The Yuletide season always makes us scramble to find the ideal gift for friends and loved ones. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s a nightmare, especially when you have a friend or two with quirky tastes (like me). Some of us do dream of a Black Christmas (perhaps getting that Blu-ray as a present) and love it when you bear us unexpected gifts that satiate our cinematic desires. Here are some holiday gift ideas for the genre movie lover in your life.
SCREAMING DELIGHTS — If there’s one company right now that’s really showing love for cult and B-movies from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, it’s Scream Factory. An offshoot of the already prolific Shout! Factory, this imprint strives to lovingly restore classic (and not-so-classic) horror films from the past, often repackaging them with freshly commissioned artwork and serving up some fantastic bonus features. Some of my favorite titles this year have included Halloween II (which includes the TV cut), Halloween III: Season Of The Witch, the six-movie Vincent Price Collection (with The Abominable Dr. Phibes!), The Amityville Horror Trilogy and The Fog. Scream Factory has done a stellar job of bringing back many cult gems that have been long overdue for a reissue, allowing longtime fans to offer renewed appreciation and new ones the chance to experience them for the first time. Many titles include revealing extras. I love how Jamie Lee Curtis admits that she didn’t think The Fog was a great film (I disagree) but really appreciated director John Carpenter giving her more work. And if you want to see how crew member viewpoints can differ radically, watch the featurette on The Incredible Melting Man in which director William Sachs says they were making a tongue-in-cheek sci-fried flick while make-up wizard Rick Baker questions that seemingly revisionist recollection.
ROLLIN’ IN ROLLIN — Kino Lorber has done an excellent job with the Redemption imprint, particularly with films that would be lost to the ravages of time. Take the films of the late French auteur Jean Rollin. It’s not like his movies are masterpieces of horror filmmaking. In fact, his standard M.O. was hot babes willing to get naked and make out, gory scenes, fantastic (and often dilapidated) locations like castles and mansions and storylines that were interesting without pushing any boundaries. Then again, he worked with minimal budgets. Rollin also was obsessed with a beach in Dieppe where he filmed scenes for many of unrelated films. Once in awhile, he delivered a minor classic. Two cases in point: The Living Dead Girl and The Iron Rose. In the former film, a woman who has been dead for several years is resurrected by a toxic waste spill (ridiculous, yes) and returns to her childhood home. Her close friend keeps her safely hidden while helping her satiate her need for human blood, and the climax is actually rather shocking. In the latter film, a couple copulating in a crypt come out to find it’s dark and they can’t find their way out of a labyrinthine cemetery. Their descent into madness follows. Also, Shiver Of The Vampires — in which a newlywed couple visit the wife’s long-lost cousins, only to discover their newly undead status at the hands of a female vampire — has its moments, fueled by a Goblin-esque score from French band Acanthus.
BOUNTIFUL BAVA — Kudos also to Kino Lorber for reissuing many classic Mario Bava fear flicks in HD. The man took the Gothic horror form to another level with his bold use of color and striking camera angles. He also understood that a great way to emanate terror onscreen was to focus on the eyes of those experiencing it. Bava would serve as a big influence on fellow Italian filmmaker Dario Argento and others. There’s plenty to check out in the Bava catalog, including Black Sunday (with the creepy Barbara Steele and her eerie eyes), Hatchet For The Honeymoon (a suave male serial killer predating Dexter), and the classic anthology Black Sabbath. The latter film has been restored to the proper order of the three stories (with the unnerving ‘The Drop Of Water’ up last), although this is the original Italian language version with subtitles, meaning that host and co-star Boris Karloff is voiced by someone else. It’s an odd choice, but the film looks good. That nailbiting last story may keep you from stealing ever again, even from the living. By the way, The Whip and The Body, a Christopher Lee ghost story with S&M overtones, finally gets its Blu-ray debut this week, which is especially awesome as the original DVD reissue was not great. I can’t wait until the chilling child ghost story Kill, Baby…Kill! gets its HD reissue.
SCI-FI ADVENTURES — I couldn’t forget sci-fi, and this year saw an interesting batch of releases. A good sequel to J.J. Abram’s reboot, Star Trek: Into Darkness is a reimagining of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan with Benedict Cumberbatch supplying some twisted, intelligent villainry (although Ricardo Montalbán still owns the role). ‘Dark Skies’ plays like an alien abduction move done Paranormal Activity style. It’s a modest low budget production with a nice plot twist. The Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion was better than many critics declared, with him and Andrea Riseborough among the few humans left behind on Earth to monitor facilities that are sucking up our aquatic resources to take to Saturn’s largest moon Titan, where the human race is attempting to start anew. Meanwhile, surviving scavengers from the alien invasion that caused this mess are still trying to disrupt them. Despite echoing parts of I Am Legend, Oblivion is a solid existential action film. If you haven’t had the chance to check out Dredd, the superior Judge Dredd reboot starring Karl Urban, please do so. The video release was early 2013, but some people missed this one. It’s a dystopic siege movie that will get your adrenaline going and may have you rooting for its fascistic protagonist, even if you don’t agree with him. And the rock ’em sock ’em robots of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim are more fun than they should be, although the film does look rather CG.
BRUCE LEE LIVES AGAIN — This was the year for Bruce Lee Blu-rays. The martial arts star’s first four films, all done in Hong Kong, have been collected by Shout Factory in their multi-disc Bruce Lee Legacy Collection, which includes The Big Boss, Fist Of Fury, The Way Of The Dragon, and Game Of Death along with audio commentaries, featurettes and interviews, and outtakes, not to mention three full-length documentaries on DVD including I Am Bruce Lee. It’s all encased in a hardcover edition bound with a 64-page full color book that features vintage photos, poster art, and modest liner notes. A note of caution: each disc is so tightly slipped into the sleeves that you have to pull them out hard. Putting them back in requires equal strength.
Earlier in the year, Warner Bros. celebrated the 40th anniversary of Enter The Dragon with the upgraded HD reissue of his best, final, and most famous film. Co-starring John Saxon and the late Jim Kelly, this English language, Hollywood-Hong Kong co-production posthumously turned Lee, who died before its release, into an international star and lead to the popularity of karate schools across America. Lalo Schifrin’s sizzling score adds an extra flavor to an already tasty movie. The release includes numerous extras, including a collectible embroidered patch, never-before-seen production art stills, a motion lenticular card, and a promotional booklet containing photographs from Dave Friedman’s book, Enter the Dragon: A Photographer’s Journey. Not to mention numerous documentaries and featurettes.
LAW AND DISORDER — When my father took me to see the original Conan the Barbarian, what bothered him was not the fact that he didn’t like it, but that it was so well made. To a lesser extent, director William Lustig’s Maniac Cop trilogy — now available in great Blu-ray releases from Blue Underground — gives me a slightly similar feeling except that I have a soft spot for these kinds of crazy cult flicks. The revenge trilogy centers around cop Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar), a Dirty Harry-style cop who was disgraced and framed when he came close to uncovering political corruption in NYC. Assaulted and scarred in prison and assumed broken by the system, he escapes and returns for a quest for revenge against criminals and the system alike, even teaming up with a serial killer in part 2. It’s never clear whether he’s superhuman (as in the first film, which is still the best) or undead (in the latter two films), but he keeps coming back to deliver brutal justice as he sees fit. The stuntmen on fire in parts 2 and particularly 3 are pretty amazing, even moreso given their budgets. Props to stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos. Check out the documentaries on the Blu-rays, especially for the beleaguered production of part 3, which Lustig removed his name from. Bruce Campbell co-stars in the original, while Robert Davi takes over in the next two installments.
SUPERHERO SAGAS — We’re in superhero overload mode, and even as someone who grew up with and loves comic books, I’m starting to feel the fatigue. Still, we’ve had a lot of good fantasy sagas invade cineplexes in the last few years, and many of them have gotten deluxe packaging for the Xmas shopping blitz. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight saga, now collected in an Ultimate Collector’s Edition box, is deservedly considered one of the best superhero series ever. Matching the violence blow for blow with philosophical musings on the nature of good and evil, he paints a portrait of Batman’s Gotham City with plenty of shades of grey. And all of his villains, while definitely master manipulators and fierce fighters, are not superpowered nemeses. The newly issued Dark Knight Trilogy Blu-ray box set includes all the three films along with a 48-page photo book, five arty color prints from Mondo, plus toy reproductions of The Tumbler, Bat-Pod, and Bat vehicles. There are also 90 minutes of new bonus features, including a chat between Nolan and original Superman movie director Richard Donner.
On the flip side, the X-Men franchise has found the humanity in characters endowed with amazing mutant powers that scare the general populace. So even when Professor X and his heroes do good, people still have issues with them. The recent spin-off sequel The Wolverine is superior to his X-Men Origins installment and takes Logan to feudal Japan to take on a wealthy old tycoon who seeks to extend his life while shortening Logan’s. The fight atop a speeding bullet train is pretty rad. Beyond the 3D Unleashed Extended Edition of the film, the entire franchise has been housed with a replica of a Wolvie glove with extended claws, appropriately called the Adamantium Collection, although just know that all six movies are the regular editions with no 3D or extended cuts where applicable.
There are also other big superhero sagas from this year that haven been unleashed on video, including the mega blockbuster Iron Man 3 and the disappointing but very popular Man Of Steel.
Chucky: The Complete Collection — All six Child’s Play movies in one Blu-ray package.
The Fly — The Vincent Price original.
Frankenstein’s Army — Crazy faux documentary about Nazi man-machine experiments.
Friday The 13th: The Complete Collection — Jason rampages anew in hi-def.
Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition — Reportedly the best HD transfer yet.
The House Of Wax 3D – Another classic Vincent Price original.
The Last Stand – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fun return to a leading action role.
Red 2 — All-star action cast.
Saturn 3 — Kirk Douglas, Farrah Fawcett, and Harvey Keitel in a messed up sci-fi cult flick.
The Wizard Of Oz 3D — A family classic actually gets a good 3D upgrade.