A Demonic Lamberto Bava Double Feature

released April 30th, 2012 by Arrow Video
video: 1080p / 1.66:1 / Color / Mpeg-4 AVC
audio: 16-bit LPCM 2.0 Mono (English, Italian)
subtitles: English SDH, English
discs: 2 x single layer BD25 / Region B (locked)
supplements: Commentaries with director Lamberto Bava, SPFX artist Sergio Stivaleti and journalist Loris Curci on both films, Commentary with Bava, Stivaleti, star Geretta Geretta and composer Claudio Simonetti (on Demons only), five new featurettes (Dario’s Demonic Days, Defining an Era in Music, Creating Creature Carnage, Luigi Cozzi’s Top Italian Terrors and Bava to Bava), and liner notes by Calum Waddell
Demons limited edition 2-disc Blu-ray Steelbook contains both Demons and Demons 2: The Nightmare Returns, and is available through Amazon UK.

It’s nigh impossible to overstate the massive cult potential represented by Demons and Demons 2: The Nightmare Returns, a pair of shameless horror-pop wet dreams that oozed their way onto mid-80s cinema screens courtesy of executive producer Dario Argento and director Lamberto Bava. The first is a deserved fan favorite, an irresistible and endlessly exploitable blend of excessive prosthetic gore and macho action motifs set to a pounding hard rock score featuring the likes of Billy Idol, Motley Crue, Saxon, and Go West. The second never reaches the same dizzying heights of genre excess, but keeps the entertainment level high with its pre-REC premise (an apartment building infested with devilish evil) and boundless schlock appeal. Slick and stylish and remarkably stupid, these are bloody brain-off escapism of the highest possible order. I love them both, and make no excuses for it.

That said, it should be no surprise that I’ve been following news of Arrow Video’s high definition treatments with the utmost anticipation, hoping against all hope that a label best known for top-flight packaging and a lamentable penchant for dropping the ball with regards to quality control would be capable of giving the Demons films the respect I felt they deserved. I received the label’s limited edition Steelbook (which combines both films in one glossy and blessedly flair-impaired package) just yesterday, and have been eagerly devouring its contents ever since. While my overall opinion of the release is quite positive – this is undeniably the best these films have ever looked on video – I was none-the-less frustrated to see Arrow fall so predictably short on the technical front. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

For now, the good stuff! While the vast majority of high definition Italian genre masters have been handled by the problematc LVR in Rome, Arrow Video have gone out of their way to see that the transfers for Demons and Demons 2: The Nightmare Returns were done properly. With no suitable HD materials available new from-the-negative restorations of both films were undertaken by the esteemed Cineteca Bologna in collaboration with L’Immagine Ritrovata, and the results are as good as could ever have been hoped for.

Demons features light black levels, but is otherwise a faultless effort. The 1080p transfer presents the film at its intended theatrical ratio of 1.66:1, and the overall quality of the thing is impossibly crisp and impossibly clean in comparison to what’s come before. Detail is very strong where Gianlorenzo Battaglia’s moody photography allows, and Sergio Stivaletti’s close-up effects takes look exceptional. Colors are vibrant, brightness is at the appropriate levels (whites run dreadfully hot in many of the LVR transfers), and, as can be too rarely said of Italian genre cinema in HD, there’s a fine legitimate film texture underlying the image. Damage is minimal both here and in Demons 2: The Nightmare Returns, though the latter begins with a disclaimer – a handful of takes in the film present with a conspicuous judder that’s baked right into the original negative, and was impossible to satisfactorily resolve digitally. Otherwise Demons 2 is similarly flawless, with the benefit of tighter black levels all around. I only wish that was the end of the story…

