2013 was an exceptional year for Blu-ray genre fare. Companies like Arrow Video, Shout Factory and Synapse Films stepped up their game, showing the industry that there is still plenty of life in the home video market. The love and care given to horror favourites, many that flopped initially is truly a beautiful thing to behold. Year-end “best of” lists can be especially hard to put together. None is more grueling than coming up with one dealing with home video releases. There are too many factors to consider: the film, the transfer, the special features, along with the packaging. This is my crack at it.
I encourage you all to please jot down your own lists under the comments since a) I haven’t seen every genre Blu-ray this year (Chucky: The Complete Collection & Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection are two biggies) and b) like yourselves and other B-D readers, we want to get your thoughts on what 2013 had to offer and find out what we missed out on. Long live hard copies!
Since Shout Factory started their Scream Factory series in 2012, they’ve easily taken over as North America’s premiere place for all things genre. 2013 was no exception. Many of them well worthy of any “best of” list; other standouts being The Fog, The Burning, Psycho II and Psycho III to name a few.
Arrow Video had arguably their strongest year in 2013, taking what we loved about their releases (the amazing packaging, features, and transfers) and improving them tenfold. This is why they are featured so heavily in my top 10. They set the standard on which all home video releases should follow. Aside from what was mentioned above, I also dug their Blu-rays of the darkly macabre Ed Gein loose biopic masterpiece Deranged and Zavvi Exclusive SteelBook of Dario Argento’s giallo classic Tenebrae. Both feature first-rate features and A/V. Tenebrae in particular gloriously rights the wrongs of their heavily lambasted 2011 edition which featured a terrible transfer with disgusting scanner noise in the video and distorted audio. That has been corrected in this new edition. The video is gorgeous and filmic and the audio is clean. There is also one additional featurette and a brand-new, more extensive booklet to top it all off. Argento fans need to get their hands on this!
I find for the most part studios have been pretty skimpy in the supplements department with modern day horror fare. The lack of effort weighed down on most of the high profile releases. Thankfully they delivered where it most counts; the A/V experience. The Conjuring, Insidious: Chapter 2 and Evil Dead are flat-out spectacular home-viewing experiences, easily the finest I’ve heard all year genre-wise. These lossless audio tracks intensely kicked ass to the umpth degree, once again highlighting the importance of sound in a horror film.
Rob Zombie’s underappreciated The Lords of Salem came with only one special feature yet one that delivered beyond most jam-packed releases; an informative and engaging commentary by Mr. Zombie himself. Also, its A/V is one of the highlights of the year.
Blue Underground gave us the long overdue home video releases of Maniac Cop 2 and Maniac Cop 3 and man did it exceed expectations. Stunning HD transfers and quality special features make this a must-have for fans.
Severin Films’ The Manson Family and Second Sight’s Creepshow (Region 2-Locked) Blu-rays gave us fine transfers, as well as carrying over all of the excellent supplements from previous DVD editions.
When it comes to indie releases, two documentaries stood out from among the crowd with their impressively jam-packed discs that would put most big studio releases to their knees; the whopping 400 minute Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th and Director Justin McConnell’s (The Collapsed) entertaining Skull World. From the folks that brought you the awesome and equally dense Freddy Krueger doc Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, comes this equally killer one about all things Jason Voorhees. No stone is left unturned. If you are a lovesick worshipper of the Friday the 13th franchise, there is absolutely no reason why this isn’t a part of your collection. Early-birders were treated with a bonus DVD with yet another 4 hours of extended interviews! In Skull World, McConnell himself is the audience’s point of entry into the unconventional yet very cool world of underground combat sport that is Box Wars and the fascinating figure who champions it like no other, metal-head Greg Sommer aka “Skull Man”. Unlike most docs, the filmmaker offers a refreshingly objective look at its subjects: the sport and Sommer. While it may not be as “emotionally-engaging”/often forced drama we get in a lot of docs, it allows the viewer to get out of the film what he or she invests into it. A whole lot of love was put into this film and the dense “Warrior Edition” Blu-ray. This is a hidden gem in the truest sense.
As with every year, there is a case where a well put-together Blu-ray can overcome the particular shortcomings of a movie. I don’t have the hate-on towards Texas Chainsaw 3D that everyone else seems to have. It possesses genuine affection towards its source material and even tries to find an interesting (um, preposterous) way of continuing on Leatherface’s legacy. I’m a huge fan of the original and its sequel yet I didn’t find myself offended by this take. At the very least, it goes for it and entertains well enough in the process. Director John Luessenhop uses the 3D technology cleverly without feeling the urge to overuse the types of gags that occupy most 3D genre flicks. The A/V delivers the goods. This is a film that’s definitely benefited by its 3D gimmick. Lionsgate Films doesn’t stop there. We get three impressive commentaries that include Chainsaw alumni Tobe Hooper, Bill Moseley, Gunnar Hansen, Marilyn Burns and John Dugan. If that wasn’t satisfying enough, there is another 111 minutes of featurettes! Mediocrity has never been treated much better.
Franck Khalfoun-directed, Alexandre Aja-co-written/produced Maniac is proof that remakes don’t always have to suck. In fact, it’s every bit as good as William Lustig’s cult original. The change of locale (Los Angeles) and the ingenious use of POV lends the film a distinct identity while at the same time staying true to the feel of the original. The aesthetic uncomfortably conveys the serial killer Frank’s (played chillingly by Elijah Wood of all people) mental state. The hour-plus documentary gives a fascinating glimpse into how the film was made, in particular the tricky first-person camerawork. The commentary track with Wood, Khalfoun and Executive Producer Alix Taylor goes further into detail.
