Disc Spotlight

Arrow Video

Small video labels lack the reach and recognition of the much bigger studios, but they have advantages when it comes to the content. Chief among them is that instead of simply pushing a new product line they’re able to hand-pick titles for release — new, old, cult classics or forgotten gems. They’re curating an affection for movies, and two of the best from across the pond are Arrow Video and Eureka! Entertainment. Neither label is a stranger to genre films, and this month sees them each bringing some ’70s-style horror into the world of high definition with new Blu-ray releases. Arrow is giving the HD treatment to David Cronenberg’s first feature film, Shivers (aka They Came From Within) while Eureka! is putting out a double feature of Blacula and Scream Blacula Scream.

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Scream Factory

Clive Barker‘s second feature film as a director hit theaters in 1990 in a compromised and heavily molested form thanks to the meddling suits at Warner Bros. and Morgan Creek, but while Nightbreed died a quick death on the big screen the desire for Barker’s full vision lived on in the hearts and minds of fans. Rumors swirled about lost footage, and when years later much of those scenes were found the world was treated to a “restored” cut of the film featuring these rediscovered scenes dropped into the existing feature to form the Cabal Cut. The resulting cut had its pros and cons — my full review is here — but it was a kitchen sink version and never meant to be construed as Barker’s preferred vision. Happily, and somewhat miraculously, that vision is now getting its day in the sun as Scream Factory releases the lovingly restored, Barker-supervised director’s cut complete with a beautiful high-def remaster. There’s no arguing that this new cut looks and sounds great and is long overdue, but is it an improvement over the theatrical release? Is it any good at all? The answer to both questions is a pretty resounding yes.

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Kino Classics

Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash, too. Several labels go after obvious past classics, but some have made a habit of delivering films most of us have never heard of before. Kino Classics and Cohen Film Collection release their share of recognizable titles — Metropolis and Intolerance for example — but they don’t shy away from lesser known films choosing instead to champion them and prevent them from fading into oblivion. Both labels reached into French cinema’s past this week to find two very different movies. Keep reading for a look at Kino Classics’ release of We Won’t Grow Old Together and Cohen Film Collection’s new Blu-ray of Favorites of the Moon.

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Scream Factory

Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash, too. It’s no secret that one of my favorite specialty labels these days is Scream Factory. They simply understand genre fans and reward us handsomely with high definition transfers of our favorite horror flicks from the past. Their contemporary releases leave much to be desired (Cockneys vs Zombies aside), but more often than not when they reach decades back for a film the result is something fantastic at best or fun at worst. Their “Summer of Fear” begins this month with five new releases, and while one is contemporary and another is from the ’70s three of them are from the horror’s early ’80s sweet spot. If you’re a genre fan odds are you’ve seen at least two of these, but you’ve never seen them as new-looking as they do here with new HD transfers. Keep reading for a more in depth look at the new Blu-rays of Evilspeak, Final Exam and the legendary Sleepaway Camp.

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Cannon Film Distributors

Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash, too. Our latest look at Top Shelf releases from smaller labels features two new Blu-rays from across the pond, and in addition to both being region B releases the two share a genre similarity too in that they’re both coming-of-age teen comedies. That said, they handle their themes quite a bit differently. First up is Gregory’s Girl which explores one gangly, Scottish teen’s efforts to woo the beautiful new girl at school. His friends are equally lost in a sea of hormones, but the film pursues it all with a light and innocent touch. Far, far away at the other end of the tonal spectrum is The Last American Virgin. It’s Porky’s-style comedy including crass behavior, nudity and sex, but it has zero interest in satisfying viewers with a typical happy ending. Keep reading for our look at the new import Blu-rays of Gregory’s Girl and The Last American Virgin.

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Frightmare and The Flesh and Blood Show

Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash, too. Redemption Films‘ forte is the resurrection of old school horror films with new HD restorations, a small smattering of new extra features, and Blu-ray debuts. They tend to stick with certain directors including Mario Bava, Jess Franco, Jean Rollin, and others. They’re latest releases are a pair of early genre pics from director Pete Walker, a man known for pushing the envelope and enraging British censors on multiple occasions. Both of his releases here are loaded with the red stuff, but only the former is also bursting at (and through) the seams with naked lady flesh. Keep reading for our look at Redemption Films’ new Blu-rays of The Flesh and Blood Show and Frightmare.

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top shelf killers phantom

Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash, too. Arrow Films is not only the UK’s best specialty Blu-ray/DVD label, but they’re also one of the most exciting regardless of geographical boundaries. Part of their appeal can be found in their unabashed affection for genre entertainment, but they’re equally adept and interested in more highbrow fare. They love movies as much as we do, and the proof is in a catalog diverse enough to include both Cinema Paradiso and Hell Comes to Frogtown. They have two new releases hitting UK shelves next week, and they couldn’t be more different. Keep reading for our look at Arrow’s new Blu-rays of Don Siegel’s The Killers and Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise.

