When Scream Factory began cranking out vintage horror titles on blu-ray and DVD this year, they started with familiar catalog perennials like Halloween III, The Funhouse and They Live. However, as their future announcements began to pile up, they let it be known that future releases would be moving in to lesser-known and more esoteric territory. Death Valley represents one of their first journeys into the obscure — and while it’s a little lighter on extras than their past releases, it’s still a nicely assembled set.
Things start with a crisp new anamorphic transfer of the title attraction. One of Death Valley’s best assets is its visual style and this transfer does justice to Stephen Burum’s cinematography: black levels are rich during the night scenes and the details are sharp in the daytime desert photography. In terms of audio, a Dolby HD lossless version of the original mono soundtrack is used. It gets the job done nicely without distortion or defects and adds some oomph to Dana Kaproff’s creepy orchestral music score.
Extras are simple but worthwhile. First up is a trailer gallery that includes both theatrical and t.v. spots for Death Valley as well as bonus theatrical trailers for The Island and They Live. Warning: the theatrical spot for Death Valley gives away one of the surprise kills so don’t watch it until you’ve seen the main attraction.
The other, more sizeable extra here is a commentary track with director Dick Richards, moderated by Edwin Samuelson of A.V. Maniacs and The Cinefiles. Richards is a difficult interview subject — he’s terse with his comments and can be foggy or vague on specifics — but Samuelson does a good job of priming him with questions. Better yet, Samuelson turns the talk to the history of Richards’ career, which includes some interesting stories on Farewell My Lovely, March Or Die and Tootsie (which Richards produced). There’s even a brief but interesting tale about how he was offered Jaws and why he didn’t end up doing that film.
The commentary starts to run out of steam in the last fifteen minutes, with Richards seeming to lose interest, but Samuelson keeps it going to the end credits with good questions (even if the subject doesn’t always want to offer detailed answers). Overall, there’s enough good material here to make it worth a listen for fans.
In short, this is a solid edition for a catalog title. Slasher fans will be happy to see this edition of Death Valley, especially since it has been out of print since the VHS era, and collectors of obscure horror in general can rest assured that Scream Factory has assembled a worthwhile high-definition set for it.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of Death Valley, click here.