Twilight Time has gotten quite a bit of flack for their prices, lack of content and the limited run (3000 copies tops) nature of their releases. In truth, the studios are unfortunately in no hurry to give these films the Blu-ray treatment so Twilight Time’s service is the only way we can see such gems. John Carpenter’s brilliant Stephen King adaptation Christine is arguably their finest to date. The transfer is pitch perfect and all of the informative features from the DVD special edition have been carried over. It’s sad that many fans will not be able to enjoy greats such as Christine and Fright Night since they were both sold out well before their respective release dates. It’s dumbfounding how Sony cannot see the value in masterworks such as this.
Yet another Carpenter flick makes the list, this time courtesy of Shout Factory. They give the film the HD treatment it’s always deserved. We get a quality commentary and over 68 minutes of featurettes. Prince of Darkness has always been one of my personal favourites among Carpenter’s rich filmography. He meticulously devises a hypnotic build-up before all hell breaks loose in the third act. It’s one of Carpenter’s most unique and smartest efforts. Prince of Darkness grows more and more compelling with each viewing.
To be honest, I wasn’t exactly head over heels over Guillermo Del Toro’s mech warriors vs. Kaiju creature flick. As with all his work, the level of detail in the overall design of the picture is of the highest order plus the tech here is just way too cool for words. I just found the story and lead protagonists to be rather cliché-ridden and fairly uninvolving. I had the opportunity to revisit the film with this Blu-ray and it’s slowly winning me over after each view. There is a lot of fun to be had here. This makes for superb demo material. The presentation especially in 3D is an absolutely epic experience. As with all of Del Toro’s titles, the special features are in-depth. There’s no need for a double-dip here since no stone is left unturned. This is as definitive as it gets.
Director Edgar Wright continues his flawless streak with The World’s End, the extremely funny and surprisingly moving supposed-finale to the dynamite Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy (preceded by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz). The film is a clever British take on the timeless The Body Snatchers premise. Not unlike Del Toro, all of Wright’s films get super-extensive home video release. The A/V expectedly kicks ass but the supplements take the cake which includes no less than three engaging commentary tracks.
This is a fine example in which spectacular A/V can overcome an underwhelming supplement section (minus the brand-new commentary by Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis, of course). The Dean Cundey-supervised HD transfer is hands down, the best this horror classic has ever looked. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio is pretty impressive as well especially for a film of its age.
Yes, I’m well aware this is a cheat but all of these Brian De Palma titles were given ace treatment from Arrow Video and Twilight Time (Body Double). These first-rate, super-stylish thrillers are stacked with excellent featurettes, a neat booklet, as well as looking damn fantastic. The gorgeous Arrow-lead restoration of The Fury totally erases the memory of the dismal transfer found on the Twilight Time early-2013 release. In 2014, Arrow is giving us two more De Palma classics Phantom of the Paradise and Sisters. Can’t wait!
While I give Arrow Video the definite edge because of their amazing artwork, booklet, 72-minute doc “Cannon Fodder: The Making of Lifeforce”, additional commentary track, and better transfer of the theatrical cut, props have to be given to Shout Factory’s earlier release which assembled the bulk of the new featurettes. They share the same top notch transfer of the International Cut. Hooper’s wildly deranged and audacious sci-fi spectacle has a Blu-ray release, like the film, is packed with an abundance of riches.
Synapse’s long-in-the-making, much delayed Demons and Demons 2 SteelBooks is finally among us. It’s not hard to be skeptical since both films were already given a fine treatment by Arrow Video in 2012, not to mention the pretty hefty price tag for each. I got these as a Christmas gift and boy, has Synapse delivered! The much-worked-on transfers are a thing of beauty. It makes the ones found on Arrow’s look totally flawed in comparison. The colours and contrast are flat-out perfection. The love and care put into the A/V is easily apparent. We get a little over 100 minutes of informative all-new special features on each disc alone. As for the Lamberto Bava-directed, Argento-produced films, they’re still one heck of a blast and well worth all of Synapse’s troubles. Yes, these are expensive…however their all-around exceptional quality make these discs light years above most of the competition. You won’t regret the purchase whatsoever. This makes me eager to see what Synapse has in store for us in 2014 with the trio of Argento titles Suspiria, Tenebrae and Phenomena.
With The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Arrow Video checked off all of the above mentioned factors that compromise a home video release and turned it up to 11. We get a spectacular 100-page Limited Edition exclusive perfect bound book right down to the seemingly never-ending supplements which compiles everything in the already loaded MGM Gruesome Edition and adding even more on top of the pile (which includes two earlier works from the filmmaker). Arrow even put in the effort to cleanup the video some more. Hooper redefined the horror sequel by veering away from the psychological grit of the original as humanly possible. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 with its darkly satirical sense of humour and woefully unhinged energy is in a class all of its own. If there was ever a more definitive reason to pick up a Region-Free player, this would be it.
Note: All Arrow Video and Second Sight releases are Region 2-locked. You will need a Region-Free player to see them. They can be fairly affordable. It’s well worth the investment.