More H.G. Lewis to Blu-ray in January from Vinegar Syndrome

Another day, another new cult video label, though I dare say this one has me excited. Vinegar Syndrome (a subsidiary of the Process Blue restoration lab) take their name from that horrid destructive condition that has thankfully ignored my own meager 8-and-16mm library, and their aim is to rescue as many exploitation obscurities as they can manage from that same undignified and smelly fate. They’ve taken as their debut project a triple feature (in Blu-ray / DVD combo pack) of rare Herschell Gordon Lewis sexploiters, and by virtue of the HGL pedigree alone I can’t very well not support that. They’ve got a few other tasty morsels lined up for DVD and Blu-ray release as well, like Massage Parlor MurdersSavage Water and Death by Invitation, but what really has me excited for VinSyn’s future is this tidbit from their “About” page:

Film restoration can easily become a tricky subject especially with a lack of general consensus on how to do it ‘right.’ Our goal is to as accurately as possible recreate a theatrical viewing experience. We never employ any noise/grain reduction and use digital restoration tools only to remove or reduce severe image damage.

What’s that, you say? A label that just wishes to bring their properties to home video in as authentic-to-source a manner as possible while avoiding the digital pitfalls suffered by majors and minors alike? VinSyn are pushing all sorts of the right buttons with me, and here’s hoping it translates into plenty of groovy grindhouse video releases in the process.

As for The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis triple feature Blu-ray / DVD combo pack, it streets January 8th and can be pre-ordered either directly through Vinegar Syndrome (free US shipping!) or through standard outlets like Amazon.com. The details, copied from the press release, are quoted below:

The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis
Three previously thought lost sexploitation features from Herschell Gordon Lewis, the acclaimed master of exploitation cinema.

ECSTASIES OF WOMEN (1969) is a torrid comedy/drama set in the swinging world of late 60s Los Angeles.
LINDA AND ABILENE (1969) combines the savagery of a classic Hollywood western with sequences of intense eroticism.
BLACK LOVE (1971) exposes the lovemaking habits of the contemporary black couple through a series of amusing and creative vignettes.

All three films have been restored in 2K from their original camera negatives and are being released on home video for the first time anywhere in the world!

Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack Bonus Features:
– Original theatrical trailers for each film
– Extensive historical liner notes
– Special edition lab cards for each film

For samples from the 2k restorations of each film check VinSyn’s blog post here. They look damn good to me, so good that I’ve already pre-ordered a copy for the Wtf-Film video shelf. After the relative disappointment of Image / Something Weird’s HGL treatments I can’t wait to get my paws on this…

The Wizard of Gore / The Gore Gore Girls

released May 1st, 2012
by
Something Weird / Image Entertainment
video: 1080p / 1.78:1
audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0 English
subtitles: none
disc: dual layer BD50 / Region A
The Wizard of Gore / The Gore Gore Girls Blood-Drenched Double Feature Blu-ray is readily available through Amazon.com.

Something Weird and Image Entertainment simultaneously thrilled and disappointed long-time fans of exploitation icon Herschell Gordon Lewis with their The Blood Trilogy Blu-ray from last year. On the one hand the films had never looked better, but issues with improper matting (Color Me Blood Red and Two Thousand Maniacs were essentially vertically panned-and-scanned into an aspect ratio of 1.78:1) and compression (everything on the release, and there was a lot, was crammed onto a single BD50) undermined many of its positives. Even so, I was enthusiastic enough about that effort that I pre-ordered the labels’ second Lewis Blu-ray collection as soon as it was announced.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the thing, I should say that, as with The Blood Trilogy, I’m pleased enough with The Wizard of Gore / The Gore Gore Girls Blu-ray double feature to offer it a grudging recommendation – it certainly helps that it only ran me $11. Still, fans expecting any sort of improvement over the former release’s presentation should keep those expectations in check, as The Wizard of Gore / The Gore Gore Girls has plenty of troubles of its own.

First, bear with me while I offer a disgruntled note on dual layering. As you’ll see from the information I’ve listed at the head of this article, The Wizard of Gore / The Gore Gore Girls double feature is indeed housed on a dual layer BD50 – unfortunately that doesn’t tell the whole story. The release actually totals just 26.7 GB, meaning it occupies a hair more than half the total capacity offered by a 50 GB dual layer Blu-ray disc. For all practical purposes this is a dual layer disc in name only – the two features take up just 12.8 and 12.0 GB respectively, with measly average bitrates to match. In other words, Something Weird / Image have foot the bill for a dual layer Blu-ray disc and then not used the extra space they paid for. It’s akin to a publisher printing a 200 page book with 200 additional blank pages at the end, and really begs the question – Why bother?

With regards to the films, both The Wizard of Gore and The Gore Gore Girls are transferred from positive 35mm elements (the latter sporting the alternate title Blood Orgy). Damage is prevalent throughout both features, from minor spots and speckling to cue marks, persistent vertical scratching, and even the odd splice. For cheap drive-in fair like this, the elements for which no one thought to preserve until well after the fact, this kind of damage is to be expected, and it does nothing to detract from the quality (or lack thereof) of the films themselves. Otherwise the source prints could best be described as inconsistent, a fact due both to production limitations and age. Though color can vary considerably from shot to shot, contrast is generally strong – with regards to The Gore Gore Girls the contrast can actually be overbearing, but even this overly dark image remains a revelation in comparison to the blown-out SD transfers of before.

