It’s that time of year once again when we all put together a list of the year’s best. Much like I did a year ago I’ll once again be looking at my favorite Blu-ray releases from this past year. And just like 2015 exceeded all expectations, 2016 has once again raised the bar. In a time when streaming is becoming more and more the norm, the genre Blu-ray market continues to thrive. Arrow Video, Scream Factory, Criterion Collection, Kino Lorber, Blue Underground, Synapse, Vinegar Syndrome and basically everyone else that is a player in the genre Blu-ray scene had an incredible year.
Because this was such a successful year for Blu-ray releases I decided to switch up my format just a tad from a year ago. When choosing my favorite Blu-rays of 2015 I ended up making multiple lists. I did a best of steelbooks, best of box sets, best of double features and so forth. For 2016 I’ve decided to condense everything down to one list containing my 25 favorite releases from the year. Any genre Blu-ray release from 2016 was consider fair game for my list.
Another change I’ve implemented this year is the ranking of the releases. Instead of ranking all 25 of my choices I will only be ranking the top 5. The 20 selections outside of my top 5 will be more of an honorable mention. My logic behind this is that it’s simply too hard to rank them individually this year. There’s just too many good releases that deserve mention. This allows me to give a definitive top 5 while still talking about 20 other awesome releases!
Alright, let’s do this! Here’s my 20 “honorable mention” selections for the best Blu-ray releases of 2016!
Trailer Trauma – Garagehouse Pictures
Trailer Trauma (read my review) was the second Blu-ray release from Garagehouse Pictures and their first in what is currently a 3-part series of Blu-rays dedicated to genre trailers. There’s 60 plus trailers coming in at over 2 hours. Invite some of your genre-loving friends over and just pop this bad boy on. It’s great to just sit down and watch, but also the perfect thing to have playing in the background at either a little get together or a Halloween party. I cannot recommend this release enough.
The Complete Lady Snowblood – Criterion Collection
Criterion had an incredible 2016 as a whole, but their genre stuff was especially good. They got the ball rolling early when they released The Complete Lady Snowblood (read my review) in January of 2016. This set features both Lady Snowblood and Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance and both films look and sound incredible. Both films received digital 2k transfers and they bring Toshiya Fujita’s unique blend of violence and beauty to life wonderfully. As is always the case with Criterion this release also comes with plenty of supplemental features including brand-new interviews.
Switchblade Sisters – Subkultur Entertainment
2016 was a good year for Jack Hill fans as a handful of his films made their way to Blu-ray including Switchblade Sisters (read my review). This Blu-ray release was my first experience with Germany’s Subkultur Entertainment and want an experience it was. This release is stunning. This Hill classic has never looked better and it’s jam packed with bonus content.
A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin – Mondo Macabro
Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin received an incredible French Blu-ray release in 2015. Somehow, someway Monda Macabro was able improve upon that masterpiece with their own release in 2016. Mondo Macabro went above and beyond with this release delivering the most complete version of this Fulci classic you’ll ever see. Picture and audio quality are top of the line and the special features are loaded.
American Horror Project Vol. 1 – Arrow Video
American Horror Project Vol. 1 (read my review) introduced me to three forgotten American classics. The good folks over at Arrow Video unearthed three American horror gems in Malatesta’s Carnival of Blood, The Witch Who Came from the Sea and The Premonition. The films are quite different, but all three work in various different ways and are absolutely worth your time. If it weren’t for Arrow this films likely would have slipped even further into the abyss of nothingness.
Bride of Re-Animator – Arrow Video
Bride of Re-Animator (read my review) could have easily been a top 5 release on the year. Why? Because it’s freakin’ awesome. The movie itself is just superb. Is it better than Re-Animator? I won’t go that far, but a case can be made. And this release gives Bride all the respect and love it truly deserves. If you were lucky enough to snag the limited edition release you ended up with a 3-disc set that even includes the 1992 comic Dawn of the Re-Animator. I can’t say enough good things about this wonderful release.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 – Scream Factory
There’s been some good Blu-ray releases of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (read my review) over the years but Scream Factory delivered on the ultimate release. A couple years back Arrow released a region B version of TCM2 that I thought was top of the line. Scream Factory proved me wrong. This…release…looks..gorgeous! Get it. Now!
