As we enter 2011, many horror fans continue to scratch their head at the fact that some movies STILL aren’t available on DVD (or Blu-Ray). Cult classics like ‘The Video Dead’ and ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ are still locked up in a vault somewhere awaiting release….that is, if they EVER get a release. ‘The Video Dead’ is available for streaming on Netflix, which doesn’t bode well for anyone anticipating a physical copy.
Yet, there is one company that continues to devote it’s efforts towards restoring, releasing, and often times, RE-releasing critically acclaimed genre pieces. The Criterion Collection. In 2010 alone, we were given glorious first-time releases such as ‘Antichrist’ and ‘House’, as well as Criterion mastered re-releases of ‘The Night of the Hunter’ and ‘Cronos’, and a fantastic Blu-Ray upgrade of ‘Videodrome’.
So continuing on in 2011, I have compiled a list of films that Criterion should really look into releasing or re-releasing. While deciding which films to include, I considered the following:
1) The film must widely be considered a ‘classic’, or reach some level of critical acclaim. Criterion would never release Ed Wood movies, or run of the mill slashers. Classic, or even obscure, foreign cinema tends to be of Criterion’s liking.
2) The film must NOT be available in the US on DVD/Blu-Ray format, and if it IS, it is either Out-Of-Print, or a slightly bare-bones release that does not do the movie justice. So with that, I present to you: “The Top 12 horror movies that deserve a Criterion release!”
Criterion isn’t afraid to touch the taboo. ‘Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom’ stands as their most infamous release (and not just because the DVD went out of print quickly). ‘Vase De Noces’, a disturbing arthouse film directed by Thierry Zeno in Belgian, has much in common with releases from Criterion favorites Luis Bunuel (‘The Exterminating Angel’) and Jean Cocteau (‘Blood of a Poet’); surreal, black and white cinematography, and social commentary conveyed through disturbing imagery. The story of one man and his pig. Utterly disgusting, yet uttlerly fascinating, and totally in need of a Criterion release.
I remember a while back, BD ran an article on actors who had their first go-around in a horror movie. They failed to mention James Caan (of ‘Godfather’ and ‘Misery’ fame) channeling his inner Marlon Brando in this psycho-biddy classic. Olivia de Havilland plays an overprotective mother who gets trapped in an elevator in her house. Madness ensues when a James Caan-led group of thugs begin looting the house. Being that ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’ and ‘Hush, Hush…Sweet Charlotte’ already have pretty decent releases, it would be nice if Criterion spotlighted the “old lady in peril” genre with this nicely shot piece. Paramount originally released it, but it is a barebones release.
One of the first horror talkies, ‘Svengali’ is an entertaining bridge between German Expressionism and the Universal Monster series. The success of the film hinges upon the role of the Svengali character played by the legendary John Barrymore. The movie is available in the public domain, but the grainy transfers certainly don’t highlight the nuances of the film. The Roan Group rereleased it in 2000, but it has been out of print for some time and commands nearly $100 on Amazon.
Edgar Allen Poe has long been the inspiration for many a horror film, even up until this very day. His work spanned many an era, from 1914’s ‘The Avenging Conscience’ to a Universal series, to the famous Corman series in the ’60’s. This ‘House of Usher’ adaptation hails from France, and is a silent tour-de-force of Gothic atmosphere and cinematography. Image Entertainment issued a release in 2001, but it quickly fell out of print. This particular movie should appeal to Criterion because cinema class darling Luis Bunuel had assisted the director Jean Epstein.
Criterion is no stranger to releasing early horror cinema from Asia. ‘Jigoku’, ‘Onibaba’, and ‘Kwaidan’ are all seminal works first brought to America through Criterion. ‘The Housemaid’ is generally considered the first Korean horror film, and Koreanfilm.org hails it among the top three Korean films of ALL TIME. That alone should get Criterion drooling for a release. The story follows the downfall of a Korean family after they hire a housemaid who isn’t what she first appears to be. It was remade in 2010.
Two years before Hammer officially made their mark in the horror genre with ‘The Curse of Frankenstein’, they released this (atypical for Hammer) black and white Sci-Fi/horror masterpiece. I believe MGM owns the rights to it, yet somehow it never managed to get an official release (although its sequel ‘Quatermass 2’ did, and to no surprise, went out of print). For a company who prides itself on showcasing classic foreign cinema, I don’t see how Criterion would pass an opportunity to release Hammer’s first horror film. It stands as one of the most important works in British cinema, and I can easily see them packaging the original U.K. release with the American release (known stateside as ‘The Creeping Unknown’).