Speaking more specifically, The Wizard of Gore is easily the stronger presentation of the two. Presented in 1080p courtesy of a flat-matted 1.78:1 transfer (as opposed to the selectively matted Color Me Blood Red and Two Thousand Maniacs), Wizard looks perfectly acceptable, if far from earth-shattering, in its high definition debut. Despite Lewis’ own dubious understanding of the topic and the frequency of awkward compositions, the framing here looks comfortable for the most part. Some manner of grain suppression appears to have bee applied, though not to the point that all texture has been obliterated, and the image is free from the waxy quality that plagues more substantially DNR’d transfers. Color and contrast both improve appreciably over past SD editions (despite some variation in both the frequent reds are well saturated and appropriately bloody), but the big story here may be the detail. Regardless of the limitations of the materials (and a frequent lack of focus in the original photography) detail can really impress in places, particularly during the close-ups that mark Montag the Magnificent’s television act.

Unfortunately the space constraints levied upon The Wizard of Gore do take their toll, though thankfully not to the extent that they could and perhaps should have. The film is granted a (very) modest Mpeg-4 AVC encode at an average video bitrate of 14.7 Mbps, and though the image is passable overall minor artifacts (blocking in the grain and a bit of banding) can be found tinkering about in the background throughout. Still, I’ve seen much worse done with much more, and none of the encode limitations here were so obvious as to distract me during playback. Audio sounds precisely as one would imagine (flat, poorly mixed, and overall bad), though Something Weird / Image can’t be faulted for that. The Wizard of Gore gets a technically robust DTS-HD MA 2.0 treatment that precisely preserves every inch of its awfulness, and aside from the lack of subtitles (some fun could have been had with these given Montag’s bizarrely stilted line delivery – “Why, it’s nothing more than an i-LOOOOO-sion!”) I’ve no complaints on this front.

The presentation for The Gore Gore Girls is of substantially weaker stuff all around, even though the source element appears to have been of comparable quality to that for The Wizard of Gore. Presented in 1080p at a flat-matted ratio of 1.78:1, framing may be a bit more of a sticking point here than with the co-feature. The Gore Gore Girls features especially shoddy blocking and framing throughout, and while Lewis appears to have been loosely composing for widescreen matting (a quick look at an old open SD master reveals as much) the photography doesn’t look especially comfortable that way. Characters wander in and out of their proper spots, the camera tilts, and in more careless moments whole heads can be lopped off of Lewis’ subjects (and not in the way fans like). Regardless of how this may have been projected theatrically I’d argue that open matte 4:3 would have been the way to go with this video edition.

Framing is not the only problematic aspect of the presentation, however, as The Gore Gore Girls suffers from something until now absent from Something Weird’s Blu-ray efforts – excessive digital manipulation. Those looking for grain will find none here, though the insubstantial pretense of it can be glimpsed from time to time, and the image is so smooth in places as to appear more illustrated than photographed (see the shot above). Frequent edging indicates some attempts at artificial sharpening, but detail goes the way of the grain – fine details are practically nonexistent, and there’s nothing in the way of texture to be seen. Motion fairs poorly as well, and is riddled with blocky patterning.

With regards to the encode The Gore Gore Girls is technically stronger, Mpeg-4 AVC at an average video bitrate of 15.7 Mbps, but the limitations of the transfer prevent it from really benefiting. Aside from some blotchiness here and there artifacts are negligible, though with such a dearth of detail and texture it couldn’t have been that difficult for the encoder to keep track – the only thing that keeps this looking at all like film is the frequent unrestored damage. Still, the usual reviewer platitude applies. This looks better than the old DVD by quite a bit, but make of that what you will. The audio is again properly presented in lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0, and while The Gore Gore Girls arguably sounds worse than The Wizard of Gore I doubt it should sound any better. As with The Wizard of Gore there are no subtitles.

The release offers a healthy spate of supplements, even if there’s nothing new in the mix. Both The Wizard of Gore and The Gore Gore Girls are accompanied by commentaries with producer / director Herschell Gordon Lewis, and a comprehensive video gallery of H.G. Lewis exploitation art is included as well. The bet supplement of the bunch may be the disc’s stack of trailers – aside from a preview for the recent documentary Godfather of Gore, you get trailers for Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs, Color Me Blood Red, The Alley Tramp, Goldilocks and the Three Bares, The Gruesome Twosome, She-Devils on Wheels, Something Weird, and The Wizard of Gore.

My temptation to recommend Herschell Gordon Lewis’ films grows exponentially with their awfulness, and both The Wizard of Gore and The Gore Gore Girls are downright terrible stuff – I love it! I just wish I could say the same for this Blu-ray from Something Weird / Image Entertainment. There are too many issues with the feature presentations for me to recommend it too wholeheartedly, though the price is right – this was worth the $11 I paid for it, if not much more. This is a decent if utterly unremarkable way to see these two Lewis shockers, and those looking for nothing more will likely be satisfied.

The Wizard of Gore

The Gore Gore Girls

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.

