Color, 2007, 78 mins. 28 secs.
Directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
Starring Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge-Yamam Serrano
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Sony (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Divisa (Blu-ray & DVD) (Spain RB/R2 HD/PAL), eOne (Blu-ray & DVD) (Canada RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

[REC] 2
Color, 2009, 84 mins. 22 secs.  
Directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
Starring Jonathan D. Mellor, Manuela Velasco, Óscar Zafra, Alejandro Casaseca
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Filmax (Blu-ray & DVD) (Spain RB/R2 HD/PAL), eOne (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL, Canada RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Magnolia (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Color, 2012, 80 mins. 21 secs.
Directed by Paco Plaza
Starring Leticia Dolera, Diego Martín, Ismael Martínez, Àlex Monner, Sr. B, Emilio Mencheta
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Warner Bros. (Blu-ray & DVD) (Spain R0 HD/PAL), Seville (Blu-ray  DVD) (Canada RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Sony (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Contender (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (2.35:1 / 1.78:1) (16:9)

Color, 2014, 95 mins. 7 secs.
Directed by Jaume Balagueró
Starring Manuela Velasco, Paco Manzanedo, Héctor Colomé, Ismael Fritschi, Críspulo Cabezas
Scream Factory (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Divisa (Blu-ray & DVD) (Spain RB/R2 HD/PAL), Sony (DVD) ( US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Just [REC]when the found footage [REC]horror craze kicked off by The Blair Witch Project in 1999 seemed to be completely spent after far too many throwaway cheapies about amateur film crews assailed by supernatural beings and serial killers, 2007 managed to jolt it back to life again with two new films that changed the game entirely. In America it happened with Paranormal Activity, a flawed but sometimes effective ghost (and, sort of, possession) story that spawned a slew of wildly uneven sequels. However, the real worldwide stunner came from the new Spanish horror wave courtesy of [REC], a technically ingenious depiction of a zombie-like outbreak told mostly in real time inside a single location, a multi-story apartment building. The film was the first directing credit shared by two prominent names in Spanish horror, Jaume Balagueró (who made an auspicious debut with The Nameless but hit the rocks when Miramax butchered his English-language debut, Darkness) and Paco Plaza (who had directed the intriguing Second Name and went on to helm the chilling Veronica).  Truly terrifying and building to one of the most effective climaxes in recent genre history, the film caused immediate ripples in the horror community but was barely acknowledged at first in the U.S. to make way for its almost immediate (and far less effective) American remake the following year, Quarantine. Meanwhile, [REC] led to three sequels released in nearly two-year intervals, taking the concept in very unexpected directions that continue to divide fans to this day.

[REC]The first [REC] begins innocently enough as cheerful TV shot Ángela (Velasco) begins recording an episode for an ongoing program about jobs that take place during the graveyard shift. In this case she’s hanging out with a group of Barcelona [REC]firefighters and accompanying them on a call, in this case a report from a nearby apartment building where one of the tenants is screaming inside her apartment. Upon entering, one of the responders is bitten by the seemingly insane occupant, an old lady behaving like a wild animal. Suddenly the building is placed under quarantine with health inspectors arriving to keep them inside and assess the damage as a contagion soon sweeps through the residents and the emergency crew, turning them into raving fiends who can never reach the world outside.

If you haven’t seen this film yet, it may be best to just know that it’s absolutely essential viewing and just skip through the next few paragraphs as it’s impossible to discuss the sequels without major spoilers. So… Even over a decade later, [REC] is still one of the very best found footage films and packs a nasty punch even on repeated viewings. Rather than indulging in random shaky cam, each shot is sneakily designed to deliver maximum narrative information and scare the hell out of the viewer either through subtle suggestion or seat-jumping shocks. The visual trickery on display is often astonishing, such as a startling moment involving a multi-story plunge by a body down a staircase and that indelible finale, a crafty slice of nightmarish imagery that many viewers incorrectly assumed must have been achieved solely through CGI. [REC]

[REC]Strangely released only on DVD by Sony in the U.S. and never given an official theatrical run, the film fared far better at the time everywhere else with Blu-ray releases in several major territories and many featuring English subtitles. (Be warned that to this day if you buy a digital version of the film in America, it'll most likely be an English-dubbed version.) Fortunately the film makes its U.S. Blu-ray debut in the 2018 The [REC] Collection from Scream Factory, which compiles all four films in the series together in a sturdy box with copious extras from the international editions gathered together, all subtitled in English (and many not listed on the packaging). Here you get the usual HD transfer of the film, which is shot to look like an intentionally raw and on-the-fly production on TV equipment (actually shot on DVCPRO, edited as a 2K DI, and transferred to 35mm for theatrical screenings). That means the fluorescent light, frequent darkness, and motion blurring produce an authentic experience but not one that will test the limits of your home theater. That's okay though as it still easily surpasses the old DVD edition. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 Spanish and English-dubbed options both sound quite good and deliver some highly effective surround effects when it's called for, with the hallway chase scenes in particular guaranteed to have you ducking away from your speakers. Optional English subtitles are provided for the Spanish track, which is definitely the preferable option.

