Being a Horror Videophile is difficult…

Being a Horror Videophile is difficult…

Proceed to the most popular horror forum you know of and post a thread entitled “[insert horror movie title] on DVD/Blu-ray doesn’t look that great.” Afterward, brace for the shitstorm. Even if your assertions are clear and obvious, more-often-than-not you’ll encounter rude rebuttals with little back-up from others who also see things from your viewpoint. Despite being so passionate about a vast assortment of things genre-related, picture quality on home video seems to glide right on by most horror fans. It’s a sad and puzzling state that’s mostly grounded in misconception. Yet with the emergence of and constant price drops of once elite home theater technologies, it’s never been a better time to grow to appreciate seeing Vincent Price cackle or glorious head explosions in unparalleled visual quality.

I’ve heard all of the usual claptrap spewed by the naysayers, apologists, or uneducated across a bevy of horror hangouts:

    “You can’t expect a movie from decades ago to look like it was shot last year.”
    “It’s low budget, what do you expect?”

    “Not every release can look as good as a Criterion Collection DVD!”

    “It’s the best it’s ever looked, so shut up!”
    “The director supervised the transfer!”
    “That one review site said it looked great!”

    “It’ll never be released again or restored ‘cuz no one cares!”

    “It’s on Blu-ray so it has to be better!”

It’s either this juvenile crap or that somehow speaking out against a given video transfer is an affront to the film itself, its makers, or the studio that released the disc. This immediate defensive stance is replaced on home theater-centric forums with general apathy towards horror and cult films as niche product unworthy of lengthy discussion. Or at least not as important as incessantly waxing over blockbuster pap that happens to look fantastic. Both perspectives are nothing but condescending and counterproductive towards the reality of what raises the ire of most video nuts.

The evolution of digital technology has been a godsend for filmmaking. Naturally, special effects have been revolutionized, but even the act of shooting features has been made much easier and cheaper. DV has helped continue and expand the cottage industry of horror indies. Anyone can bring their bloody dreams into film-form with recent examples being Marc Price’s no budget DIY zombie wonder Colin (2008) and Oren Peli’s eleven-thousand dollar monster hit Paranormal Activity (2007).

Pornography has been helped so greatly by this development that it’s second only in impact to the Internet bringing the inspiration of smut to the masses. Even Hollywood is waring with preferences between filming in digital (i.e. – Michael Mann, Robert Rodriguez) and traditional film (Quentin Tarantino). Directors, cinematographers, and colorists regardless of preference have limitless possibilities in precise color grading through software wizardry down to the single frame. It’s the glory of all things digital that enables us to plant our fat asses into state-of-the-art multiplexes and enjoy a ridiculously clear, richly colored presentation of Transformersokay, maybe not the best example

On the grounds of home video, clunky mechanical cassettes have been chucked for lightweight, cheaper discs played by friggin’ laser beams. Image resolution has increased with the gigabyte as opposed to oxide particles magnetized onto tape. In fact, picture quality on the stuff you can find at Best Buy has increased so dramatically that it’s now possible to enjoy the closest approximation to a film’s original source ever available from your couch. Advanced video encoding on Blu-ray (and the defunct HD DVD) can be constantly revised and adapted to given program content to yield jaw-dropping results unobtainable on the anarchic DVD format. Yet there’s an insidious flipside to such detail and clarity on cutting edge home video…

Who the hell knows where this came from, but there’s a general perception of film grain being an unwanted element of a DVD or Blu-ray transfer. This might trace back to an ongoing epidemic of most DVD review sites consistently assaulting grain as “noise” in their throwaway opinions. Video noise is real, but is a result from incompetent encoding and compression of the transfer. Even most “professional” (har har) Blu-ray reviewers are simply blind or at least don’t trust their own eyes. Most have a tendency to appeal to the sensibilities of the unaware by equating image purity to mediocrity or trying to temper expectations of those wishing a film from 1974 look like a product from 2002. Perhaps they don’t want to piss off the studios supplying the screener copies? Whatever the case, very few seem to have the underwear danglers to stand up and state the obvious either way.

In reality, grain is a chemical reaction from the exposure process subjected to film. It’s also what provides high frequency (or fine) detail seen on carefully authored Blu-ray transfers and “hinted” at on quality DVD images. It’s detail and that’s what videophiles want. We want to experience the closest visual experience to viewing the digitally untouched film negative as possible at home. Not unrealistic expectations, excuses, or whatever someone else deems to be quality. Merely an accurate representation of the filmmaker’s intentions regardless the age of the material. Just leave it alone.