Color Me Blood Red

Year: 1964  Company: Jacqueline Kay / Friedman – Lewis Productions   Runtime: 87′
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis   Writer: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Cinematography: Herschell Gordon Lewis   Cast: Gordon Oas-Heim (as Don Joseph), Candi Conder,
Elyn Warner, Pat Lee, Jerome Eden, Scott H. Hall, Jim Jaekel, Iris Marshall, William Harris, Cathy Collins
Disc company: Something Weird / Image Entertainment   Video: 1080p 1.78:1   Audio: LPCM 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: BD50 (Region A)   Release Date: 09/27/2011   Released as part of the Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Trilogy Blu-ray collection, and available for purchase through Amazon.com
This review is part three of three of our coverage of the Something Weird / Image Entertainment Blu-ray release of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Trilogy – reviews of Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs have already been published.

To paraphrase an old proverb, all good things must come to an end.  Not only did the luck of exploitation dynamos Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman run out with Color Me Blood Red, a bland little shocker produced in 1964 but not released until late 1965, but their partnership did as well.  Lewis would go on to direct a few hillbilly adventures and a host of other gore classics (like The Gruesome TwosomeWizard of Gore and The Gore Gore Girls) before embarking on a successful career in direct marketing, while Friedman would continue peddling his own peculiar brands of entertainment (Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS, Love Camp 7 and She-Freak).  Color Me Blood Red never turned much business for either party, and would likely have faded into obscurity all together had drive-in entrepreneurs not been so cunning as to re-release it, triple-billed with the infinitely more amusing Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs.

Clearly inspired by Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood, a fusion of comedy and horror in which Dick Miller turns a penchant for murder into a thriving sculpting career, Color Me Blood Red follows the dead-serious misadventures of struggling painter Adam Sorg (Minnesota’s own Gordan Oas-Heim, as Don Joseph), who finds a cure for his color woes in human blood.  As Sorg earns praise from a persnickety local critic the bodies start piling up, and its not long before the teen-aged daughter of Sorg’s biggest fan and her assortment of obnoxious friends find themselves in the artist’s murderous sights.

From the stock musical cues right on up, Color Me Blood Red is a dull and monotonous affair.  The screenplay by Lewis is below even his usual standards, and the concept inspires too little gruesome action and far, far too much forgettable filler.  The primary narrative of Sorg’s decline from struggling artist to homicidal maniac often plays second fiddle to a lot of paddle boating and general mucking about by Jerome Eden (a sort of poverty row Frankie Avalon who, thankfully, never sings) and his gaggle of beach-bound fans, mind-numbing in-action that never expands beyond Sorg’s beach front home and the beach itself.  The sum experience is not unlike being forced to sit through reels upon reels of your lamest friend’s vacation videos, and the minimal gore payoff hardly makes it worth the effort.  Some may find solace in the dialogue’s occasional lapses into absurdity (“Holy Bananas! It’s a girl’s leg!” is a perennial favorite), but I found the fast-forward button to be more appealing.

There is gore to be found here, and of the same brilliantly low-tech variety one should expect of vintage Lewis, but it’s also in much shorter supply than in companion pieces Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs.  The lone standout sequence has Sorg menacing a pair of unassuming young paddle-boaters with a fire poker, one of whom he later bleeds for artistic inspiration in the back room of his home.  Otherwise there’s a stabbing and a lot of painting with red corpuscles to look forward to, but not much else.  From a story filled to tipping point with ripe and disposable anonymous youth I was expecting a lot more.

Far more entertaining than the film itself is its advertising campaign, which prominently featured a devil standing before an easel and promised audiences “A Blood-Spattered Study in the Macabre… Drenched in Crimson Color!”.  The theatrical trailer offers even more to love, its narrator gravely intoning “You must keep reminding yourself: It’s just a movie… It’s just a movie… It’s just a movie…”  It’s more the pity, then, that Color Me Blood Red turned out to be so forgettable.  Skip it.


Adam Sorg, tortured artist and dresser.

Something Weird, through distributor Image Entertainment, presents Color Me Blood Red for the first time on Blu-ray by way of The Blood Trilogy collection (along with Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs, all housed on a single dual layer BD50).  Like Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs before it, Color Me Blood Read is transferred from a positive theatrical source, with results neither as surprising as the former or distressing as the latter.  Print quality here is strictly middle of the road, with frequent dirt, grit and speckling, reel change markers, and the odd splice and photochemical damage.  I was overall pleased with the quality of the source, which ranks as more than “good enough” for the film in question.

Presented in 1080p, Color Me Blood Red‘s matted aspect ratio of 1.78:1 makes for a decent viewing experience but is not without controversy.  Quick comparisons between an older SD variant and this new HD transfer show that the image typically loses information at the bottom of the frame, to the point that information is occasionally gained at the top.  Of course this isn’t consistent, and there are at least a few instances in which more is matted from the top than from the bottom.  There is very little to no head room in the original full frame photography, leaving me to wonder whether this was ever meant to be shown at a widescreen aspect ratio at all, and the new transfer’s selective matting amounts a new brand of pan-and-scanning, with the top and bottom falling victim as opposed to the sides.  Those touchy on the subject will want to hold onto their older DVDs, which retain a more open full frame aspect ratio.

