Make It A Blu Christmas With These Last Minute Gift Ideas
Christmas shoppers take note: we are officially in the home stretch. If you have yet to buy a gift for any of the movie fans on your list, now’s the time to get serious about Blu-ray. While physical media lacks the widespread support it enjoyed 10-15 years ago, this format is keeping collectors and cult movie aficionados satiated like never before. A small (but still growing) group of companies is hard at work all year long, preparing glorious transfers and enlightening extras for releases of films both celebrated and obscure. With that in mind, here are some of the most noteworthy new releases from (roughly) 10 essential Blu-ray labels.
1. The Studios
Unfortunately most of the studios have stopped pouring resources into catalogue titles, but they’re still putting out high quality releases of new movies. Of course, the more prominent titles are risky gifts, as there’s a higher-than-usual chance that the person you’re shopping for already has them, but you’ll find plenty of worthwhile extras on discs like The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Jack Black and his castmates improv a theme song), Mission: Impossible–Fallout (a harrowing look at the HALO jump sequence), and A Quiet Place (John Krasinski details the unusually complicated process of casting his wife). If you’re interested in more overlooked or under-the-radar genre options, consider Annihilation and BlacKkKlansman, two movies that earned critical acclaim, if not quite the audience they deserve. The latter is light on extras, but it’s an especially topical, inventive, and engaging Spike Lee joint—one that remains a viable contender for movie of the year.
2. The Criterion Collection
Criterion continues to charge a premium for their always A+ releases—and they’re worth every penny. In just the last few months, they’ve released a long overdue restoration of Julien Duvivier’s noirish murder mystery Panique, the first ever special edition of David Byrne’s 1986 cult favourite True Stories—a fictional Talking Heads movie loosely inspired by bizarro tabloid stories (released with an appropriately tabloid-style booklet)—and an undeniably gift-ready edition of The Princess Bride. Accidentally coinciding with the death of novelist/screenwriter William Goldman, the latter comes packaged as a purple hardcover book, complete with excerpts from an audiobook of the source material read by director Rob Reiner.
3. Shout Select
Shout! Factory continues to earn its reputation as the Criterion of cult cinema, particularly in its recent string of Shout Select releases. While it’s not altogether clear what this designation means, there is a heavy emphasis on movies from the ’70s and ’80s, including recent standouts Valley Girl and The Jerk. Rather than bore viewers with standard issue talking head interviews, Shout! wisely gathers key collaborators to engage in conversation with another. In the case of The Jerk, Steve Martin and director Carl Reiner reminisce, as do screenwriters Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias. Valley Girl has more than enough extras ported over from its original DVD release, but Shout! also reunites director Martha Coolidge with cast members Heidi Holicker and the legendary E.G. Daily for a wide-ranging discussion that’s particularly revealing on the subject of nudity in movies.
4. Scream Factory
By all indications, Shout Select was an effort by Shout! Factory to duplicate the success of the company’s horror label, Scream Factory. We covered a bunch of their recent releases at Halloween, but in just the last two months a new slew of excellent releases have hit stores, including Candyman, Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, Single White Female, Sleepwalkers, Starman (a non-horror John Carpenter gem that might be more at home in the Shout Select lineup), and The Critters Collection. A treat beyond any Critters fan’s imagination, the latter features substantial extras for all four movies including a particularly strong documentary about the first film. Other standout extras on Scream’s recent releases include a terrific new Starman featurette (with Carpenter, Jeff Bridges, and others) and an interview with Candyman’s Tony Todd that reveals Propaganda Films’ surprising first choice for his role: Eddie Murphy.
