More than six years ago, I wrote a column about John Belushi’s final film, Neighbors, and bemoaned its availability only as a Sony MOD disc. I am a fan of the film and thought that it deserved better treatment. You can read that original column here.
When I first read about Mill Creek’s Retro VHS offerings, I really thought they were going to go all in on the concept and offer shitty VHS transfers to go along with the cute yesteryear packaging.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The new transfer of Neighbors (and I believe it is a new transfer) is stunning. I spent an hour or two comparing it to the “original” Sony Blu-ray transfer, and it’s quite a bit better… and a steal at only $8.99.
The new Mill Creek disc is noticeably brighter and has a clearer soundtrack. The old Sony MOD disc had a soundtrack that sounded “loudifed,” which is what happens when the replicating engineer boosts all the sound levels. Many music lovers have accused Apple Music of doing this in an attempt to make downloaded music sound better on shitty headphones. This matter of “loudifying” the soundtrack becomes very germane when discussing Neighbors, because Neighbors already has one of the most obnoxious soundtracks in history.
Fearing that the audience in 1981 might not recognize Neighbors as a comedy because it is a black comedy, the producers of the film hired Bill Conti to write soundtrack music that is the terpsichorean equivalent of your dumbest second cousin sitting next to you for the entire movie, poking you in the ribs every two minutes and shouting, “DO YA GET IT?” In the very first scene, as protagonist Earl Keese (John Belushi) is returning home from work at the end of the day, the soundtrack breaks into a bizarre, off-key kazoo rendition of “There’s No Place Like Home.” When Earl showers and primps for a forthcoming sexual assignation, Conti slathers “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees at top volume because, you know, Saturday Night Fever had that famous sequence where John Travolta gets ready in his bathroom for a night of dancing. Ha. DO YA GET IT?
TANGENT: During this viewing, I noticed another attempt by the producers to “salvage” a film that the studio just didn’t like. In one of the last scenes in the film, Belushi emits a maniacal laugh very much like his character Bluto from Animal House. It happens when Earl picks up the family television and hurls it across the room. I think this short scene is a reshoot—Belushi’s hair looks quite a bit different than it does in the rest of the film. It looks like months after principal photography wrapped, his hair grew out, and this is the make-up crew trying and not succeeding at matching it to the rest of the footage. It’s as if the producers were so afraid that audiences simply wouldn’t accept a comedy this black, with Belushi playing a character this different from his past big-screen buffoons.
The final difference I noticed were the chapter stops. Though the old Sony MOD disc had no menu, it did have chapter stops that were uniformly placed every ten minutes. Clearly a lot of work went into that, by which I mean that no work went into that. The new Mill Creek disc has better, more sensible chapter stops, though they are not named and appear nowhere on the packaging or any menu screen.
I am glad that this odd, uneven, and goofy dark comedy finally has a decent presentation. One could wish for the original score by the punk band FEAR that Belushi himself lobbied for, or the score that composer Tom Scott actually delivered but that was rejected by the studio, or an Ackroyd commentary track—but I guess that sometimes we don’t deserve nice things. It’s fine. Still, Neighbors is a movie I like very much and for nine bucks, you might too.