The 13th Floor

10 Recommended Criterion Releases

It’s once again that time of year. For all you savvy movie enthusiasts out there, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Twice a year, Barnes & Noble bookstores run a month-long 50 percent off sale for all Criterion titles. That’s right, for a short window of time, they’re actually priced normally for once!

I kid, I kid, Criterion. It’s quality over quantity. But still, this is the time when most people take advantage and try to fill in the little missing pockets of their movie collections. I’ve seen people asking online what to get.  I’ve seen other folks triumphantly sharing pics of their acquisitions (I’m guilty of this myself). So I figure now is as good a time as any to recommend 10 titles that most of you genre fans should add to your home video library. Here we go!

DRESSED TO KILL

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Director Brian De Palma’s 1980 sleazy homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO has been released on Blu-Ray previously, but much like with their special edition of BLOW OUT, Criterion delivers a much superior product. The new director approved 4K scan of the “unrated version” culled from the original elements is much clearer and more pristine than the last Blu. Features include new cast interviews, a chat with filmmaker Noah Baumbach and De Palma, the 2001 documentary on the making-of DRESSED TO KILL and much, much more. If you’ve never seen it, it’s worth a blind buy. It’s a sexually charged version of PSYCHO in style and tone, complete with lead character Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) suffering a similar fate as Marion Crane. Then her son Peter (played by the great Keith Gordon) teams up with a prostitute (Nancy Allen) who witnessed the murder to try and figure out the culprit. Pino Donaggio’s score adds the final icing to the cake. One of De Palma’s best!

SCANNERS

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When it comes to the films of David Cronenberg, Criterion has cornered the market on quite a couple. And while VIDEODROME, THE BROOD or NAKED LUNCH are all fine selections from his filmography, if you had to go with one for now, I’d recommend SCANNERS. It’s Cronenberg’s 1981 cult classic about a group of people that were born with telekinetic abilities after their mother’s used an experimental drug while they were in utero. The result are “scanners.” Basically, if this were X-Men, it’d be like a bunch of Professor X’s running around with the ability to make your head explode. It’s bitchin’. Plus, the transfer for this Criterion edition is flawless. I’d seen the film plenty of times on video, but I truly felt like I was watching this for the first time again when I popped in Criterion’s Blu. Also of note for die-hard Cronenberg fans, this disc includes a new 2K scan of “STEREO,” one of Cronenberg’s early college films.

DON’T LOOK NOW

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This is one I discovered and watched as an adult, and although I thought I’d seen everything, it had one shocking moment in the finale that scared the crap out of me! Nicolas Roeg’s gorgeously shot 1973 film follows a couple, John and Laura Baxter (Donald Sutherland and Julie Cristie) as they travel to Venice to mourn the recent death of their young daughter. Despite encountering a psychic who brings a warning from the beyond, John is obsessed with tracking a girl he keeps seeing that he’s convinced is her. It’s a terrifying movie and the Criterion disc boasts a beautiful 4K scan, interviews and documentaries. It’s also notorious for it’s graphic sex scene that has long been rumored to be the real thing.

EYES WITHOUT A FACE

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Of all the movies on this list, this 1960 French film from director Georges Franju gets my strongest recommendation. It’s gorgeous, it’s bizarre and it’s freaky! Docteur Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) is a brilliant surgeon but racked with guilt because of a automobile accident that left his beautiful daughter horribly disfigured. With the help of his assistant, he convinces young woman to come work for him, and then kidnaps them with the sole purpose of stealing their faces to put on his daughter in a radical form of untested surgery. As the disappearing girls and murders escalate, so do the police’s suspicions! A few things to note here – in the same way that people see John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN and project their fears into the blank, expressionless face of Michael Myers, there’s something so unsettling, and yet intriguing about Christiane (Edith Scob) hiding her disfigured face behind an ordinary white mask. Also, there’s some shocking gory bits in here, which when you consider the time period, this is the same year that PSYCHO came out, and there’s far more graphic stuff in this film as opposed to the shower scene! Highly recommended!

SECONDS

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I knew nothing about John Frankenheimer’s 1966 classic when I initially picked it up, but I had heard Tobe Hooper mention it as a major influence on his original TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE during a candid chat with William Friedkin, and wanted to see it ever since. Turns out SECONDS is like the greatest feature length TWILIGHT ZONE episode you could ask for! The less you know the better, but the very basic gist is that a very unhappy middle-aged banker agrees to a secret procedure that will change his identity, transform his appearance and give him a new life, after he agrees to fake his own death. The consequences for a new life however are not what you’d think. During the frantic opening sequence at the train station, there are several shots of close-up’s on eyes. You can totally see Hooper applying this stylistic choice during the finale dinner sequence in CHAIN SAW!

ROSEMARY’S BABY

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Criterion has several Roman Polanski titles in their library, but if you had to go for just one of the bunch, I’d recommend ROSEMARY’S BABY. If you’re on this site, then you know why – it’s considered a horror masterpiece, and Criterion’s presentation of it is among one of their best restorations. Rosemary (Mia Farrow at her absolute best) is a mother-to-be, whose neighbors have suddenly taken an unhealthy interest in her pregnancy. Her husband seems to be going along with the whole thing, especially now that his acting career has taken off. Shockmeister William Castle produced this psychologically terrifying thriller, and the disc is packed with great, unique special features, including a full length documentary about jazz musician and composer Krzysztof Komeda!

MULHOLLAND DR.

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One of David Lynch’s most celebrated films is MULHOLLAND DR. and Criterion have done a stellar job with this release and transfer. However, per Lynch’s request, one of the annoying aspects of the MULHOLLAND DR. disc is that there are no scene selection options, forcing you to watch the entire 146 minute movie in one sitting. The DVD release also had this, and look – I love David, but maybe I just want to skip and watch the Winkie’s scene before I kick off my work day? Regardless, the bizarre love story set in Hollywood is one of Lynch’s most strange an captivating movies, primarily because it feels like great scene after great scene. Out of context, each of these sequences work as great shorts, which isn’t surprising since MULHOLLAND DR. was originally conceived as a television series ala TWIN PEAKS. If PEAKS was your thing, this is the one Lynch film closest in spirit and tone.

THE BLOB

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It’s the original 1958 BLOB! Starring Steve McQueen! What more excuse do you need? An alien parasite lands on Earth and slowly begins consuming anything and everything in its path! It’s actually a lot more terrifying and graphic than you remember. But it’s the epitome of late 50’s creature feature, alien flick and monster movie. And a must-own.

THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE

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Criterion have been big advocates of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, and later this year, they’ll add PAN’S LABYRINTH to their library, but in the meantime, I’d strongly suggest checking out his 2001 feature THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE. Set in 1939 in a small town/orphanage that still harbors a giant missile from the Spanish Civil War at it’s center-point, young Carlos is trying to adjust to his new environment. He starts seeing the apparition of a young boy. Is it hostile? Or is it trying to deliver a message? Everything you’ve come to know and love from del Toro’s style of filmmaking is all evident here in his 3rd feature length film.

DIABOLIQUE

This 1955 French feature from director H.G. Clouzot about a man’s wife and mistress who plot to murder him, shocked audiences and made a particular strong impression on the “Master of Suspense” Alfred Hitchcock. Referred to as a Hitchcockian thriller, the Master himself looked for his version of “Diabolique,” which he eventually found in his adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel PSYCHO! So if you want to see the film that was the pre-cursor to PSYCHO, PEEPING TOM and REPULSION, this is the one!

As of now, you can pick up Criterion titles for 50 percent off at Barnes & Nobles until August 1st, so take advantage of their sale while you can!

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