It’s been a pretty darned good year for horror on all fronts! On the TV side, we got a successful reboot of THE EXORCIST, some welcome returns from ASH VS EVIL DEAD and BATES MOTEL, as well as a handful of new, original properties such as CHANNEL ZERO and STRANGER THINGS. On the movie front of things, there were plenty of horror titles from both the studio and indie side that ended up on my 10 favorites list.
In today’s day and age where we’re all equipped with our own high quality home entertainment systems and the Blu-Ray format has given us the most pristine presentations of some of our all-time favorites, so many smaller indie labels are licensing the biggest and best this genre has to offer and treating them with the utmost care in new “collector’s edition” packages. Every week, it seemed like some VHS relic from our impressionable past returns in a restored edition.
So, with that in mind, I wanted to shine the spotlight on the 10 Blu-Ray releases that blew me away. They are in no particular order, no ranking. I loved all of these equally and am proud to see them in my collection. Without further ado, here’s some of the best Blu-Ray releases in 2016!
PIECES (Grindhouse Releasing)
Grindhouse Releasing, the company formed by Academy Award winning editor Bob Murawski and the late Sage Stallone always focused on restoring and making public the best possible versions of the Italian exploitation greats, including the works of Lucio Fulci. There are already packed to the brim special editions of their library on DVD, but as die-hard fans, we’ve been eagerly awaiting the high def upgrade on all those titles. We’ve gotten THE BEYOND, and we’ve gotten CANNIBAL FEROX and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, but the one I was most excited for was PIECES. And it did not disappoint! Not only has the movie never looked better, but this special limited edition package came with a mini puzzle boardgame of the nudie image straight from the movie, as well as a bonus CD featuring all the soundtrack music. You can’t go wrong with any of the Grindhouse stuff, but Juan Piquer Simon’s 1982 cult classic PIECES defies all words and expectations. It’s exactly what you think it is. New 4K transfer, 2 versions of the film, great new documentary titled 42ND STREET MEMORIES, audience reaction audio track and much, much more; this should be in every horror fan’s collection! (Read more about this title here.)
THE KILLING OF AMERICA (Severin)
Severin Films is another company that curate their library with some of the strangest, yet intriguing oddities within and sometimes just outside the horror genre. This documentary fits somewhere in that grey area. Fully restored, and available for the first time in America, THE KILLING OF AMERICA, a long-lost 1981 documentary directed by Sheldon Renan and produced by Mata Yamamoto and Leonard Schrader (Paul Schrader’s brother) is an unflinching dead-on look at the rising violence in America, and more so, how a lot of the most notorious things in American culture, from assassinations to serial killers has been televised. It’s no accident that they released this on Election Day. It says a lot about our culture and points out how little has changed since the early 80’s. While initially I was scared to watch this for fear that it was a FACES OF DEATH style look at real violence, I actually was pleasantly surprised by how powerful and well put together this documentary is. The transfer is flawless, as most Severin releases tend to be, and there’s a good chunk of extras including the slightly longer Japanese version of the flick. Recommended. (Read more on this title here.)
CARRIE (Scream Factory)
Scream Factory had managed to do a double feature release of THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 paired up with the Bryan Fuller TV movie of CARRIE starring Angela Bettis, but now, this was the year they got the original and gave it the “collector’s edition” treatment! THe previous Blu-Ray release was a little soft and griany. This new 2k transfer is a fantastic new representation of one of Brian De Palma’s best and most celebrated works. All previous features are here, as well as a healthy batch of new ones, including a new Horror’s Hallowed Grounds and new interviews. I particularly like the “Carrie Trailer reel,” a collection of trailers for all the Carrie movies. This is probably up there in the top 5 horror movies of all time, and this release finally does it justice!
