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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2017 by Carl Bennett
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Seven Footprints
to Satan

(1929)

 

Benjamin Christensen directed this wonderful old dark house thriller, based on the novel by Abraham Merritt, that stars Creighton Hale and Thelma Todd.

From the moment our heroes arrive at the mysterious house the film is a thrilling ride, with creepy characters, threatening shadows, ominous warnings, odd happenings and man-beasts. The house becomes something of a Dantesque hotel from hell, with Satan as the manager.

Serial Squadron
2014 DVD edition

Seven Footprints to Satan (1929), black & white and color-tinted black & white, 116 minutes, not rated.

The Serial Squadron, no catalog number, no UPC number.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD-R disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, no chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $13.00.
Release date: 2014.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 3 / audio: 6 / additional content: 0 / overall: 3.

This DVD is to be considered a reference edition only. Edition producer Eric Stedman reports, “This is restored from a very poor quality transfer with Italian subtitles, NOT our usual digital transfer, so will not blow up well to large-screen TVs, and is therefore recommended for laptop PC, tablet, or other small-screen viewing. But it will look and sound really cool there!”

The image quality is poor, with smeary image detail and sections of blasted-out highlights being the most-common defects. The source print, which looks to have been a 16mm reduction positive, has the usual amount of speckling and a higher-than-usual amount of dust and schmutz. However, the source print and the original subpar video transfer hold still enough definition to keep many of the picture’s shadow details from being swallowed in great blobs of black and the film’s story can be followed. While the edition can be tough going, the charm of Thelma Todd (one of the film’s main attractions) does manage to come through in close-ups where her facial expressions can better be seen.

The film was originally released as a silent film with Vitaphone talking sequences, music and sound effects, but it is presented here entirely silent and accompanied by a music score performed on MIDI synthesizers by Kevin McLeod with selected sound effects like screams and gunshots. It is very nice to have custom music to help bolster the dodgy picture presentation, but the music itself occasionally is a stylistic distraction from the film’s action. The Italian intertitles of the source print have been translated and reset in digital video-based English intertitles.

What is interesting about public access to this film is that The Serial Squadron is sailing an unusual tack through Copyright law. The Squadron Archive DVDs are offered under this statement, “Copies of the following serials in which we have invested time and funds to preserve and restore are (legally) available to the public from this archive in accordance with Section 108 of the US Copyright law which states that ‘for preservation, scholarship or research, libraries or archives may reproduce, distribute, display or perform published works in their last 20 years of copyright if the work is not subject to commercial exploitation and cannot be obtained at a fair price.’ / We can only offer titles using this service to researchers which have never been released commercially on videotape or DVD in 75 years or more after their original copyright date. By ordering a copy of one of these titles you agree that you are a writer, reviewer, historian, or library and research, review, or study is your purpose in requesting a copy of any of these films which we have taken pains to restore to as close to their original condition as possible. These serials and features have not been made available by the original producers and are not now and are not to be confused with any commercial releases by the Serial Squadron; we will not at any time in the future make any of the titles below available for commercial sale or distribution and donations related to these holdings are used to help pay for new acquisitions to be restored and preserved. In accordance with current copyright law, no serials will be listed here if less than 75 years old or if made available as a commercial video product by the rightsholder (if any).”

This edition isn't really recommended but, poor as it is, this is currently the only DVD edition of the film available. Until it has been superceded by a high-quality edition produced from the prints surviving in European film archives, this DVD will be a cherished part of our reference collection.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition is available directly from THE SERIAL SQUADRON.
Other OLD DARK HOUSE FILMS of the silent era available on home video:
The Bat (1926)
The Cat and the Canary (1927)
Haunted Spooks (1920)
Midnight Faces (1926)
 
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