5. Severin Films
For the most part, Severin Films releases little-known obscurities rather than Scream’s brand of horror heavy-hitters, but they violated this perceived focus with their most high-profile release of 2018: Peter Medak’s The Changeling. As fan/filmmaker Mick Garris explains in a brief interview on the Blu-ray, this melancholic haunted house saga was overlooked at the time of its release but has slowly come to be regarded as a classic of the genre. More typical Severin releases from recent months include The Horror of Party Beach (a rock and roll monster movie with a debt to the early films of Russ Meyer) and a pair of oddities starring Luigi Montefiori (aka George Eastman) and directed by Italian gorehound Aristide Massaccesi (aka Joe D’Amato): Antropophagus and Absurd. Montefiori says he’s ashamed of the former, calling its fans “weirdoes,” but these films were made in the immediate aftermath of Dawn of the Dead and both feature outrageous (bordering on obscene) gore that would make Tom Savini and George A. Romero proud.
6. Vinegar Syndrome
Traditional boundaries of taste have never stopped Vinegar Syndrome from releasing a film, but the company also has an undeniable eye for quality. Anyone can release a celebrated cult film and enjoy the support of a pre-existing fanbase. Vinegar Syndrome prefers to scour the archives in search of an undiscovered triumph—like 1973’s Shot. Made by college students for $15,000, this is a surprisingly sprawling winter crime saga that evokes the atmosphere of films like The French Connection and (especially) The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Even more impressive is The Killing Kind, a little-seen 1973 gem from legendary cult director Curtis Harrington (Night Tide). Exploring the troubled inner life of a man (The Deer Hunter’s John Savage) who was forced to commit an assault against his will, this is a feast of complex, even contradictory psychology.
7. Arrow Video
A case could be made that director Brian De Palma peaked in the mid-’70s with inspired horror films like Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise, and Carrie, but an equally viable case could be made that his most creatively liberated work arrived a few years earlier—in the form of Greetings and Hi, Mom! Arrow Video collects these overlooked comic experiments in De Niro & De Palma: The Early Films (along with the less distinguished The Wedding Party), finally giving them the special edition treatment they deserve. Other recent Arrow releases include Jim Van Bebber’s Deadbeat at Dawn—a 1988 gang movie that plays like a more raw, low budget variation on The Warriors—and Abel Ferrara’s black-and-white vampire curiosity, The Addiction. The highlight of the latter is Talking with the Vampires, a new doc that gives the always-colourful (even in black-and-white) Ferrara a chance to catch up with his cast and crew.
8. MVD Rewind Collection
One of the most intriguing new labels on the market, MVD’s Rewind Collection has an unclassifiable slate that samples from an impressive range of subgenres. Examples include an oddball family movie (Savannah Smiles), a misbegotten prestige picture (Bright Lights, Big City), a grimy rock doc (D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage), a belated Terminator knock-off (Nemesis), and a forgotten (if never fully known) horror sequel (The Return of Swamp Thing). Giving the gift of MVD could mean just about anything, but it should put a smile on the face of any cult movie obsessive.
9. Olive Films
Olive Films has always been a force for good when it comes to releasing worthy catalogue titles on Blu-ray, but their releases slowed to a trickle in 2018. Nonetheless, they managed to release one of the year’s most essential discs: a deluxe new special edition of 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers that features an improved transfer and a lengthy list of new extras. Other Olive highlights include John Sturges’ The Hallelujah Trail—a sprawling western comedy epic in roughly the same vein as It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World—and Oscar Williams’ Five on the Black Hand Side, a grounded (and amusing) blaxploitation movie that reminds us of that movement’s under-acknowledged knack for dramatic credibility.
10. The Best of the Rest
As you can tell from the titles listed above, there really is a never-ending abundance of Blu-rays available for your last-minute shopping needs. While we can’t cover all the options here, it’s worth noting that Twilight Time continues releasing roughly four stellar discs every month—recent highlights include Gloria, The New Centurions, and Short Night of Glass Dolls—though you might have a hard time getting your hands on any of them before Christmas (they’re only available from a few select online retailers). Another essential disc that you might actually be able to find on short notice is The Last Movie, Dennis Hopper’s challenging, daring, and essential follow-up to Easy Rider, which finally got the restoration it so desperately needed courtesy of Arbelos Films. Their disc comes loaded with Dennis Hopper arcana, which should serve as an ideal chaser for any holiday indulgence.