It may take a while from the moment Synapse announces a title until the day it’s released, but when you’re holding the package in your hands, you can absolutely tell why! The level of care put into every aspect of their discs from the restoration to the artwork and features is a high bench mark that very few reach. And now, they’ve set their sights on a handful of classic Dario Argento movies, the first of this year being TENEBRAE, aka UNSANE. The steelbook edition features a fully restored new version of the movie utilizing English insert shots, a feature length documentary on “giallo” films titled YELLOW FEVER, and the complete soundtrack on a bonus CD. A leaner, regular edition of this came out later in the year, but really, as a fan, I just love how special these steelbook releases feel! (Read more about this title here.)
EXORCIST III (Scream Factory)
Finally, the only sequel in THE EXORCIST franchise worthy of that name gets it’s due! Based upon the novel LEGION by William Peter Blatty, THE EXORCIST III is a direct sequel to the original movie & novel, and follows Lieutenant Kinderman, who is investigating a series of murders that follow the same M.O. as a long-deceased serial killer. To me, the movie only gets better with age. The new 2K scan is fantastic, and we’re heard rumors for years of an alternate “director’s cut.” That’s been assembled using lost VHS footage and deleted scenes here. It’s interesting to see as a life long fan of the movie, but the theatrical is truly the definitive version of the film. However, the stand out here (besides the actual movie, of course) is the 6 part feature length documentary covering every aspect of the making-of this film, including the reshoots. There’s a lengthy chat with horror icon Brad Dourif, and a great interview with Blatty himself moderated by Red Shirt Pictures Michael Felsher that’s presented as an audio commentary. Scream Factory set the bar high with their releases of NIGHTBREED and HALLOWEEN 6: The Producers Cut. They should be equally as proud with this stellar release. (Read more about this title here.)
GUILLERMO DEL TORO TRILOGY (Criterion)
Criterion had already done beautiful releases for Guillermo del Toro’s first two features CRONOS and THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, but now they’ve re-released arguably his best movie PAN’S LABYRINTH, and with that in their library, they’ve collected the three movies for an epic Guillermo del Toro Trilogy box set. For anyone new to his work, or if you wanted to gift someone with a collection of his flicks, this would be a terrific starting point!
TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (Scream Factory)
As fans themselves, Scream Factory has always done an amazing job of giving classic genre titles the “collector’s edition” treatment they deserve. But what about horror movies that have already been made available in the Blu-Ray format already? TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 was the title that set the precedent for how they would handle movies that are not making their high-def debut through them. Basically, throw in everything, including the kitchen sink! Brand new 2k scan. The original high def scan! All the previous special features from other releases, plus a handful of brand new ones created exclusively just for this release, such as Sean Clark’s fun location scout series Horror’s Hallowed Grounds, and an interview with the unsung Leatherface Bob Elmore! It’s difficult to double dip on any title for fans, but Scream Factory made it a no brainer with this release. (Read more on this title here.)
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (Scream Factory)
Much like TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD has already seen a Blu-Ray release. How could they top what’s already out there? Yet again, by loading up both discs with so much material and making it the most definitive version on the market. Brand new 2k scan, multiple audio commentaries, impressive new mini-documentaries that focus on the FX and the music of RETURN. All previous extras, such as the “Decade Of Darkness” documentary which focuses on 80’s horror. Even cooler? The workprint cut of the movie, as well as the full length documentary MORE BRAINS, which originally came out as its own DVD release. As one of my favorite zombie movies, I’m thrilled to own this complete, definitive version of it! (Read more on this title here.)
BURIAL GROUND (Severin)
I will never forget when I finally discovered PIECES. It’s just one of those films that defies all explanation. And yet, there’s something magical and thoroughly entertaining about experiencing it. For whatever reason, I’d never gotten around to seeing BURIAL GROUND, but now with this flawless Severin release, it has become my PIECES discovery of 2016. First off, I can not believe how great this movie looks. The fact that Severin goes out of their way to restore a 1981 Italian knock-off zombie flick is astounding to me. And appreciated! Second, the movie itself is bonkers. It’s all because of Peter Bark, the little person that’s playing a 12 year old boy in the film. And then, low and behold, there’s a featurette with Peter Bark at a BURIAL GROUND screening from 2013! He lives! I can honestly say I’m forever changed having watched this movie on Blu-Ray. It’s the perfect “what-the-hell?” background movie for a party with your horror loving friends. (Read more on this title here.)
