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Ultra HD : For Fans Only
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Release Date: December 19th, 2023 Movie Release Year: 1985

Clive Barker's Underworld - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Overview -

It could be argued we wouldn’t have Clive Barker’s Hellraiser without George Pavlou’s Underworld AKA Transmutations. Starring Denholm Elliott, Steven Berkoff, and Larry Lamb, the film plays out very similar to Barker's own Nightbreed but is an almost comical mess of ideas and plot salvaged by solid performances, stylish photography, and intricate makeup effects. Kino Cult gives the film an ungodly impressive 4K Dolby Vision transfer, clean audio, and some excellent bonus features. Ultimately a curiosity and for Barker completionists - For Fans Only

From the strange imagination of Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Nightbreed) comes a neo-noir Underworld—a realm of hidden dimensions, dark, dangerous waters and a labyrinth of tunnels, inhabited by the ghoulish victims of a cruel chemical experiment. When high-class hooker Nicole is kidnapped, businessman Hugo Motherskille hires her ex-lover, the hardboiled gumshoe Roy Bain, to find her. Bain traces her disappearance to the diabolical Dr. Savary, who supplies a weird white powder to a secret cabal of mutant sewer-dwellers. Under the city, out of sight—they wait! Plunge—if you dare—into the spine-tingling and neon-drenched Underworld.

Special Features and Technical Specs:

DISC ONE - 4K BLU-RAY

  • NEW 4K RESTORATION FROM THE ORIGINAL CAMERA NEGATIVE
  • DOLBY VISION/HDR PRESENTATION OF THE FILM
  • NEW Audio Commentary with Director George Pavlou, Moderated by Stephen Thrower, the Author of Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents
  • Optional English Subtitles

DISC TWO - BLU-RAY

  • NEW 4K RESTORATION FROM THE ORIGINAL CAMERA NEGATIVE
  • NEW Audio Commentary with Director George Pavlou, Moderated by Stephen Thrower, the Author of Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents
  • Transmutations (103 Minute Alternate Cut) 1080 SDR Hybrid
  • Archival Behind-the-Scenes Footage (3:53)
  • Image Gallery of Stills, Storyboards, Make-Up Tests and Clive Barker Designs
  • Optional English Subtitles

OVERALL:
For Fans Only
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Video Resolution/Codec:
DOLBY VISION/HDR PRESENTATION OF THE FILM
Length:
103
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.85:1
Audio Formats:
DTS-HD MA 2.0
Release Date:
December 19th, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Some films gain notoriety for being genuine out-of-the-gate classics. These are the films that are revered for capturing audiences’ attention everywhere and are remembered for generations. Other films fail outright and are never remembered or discussed except as footnotes for other films. Filmmaker George Pavlou had the distinction of being the first director to try to tackle two of Clive Barker’s bizarre and extravagant contributions to horror. His first outing was Underworld AKA Transmutations and things didn't exactly go very well. 

Our film starts as something of a British neo-noir thriller. Our hero is an out-of-the-game former hardboiled detective Bain played with Spade-style gusto by Larry Lamb. When his ex-dame Nichole (Nicole Cowper) is kidnapped, Lamb is hired by shady London businessman Motherskille (Steven Berkoff) to find her. A simple kidnapping becomes all the more complicated and dangerous when Lamb’s investigation leads to the mysterious Doctor Savary (Denholm Elliot) and a horrifying experiment of mutated test subjects living in the sewers. These people have been subjected to a terrible drug that left unchecked manifests itself as ghastly and monstrous mutations all over their bodies! Can Bain save his former lover and stop Savary’s dark plans before he becomes another sewer-dwelling monster?

Between Underworld and Rawhead Rex, George Pavlou certainly gave Clive Barker plenty of ammunition for taking control of any films based on any of his stories. Rawhead Rex is certainly a daffy film but at least it has some creepy atmosphere, suspense, and a few likable characters to anchor it. Underworld doesn’t have much to hold onto beyond stylish cinematography and some gnarly makeup effects. If you didn’t know better it’d be understandable to assume two different directors tackled each film. In many ways, Underworld plays out like an early draft version of Clive Barker’s novel Cabal which would later become Nightbreed. You have a small society of freaks living underground aiming to survive in peace and be themselves evoking Barker’s common themes of queer acceptance.

Not based on one of Barker’s original stories, it’s an original idea with a script co-written by James Caplan. It was one of Barker’s first attempts at a script and it was also Pavlous’ first time as a feature film director. Filled with beautiful cinematography and some truly striking imagery, the film can otherwise feel a bit amateurish with more style than substance. The pace is sluggish, ploddingly moving our hero Bain from one piece of the puzzle to the next only there really isn’t any mystery because the script isn’t interested in withholding any surprises. When Bain uncovers Savary’s horrible experiments there’s zero weight or impact because we’ve already seen an hour of these poor mutated people rampaging through the film. But at the very least it is pretty to look at! 

