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A group of camp counselors and their charges are menaced by an urban legend.

After three DVD releases in the past decade alone and much ado on the internet throughout, you’ve probably heard it all before.  It’s fun, atmospheric and well worth your time.

Ok, so good news first. We can finally settle the old debate: objectively speaking, Vinegar Syndrome has just released the version to get.  But hold your horses, I have something to say first.

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Even had digital film restoration been a concept back in 1982, it’s highly unlikely than anyone would have believed film aficionados would be discussing a low budget slasher film 33 years on (not, as the extras bizarrely claim, “35”).  So with that in mind, the often quite obvious if not overstated grain (or more precisely for those of us who lived through some portion of the antenna age, “snow”) becomes excusable, particularly given the otherwise excellent quality of the restoration.  This much is obvious: clarity is definitely improved over prior releases and colors are certainly bold.

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But even so, and here’s a big caveat: while I can say that much objectively, here’s the thing.  I still find that I prefer the Anchor Bay version, with its more muted palette and lack of grain making for a far more satisfying, authentic feeling* and far less distracting visual.  Just my 2c, maybe, but them’s the facts.

* for those who’d seen and remembered the film fondly from its early to mid 80’s HBO airings, anyway.

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That said, VS did manage to get the original color scheme right, something the comparatively blurry, bright yellow and orange scale Code Red print did not.  Literally putting the three discs in one after the other, that one stands out like a sore thumb – it even feels like the aspect ratio is wrong.  But here’s the thing: every version has it’s merits.  So let’s do a brief comparison, shall we?

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For my money, unless you’re hardcore on HD and 4K (whatever the hell that implies – I mean, seriously: do you know anyone with a 4K TV?), the old Anchor Bay is still the one that sets the standard.  It looks the way I remember the film, it feels properly claustrophobic and dead of night oneiric, there’s really no appreciable grain to pull the viewer out of the experience, and it’s even widescreen.  The only downside is, zero extras.  Seriously, not a thing.

The clear loser here is the Code Red version, which was enough of a disappointment visually on release to send this reviewer chasing after the then out of print (and often quite pricey) Anchor Bay version.  The plus here with Olsen’s version is an overly long but enjoyable hour and a half plus extra.  Those who’ve seen it may be snickering right now (“look! It’s the chain still hanging in the tree!”), but it’s kind of unforgettable and worth checking out if you haven’t seen it and have sufficient patience.  Seriously, it’s just as long if not longer than the film itself.

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Vinegar Syndrome drops that 30 year anniversary extra in favor of a new “Alive at (an incorrectly calculated) 35!” extra running about 21m, a 14m chat with producer Gary Sales about his career, 2 amateur horror con floor-shot interviews with Sales and the loveable Madman Marz himself, Paul Ehlers (I personally met the (Mad)man around the time of the Code Red release, and yes, if you’re wondering – he’s a great guy), and a very abbreviated variant of the CR extra running circa 31m.

In the name of inclusion, you even get the cheesy and quite skippable 13m “music inspired by” extra from the CR disc that showcased between a minute or two and nothing but a website link for various unknowns who in many cases quite likely wrote something up specifically for the occasion.  Trust me, this one’s for the completist only.

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So here’s the scoop.  Have you already bought the Anchor Bay version?  If so, you may want to hold onto that and compare picture quality and feel for yourself.  Personally, I’m sticking with Anchor Bay as the gold standard…at least in terms of the film itself.

If not, then don’t walk, run to pick this one up.  Sure, you lose 2/3 of the Code Red version’s only worthwhile extra, but you get pretty much everything else ported over, with a few new ones to boot.  And yeah, it’s not as nice looking and immersive visually as the Anchor Bay (those who don’t mind getting saturated with omnipresent grain for the sake of improved clarity will doubtless disagree), but it’s back the way it was meant to be seen, nighttime blues and autumn daytime bits inclusive.

Newbies, don’t hesitate for a second, this is your ticket.

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