The film can also be played with a Balagueró-Plaza audio commentary from the Spanish release (with English subtitles here), which is lively and engrossing as they [REC]talk about the effects requirements of the zombie and blood-spattering effects, the execution of the real-time concept, and the way they teamed up to guide the cast and crew through a very tricky production. They also turn up as the main interview subjects of "The [REC]Making Of [REC]" (40m52s), which features copious behind-the-scenes footage that's bound to be a little disorienting when you see how cheerful everyone was between takes! They also demonstrate in great detail how that effect was achieved in the final scene, which is still pretty wild even with all the lights on. A separate batch of crew interviews (46m38s), originally separated on past releases and featuring Pablo Rosso, Oriol Tarrago, and Xavi Mas, will give you a whole new level of appreciation for the film's sound design (including the finely tuned zombie sounds) and the pseudo-documentary approach achieved with some simple but very effective tricks to keep the camerawork as realistic as possible. Also included are some extended scenes (3m13s) including a few very creepy extra touches like an added grisly discovery from the climax, a ton of deleted scenes (30m5s) expanding on Ángela's interviews and coverage of the building, a batch of raw behind-the-scenes footage (17m1s) mostly focusing around the stairwell sequences, theatrical trailers (Spanish, UK), a Spanish teaser, a still gallery with some crazy production shots and lots of posters, some very funny audition and rehearsal footage (14m38s), a spotlight on Velasco (12m47s) complete with a street interview about her character and making-of footage, and a minute of very stylized TV spots. It's worth noting that the eOne Blu-ray released in Canada and U.K. isn't even remotely as stacked but does have an exclusive, not overly substantial 10m1s interview with the two directors (recorded in the same session as the extras for part two) that hasn't turned up anywhere else.

[REC] 2Set immediately after (and partially concurrently with) the first film, [REC] 2 is a slightly lesser but satisfying sequel [REC] 2with both Balagueró and Plaza returning as directors. This time the story is bifurcated into multiple parts involving a health department team infiltrating the apartment moments after the first film’s climax, which finds them pitted against the contaminated inhabitants and looking for the original host, the possessed and disfigured Medeiros girl. Also involved are a father trying to get back in the building to administer medicine to his sick daughter, a group of teenage pranksters trying to sneak into the building through the sewer, and Ángela herself, apparently surviving the harrowing final seconds we last saw of her. The structure by its very nature means the film doesn’t have quite the same relentless intensity as the escalating original, but aside from the somewhat slack portion with the kids, it moves along at a steady clip and features at least one monster of a jump scare. The twist ending is also clever, answering several questions while also leaving the door open for a sequel that was already being planned.

Snapped up by Magnet Releasing and actually given a U.S. theatrical release, the second film was again only given a DVD edition in the U.S. as other countries saw it popping up on Blu-ray. Again the film was shot to look intentionally rough and indistinguishable from a TV documentary, with many scenes unfolding in heavy darkness; however, it was also [REC] 2obviously shot on superior equipment with much greater clarity. That approach is retained in the HD transfer present here, and as with the [REC] 2first film, it looks identical to foreign releases. This film (and the two following it) were never dubbed into English (a blessing actually), and the Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1 track with optional English subtitles is, again, wonderfully manipulative and immersive throughout. Again the two directors appear for an audio commentary in which they touch on how they wanted to avoid repetition of the previous story, conceived of the multi-story angle that slips around the chronology of the events we already know, and pushed the notion even further of how a camera that never cuts could be used to capture an escalating series of horrifying events. The biggest extra by far is the epic making-of documentary, "In an Affected World" (118m14s), complete with tons of cast and crew interviews and production footage (highlighted by demonstrations of how the gunfire and fights were engineered to look real with a shaky camera, as well as a demo of how that icky final shot was achieved). An additional behind-the-scenes featurette (55m37s) intercuts a deeper look at the makeup effects interspersed with more director interview footage, followed by some minor deleted scenes (4m7s), extended scenes (3m35s) including more rooftop shenanigans, a walk-through of the set (9m9s), coverage of the directors, crew and [REC] 3Velasco at the Venice Film Festival (8m58s) and Sitges Film Festival (11m24s), a stills gallery, and two theatrical trailers and TV spots. [REC] 3