All credit to cinematographer Syd Macartney for giving the film some visual edge. With all of the minimalist sets and industrial locations, the film’s visual appeal strictly comes from lighting effects and some great use of shadow and darkness to evoke a mood. That said, a fair criticism of the film is that it really does look and feel like a 1980s music video with an over-active smoke machine, huge deconstructed jackets, and weird neon-drenched subterranean locations. If you’re watching this film for the first time, you’d be easily forgiven for expecting Mick Jagger and David Bowie to pop on screen and start singing Dancing in the Street while drifting in and out of Bonnie Tyler’s curtains from Total Eclipse of the Heart

Overall the cast is solid as Denholm Elliot lends the star power. He may have been marking time between Indiana Jones appearances but he at least looks like he’s having fun. Larry Lamb digs in as a respectable detective character, and Steven Berkoff gets to chew a lot more scenery than he did in Beverly Hills Cop. Keep an eye out for a young Art Malik as one of Motherskille’s henchmen! Thankfully some gnarly makeup effects give the cast something to work with and build some monstrous characters with plenty of gore and viscera. 

Now I wouldn’t say the film is completely unwatchable, but it’s not very coherent. It’s a monster flick with a mad scientist wrapped up inside a gumshoe missing-persons story. The ideas don’t always gel and any necessary elements of a great Sci-Fi/Horror film like suspense, tension, and genuine horror never really manifest. It’s beautiful to look at, but scenes often play too long and stretches can be quite sluggish. Comparatively, Pavlou’s next Barker collaboration Rawhead Rex had a lot more pluck, a better sense of pacing, and knew how to build suspense and horror. For fans of Barker’s later films like Hellraiser and Lord of Illusions, this film is an interesting footnote but not one I’d call an essential viewing experience beyond offering some historical context. 




Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Underworld
AKA Transmutations arrives on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as the fifth entry in the Kino Cult line. The 4K version is pressed on a BD-100 disc with a Region A BD-50 disc serving the 1080p version with the bulk of the bonus features. Each disc is housed in a two-disc case with an identical slipcover and reversible insert art revealing the Transmutations poster artwork. The discs load to static image main menus with standard navigation options.

Video Review

Ranking:

I’m honestly not sure the last time I saw Underworld, it was so long ago I either rented it on VHS or DVD - and may even have downloaded it. Regardless, this 4K Dolby Vision transfer is quite something. The film is drenched with strange neon-infused lighting schemes, deep shadowy locations, fog machines, and diffusion filters. I mention those aspects because they may help set expectations for what this movie actually looks like compared to other films of the era, let alone Pavlou’s own Rawhead Rex. Overall I found this transfer to be almost shockingly good. The few times I saw it before it generally wasn’t very impressive so actually being able to see details in the monster and gore effects was quite something. Texture details and facial features are pleasing throughout with a healthy cinematic grain structure without signs of smoothing or egregious noise reduction efforts. The Dolby Vision grading really helps with the film’s more interesting and colorful lighting schemes. Blues get a lot of attention but now they don’t completely wash out the image. Primaries see plenty of care, particularly blood red. Skin tones - at least for our normal human cast - are healthy. Black levels are deep and inky with a terrific sense of depth to the image. I can’t call this a great film by any stretch but at least it looks great in 4K!

Audio Review

Ranking:

The only audio option for both the 4K and Blu-ray is a rather robust DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Dialog is clean and clear throughout - unless the actor in question is doing a vocal thing for their character. Sound effects are of that delightful 1980s amped-up exaggerated quality. Music cues and the film's score help fill out the soundscape nicely. Much of the film is relatively quiet and conversational but when our subterranean mutants attack or some action picks up the track is nicely active and engaging.

Special Features

Ranking:

On the bonus features side, Kino Cult certainly didn’t skimp. A nice and informative audio commentary with George Pavlou and Stephen Thrower gives some interesting insights into the film’s genesis. Pavlou rather humorously bristles at the criticism that the film looks like a 1980s music video, but he does offer some fascinating details about making the film and working with Barker. The next interesting extra is the Transmutations alternate cut running about eleven minutes longer. This cut is branched between the new restoration and what looks like an old VHS tape so the aspect ratio shifts from 1.85:1 to 1.33:1. I would argue this version plays a little better, paces some scenes a little better, but it’s still quite sluggish with few surprises for a Sci-Fi/Horror film. There’s some archival behind-the-scenes stuff and some really cool galleries featuring artwork, storyboards, and looks at Barker’s original designs. 

4K UHD Disc

  • Audio Commentary featuring George Pavlou and Stephen Thrower 

Blu-ray Disc 

  • Audio Commentary featuring George Pavlou and Stephen Thrower 
  • Transmutations Alternate Cut (HD/SD 1:43:03) 
  • Archival Behind the Scenes (SD 4:03)
  • Artwork and Stills (HD 2:01)
  • Storyboards (HD 3:37)
  • Makeup Tests and Clive Barker Designs (HD 1:40)
  • Rawhead Rex Trailer

If George Pavlou did anything with Underworld and Rawhead Rex he inspired Clive Barker to make his own films. That’s probably something of a backhanded compliment, but that’s how things played out. Underworld has a lot of style, interesting visuals, and some great gore effects - but little else going for it. Even at the shorter 93-minute runtime, the film often feels sluggish and uneventful but the eager cast and the previously mentioned makeup effects and stylish cinematography at least give you something to look at. I’ve only watched this film a handful of times and I've never felt this film is anything more than a footnote curiosity in Clive Barker’s cinematic career. But thanks to Kino Cult, we now have a worthwhile reason to give it another spin. The 4K Dolby Vision transfer is quite impressive, honestly far better than I’d expected for this particular title. Audio is right on point and the film comes with some worthwhile extras including commentary and alternate cut. This is a great release, but since it really will only appeal to the Barker-dedicated fans out there it’s ultimately For Fans Only

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