Colors and contrast are again a sticking point.  The all-important reds again take a shift for the magenta, leading the artificial blood to look especially so and unnaturally purple / pink.  Here the trouble looks to be present across the board, meaning that a modicum of hue tweaking could have resolved it from the start.  Contrast is, as with the rest of the transfers on this disc, flat, and while not so bothersome as the color situation could just as easily have been remedied.  Color Me Blood Red lacks any appreciable sharpness due to the frequent focusing woes of the original photography (check out that final close-up), with few moments of exceptional detail.  Film texture is evident throughout, and the AVC encode at an average video bitrate of 19.6 Mbps does a reasonable if imperfect job of supporting it – I noted no flagrant encoding deficiencies.  The issues of the aspect ratio aside this transfer really doesn’t look that bad, and the improvement over SD iterations is obvious even if the color and contrast levels leave something to be desired.

For the sake of full disclosure, HD screenshots were captured as .png at full resolution in MPlayer and compressed to .jpg using the ImageMagick command-line tool.  After comparing to the original .png files the results appeared quite transparent to these eyes, even when zooming in 2-3x.

Audio is once again presented in uncompressed 16-bit Linear PCM monophonic English.  There’s no sign of restoration in sight but I can’t see too many complaining, as the library music, sound effects and dialogue all come through just fine.  There are no accompanying subtitles.

Supplements are sourced from past editions and mirror those of the other features in the collection, starting off with another excellent  commentary track with director Herschell Gordon Lewis, producer David F. Friedman, and Something Weird’s Michael Vraney.  Lewis and Friedman’s partnership dissolved during the production of Color Me Blood Red, and though the two’s friendship later recovered that subject is the focus of much of the discussion here.  Next up is a 10 minute collection of silent outtakes and alternate footage in SD, with a theatrical trailer in SD and a few images in the Lewis / Friedman art gallery rounding out the film-specific extras. (Each of the other films in the collection is also accompanied by a feature audio commentary, outtake footage, and an original trailer, with short subjects Carving Magic and Follow That Skirt and a trailer for the Something Weird documentary Godfather of Gore finishing off the disc)

Two Thousand Maniacs may be this disc’s low water mark with regards to its technical deficiencies, but Color Me Blood Red is easily its lowest in terms of entertainment value.  The bland A Bucket of Blood-inspired narrative is pumped so full of dull youth filler that its few high points are easily lost in the shuffle.  Something Weird’s high definition revisit is not without its problems, particularly when it comes to the questionable 1.78:1 framing, but for a snoozer like this I’m not one to complain too loudly.  For $4 per film it could certainly have been worse.

in conclusion
Film: Pretty Bland  Video: Good +  Audio: Very Good   Supplements: Very Good
Harrumphs: Limited video bitrate, with all three films plus extras cohabiting one dual layer BD50, compromised framing and no subtitles.
Packaging: Standard Blu-ray case.

Two Thousand Maniacs

Year: 1964  Company: Jacqueline Kay / Friedman – Lewis Productions   Runtime: 87′
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis   Writer: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Cinematography: Herschell Gordon Lewis   Music: Larry Wellington, Herschell Gordon Lewis
Cast: William Kerwin, Connie Mason, Jeffrey Allen, Shelby Livingston, Ben Moore, Jerome Eden, Gary Bakeman
Disc company: Something Weird / Image Entertainment   Video: 1080p 1.78:1   Audio: LPCM 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: BD50 (Region A)   Release Date: 09/27/2011   Released as part of the Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Trilogy Blu-ray collection, and available for purchase through Amazon.com
This review is part two of three of our coverage of the Something Weird / Image Entertainment Blu-ray release of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Trilogy – a review of Blood Feast has already been published, and Color Me Blood Red will follow shortly.

With the 1963 release of their influential inaugural gore effort Blood Feast proving an epic success (a quarter million in film rentals – 10 times the film’s meager budget – were recorded in its Southeastern regional release alone), it was only natural that producer David F. Friedman and director Herschell Gordon Lewis should try to make their peculiar brand of crimson lightning strike twice.  Granted nearly three times the budget ($60,000 baby!) and filmed on location in St. Cloud, Florida, Blood Feast‘s more accomplished thematic progeny Two Thousand Maniacs would have its premiere just 8 months further on.  Though its success was limited compared to what had come before, more than enough proceeds rolled in to ensure that blood would flow forever after.

Largely inspired by MGM’s big-budget Cinemascope musical Brigadoon, in which a mystical village emerges from the mists of the Scottish countryside once every hundred years, Two Thousand Maniacs offers up Southern-style exploitation escapism by way of a small town that reappears on the centennial of its Civil War-era destruction so that its slaughtered residents might take revenge on their Yankee aggressors.  The details of the premise known, the story proves a simple no-nonsense affair.  The temporarily revivified citizenry of sleepy Pleasant Valley lure two carloads of Yankees (identified by license plate) to town as the “guests of honor” of their centennial celebration.  Teacher Tom and tag-along Terry (William Kerwin and Connie Mason in the starring roles) soon begin to think that there’s more to their hosts than meets the eye and set about investigating, while their anonymous compatriots find themselves the unwitting star attractions of the town’s gruesome retribution.

Say what you will for its entertainment value, but there’s little denying that Blood Feast isn’t a very good film by most qualifying standards.  With a town-worth of production value, a huge cast of local extras, and more general competence to be had in pretty much every department, Two Thousand Maniacs not only excels beyond its predecessor as film but also maintains the uneasy balance between the grisly and the goofy that helped make it so much fun.  There’s a carnival atmosphere that pervades throughout, with the residents of Pleasant Valley perpetually singing and dancing and waving their commemorative Confederate flags.  It’s all quite charming in a subversive sort of way, like a Gone With the Wind for exploitation devotees.  Hell, it’s hard not to want the South to rise again after a few repetitions of the catchy “Rebel Yell” (complete with an inspired vocal turn by director Herschell Gordon Lewis himself).

