In which Norm spins up the new editions of CRIMSON PEAK, THE CROW, KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE and AFFLICTION. It'll make sense, don't worry.


Good news, everyone! After two years of looking, I finally snagged the 4K disc of Guillermo Del Toro’s Nightmare Alley; it was maddeningly overpriced for the longest time, presumably because Disney treated it like a prestige release. Which it is, I guess; I just wanted to pick it up for less than $25.

No matter; now it is mine. And the timing couldn’t be better, since it can snuggle up to Arrow’s beautiful new UHD edition of Crimson Peak. It’s perfect, really: Both films are examples of Del Toro doing what he does best, drilling into a specific genre to remind us what he loves about it.

With Nightmare Alley it was postwar pulp, turning William Lindsay Gresham’s seedy noir (previously adapted into a Tyrone Power thriller by Edmund Goulding) into an epic morality tale, with Bradley Cooper perfectly cast as a gimlet-eyed drifter with a knack for ruining other people’s lives in the pursuit of his own enrichment –until he meets a dame with the same MO.

In Crimson Peak it was the swoony Gothic romance, with Del Toro mounting a massive yet somehow handmade drama about virginal heiress Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) whose passionate new suitor Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) whisks her away to England to live with him in his crumbling manor, which he shares with his sinister sister (Jessica Chastain) … and a few ghosts.

Like Nightmare Alley, there’s a version of this story that could play as a 95-minute studio B-picture, maybe on the bottom of a double-bill with Jane Eyre or Rebecca. But Del Toro being Del Toro, everything in Crimson Peak is a souped-up version of itself, and the ghosts in the walls of Allerdale Hall are much more than metaphors – they’re hideous, shrieking spirits whose motivations are unreadable to poor Edith. She just knows they won’t stop bothering her.

Spoilers for a decade-old movie, I guess, but the raging paranormal entities aren’t the real villains here; Del Toro loves his monsters. Instead, they’re sort of a Greek chorus in the background, wailing as Edith drifts deeper and deeper into danger despite her own suspicions, and the warnings of her steadfast doctor friend (Charlie Hunnam) who suspects the Sharpes are up to something nefarious but is too nice to say anything lest he be labelled a gossip.

The script, by Del Toro and Dragonslayer director Matthew Robbins, is full of smart little details like that; in my NOW review, I compared this movie to Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven in its willingness to reinterpret an outmoded genre for contemporary audiences without hiding behind irony. For Haynes, it was revealing the forbidden desires Douglas Sirk wasn’t able to express; for Del Toro, it’s showing the brutality of the violence his characters inflict on one another.

Crimson Peak is as ugly as it is beautiful, and it’s very much to Del Toro’s credit that it all feels so organic and real. I love this weird-ass movie, and this new edition makes it look as good as it did when I first saw it theatrically, in a splendid 4K presentation with HDR that makes the already vivid color palette burst off the screen. The red earth that bleeds through the snows of Cumberland has a rusty, mottled texture that’s just gorgeous – and the looming shadows of Allerdale Hall have a blue-black heaviness that compels us to look closer, to see what might be beckoning to Edith from the dark. It’s a corker, this one.

The 4K release – packaged with a fold-out poster and art cards, as seen above — also includes all the special features from Arrow’s 2019 Blu-ray, including an excellent hour-long retrospective documentary, new interviews with Del Toro and critic Kim Newman and a Kat Ellinger visual essay, along with all the extras produced for Universal’s Blu-ray three years earlier, when the studio thought they had a new horror classic on their hands. They did; it just took a while for everyone else to figure it out.

I expect when GDT’s Nightmare Alley joins Goulding’s earlier version in the Criterion closet, it’ll be received just as respectfully. And until then, I’ve got the Disney disc.

But Wait, There’s More

Speaking of gothic – or at least Goths – Paramount Home Entertainment has released an utterly beautiful new 4K edition of The Crow, a film I myself have … never much cared for?

I understand why people love it – Brandon Lee is awfully charismatic as the vengeful revenant of Eric Draven, returned from the grave to wreak holy hell on the thugs who killed both him and his true love Shelley (Sofia Shinas), director Alex Proyas and cinematographer Dariusz Wolski created a grimdark aesthetic that pretty much defined emo for a generation, and of course Bob (and Harvey) Weinstein turned the tragedy of Lee’s death into a marketing campaign that implied not seeing the film would be an affront to the actor’s memory: Honor the man, honor the film, or something to that effect.

But honestly? Thirty years later, The Crow feels like even more generic to me, all style and very little substance. Whatever thoughts James O'Barr had about grief and powerlessness in his comic is reduced to a few creaky lines of dialogue, and everyone who isn't Eric – including Ernie Hudson's well-meaning cop Albrecht and Michael Wincott's swaggering gangster Top Dollar – is basically a stick figure. Sure, David Patrick Kelly pops as a thug called T-Bird, but mostly because his presence makes you wonder what Walter Hill would have done with this material.