This is where the issue of studios intentionally de-graining transfers via digital noise reduction (DNR) arises. In an attempt to pander to the majority of consumers who buy tiny off-brand LCDs at Wal Mart and $120 HDMI cables at the encouragement of the Geek Squad, studios both big and small are “sheening” transfers of these nasty “grains”, and have been for years. This process is also a poor man’s way of “restoring/remastering” a film as manual restoration is expensive or deemed unimportant. The problem is most of the affected happen to be catalog titles; while releases fresh from theaters tend to always receive stunning treatment no matter how shitty the actual content is.

So okay, that doesn’t sound too bad, right? Well, the thing is this grain destroying algorithm not only eradicates fine detail, it also introduces a host of other negatives. DNR flattens the dimensional “pop” associated with high resolution images. Fleshtones appear plastic-like as faces of actors take on the look of waxwork busts. Motion also suffers, as an incredibly annoying lag is introduced, like a smeary LCD monitor with a poor response time. At DNR’s worse, buying and watching the Blu-ray version essentially offers zero advantage over the ol’ DVD visually.

What pisses off videophiles most of all is that fact that virtually all HD displays have a slew of noise reduction circuitry built-in that people can manually turn on or off. So it shouldn’t be up the studios to make the decision and turn presentations in clumpy messes for those dying to see classics in true high definition. This absolutely takes the fun out of the Blu-ray format and makes one not anticipate upcoming releases too much. One never knows if they’ll be ruined or not until either direct screen captures appear or trusted individuals confirm. I’ve created two comparisons below that mimic the effects of DNR. The pasty images look even worse in motion and once you notice it–you’ll see it almost every time it’s applied.

How does this relate to horror? Well, genre classics have fallen victim and will continue to do so unless more-and-more wake up. Soon I’ll do up another article detailing several of the best and worst horror presentations on DVD and Blu-ray. The selections might surprise you…

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8 Responses to “Being a Horror Videophile is difficult…”

  1. This is brilliant. Trust me that I’m not concerned with the quality of my picture (just had to rip Summer Camp Nightmare from Youtube because they never released it to DVD), but there’s the promise of a blu ray disc and then there’s studios trying to sell snake oil. I’d love to see them put out some of there 100 movie collections. One disc. 7 dollars! Use that space! Need a full review on the Pirahna blu ray when released. I can even afford one of these things yet.

  2. Couldn’t agree with an article more. The whole DNR thing irks the shit out of me…but once again, that’s the studios way of appeasing “Joe Consumer.” Reminds me of the conversastions I have overheard in retail stores for years- people bitching about the “black bars” on their movies- and now hearing about people bitching they bought widescreen TV’s and the bars are still there. Uggghhh- being a videophile in general kind of sucks!

  3. As Chuck D from Public Enemy said – “Bring the Noise”

  4. Have ten “videophiles” watch the same movie/videotape/LD/DVD/BD and you are going to have half say it’s great, half say it’s crap. You can only go with what looks good to you. I see lots of reviews that picture quality looks like crap, but looks great on my display, and vice versa. Picture quality is very subjective to the viewer. Anyone who thinks they are the most educated person in the room to determine what is good or bad for someone else has much more to learn in life.

    Martin Balsam June 21, 2010 at 8:06 AM
  5. “Anyone who thinks they are the most educated person in the room to determine what is good or bad for someone else has much more to learn in life.”

    I’m not saying that I’m the most educated person in the room, but everyone who has an opinion (or the media, your boss, your president, the law, society) determines what is good or bad for someone else 24/7 365 globally.

    And I don’t see what’s so subjective about matching a film’s source as close as possible in a home theater setting. That’s concrete. The source is the source is the source. If a videophile can’t accept that, they have much more to learn in life…or at least their hobby. Ask anyone who cares and they will agree.

  6. I’m not saying you are wrong, if you think something looks great or crap, that is your opinion. Look at user reviews at They rarely have reviews where everyone agrees on picture quality or audio quality. As far as film source, a lot of films I saw in the theater or drive-in back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s look better on blu-ray than when they were on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong, BD has it’s share of botched transfers, but for some, if it looks better than the DVD, they are happy. Unfortunately studios make their money off Joe6P, not videophiles.

    Martin Balsam June 22, 2010 at 2:59 AM
  7. What’s Taking place i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve discovered It positively helpful and it has aided me out loads.
    I hope to contribute & aid other users like its helped me.
    Great job.


  1. […] a follow-up to Being a Horror Videophile is difficult, I figured I’d provide several examples of some of the best and worst horror/exploiter […]

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