Hints of just what’s wrong with Arrow Video’s Blu-rays of Demons and Demons 2: The Nightmare Returns begin with the disc specs themselves (these are both single layer treatments), but even that can’t explain the depth of what’s wrong here. The sad fact of the matter is that no label mangles their properties at the authoring level so regularly, so willfully, as Arrow Video does. They dependably do less with acceptable average bitrates than I’d have thought possible, and unfortunately the average bitrates here are a sight lower than that. Demons fairs the best overall, though its video stream only occupies a distinctly low 12.2 GB on disc. The 89 minute feature is Mpeg-4 AVC encoded at a middling average video bitrate of 18.0 Mbps, and compression artifacts are plentiful. The milky blacks regularly split into swaths of blocking, and the integrity of the film texture is compromised throughout. The 91 minute Demons 2: The Nightmare Returns goes lower still, receiving an Mpeg-4 AVC encode at an average video bitrate of just 15.6 Mbps, and its compression problems are more prevalent for the trouble. While I didn’t feel that either film looked especially bad in motion (even as poorly encoded as they are, these transfers can look very strong), the encode issues were still obvious enough in playback to trip my irate critical triggers – looking at the image up close is as disappointing an experience as I’ve had in a while. At the prices Arrow is currently demanding for these discs (around $40 for this Steelbook edition and ~$27 each for the individual releases through their storefront) this is just unacceptable.

Audio will be a sticking point for some. The English dub track provided for Demons is, interestingly enough, the same that graced the film’s American release, which features different use of some musical cues and sound effects as well as a few altered lines (the majority of the dubbed dialogue is the same as that head in the more common European dub). More important for many is the fact that the track is monophonic only, which substantially limits the audible scope of a film originally released Dolby stereo. The English track is encoded well however, in lossless 16-bit LPCM, and though flatter than I’d have preferred it still sounds pretty good. Otherwise Arrow have included the original Italian audio in 2.0 stereo, and the difference in both fullness and overall fidelity is considerable (flipping between the two with headphones was revelatory). Again presented in lossless 16-bit LPCM, the Italian audio sounds very robust, particularly during the various rock numbers. Demons 2: The Nightmare Returns sounds to be monophonic on both fronts (at least to these ears – I noted no separation in my headphone tests of either track), and the lossless 16-bit LPCM English and Italian tracks are less disparate than on Demons. The English dub sounds less crisp, unnaturally bass-heavy and perhaps even a bit compressed, while the Italian sounds better refined all around. Arrow offers English (for the Italian track) and English SDH (for the English track) subtitles for both films, and will hear no complaints on that front from me.

Supplements are of Arrow’s usual variety, if not quite up to the quantity that have graced some of their other efforts. Demons arrives with two feature commentaries, one with director Lamberto Bava, effects man Sergio Stivaletti, and journalist Loris Curci, and another with Bava, Stivaletti, composer Claudio Simonetti, and star Geretta Geretta. The disc also comes with three new featurettes: Splatter Spaghetti Style – Luigi Cozzi’s Top Italian Terrors (11 minutes, HD), Defining an Era in Music – Claudio Simonetti on Demons (9 minutes, SD), and Dario’s Demon Days – Dario Argento Remembers Demons (10 minutes, HD). Demons 2: The Nightmare Returns receives another commentary, with Bava, Stivaletti, and Curci, as well as two new featurettes: Bava to Bava – A History of Italian Horror with Luigi Cozzi (16 minutes, SD) and Creating Creature Carnage with Stivaletti (20 minutes, SD). The limited edition Steelbook eschews many of the paper extras that are to be included with the individual releases (which are currently delayed due to printing troubles), but does come with a short booklet of notes by Calum Waddell. The individual LE releases will include a fold-out poster, the usual multiple cover options, as well as parts one and two of a newly produced Demons 3 comic.

The Blu-ray debuts of Demons and Demons 2: The Nightmare Returns have a lot of potential, far more than Arrow have typically allowed, but it’s a shame they’ve been bogged down by technical issues that might so easily have been remedied. I didn’t pay anywhere near retail for this limited edition release (hooray gift certificates!), and no more than I’m out of pocket I can live with the limitations, but the high asking price makes for a tough overall recommendation. If you can overlook the persistent compression troubles then there really is a lot to love here, and I think that’s as close to a recommendation as I’m going to get.

Demons intermission card

Judder in Demons 2


Demons 2: The Nightmare Returns

Screenshots were captured as full resolution .png in Totem Movie Player, then compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 97% using the ImageMagick command line tool.