Blood and Black Lace – Arrow Video
Hey, look! It’s another Arrow release! This time we have Mario Bava’s wonderful Blood and Black Lace, available as a standard Arrow release or in steelbook form. I’m a sucker for steelbooks so I indeed got the steelbook, but you can’t go wrong with either version. Blood and Black Lace is some of Bava’s best work. His brilliant use of color is on full display and it looks gorgeous on this new Blu-ray from Arrow.
Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection – Arrow Video
Arrow has yet to release a bad box set and Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection is one of my favorites. This four-part women-in-prison series stars the wonderful Meiko Kaji in a role that allows her to kick a whole lot of ass. Admittedly the picture quality on this set is less than we’ve come to expect from Arrow, but they are upfront about that from the start. The source materials Arrow was given to work with weren’t great, so there’s some obvious imperfections throughout and a lack of detail at times. Arrow did their best to make up for with a ton of bonus features. Each disc comes with a number of featurettes featuring the likes of Jasper Sharp and Gareth Evans. If you’re a fan of the series I think you’ll be able to get around the less than stellar PQ to enjoy this set. Personally I love the films so this is a must for me.
Raising Cain – Scream Factory
Raising Cain seems to get kicked around a lot and I don’t get it. I’ve always considered it to be an awesome movie. It’s classic De Palma! But even as someone who has loved this movie since the first time seeing it, I grew to love it more after watching the Scream Factory Blu-ray. The film has two cuts, the original cut and the new cut that is more true to De Palma’s original script. The new cut plays around with the timeline and tells the story out of order making the entire film all that more intriguing. It’s perfect.
Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro – Criterion Collection
Criterion upped their Guillermo del Toro game this year with Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro. Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone have both been available from Criterion fro a while now, but this year they released Pan’s Labyrinth as a solo release and as part of Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro, a beautiful box set that includes all three of these del Toro entries. All three movies looks great, as you would expect with Criterion, and the set is stunning. The package is just very unique and cool with the way it opens. One of the coolest pieces in my collection.
Daughter of Dracula – Redemption Films
If you’re a Jess Franco fan (and why wouldn’t you be) 2016 was a big year for you. Franco had about five new films hit Blu-ray in the US and Daughter of Dracula is my favorite of the bunch. This is pretty standard Franco so don’t expect too much of a story and a fair amount of nudity, but there is a pretty solid mystery at the heart and that classic Franco mood. Redemption seems to get Franco and they do a very good job with his releases. This PQ here is very good and there’s a handful of special features including audio commentary with Tim Lucas and a funny “safe” take that removes the film’s nudity.
Black Christmas – Scream Factory
Generally speaking Scream Factory provides Blu-rays releases to films that have yet to make the jump to the format. In 2016 they took a number of films that were pretty widely available on Blu-ray all ready and gave them superior releases. Black Christmas is one of those films to get the Scream Factory upgrade. The film itself is without question a slasher classic and now it has a Blu-ray release worthy of such a film. The movie, which is still one of the scariest things to ever exist, is an absolute treat for the eyes. Scream Factory did a killer job with this one. I saw some online chatter about some audio issues but I never noticed a thing. This is the Black Christmas you should own.
The Man from Hong Kong – Umbrella Entertainment
I’m a huge Brian Trenchard-Smith fan. I’ve been talking about him for years to anyone that would listen. The last couple years have been big for him in terms of Blu-rays releases. In 2015 both Turkey Shoot and The Siege of Firebase Gloria made their way to Blu-ray. This year we were fortunate enough to get Dead End Drive-In and The Man from Hong Kong. Both 2016 releases are great but The Man from Hong Kong is just slightly better and as a result it made my list. Released by the wildly underrated Umbrella Entertainment, The Man from Hong Kong is everything you could possibly want in a Blu-ray release. Not only does this 70’s action gem look fantastic but the bonus content is so grand that it actually includes 5 more films from Trenchard-Smith including the 80’s classic Stunt Rock! If you like Ozploitation you NEED to own this.