Easily the most controversial film in the series came next with [REC] 3: Genesis, a sort-of prequel that saw the two directors splitting duties for the next two films. Plaza takes the reins solo here and reveals a definite impatience with the found footage format, which is ditched a third of the way through  when the camera breaks. This time the tone is closer to Peter Jackson territory with heavy doses of comedy and extreme bloodshed, albeit heading to a tragic climax that packs more of a punch than you might expect. Here we have the saga of Clara (Veronica's Dolera) and Koldo (Martin, Velasco's co-star on the TV series Velvet), a couple whose big wedding at a sprawling mansion starts well enough but raises some red flags when we learn the one of the relatives is a vet who’s just been bitten by a dog. Soon the expected pandemonium erupts as the wedding turns into a bloodbath with the guests biting and dismembering each other with wild abandon, and the separated, unlucky couple have to buck up and fight for their lives along with the dwindling number of survivors. Complete with a  chainsaw-wielding Clara and some goofy humor involving a suit of armor, this isn’t a film for all tastes and an odd change of pace in many ways as it dispenses with the religious elements of the prior two films in favor of a more straightforward [REC] 3zombie outbreak approach. [REC] 3

In yet another twist in the series' fate in the U.S., the third film wound up bowing in theaters and on-demand on the exact same day during the early days of that experimental approach. Again it only wound up going to DVD at first, with Blu-rays popping up around Europe and Canada. The Scream Factory releases features the main feature in its familiar HD incarnation that preserves the mixed aspect ratio of 1.78:1 for the first 20 minutes before switching to 2.35:1 for the remainder when the shooting format switches. No audio commentary this time, though the DTS-HD Spanish 5.1 and 2.0 audio options sound great (with optional English subs). The main documentary this time is another monster, "Preparing a Bloody Wedding" (117m45s), with a wealth of coverage of Plaza and company at work, including an explanation of how the "video" and "movie" parts were determined and thoughts on how the change in camera language would affect the way this particular story was told. A shorter making-of featurette (23m12s) is also included, tying the film more closely to its predecessors and touching on other aspects like the costume design and set decoration. "Una historia de amor [REC] 4maravillosa" (23m58s) features all of the romantic photos and video footage sampled into the film charting the love story, with a quick [REC] 4bloody recap at the end to bring it to a close. An outtake and deleted scenes reel (2m55s), three Spanish trailers, and a stills gallery are also included.

By the fourth film, [REC] 4: Apocalypse, the found footage angle is gone entirely as Balagueró goes it alone to wrap up all the loose ends of the series. This time Ángela (Velasco, complete with another shift in hair color) returns as the main protagonist, now salvaged from the remains of the apartment building following a military siege. Though she appeared to be infected when we last saw her, she now wakes up in a lab on a ship at sea and appears to be completely clean. Efforts to recover the footage from her camera are taking an inordinate amount of time, and she begins to wander the ship and builds a nervous rapport with one of the rescue team, Guzmán (Manzanedo), as well as one of her fans, Nick (Fritschi). Of course, her real infection status remains ambiguous as another threat courtesy of a monkey gets loose on the ship, turning the passengers into more raging, murderous carriers of the contagion.

[REC] 4The claustrophobic setting and far more serious tone get this one far more in line with the first two films, and as before, Velasco makes for an engaging lead. As with the prior film, this one is shot in scope with far more traditional camerawork, and for the most part is works [REC] 4as a capper to the film series with only some minor hiccups (namely a Hollywood-style ending complete with some very iffy CGI).

Yet again this film was given a more robust reception outside of the U.S. upon its original release, earning subtitled European Blu-ray releases while Americans were again stuck with digital and DVD options. This set redresses that oversight with the solid HD master ported over here capturing the look of the original film, which is desaturated and features deliberately hot whites in many scenes. The Spanish audio options, in either DTS-HD MA 5.1 or 2.0, again fill the room with lots of booming waves and crashing orchestral music, and optional English subtitles are provided. The requisite documentary is shorter this time (27m58s), opening with a montage of the previous three titles and featuring Velasco guiding the camera on a tour of the production intercut with a director interview. You also get to see the creation of the series' first animatronic creation, too. A hefty batch of trailers and TV spots - 8 minutes' worth - is included as well, plus a generous stills gallery.

Reviewed on September 25, 2018.