Laserblast: Nightmare Before Christmas, Heroes & More

This is one of those wonderful weeks for home video releases. The number of new titles may be small, but that hardly matters when you’re getting a 15th anniversary edition of one of the greatest examples of cinefantastique ever filmed. We are speaking, of course, about Tim Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. The film has had several previous home video releases, including a lovely laserdisc box set (reviewed here), which included the making-of book, a ton of behind-the-scenes extras, audio commentary by director Henry Selick and cinematographer Pete Kozachik, producer Tim Burton’s short films VINCENT and FRANKENWEENIE, and Selick’s short film SLOW BOB IN THE LOWER DIMENSIONS. A few years later, these features were ported over for the original DVD release.
With all that, you might be wondering what more they could do for the two-disc anniversary DVD and the Blu-ray disc. Well, plenty. The new discs include several new features: an audio commentary with Burton, Selick, and composer Danny Elfman; “Jack’s Haunted Mansion,” a look at the transformation of the Disney theme park attraction into Halloweentown every October; and actor Christopher Lee narrating Tim Burton’s original poem, which provided the story for the film. The rest of the bonus features, including a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, short films, and image galleries, are ported over from the single-disc DVD. All that is missing from this release is the old Selick-Kozachik commentary and a trailer for JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. 
Of course, the new releases have been digital cleaned up and improved to provide better picture and sound quality (including a Dolby 5.1 mix). The film is matted to a squarish 1.66 aspect ratio, with an option for 16:9 enhancement on your widescreen TV. Needless to say, the Blu-ray version is in high-def, which makes the image even more crystal clear. There has been no attempt, however, to recreate the 3D presentation of the theatrical re-release in 2006 and 2007.
Both the DVD and the Blu-ray disc offer an option to download a digital copy of the film onto your computer, in case you want to watch the film without going through the drudgery of inserting the disc into the drive.
For you hardcore collectors out there, for whom owning the film itself is not enough, there is a limited edition Ultimate Collector’s DVD set that contains a a bust of Jack Skellington, individually numbered and hand-painted. Jack appears in his Sandy Claws guise, and there is a digital sound chip that provides some of your favorite soundbytes from the film.
One final note regarding the DVD: although billed as a “two-disc” edition, it actually contains three discs.
As for the rest of the week’s offerings, Season Two of HEROES arrives in boxed DVD and Blu-ray boxed sets. Also being released is a Blu-ray boxed seat of Season One.
Clint Eastwood’s PALE RIDER gets the Blu-ray treatment as well. This is a sort of companion piece to Eastwood’s earlier HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. Both films feature a mysterious gunfighter who may be the ghost of a dead man. In DRIFTER, the character might have been an avenging angel of the lord, but he sure raised Hell (not quite literally but almost), hiring on to defend a corrupt town and then assisting in its fiery destruction. PALE RIDER puts a more traditional spin on the tale, with Eastwood’s unnamed character protecting the innocent and settling an old score (perhaps with the man who killed him?)
Christophe Gans is a French film director who earned some small cult attention for his early films, NECRONOMICON, CRYING FREEMAN, and BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF, before going on to direct SILENT HILL in 2006. Now BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF – a period piece that billed itself as France’s first monster movie – is back in a director’s cut DVD release. Sounds like fun.
Finally, for the masochists among you (and I am barely speaking figuratively here), there is SALO, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM, the final directorial effort from Pier Paolo Pasolini. Besides being a great filmmaker, Pasolini was a radical communist with a penchant for creating scandalous, outrageous works of art. Yet he crafted a trio of traditional films based on classic literature (DECAMERON, CANTEBURY TALES, 1001 NIGHTS). Apparently desperate to re-establish his bona fides as a provocateur, he took DeSade’s novel and set it in the closing days of Benito Mussolini’s Fascist Italy, telling the tale of a corrupt group of officials who head to an isolated retreat where they torture and sexually abuse young boys for the rest of the film, climaxing in an orgy of murder before the Allied forces can arrive and rescue anyone. The pretty much plotless result is not a horror film in the traditional sense, but it is as horrific as anything ever presented on screen and may be regarded as the progenitor of the modern “Torture Porn” film (although Pasolini would probably balk at the connection).
In one of those weird intersections of life and art, Pasolini was murdered shortly after completing the film; although there was probably no connection between the film and the crime (which remains unsolved), the mind cannot help forming forming some kind of link, which seems to give SALO a resonance which it would not otherwise have. Pasolini was himself gay, but SALO is one of the few films in which he dealt with homosexuality – what, if anything, are we to make of the fact that he presented it in terms of rape and child sexual abuse? Is it some kind of bizarre confessional or merely a stinging assault on the depths to which Fascism can sink? Pasolini offers no obvious moral; he merely rubs his audience’s collective nose in filth.
SALO is a film that must be seen to be believed, which is not to say it is entertaining in any conventional sense; it’s more like an endurance test that you pass so you can say you did it, and then never look back. I would not exactly recommend the film, but when you look around at contemporary cinematic efforts like HOSTEL, you have to think that SALO might be relevant in some skewed way.

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