This Czech film remains one of the hardest for me to summarize. A 13-year old Valerie glides through a dream-like state, encountering vampires, perverted priests, and other images that I’m sure are based on the subconscious thoughts of a prepubescent girl. It’s shares some similarities with the original ‘Alice in Wonderland’ story. Released in 2004 through Facets Video, this movie IS still in print, but its due for a Criterion remastering, and perhaps some documentaries explaining just what’s going on. If for no other reason, Criterion could bring this twisted, yet enchanting film to a whole new audience.
Analyzing the discussion of when the first horror movie was made continues to fascinate me. Scholars, critics, and genre aficionados can makes cases for any year between 1896 and 1920. Yet, smack dab in the middle of that period lies ‘L’Inferno’, a silent epic that I have YET to see thrown into the discussion. Based on Dante’s Inferno, ‘L’Inferno’ just so happens to the be the first ITALIAN feature length film produced. The imagery of the levels of hell, as well as Satan himself, are surprisingly ahead of their time. I literally wonder if the higher ups at Criterion even know if this obscure piece. It does, however, have an OOP DVD release from Navarre, released in 2004 with a surreal score by Tangerine Dream. Criterion approval and re-release would most certainly widen the audience of ‘L’Inferno’
Simply put, the greatest horror film never released on DVD. I’m all for debate and opinion, but this is certainly something that can’t be argued against. Paramount Pictures released this classic in the midst of Universal’s horror dominance, yet fans of classic horror cinema will be the first to tell you it’s among the elite of its time. Based on H.G. Wells ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’, ‘Island of Lost Souls’ is the definitive adaptation. Charles Laughton steals the show in one of his earliest roles, and Bela Lugosi shows up in one of his only non-Universal roles of the early 30’s (delivering the classic ‘Are we not men?’ line). Universal eventually purchased most of Paramounts early catalog, and this was one of the films among them, meaning Universal holds all the rights. Realistically, it will probably end up on a manufactured-on-demand disc before a Criterion one, but a fan can always dream.
‘Metropolis’ is often cited as the quintessential silent science fiction film. The German expressionist epic of a dystopian future is pure landmark cinema. However, three years earlier, saw the Soviet production ‘Aelita’. The basic plot tells of a young man traveling to Mars on a rocket-ship, when after falling in love with the Queen Aelita, leads an uprising against the native elders. Clearly, the story is a parable for the working class and socialism, which in itself is fascinating; being that it was released in the Soviet Union during a post war period, it’s no surprise that this film would gain little notoriety outside its motherland. In retrospect, it’s clear to see how much of an influence ‘Aelita’ had on ‘Metropolis’, both in the story and the scenery. Image Entertainment has a barebones release dating back to 1999; 12 years later Criterion should definitely consider a re-release of such a historic and fascinating work of Eastern European cinema.
This makes it so high on the list because for YEARS now there have been rumors and whisperings of a Criterion release, yet we’re still left with nothing. Easily one of the most controversial works, not only on this list, but of all time; Ken Russell delivered a remarkable film chronicling the life and death of a 17th century priest, Urban Grandier, an accused witch. Warner Brothers owns the rights, and has been releasing the film internationally, albeit heavily censored. I’d hate to see a stateside, edited Warner Archive release, and I, along with many, pray for a truly uncut Criterion release.
Alas, the greatest horror film in need of a Criterion release. Polanski movies are no strangers to Criterion; ‘Knife in the Water’ has a great deluxe release, and 2009 saw the dvd/blu-ray release of the classic ‘Repulsion’. Yet neither of those movies come close to the sheer cinematic importance of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. Yet Paramount has nothing but a basic 1-disc release with a 1968 making of, and a 2000 documentary. By comparison within the possession Horror genre alone, ‘The Exorcist’ has a VERY thorough Blu-Ray released last year, and ‘The Omen’ has some special editions (and even a Steelbook). I can only imagine how fantastic a Criterion blu-ray would look, joined alongside extensive documentaries and perhaps extra footage. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ IS one of the greatest and most influential horror movies ever, and it really deserves to be treated as such.