When it comes to the films of Dario Argento, in Synapse we trust! Their second stellar release of the year focuses on his strange 1985 “slasher” pic PHENOMENA, released here in the States as CREEPERS. It stars a young Jennifer Connelly who has the ability to communicate with insects. Oh, and HALLOWEEN’s Donald Pleasance, and his monkey! This set comes in a special collectible steelbook package and features 3 versions of the movie, including a new before seen extended 116 minute version. The great documentary Dario Argento’s World Of Horror is carted over and you once again get the full soundtrack on a bonus CD. Considering the job Synapse has done first with the DEMONS movies, then TENEBRAE earlier this year, and now this, we’re looking forward to their upcoming SUSPIRIA release in 2017, which is sure to be a must own!
This was one title I’d been waiting to make the high def upgrade for years! WAXWORK was one of my personal favorite monster mash movies of the VHS generation, but the previous DVD release was cropped in full-frame and only featured the edited R rated cut. Finally, Lionsgate has done us right by picking 6 cult classics to launch their new Vestron line with. CHOPPING MALL and BLOOD DINER were the first two out of the gate, but of the 6 initial titles, WAXWORK, paired up with its sequel WAXWORK II: LOST IN TIME, is by far my favorite. The movies themselves are a lot of fun. They’re presented here uncut for the first time in high def, and there’s an extensive retrospective documentary all about the making of both feature films. It’s got the guys: Zach Galligan and Bruce Campbell. It’s got the gals: Michelle Johnson, Deborah Foreman. It’s got the monsters: Dracula, The Mummy, a werewolf and the Marquis de Sade. Basically, this double feature has it all! (Read more about this title here.)
CARNIVAL OF SOULS (Criterion)
Long considered a classic in the horror genre, Criterion does it again by restoring and releasing Herk Harvey’s 1962 CARNIVAL OF SOULS. There’s something about black and white films on Blu-Ray… they just look spectacular, and this release is no different. After surviving a terrible car accident, a woman takes a job as an organ player at an old church. Upon arriving at the new town, she’s mysteriously drawn to the nearby defunct carnival, and begins seeing a creepy, pasty looking patron. It’s spooky, yet mesmerizing, and on top of the picture restoration, Criterion does it’s due diligence with supplements as well making this one of the stand out releases of 2016.
THE THING (Scream Factory)
While I stated at the top of this article that these selections aren’t ranked in any specific order, I did save this one for last because it’s probably the best Blu-Ray release we’ve gotten in 2016. Scream Factory has already celebrated so many of John Carpenter’s filmography and given us great special editions of most of them, so why not tackle his most famous and well regarded movie? His remake of THE THING remains not only one of the best reinterpretations of an old classic, but also just one of the best horror movies ever made. Universal had already put this one out, so they had to pull out all the stops for this 2 disc set. We get a new 2k scan supervised by cinematographer Dean Cundey, making this the absolute best this movie has ever looked. The rare NBC TV broadcast version with different footage, the original feature doc Terror Takes Shape from the Laserdisc/DVD release, a new lengthy chat with John conducted by his old friend and fellow “Master of Horror” Mick Garris, loads of new interviews and features with the various cast & crew, alternate footage and much more. This is literally the definitive version of Carpenter’s THE THING and of all the titles mentioned in this piece, essential for your horror collection. (Read more on this title here.)
Notable mentions: Arrow Films, primarily a UK based company, invaded the US territory and they hit us hard with impressive releases of SOCIETY, BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, THE HILLS HAVE EYES and most recently the HELLRAISER: LIMITED EDITION SCARLET BOX SET. Kino Lorber continued delivering cult classics such as the FX movies, HIGHWAY TO HELL, THE BUBBLE 3D and THE PIT. Dark Sky Films restored HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. And the slates for all these companies is full all through out 2017. Looks like we’ve got even more horror gems to look forward to!