Adding to the insidiously cheerful atmosphere are the unhinged dramatics of Jeffrey Allen (Something Weird, This Stuff’ll Kill Ya!) as Pleasant Valley’s boisterous Mayor Buckman.  He’s a legitimately imposing figure, with his deep, booming voice and devilish ulterior motives, but is ultimately as lovable a murderous madman as ever has been.  Even after all the un-pleasantries he dishes out to his Yankee guests – and there are plenty – he’s just impossible to hate.  Less effectual is the performance of Gary Bakeman as town cut-up and events organizer Rufus, an over-the-top be-overalled caricature whose scenery chewing would have left the film coated in chaw and tooth marks had the saying any literal merit.  William Kerwin maintains his usual level of professionalism, and does far better by his role than most would ever credit him for, while Connie Mason’s physical presence again makes up for whatever she lacks in thespian charms.  The rest of the cast (including Jerome Eden, who would be prominently featured in the following year’s Color Me Blood Red) more or less fades into the background, which says more for their talents than any individual assessment could.

In direct comparison to its predecessor the all-important gore quotient for Two Thousand Maniacs seems more restrained, though thanks to more thoughtful direction on the part of Lewis that’s never really a problem.  Rather than just flinging audiences headlong into its ludicrous gore set pieces, a la Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs makes a concerted effort to build a sense of suspense and dread in advance of its shocks.  When at its best, as when a young Yankee woman has her thumb removed by a local beau, only to face greater dismemberment at the hands of those from whom she seeks help, the extra effort here really pays off.  The gore effects themselves are of the same stuff as before, and the Kaopectate-laced stage blood and appropriated bits of mannequin every bit as obvious, but they’re undeniably colorful (“Gruesomely stained in Blood Color!” proclaimed the ad campaign) and the added emphasis on build-up renders them more effective than they have any right to be.

As with its companion Blood Feast there’s not much to Two Thousand Maniacs that’s likely to shock audiences these days, but its quaintness in comparison to modern horrors is a large part of why I find it so endearing.  Director Herschell Gordon Lewis has been known to list this as his favorite of his films, and I can’t argue with that sentiment.  Of course I’m also a Southerner at heart (displaced though I may be in the far-flung north), so perhaps I’m biased to this particular myth of the South, however preposterous.  Bias or no, Two Thousand Maniacs‘ place as a classic of drive-in exploitation has long been secure, and unlike so many of its peers it retains a genuine capacity to entertain.  I’ll not ask for more.


Another trustworthy, stable personality from the H.G. Lewis stable.

Something Weird, through distributor Image Entertainment, present Two Thousand Maniacs for the first time on Blu-ray by way of The Blood Trilogy collection (along with Blood Feast and Color Me Blood Red, all housed on a single dual layer BD50).  Like Blood Feast before it, Two Thousand Maniacs is transferred from a positive theatrical source, though in this case the results are considerably less appealing.  The state of the source elements for Two Thousand Maniacs leave a lot to be desired from the outset, and while I’m not one to complain too much about the sad state of source prints (particularly in the case of a film for which better elements simply may not exist) the damage here is still quite striking.  Aside from the expected dirt, speckling and reel change markers, there are also persistent green emulsion scratches, printed-in black damage, and more than a few jump cuts.  This is likely a more ragged appearance than most will be expecting, even for a low budget film of this vintage, and I’ve done nothing to conceal the source defects in the images below.

Presented in 1080p at a matted widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1, Two Thousand Maniacs also provides a softer, less detailed presentation than its two co-features by virtue of its source limitations.  The framing here is more problematic than on Blood Feast, and seems to selectively matte from either the top or bottom (or both) of the frame depending on the situation.  Two prime examples can be found in the famed barrel roll scene, in which the 6th sample frame below is matted along the bottom, while the 7th sample frame is matted along the top.  This is a case where an open matte presentation would have been vastly preferred over the matted 1.78:1, as the framing for the original photography is all over the place, though the new transfer does add substantially to the left and right of the frame.  Perhaps the most egregious misstep with this film is that it is granted the least impressive of the disc’s encodes (AVC at an average video bitrate of only 15.7 Mbps), and it shows.  The variable grain structure of the print is simply not supported, and on close inspection reveals clumping artifacts and an unnaturally digital appearance.  It’s far from the worst encode I’ve seen, and it undoubtedly has its stronger moments, but with 8 unused GB of space on the dual layered disc there was quite literally room for improvement.

In other areas the transfer is similarly lackluster.  The quality of color reproduction varies on a scene-by-scene and sometimes shot-by-shot basis, and while some fluctuation is expected a modicum of color tweaking here or there could have safely laid this issue to rest.  That said, colors are for the most part healthy, if a little flat, but there are times when the blues and all-important reds take a shift for the magenta with unsavory results (see the 2nd and 6th samples below).  Black levels, as was the case with Blood Feast, also fall flat and, just like the color inconsistencies, could easily have been remedied through minor tweaking of the transfer.  Overall I’d say that Two Thousand Maniacs on Blu-ray offered me an okay but thoroughly unremarkable viewing experience, and while it undeniably excels in ways beyond the previous DVD edition its limitations are really too numerous, and at times too egregious, to ignore.

For the sake of full disclosure, HD screenshots were captured as .png at full resolution in MPlayer and compressed to .jpg using the ImageMagick command-line tool.  After comparing to the original .png files the results appeared quite transparent to these eyes, even when zooming in 2-3x.  I’ve made no effort to avoid the considerable damage and other weaknesses present in this transfer, as should be obvious.

Far less problematic than the video is the audio, presented in uncompressed 16-bit Linear PCM monophonic English.  All of the warts and imperfections of the original recording and subsequent aging of the source master are present and accounted for, which is just fine by me – I love this sort of lo-fi patina.  You can expect plenty of background crackle, as well as the nasty pops that accompany the frequent splices, with nary a hint of restorative work in sight.  As with Blood Feast the dialogue (including some hysterically boomy post dub work), sound effects and score (in this case a mix of memorable and appropriate folksy numbers) come across just fine, and I’ve no complaints with it.  There are no accompanying subtitles.

Supplements are sourced from past editions and mirror those of the other features in the collection, starting off with an exceptional commentary track with director Herschell Gordon Lewis, producer David F. Friedman, and Something Weird’s Michael Vraney.  For the collaborative team of Lewis and Friedman, which would end with the following year’s Color Me Blood Red, this seems to be their proudest achievement, and they have more than enough to say on the subject.  Next up is a modest 16 and a half minute collection of silent outtakes and alternate footage in SD, which have been sourced from an earlier tape transfer.  A theatrical trailer in SD and a few images in the Lewis / Friedman art gallery round out the film-specific extras. (Each of the other films in the collection is also accompanied by a feature audio commentary, outtake footage, and an original trailer, with short subjects Carving Magic and Follow That Skirt and a trailer for the Something Weird documentary Godfather of Gore rounding out the disc)

The framing of the transfer and an iffy encode keep this third of The Blood Trilogy Blu-ray from ever really getting off the ground, and I’d say that the old axiom “you get what you pay for” certainly applies here.  As with almost any inaugural product this disc mixes good with bad, and Two Thousand Maniacs is its lowest point (a real pity since I’d argue it’s the best film of the three), but with a going rate of a little over $4 per film at present it’s hard to argue too much against Something Weird’s efforts.  I just hope they learn from their freshman flubs, and that future Something Weird Blu-rays, if there are to be any, improve upon them.

in conclusion
Film: Excellent  Video: Good –  Audio: Very Good   Supplements: Very Good
Harrumphs: Limited video bitrate, with all three films plus extras cohabiting one dual layer BD50, compromised framing and encode, and no subtitles.
Packaging: Standard Blu-ray case.

Herschell Gordon Lewis Edition

Firstly, an apology for just how slow things have been around here lately.  I’ve never been a great keeper of schedules, and Wtf-Film’s output is often unpredictable, but the past three weeks have found me less productive than ever thanks to a variety of obnoxious seasonal maladies that seem, for the moment, to have passed.  Rest assured that more substantive updates are fast approaching, for better or for worse.

In the meanwhile, I’ve prepared a brief collection of trailers that should provide a nice accompaniment to my as-yet-unfinished coverage of Something Weird’s alternately fantastic and disappointing The Blood Trilogy (Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red) Blu-ray collection from the end of last month.  Full of the gushy crimson excesses the films themselves are infamous for, these tiny morsels of exploitation gold could be argued – most successfully in the case of 1965’s lackluster Color Me Blood Red – to be better than the actual films.  The catch phrase for that ad campaign seems especially influential in retrospect, with ads for Wes Craven’s problematic grindhouse classic Last House on the Left following squarely in its footsteps.

Blood Feast

Year: 1963  Company: Box Office Spectaculars   Runtime: 67′
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis   Writers: Allison Louise Downe   Cinematography: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Music: Herschell Gordon Lewis   Cast: William Kerwin, Connie Mason, Mal Arnold, Lyn Botton, Scott H. Hall
Disc company: Something Weird / Image Entertainment   Video: 1080p 1.78:1   Audio: LPCM 2.0 English
Subtitles: None   Disc: BD50 (Region A)   Release Date: 09/27/2011   Released as part of the Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Trilogy Blu-ray collection, and available for purchase through Amazon.com
This review is just part one of three for the Something Weird / Image Entertainment Blu-ray release of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Trilogy – coverage of Two Thousand Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red will follow shortly.

Here it is, folks, the film that single-handedly revolutionized the relationship between exploitation filmmaking and gooey, graphic violence and made a mint for production duo David F. Friedman and Herschell Gordon Lewis in the process.  Produced in Miami for the measly sum of $24,500, word of Blood Feast‘s carnal excesses spread like wildfire upon its release, drawing millions to the flicker of the drive-in screen for their first taste of hard gore.

That’s not to say that violence, occasionally of a graphic variety, had not been seen in film before, as it most certainly had.  In the years leading up to Blood Feast‘s release directors like Mario Bava (Black Sunday, Caltiki the Immortal Monster) and Georges Franju (Eyes Without a Face) had treated audiences to a variety of gruesome set-pieces in black and white, while Britain’s Hammer Films (themselves responsible for a choice selection of classic black and white shocks) had upped the gothic horror ante with splashes of blood in brilliant color.  Blood Feast took things several steps further with its over-the-top gore flourishes, but where it really served as a revolutionary was in its intent.  Where earlier films had used violence as a means to tell a story Blood Feast existed solely for the sake of its own violent excesses.  Everything about Blood Feast, from its blood-drenched title card on, is subservient to the gore, and while critics were quick to deride the film as unadulterated trash audiences ate it up.

The sparse narrative for Blood Feast is pure hokum, and played with such delightful earnest that it’s tough not to love it.  Well-to-do Mrs. Fremont is throwing a party for her daughter Suzette (Playmate Connie Mason in her first credited film appearance), but wants to forego the usual fare for something more unusual.  Thusly she crosses paths with Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold, Scum of the Earth), a local caterer with a taste for the bizarre who sells Mrs. Fremont on the notion of holding an ‘Egyptian Feast’ for her daughter.  All seems hunky-dory with the plan save for one minor hitch: Fuad Ramses is actually a modern-day cultist of the ancient Egyptian Goddess Ishtar, and his ‘Egyptian Feast’ is actually a blood offering crafted from mutilated human flesh!  As the day of the feast draws near the bodies start piling up, and detective Pete Thornton (Will Kerwin, Impulse) is at a loss for catching the killer until he happens into a lecture on Egyptology at the local community college…

It’s difficult to impart in writing just how silly and contrived the plot for Blood Feast really is, but if the fact that Miami’s star detective just happens to be taking a community college course on Egyptology (which just happens to be focusing on the blood feast of Ishtar, and whose professor just happens to know a book written on the subject by none other than Fuad Ramses, caterer extraordinaire!) doesn’t give you some inkling of it then I don’t know what will.  Credited to Allison Louise Downe (an actress in some of Lewis and Friedman’s ‘nudie-cuties’) but actually a collaborative effort between Downe, Lewis, Friedman and others, the screenplay here is positively ridiculous stuff from start to finish, and is a big part of what keeps Blood Feast from being so nasty and indigestible as the dreadfully serious or dully self-referential horrors of today.  Perhaps the most surprising thing about it is just how much intentional humor there is to it, much of it sourced from the broad caricatures (a detective, a matron, a maniac) that dominate it.  Case in point is the upper-crust Mrs. Fremont who, after discovering the near-murder of her daughter and that the feast prepared for her gathering is comprised of human flesh, glibly remarks, “Oh dear – the guests will have to eat hamburgers for dinner tonight”!


Best. Title card. Ever.

Most memorable among the characters is easily Fuad Ramses himself, thanks to a combination of gross over-acting and the frequent idiocies of the scripting.  Though often cited as the prototype for the blade-wielding cut-up artists who would become the face of the burgeoning slasher subgenre, Ramses has more in common with the mad doctors and maniacs of the ’30s and ’40s than anything modern, with only the graphic nature of his murders really separating him.  Fuad slowly wanders the wastes of Miami with a hysterically overplayed limp and varying degrees of gray hair, toting a machete and his appropriated body parts with him in a sack and speaking with such wide eyes and pronounced Lugosi-ese that even the most magnanimous of Miamians would find it difficult to ignore his psychopath credentials.

Contrary to popular conception not all of the acting in Blood Feast is bad, though the vast majority of it certainly fits the bill (Friedman and Lewis’ associate Scott H. Hall, playing detective Thornton’s superior officer, can often be seen checking his left hand for hints to his dialogue, and he’s far from the worst).  The one constant talent of the show is star William Kerwin, who plays his role believably even when the scripting frequently fails him.  Though by no means a name star Kerwin certainly had experience, having kicked around television, shorts, and feature films since the early ’50s, and his varied acting career (from stuff like this to episodes of Land of the Lost) would continue on until his death in 1989.  Kerwin’s co-star Connie Mason, best known for her appearances in Playboy, was essentially hired as a pretty face, and looks suitably Barbie Doll-esque in her bawdy ’60s fashions.  Mason would go on to make numerous appearances in film and television, many of them uncredited, and would also star in Blood Feast‘s Southern style follow-up Two Thousand Maniacs.

Much like the performances, the other aspects of this poverty-row production are hit or miss.  Blood Feast was filmed both on 35mm and in color, but very economically.  Most dialogue scenes are carry on as uninterrupted master shots, and Lewis and Friedman evidently limited themselves to a 3-take maximum due to the limited amount of film stock available to them.  Much of the cast and crew played multiple roles throughout the production, with no one being more indicative of the trend than director Herschell Gordon Lewis himself.  In addition to serving as director and photographer, Lewis also co-produced, composed and, in part, performed the film’s musical score, devised the numerous special effects, and can even be heard, briefly, as a radio announcer at the beginning of the film!   That most of the footage is in focus and intelligibly framed and that the dialogue and sound effects are all clear is likely as much as Lewis, Friedman and their associates ever asked of Blood Feast, and the dedication to just getting the film finished on-budget and by whatever means necessary overrides the paucity of the production value in my mind, particularly when the end results are such a riot.

The gore effects here are part and parcel with the rest and aren’t likely to shock anyone in a day and age when the average cop drama offers more in the way of realistic carnage, but to hold them up to today’s standards is to completely miss the point.  No, the Kaopectate-laced fake blood syrup doesn’t look real and yes, the bits of mannequin masquerading as dismembered body parts are obvious, but Blood Feast was never about realism to begin with.  It was about filling that drive-in screen with as much goopy, flowing red as could be managed and entertaining an audience in the process.  Sure it’s silly and stupid and about as scary as a pair of wool socks, but it’s also a blast to watch – grand guignol has rarely been such good clean fun.


Who couldn’t trust a face like that?

Something Weird, through distributor Image Entertainment, present Blood Feast for the first time on Blu-ray by way of The Blood Trilogy collection (along with Two Thousand Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red, all housed on a single dual layer BD50).  Though the end results aren’t perfect they are overall positive.  Blood Feast is transferred from a well worn but serviceable positive 35mm source, as evidenced by the considerable print damage on display (including reel change markers and the repaired film tear shown below).  While it’s clear that little to no restorative work was put into the transfer after the telecine process the transfer certainly stays true to the source, and I’m hard pressed to argue with the end results.

Presented in 1080p, the chosen aspect ratio of 1.78:1 may court controversy with fans expecting another open matte 1.33:1 edition a la earlier videos and DVDs.  I can’t say that the choice bothered me in the least.  Lewis obviously photographed Blood Feast with the possibility of widescreen matting in mind, with plenty of headroom all around.  Only a brief shot of a letter stood out for me as being improperly framed (see the 9th capture below), and I suspect it’s appeared much the same way to the film’s theatrical audiences over the past 48 years.  The new transfer also adds a bit to the left and right of the frame, at times substantially.  Another potential sticking point is the fact that Something Weird have packaged Blood Feast with its two HD co-features and a host of extras on a single dual layer disc, limiting the available bitrate and wreaking all manner of theoretical havoc in the process.  The simple fact of the matter, as should be supported by the captures below, is that the technically meager AVC video encode (just 17.6 Mbps on average) appears to support the visuals just fine.  After checking the technical specs I was expecting something akin to The Big Doll House‘s presentation in the recent Women in Cages Blu-ray collection, or worse the unbridled mess of The Beyond, but such disasters thankfully failed to materialize and Blood Feast maintains a respectable film-like appearance throughout.

Depending on the original photography, which varies quite a lot in terms of focus, Blood Feast‘s visual detail can range from the lowly and modest to reasonably impressive (there’s some excellent skin texture to be found in the final close-up below), but always appears accurate to the source print.  Color saturation is at healthy levels, with reds (from the multitude of stage blood to the monotone lighting of Fuad Ramses’ secret shrine) that really pop, and skin tones looked natural to these eyes.  Black levels are the only sore spot, appearing flat and gray, but are hardly a deal breaker.  Overall I’m very pleased with Blood Feast‘s appearance on Blu-ray, and imperfect as it is it more than gets the job done.

For the sake of full disclosure, HD screenshots were captured as .png at full resolution in MPlayer and compressed to .jpg using the ImageMagick command-line tool.  After comparing to the original .png files the results appeared quite transparent to these eyes, even when zooming in 2-3x.  The first image below is a sample of some of the worst print damage this transfer has to offer, and is followed by ten more typical samples.

Whatever you think of the image, I think it’s safe to say that there’s nothing controversial about Blood Feast‘s audio presentation.  Something Weird grant the film an uncompressed 16-bit Linear PCM monophonic track in the original English, and it sounds just as everyone should expect – rough.  Like the photography, Blood Feast‘s audio recording can vary quite a bit from scene to scene.  Dialogue is largely intelligible, even if the final mixing of some segments is suspect, but there’s nothing wrong with the track that can’t be blamed squarely on the original recording and Lewis’ original score is even more delightfully rotten than ever.  My only complaint is that there are no accompanying subtitles whatsoever.

Blood Feast comes packaged with a healthy array of film-specific supplements, all of which appear sourced from earlier releases.  The best of the bunch is an excellent feature commentary track with director Herschell Gordon Lewis and the late producer David Friedman, with Something Weird’s Mike Vraney serving as moderator.  Lewis and Friedman are under absolutely no illusions about the quality of their product, but clearly had a blast creating it and are obviously proud of the influence it has since had on exploitation filmmaking as a whole.  Next up is a lengthy run of unedited silent alternate and outtake footage in 4:3 SD, totaling 50 minutes in all!  The only other film-specific supplements are a gallery of ad art (including images from other Friedman / Lewis productions) and the theatrical trailer presented in 1080p.  (Each of the other films in the collection is also accompanied by a feature audio commentary, outtake footage, and an original trailer, with short subjects Carving Magic and Follow That Skirt and a trailer for the Something Weird documentary Godfather of Gore rounding out the disc)

And that’s it, I think.  Something Weird have done better by Blood Feast than I really ever expected of them, and the presentation’s few imperfections do nothing to thwart my overall enthusiasm for it.  I can’t imagine most fans being disappointed (though online chatter has proven that some of you are anyway), and with The Blood Trilogy collection available for less than $12 as of this writing the disc gets an easy recommendation from me.

in conclusion
Film: Excellent (Yes, I mean it!)  Video: Very Good  Audio: Very Good   Supplements: Very Good
Harrumphs: Limited video bitrate, with all three films plus extras cohabiting one dual layer BD50, and no subtitles.
Packaging: Standard Blu-ray case.