine print, but it is more pristine than I ever remember the film being. Damage is prevalent throughout, from dirt and specks to reel change markers and all manner of scratching, but I was undeterred. The Sadist looks demonstrably better here than it ever has before on video, and those familiar with just how bad the film has looked in the past will be thrilled.
Rarely lauded by this reviewer, the contrast on this disc may be its keenest attribute. Ace photographer Zsigmond has always been a master of contrast, and the delicious range of it in The Sadist‘s black and white visuals is captured beautifully, perfectly here. The image is suitably crisp and detailed for a film of this vintage and budget ($33,000!), and close-ups can look mighty impressive. Textures are also strong throughout, and the light, unobtrusive grain goes unperturbed by man, beast, or video filter – those who like myself are downright allergic to digital manipulation will find no such impediments here. The Sadist looks like film, pure and simple, and in motion improves handily over both All Day Entertainment’s 15-year old effort and Legend’s own DVD – this transfer would look lovely projected theatrically.
Those worried by the 25GB BD-R specification and what it could have meant for the technical proficiency of this release can rest easy. The Sadist occupies the disc all by itself with the exception of a rudimentary main menu (play film is the only option) and fares all the better for it, with a robust 20.8 GB alotted for the 92 minute film. The video is encoded in Mpeg-4 AVC at a strong average bitrate of 29.4 Mbps with peaks reaching as high as 35.0 Mbps. Compression artifacts are never an issue and the image held up well under even my admittedly excessive scrutinizing. If there’s one sticking point to the release it’s the audio which, as was the case with many of Warner’s early Blu-rays, is presented in lossy Dolby Digital only. That’s not to say that the 2.0 monophonic mix sounds bad by any means, a few unsightly bumps around the reel changes excepted, but I’d love to have heard Paul Sawtell and Bert Schefter’s wicked opening theme in lossless. There are no subtitles.
While The Sadist occupies the Blu-ray by itself, the release is far from supplement free. Included in the package is Legend’s original DVD from 2009 (also a burned disc, a single-layer DVD-R), which arrives with a 10 minute Arch Hall Jr. interview conducted and photographed by the late Ray Dennis Steckler (trailers for Arch’s films are mixed in here as well), a 20 minute Arch Hall Jr. video songbook featuring songs from his various films, and a very enthusiastic 10 minute “epilogue” to the film by Johnny Legend himself. The commentary with Vilmos Zsigmond was unfortunately not licensed for this release, and those interested in it will want to check out the old All Day Entertainment DVD.
The Sadist is both a bona fide American nightmare and a surprisingly great film, and it’s lost none of its potent gut-wrench potential in the last fifty years. This Blu-ray edition from Johnny Legend is an unlikely hit that rises above its perceived limitations and bests some of the bigger labels at their own game. Sure it’s expensive, but I’d rather pay more for something that gets things mostly right than pay less for more crap like this. The Sadist gets a wholehearted endorsement from me, and fans of the film are encouraged to indulge.
Screenshots were captured as native resolution .png in Totem Movie Player, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool.