25 Genre Blu-rays Worth Staying Inside For
As far as the calendar is concerned, there’s still a full month left in summer—but Labour Day is just around the corner, which means the fun part is almost over. If you want to make the most of that time, you can get outside for some fun in the sun—or you can get comfortable on the couch and spend some quality time with the summer’s standout genre Blu-rays. Once you experience the scares many of these discs have to offer, you’ll probably lock your doors and take newfound comfort in avoiding the outside world. With that in mind, here are 25 genre Blu-rays worth staying inside for.
Two of the most ambitious horror projects of 2019, Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Pet Sematary, were under a lot of pressure to reach the heights of their predecessors—and fans were divided about their ultimate success. However, one thing is certain: both films get worthwhile, feature-laden Blu-rays. Godzilla is particularly packed, though one of the featurettes (the 27-minute Evolution of the Titans) conveys most of the essentials, including director Michael Dougherty’s belief that motion capture technology achieves roughly the same effect as the franchise’s traditional man-in-a-suit shenanigans. The filmmaker speaks fondly of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film—not that he has any choice—but he also details the intriguing ways he brought the franchise back to its 1954 origin.
Pet Sematary is a little lighter on extras, though there is at least one highlight: the four-part, 62-minute Beyond the Deadfall. While most of the talk about the film has centred around directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer, this doc details the decade-long contribution of writers Jeff Buhler and Matt Greenberg. In the end, the directors heavily re-worked their script in order to be more faithful to Stephen King’s novel. Similarly, star Jason Clarke spent the whole shoot obsessively re-reading passages so he could include more crucial details in the film. That process may not have been entirely effective, but the extras on this disc are.
A Summer Project
A strong contender for best Blu-ray release of the summer, American Horror Project Vol. 2 includes three obscure horror gems from the ’70s, all of which are linked by the prominent involvement of children: 1970’s Dream No Evil, 1976’s Dark August, and 1977’s The Child. The last of these is stylish and eerie, but it doesn’t reach the heights of the other two. Dream No Evil is particularly impressive in the way it combines dramatic, character-driven filmmaking with waking nightmare excess to tell the story of an orphan determined to reunite with her long lost father. Dark August finds a similarly unsettling resonance in its exploration of a man who accidentally killed a girl with his car—and hasn’t been the same since.
Die-hard fans of the genre will recognize the three films in this collection from Stephen Thrower’s indispensable book Nightmare USA, and Thrower is on hand to discuss each of the films in this set. In addition, each disc includes a commentary and additional featurettes. The best of these is arguably Thrower’s lengthy look at the films of Dream No Evil director John Hayes, many of which are forgotten or even lost. If you somehow emerge from this featurette without any desire to go deeper into Hayes’ filmography, you can’t possibly be a serious fan of genre movies.
Both released in 1982, these intriguing Scream Factory releases revolve around women with two very different kinds of stalkers. The Seduction’s Jaime Douglas (Morgan Fairchild) is a TV anchorman with a disturbingly determined fan while The Entity’s Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey) is repeatedly sexually assaulted… by an invisible demon. Believe it or not, both films claim to be inspired by true events. Whether those claims are accurate or not, The Entity remains an artful (if aggressively unpleasant) ’80s horror oddity, while the less celebrated The Seduction is, at the very least, a well-crafted thriller worthy of discovery.
As is almost always the case with Scream Factory, both of these discs are loaded with worthwhile extras. In a 19-minute interview on The Entity, Hershey is refreshingly enthusiastic about the film—most of her serious acting peers are dismissive of their horror efforts—while David Labiosa is remarkably candid about the shoot and the conflicts that diminished his character. Mirroring that disc, The Seduction includes the enthusiasm of its female lead (Fairchild) and the more conflicted perspective of a male co-star (Andrew Stevens).
While Scream Factory does its most comprehensive work resurrecting ’80s horror movies—it helps that many of the actors from this period are still alive—they also do good work with films from earlier decades. Recent examples include 1974’s The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires—a Shaw Bros./Hammer collaboration that combines martial arts cinema with gothic horror—and 1955’s Tarantula. Both films offer textbook genre movie escapism that makes for ideal summer viewing.
Due to its age, Tarantula is light on extras (stills, the trailer, a commentary), but the transfer is excellent. 7 Golden Vampires includes more impressive extras, including a commentary, a second cut of the film, an interview with uncredited co-director Cheh Chang (of Five Deadly Venoms fame), and Kung Fear, a 20-minute interview with author and critic (not makeup master) Rick Baker. Initially somewhat muted in his enthusiasm, Baker eventually confesses that this vampire-kung fu hybrid is one of his 20 favourite movies of all-time.
A Trip to Italy
Arrow Video’s ongoing commitment to Italian genre cinema has continued this summer with the release of notable spaghetti westerns (Keoma, The Grand Duel) and a pair of giallo films from director Riccardo Freda (Double Face, The Iguana with the Tongue of Fire). Of these films, the highlights are The Grand Duel and Double Face, two films that will feel instantly familiar to many, as cues from their scores are featured prominently in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films (the score for the aforementioned The Entity was also sampled by Tarantino—in Inglourious Basterds). In The Grand Duel, this is particularly unmistakable, as the title track by Luis Bacalov plays repeatedly throughout the film, though you are likely to remember it as the theme from O-Ren Ishii’s origin story.
This Tarantino connection is a popular topic of conversation on the Blu-rays for The Grand Duel and Double Face. The director of the former (Giancarlo Santi) accuses Tarantino of cultural appropriation, while the composer of the latter (Nora Orlandi) expresses heartfelt gratitude, citing the many rewards of being linked to one of the director’s defining films. Either way, both films are standouts of their respective sub-genres that are well worth seeking out.
Stuck in the ’90s
MVD Rewind continues to pour considerable resources into films that might not be altogether worthy of this treatment, but if you’re a fan of Boogie Boy or Albert Pyun’s Nemesis films, this company has offered discs worthy of celebration. Bringing us back to Tarantino territory, the former is the sole directorial effort of Craig Hamann, who previously joined forces with QT on My Best Friend’s Birthday, an unfinished early stab at filmmaking. Unlike that film, Boogie Boy bears little resemblance to the work of Tarantino, offering a more grim, unpleasant worldview. This film runs out of steam very early (somewhere in its first act arguably), but the 92-minute documentary included as an extra offers a rare and fascinating look at indie filmmaking disappointment.
Earlier this year, MVD released a special edition of Nemesis, which was followed a few months later by a set containing Nemesis 2-4. While I can’t say I’m a particular admirer of this franchise, there’s no denying that the first film is an intriguing ’80s/’90s genre movie pastiche that merges films like The Terminator, RoboCop, and Blade Runner, eventually abandoning these influences for a string of action set pieces that are hilariously excessive and significantly more entertaining than anything the sequels have to offer. If you’re willing to roll the dice on this franchise, you can’t go wrong with these releases, as the extras cover everything you could ever want to know about Nemesis—and more.
Earlier this summer, Shout! Factory celebrated Pride Month with a series of lively camp classics, including Boom! and Can’t Stop the Music. One of the ultimate disco movies, the latter functions as a kind of fictionalized biography of The Village People starring Police Academy’s Steve Guttenberg as Jack Morali, an Americanized version of the group’s real creator, Jacques Morali. Like this disc’s 66-minute interview with VP vet Randy Jones, the film is unfocused and disjointed, but overflowing with energy and enthusiasm. It may not be ideal for attentive viewing, but it should serve as an ideal party movie.
Starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, written by Tennessee Williams, and directed by Joseph Losey, Boom! has a more impressive pedigree—and that’s reflected in its daring, bizarre vision. Featuring one of Taylor’s most unsympathetically screeching performances, this film revolves around an understandably disgruntled woman (she’s terminally ill) in a secluded mansion and a mysterious visitor (Burton). The transfer on this disc offers a significant improvement on the UK DVD (the film didn’t get a North American DVD release until last year) and several worthwhile extras, including a commentary with the film’s most amusingly outspoken admirer: filmmaker John Waters.
The Criterion Collection has a reputation for releasing slow, challenging films that defy straightforward genre categorization. While that description is somewhat apt, these films are just as likely to emerge as unconventional variations on familiar genres. Released on Blu-ray just two months after the recent death of legendary filmmaker Agnès Varda, One Sings, the Other Doesn’t is a resonant abortion drama that also happens to be a musical. In a similarly unconventional vein, Bruno Dumont’s L’humanité is a murder mystery that artfully abandons just about every tradition of the genre—to fascinating, unsettling effect.
Aside from the film itself, the main attraction on One Sings, the Other Doesn’t is a 47-minute making-of documentary from 1977 that features Varda and her stars. The only new extra on L’humanité is a 15-minute interview with Dumont, who remains one of the film world’s most stubbornly unconventional thinkers, effortlessly dispensing insight and wisdom at every opportunity.
Canadian distributor Elevation Pictures releases a steady stream of bold movies worthy of serious consideration, but their latest batch of Blu-rays is a little light on extras. While the American release of Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake includes three featurettes, the Canadian release is completely bare bones. Similarly, Apollo 11—a film that was built entirely from footage shot five decades ago, suggesting a backstory worth telling—gets a 90-second featurette and nothing more.
Fortunately, Elevation gives a little more love to Karyn Kusama’s divisive Nicole Kidman vehicle, Destroyer. In addition to an image gallery and two commentaries, we get a 19-minute featurette that explores the process of shooting the film in Los Angeles, as well as the transformation Kidman went through to play Erin Bell. By all accounts, the crew was consistently wowed by the work she did right before their eyes. A case could be made that the film is not quite worthy of her efforts, but this is another in a long line of daring performances from the Oscar-winning actress.
The Best of the Rest
Some of the other noteworthy releases of the summer—including music-themed gems like 24 Hour Party People and personal favourite FM, which was given a long overdue special edition by Arrow Video—are cult movies with little genre appeal, but there are at least two others worth noting here. Based on the novel by Michael Crichton, Robert Wise’s The Andromeda Strain got a Blu-ray four years ago. However, the transfer on the new disc offers a significant upgrade. While most of the extras are recycled from earlier editions, there is an excellent new interview with critic Kim Newman, who finds intriguing parallels between this film and countless others, including Contagion, Death in Venice, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Masque of the Red Death, Panic in the Streets, The Satan Bug, The Seventh Seal, and more.
Not to be confused with the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, 1963’s The Running Man deals with a man (Laurence Harvey) who fakes his death, collects the insurance money, moves to Spain with his wife (Lee Remick), and strikes up a relationship with the insurance agent (Alan Bates) assigned to his case. Bringing to mind films like Purple Noon and The Talented Mr. Ripley—both of which were adapted from the same Patricia Highsmith novel—this is a worthwhile mystery that also serves as a laid-back vacation in Spain. Come for the movie, stay for the extras, which feature ancient crew members talking all kinds of trash about the late Laurence Harvey.