Saturday, April 6, 2013

WHEN A GOOD "SHOCK!" WAS ALL WE HAD


The Universal Classic Monsters Blu-ray set.
I continue to be both thrilled and a little stunned at the magic of digital film restoration that is evident in last year's penultimate UNIVERSAL HORRORS: THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION on Blu-ray. The clarity of picture and fidelity of sound is about as good as it's going to get in the quest of turning these old, tarnished gems into what everybody seems to be striving for these days in visual media: ultra loud and razor sharp.

In this case, I think the "new normal" does the monster movies in this boxed set a great service by removing scratches and smudges from the film image and pops and noise from the sound stripe Combined, they allow an almost brand new insight into the wonder and beauty of these films. Other than remaining in black white, they could almost pass for something that was produced today.

Now, things weren't always this way. When us Monster Kids were really kids, the only thing we had going for us were the movies and television. If we had missed the Realart Pictures re-issues of the Universal horror films in the late forties and early fifties (most of us hadn't even been born yet), then all we had left was the tube. DVDs, even videotape, were light years in the future. The best we could do was catch them on late night or weekend afternoon TV and hope to God that our favorites would be re-run sometime before our first shave!

Now, on-demand consumerism is the order of the day and the only thing that modern-day Monsterologists have to worry over is whether or not our favorites will make the jump from our well-viewed videotapes or DVDs to Blu-ray. We can watch Boris, Bela, Vincent, Christopher, Peter, all the stars and the monsters they played any time we want.

To put things into historical context, following are pages from the SHOCK! TV movie package offered from Screen Gems distributors in 1957. They represent the same movies that are included in today's Blu-ray boxed set (BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON were not included in the original offering).

Is all this a good thing? You bet. Who doesn't want to watch THE MUMMY or THE WOLF MAN with such clarity that you can now see the fuller's earth crumbling off Im-ho-tep's wrapping or the yak fur that Jack Pierce applied to Lon Chaney Jr.'s face in such detail you can see individual hairs??

How long will it last and how far will it go? It's anybody's guess, but I don't think an immersion experience using technology such holography sometime in the future is not out of the question. But then again, I am remembering not too many years ago of the use of "low-fi" effects by such music groups as Portishead to give their tunes a sort of retro charm. Well, if that ever happens to us Monster Kids, I guess we can temporarily shelve our Blu-rays (or Holo-beams) and pull out our old videotapes . . . that is if we have any televisions left to watch them on.

 




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