Alien 2 – 88 Films
Alien 2: On Earth is an Italian rip-off of Alien. It’s not the only time they ripped off popular American movies and it’s not the only time they ripped off Alien. Though to be fair Ridley Scott did rip-off Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires when making Alien so I suppose we’ve come full circle in many ways. Rip-off or not, Alien 2 is freaking awesome! I will happily take all the violent Italian rip-offs because they always rule. 88 Films had a lot of really good releases in 2016, but Alien 2 was my personal favorite of theirs.
Death Machines – Vinegar Syndrome
A year ago I didn’t think we’d ever have any Paul Kyriazi films on Blu-ray, now we have two. In late 2015 Garagehouse Pictures released Ninja Busters and now thanks to Vinegar Syndrome we have Death Machines. For a very long time this movie has been high on my list of films I desperately want on Blu-ray and to now finally own is like a dream come true. I absolutely love this movie. It’s flawed and has all sorts of issues but it’s so sincere and earnest that it’s impossible to not love it. Vinegar Syndrome did an outstanding job delivering a pristine picture. I would have never guessed in a million years that we’d see Death Machines looking this good and yet here we are. Here’s the hoping we get more Kyriazi Blus in the future! Omega Cop anyone?
Manhattan Baby – Blue Underground
Manhattan Baby is making this list in large part due to my love for Lucio Fulci. If I’m being honest this movie isn’t very good. It has moments here and there and a very good score from Fabio Frizzi, but overall it misses the mark by quite a bit. While the movie might fail in a number of ways there is no denying that the Blue Underground release is superb. The flawed film looks wonderful in this new 2k restoration from the original camera negatives and there’s plenty of extras for all the Fulci fans out there. Included in the extras is a bonus booklet featuring new writings from Fulci expert Troy Howarth as well as a CD of Frizzi’s soundtrack to the film. So yeah, the movie isn’t great, but this is a must-own for Fulci purists.
Tenebrae – Synapse
Synapse always takes their time with their releases. They rush absolutely nothing. As horror fans that may drive us just a little mad as we are beyond eager to get our hands on every Blu-ray release, but Synapse is always worth the wait. Their Blu-rays are top of the line every time and their Tenebrae release is no different. This Argento classic has never looked better. Synapse should have some type of deal in place that gives them access to all of Argento’s work because everything they release of his is perfect. Tenebrae is no exception.
Burial Ground – Severin Films
Italian horror in general is a pretty bizarre category even in the world of horror. The films are almost always completely insane and Burial Ground may be the craziest of the whole lot. If you haven’t seen this, you should. In terms of plot there’s not a whole here. Rotten zombies awake from their slumber and begin attacking people, but plot has never been the more important element when it comes to Italian horror. We just need to get to zombies eating people up in all their gory glory and that’s what Burial Ground gives us. The film has released a couple other releases, including a UK version from 88 Films earlier in the year that was also quite stellar, but Severin’s release edges them out by just a bit. This is a must-have addition to any Italian horror fans collection.
The Church – Shameless Entertainment
Give me all the Michele Soavi on Blu-ray, please! The UK’s Shameless Entertainment released The Church in November and in many ways it came out of nowhere. It was a release that I knew was coming but had sort of forgot about in part because up to this point Shameless has been a little slower than some of the other companies out there when it comes to getting Blu-rays out in the market. I believe this was their first Blu-ray release in 2016 and their first release on the format since 2014. I can tell you that it was worth the wait. Shameless did a wonderful job with this release. This 2k HD restoration is gorgeous and this is the longest version of the film ever released. The special features are pretty limited but there is a nice interview with Soavi. All in all The Church is a fantastic release and hopefully we see more Blu-rays from Shameless in the future.