Is it heresy to suggest that had Lee survived the shoot, the movie would have come and gone without much fanfare? The soundtrack would probably have still gone platinum, though. It’s a great mix.

Paramount’s 30th anniversary re-release of The Crow is indeed built on a stunning new transfer, remastered in UHD (and HDR, and Dolby Vision) for the most accurate translation of the film’s look I’ve ever seen at home. Some may complain about the lack of an Atmos remix, but I think the DTS-MA 5.1 track is a fine reproduction of the theatrical audio, from the omnipresent background rain to the crack of gunfire to the licking flames that seem to follow Eric wherever he goes.

All the extras from previous discs are here – audio commentaries, featurettes, deleted and extended scenes – and Paramount has added about 40 minutes of new stuff for this edition.  “Shadows & Pain: Designing The Crow” is a three-part documentary in which production designer Alex McDowell walks us through various aspects of the production, and in a fourth segment, producer Edward R. Pressman and Sideshow Collectibles’ Paul Hernandez look at some of Crow action figures. Whatever the kids want, I guess.

And now, to pivot as far away from the Goth vibe as possible … when was the last time you saw Killer Klowns from Outer Space? I did not expect the Chiodo Brothers’ high-concept gonzo horror comedy to be as good as it was when I first saw it in the VHS era, and I was delighted to see it remains as deliriously enjoyable thirty-five years later in a magnificent new 4K edition from Scream Factory.

If you’re unfamiliar with the movie, well, strap yourself in, dear reader. It’s a film that makes one small promise to its audience – it’s The War of the Worlds, with clowns instead of Martians – and goes absolutely hog wild with it. The Chiodos (brothers Charles, Stephen and Edward, who in some combination wrote, produced, directed and designed the charming and relentless practical effects) throw absolutely everything they can at the screen, employing a funhouse aesthetic that’s retro and freakish.

These Klowns look wrong, their prosthetic heads appearing slightly bloated and sickly, their grins far too wide and toothsome. We learn almost nothing about them beyond what their meat puppet John Vernon relays in the film’s creepiest moment – “all we wanna do is kill you” – and what the Dickies’ instant-earworm theme song tells us over the opening credits: They’re killer klowns from outer space, dude. What more do you need to know?

Grant Cramer makes a convincing doofus hero; Suzanne Snyder has a great wide-eyed scream-queen vibe, the Klowns’ elaborate circus-themed weapons are a constant delight – the balloon-dog bloodhound bit is genius, really – and the whole thing is just a little gorier, just a little creepier than it needed to be. And the new 4K presentation lets us appreciate every optical and every miniature as the handmade triumph it is, its candyfloss-and-neon color palette broken up by the occasional splatter of deep crimson. Give the people what they want, I always say.

A bona fide cult movie, Killer Klowns has been in constant circulation ever since its home-video debut in 1989; this is its third Blu-ray edition, after discs from MGM and Arrow. Scream’s 4K release includes MGM’s supplements but not Arrow’s, so if you have the Arrow BD you might want to hang on to it … or sell it to me. I never did manage to pick it up.

To pull things back to the Gothic for a moment – well, the American Gothic, anyway – Shout! Studios also brought Paul Schrader’s Affliction to Blu-ray last month in its ongoing Shout! Selects series of classic releases.

An adaptation of the novel by Russell Banks, it’s a small but excruciatingly well-realized character study about a small-town cop collapsing under a lifetime of personal baggage. He’s also investigating a suspicious death, but that’s really secondary to his internal collapse.

The cop is Wade Whitehouse, and he’s played by Nick Nolte in one of the finest performances of his career – this was the beginning of Nolte’s elder-statesman phase, when the actor realized he could shelve his bluster for something more complex and unsettling: Vulnerability. Affliction lets him play one of Schrader’s signature outsiders, a man who ought to have everything but somehow can’t keep it, and over the course of the film we’re led to understand why.

And to that end: James Coburn won a supporting-actor Oscar for his performance as Wade’s shitbag father, and Nolte should have won Best Actor but the Life Is Beautiful steamroller meant Roberto Benigni’s insufferable capering was rewarded instead. There’s no justice in this life. Wade Whitehouse would agree, if we knew where to find him. (Co-stars Sissy Spacek, Willem Dafoe and Mary Beth Hurt are all doing fine work as well, but this is a film about Wade and his father.)

There are no extras on Shout’s disc, which is a shame; I’d have loved to hear a commentary from Schrader, who’s always got something to say – and whose latest film, Oh, Canada, marks his second adaptation of a Banks novel, so it’s not like this movie wouldn’t have been on his mind. Maybe he was busy finishing up that film for its Cannes premiere. Either way, it’d be nice to know what he thinks of Affliction nowadays.

Crimson Peak is available on 4K from Arrow Video; in Canada you can snap it up from Unobstructed View. The Crow is available in separate 4K and Blu-ray editions from Paramount Home Entertainment. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is available in a 4K combo edition from Shout! Studios, which has also released Affliction on Blu-ray. Collect them all.

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