When Scream Factory released its special edition of John Carpenter’s They Live, it gave a lot of horror fans hope that the company would give a similar honor to Carpenter’s other “Alive Films” production, Prince Of Darkness. Scream Factory heard those prayers and delivered an excellent new blu-ray edition that delivers a fresh transfer and a generous collection of extras new and old.
The package starts with an excellent anamorphic transfer that does well by the film’s dark and mysterious look, delivering all the shadowy interiors and earthy colors with plenty of clarity and depth. When the mysterious cylinder of evil is shown, the green hue of its contents really pops on the screen. Both 5.1 and 2.0 lossless stereo mixes are included for audio options: the 5.1 was listened to for this review and it’s a strong track that really gives a lot of sonic heft to the electronic musical score and weaves in some clever surround effects for the horror setpieces.
The first of the extras is a commentary track featuring writer/director John Carpenter and actor Peter Jason. This was originally recorded for a U.K. special edition DVD of the film some years back and finds the participants in a casual, jokey mood. It’s not as dense with information as a lot of Carpenter’s other commentary tracks but it does cover some interesting ground for the patient listener: how Carpenter’s reading habits informed the plotting of the film, the practical methods used for many of the special effects and how one shock scene was inspired by a stage effect used in Alice Cooper’s live show. Fans who missed out on the old U.K. disc featuring this track will be happy this commentary is preserved here.
The real action extras-wise lies in the four new featurettes produced for this set by Red Shirt Pictures. The first is “Sympathy For The Devil,” an interview with Carpenter. He’s in a philosophical, slightly melancholy mode as he discusses the various inspirations he drew on for his script, how the film’s mood reflected his disenchantment with Hollywood and the personal meaning of being a filmmaker to him. “Alice At The Apocalypse” follows and it features Alice Cooper. He talks about his childhood love affair with the horror genre, which leads into how he got involved in this film and, most interestingly, how it reflects his Christian beliefs. As always in interviews, he has a good sense of humor and cheerful attitude that belies the shock-rock image.
The other two interviews shift over to the technical side of things. “The Messenger” offers the unique viewpoint of Robert Grasmere, who served as both effects supervisor and actor on the film. He goes into the technical particulars of several different effects, including the techniques used to achieve the two (!) death scenes he has in the film. He also marvels at how he ended up acting in the film, which required some producer-level wrangling, and the fact that his big line ended up in the national ad campaign. “Hell On Earth” interviews Alan Howarth, the longtime musical collaborator to Carpenter on his film scores. He talk about Carpenter’s improvisational composing style, the key motifs that make up the score and what equipment was used. It’s fascinating stuff for soundtrack buffs.
Elsewhere, there is a new installment of Horror’s Hallowed Grounds about the film. Sean Clark leads the viewer on a tour of the locations, with some interesting changes to many of them, particularly the old church. It also boasts several spot-on comedic riffs on elements of the film, right down to its famous slow credit-crawl.
A set of promotional materials wind this set down. An interesting trailer is included that gives away part of the finale and also features an interesting extension of the film’s final image that suggests there might be an alternative coda to the film. Two radio spots run after the trailer, including one that hilariously attempts to boil down some of the film’s heady scientific concepts into a 30-second piece. The final touch is a comprehensive little image gallery that includes stills, promo shots, behind-the-scenes images and ad mats.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a little unofficial bonus in easter-egg form in the extras menu. It leads to a Q&A session that John Carpenter did before the 25th anniversary screening of Prince Of Darkness at Screamfest in 2012. If you’ve never seen Carpenter in such a setting before, he’s witty and fast on his feet as he fields questions. Highlights include his thoughts on the pros and cons of modern filmmaking and particularly his take on the recent “prequel” to his remake of The Thing.
All in all, this is another impressive entry in Scream Factory’s repertoire and a boon to Carpenter fans who have long wanted to see this neglected little film get its due.