And now it’s time for the best of the best!
5. Chopping Mall – Vestron Video Collector’s Series
2016 marked the year that Lionsgate finally opened up the Vestron vault and horror fans everywhere benefited from it. Anyone of the Vestron titles could have been worth of making my Best of 2016 list but I went with Chopping Mall (read my review) because it was the release I was most eager to get. For those that haven’t seen it the movie is a bit silly, but it’s a ton of fun. The release though is even better. The Blu-ray looks fantastic, delivering by far the best picture quality we’ve ever seen for Chopping Mall. Where this release really exceeds though is when it comes to special features. This thing is loaded, which appears to be the standard for the Vestron Video Collector’s Series.
4. The Thing – Scream Factory
The Thing is arguably John Carpenter’s greatest film. From a practical effects standpoint it’s certainly the most impressive. Over the years The Thing has been released on Blu-ray a number of times and most of them have been pretty good releases which is why I was surprised when Scream Factory announced they’d be releasing the Carpenter classic. I figured how much could they improve on past releases? A lot, apparently. Scream Factory’s release of The Thing is perfect. The PQ is stunning, by far the best the film has ever looked, though some may debate that. DP Dean Cundey oversaw the Scream Factory and he personally approved this version and I tend to trust the DP. The film is also packed with bonus content including a new commentary with Cundey.
3. Carnival of Souls – Criterion Collection
Carnival of Souls is one of the greatest horror films of all time, but strangely it doesn’t seem to get talked about all that much. Not that it’s forgotten or anything like that, but it’s right up there with the likes of Night of the Living Dead and deserves that same kind of praise. Hopefully this Blu-ray release from Criterion will help bring some more attention to this classic. This Blu-ray has what may be the greatest looking picture I have ever seen. Carnival of Souls was restored in 4k and looks gorgeous. The special features are especially awesome on this release. There’s a great 20-minute featurette on the film hosted by comedian Dana Gould. If you haven’t heard Dana Gould talk horror movies you’re missing out because the dude has so much passion for the genre. In addition to the Gould piece there’s a great feature on Saltair, an incredibly interesting documentary on a location featured heavily in the film. Releases don’t get much better than Criterion’s Carnival of Souls.
2. The Mutilator – Arrow Video
Arrow Video’s The Mutilator (read my review) could have easily been my favorite release of the year. In fact it very nearly was and is certainly worthy of such a title, but there’s no shame in nabbing second place. The Mutilator is one of my favorite off-the-wall slashers. In fact along with Blood Rage and Pieces I considered it be part of what I like to call the Holy Trinity of Sleazy 80’s Slasher Trash. I desperately needed this film on Blu-ray and Arrow did not disappoint. There are no words to describe how I feel about this movie. It is wonderful. Go get it now.
1. Pieces – Grindhouse Releasing
And my favorite Blu-ray of the year goes to Pieces (read my review) from Grindhouse Releasing! Two entries from the Holy Trinity of Sleazy 80’s Slasher Trash walk away with the top two spots in 2016. The third entry, Blood Rage, was my favorite Blu-ray of 2015. Pretty obvious I love these three movies, huh? Pieces is probably my favorite of these three films so it’s really no surprise to see it take home the top spot. A number of years back Grindhouse Releasing put out a wonderful DVD of Pieces. That release was good as you get when it comes to DVD. They put in all the same hard work and effort to deliver on a perfect Blu-ray upgrade. This is a 3-disc set that comes with two Blu-rays and one CD containing the film’s soundtrack. The two Blu-rays offer up two different cuts of the film and a world of special features including an awesome documentary on 42nd Street. And if you were lucky enough to snag one of the first 3,000 releases you received a replica of the puzzle from the film’s opening scene. When it comes to Blu-ray releases they don’t get much better than Pieces.