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ts header night of the demons

Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash, too. Scream Factory continues to mine past decades for horror gems worthy of resurrecting onto Blu-ray, and while they make the occasional misstep the vast majority of their releases make for fantastic additions to your library. They have four titles hitting shelves in February with the first two streeting next week. In addition to releasing on the same day, Witchboard and Night of the Demons also share the same director in Kevin Tenney. They’re his first two films (of thirteen total) but remain his most well known. This is as it should be seeing as Demons is also his best film, but it’s a shame if only because Demolition University, starring Corey Haim, really deserves to be seen by more eyes. Keep reading for our look at Scream Factory’s new Blu-rays of Witchboard and Night of the Demons.

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ts cat people

Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash, too. This week we’re looking at new releases from two different labels, Scream Factory and Raro Video. While the latter has rescued more obscure titles than the former both have continued to deliver excellent releases over the past year showing a continued appreciation for films and film lovers. First up is an early ’80s favorite that I recall being enamored by during many of its late night cable showings. This was especially the case when the film played on HBO or Cinemax with all the nudity and gore and more nudity intact. Next is an Italian horror film that I had not actually seen before this release, and while it doesn’t hold up to some of the bigger Italian zombie movies of the ’70s and ’80s it’s still pretty fun in its own right.

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ts ghost and mrs muir

Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash, too. Before you accuse me of selling out and featuring a major studio in a column dedicated to smaller labels, please understand that they paid me very well. That’s not true. Instead let me point out that these releases come via 20th Century Fox’s Studio Classics line, which is both a small division and in this instance one very receptive to the desires of fans. They launched a program called Voice Your Choice earlier this year where film lovers got the chance to vote on which classics from Fox’s library from the 1930’s through the 1960’s were most deserving of digital restoration and HD release on Blu-ray. The response was so overwhelming that Fox decided to double the number of “winning” titles to two from each decade, and the eight movies released this week. The films include The Black Swan, Call of the Wild, Carmen Jones, Desk Set, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Jesse James, North to Alaska, and The Undefeated. Keep reading for a closer look at four of the selections below.

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top shelf assault on precinct 13

Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash, too. This week’s pairing looks at two new Collector’s Edition releases from Scream Factory. The label is an offshoot from Shout! Factory, and while their main focus is on horror titles they’re flexible enough to include variations of the genre, too. They’ve managed to prove themselves in short time through a dedication to HD remasters. First up is an urban western from John Carpenter that sees a simple act of revenge lead to a siege involving police, prisoners, civilians, and some unruly gang members, and we’re following that with an ’80s horror/comedy with zombies and a pair of ass-kicking valley girls.

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top shelf invasion of the body snatchers

Most home video releases are mass produced and marketed by faceless conglomerates interested only in separating you from your hard-earned cash. If you look closely though you’ll find smaller labels who love movies as much as you do and show it by delivering quality Blu-rays and DVDs of beloved films and cult classics, often loaded with special features, new transfers, and more. But yes, they still want your cash too. Top Shelf is our new bi-weekly look at these labels and the films they’re releasing. The movies won’t always be classics in the traditional sense and you may not even recognize the titles (or stars or directors), but somebody somewhere loves them which is enough of a reason for us to shine a light their way. This week we’re taking a look at two new releases from the UK’s Arrow Video. They’re the sleazier, more entertaining brother of Arrow Academy, and while they predominantly focus on resurrecting horror films like Squirm, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, and anything Dario Argento has ever pointed his camera towards, they also dabble outside the genre with releases like The Last American Virgin. Horror is their bread and butter though, so horror is where we’ll start. Two of Arrow’s releases this month are considered classics from acclaimed directors Philip Kaufman and Wes Craven, but while they both have their fans only one of the films still holds up today.

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ds clint eastwood

Box-sets, much like anthologies, have somewhat of an unavoidable mixed-bag mentality about them. It’s difficult, near impossible even, to ensure that each film within is of equal merit and quality. Increase the number of films, and the odds of consistency decrease in equal proportion. Which brings us to WB’s latest (but doubtfully last) Clint Eastwood retrospective. Clint Eastwood: 20-Film Collection lives up to my theory above thanks in part to a heavy concentration on Eastwood’s most recent output (which few people would argue in favor of), but it does an otherwise fine job of looking across the years at the man’s output both as an actor and a director. WB has also released a 40-Film set onto DVD.

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blu howling

1981 was the greatest year ever for fans of werewolf cinema. Bold statement? Possibly. Plain silly in light of Sybil Danning’s 1985 entry into the genre? Most assuredly. But if you were to make a list of the top five werewolf movies of all time it’s a near certainty that two of them were released in 1981. Late summer ’81 saw the August release of John Landis’ classic horror/comedy An American Werewolf in London, and just four months earlier Joe Dante‘s The Howling tore its way onto screens across America. While the two films are often spoken of in the same breath thanks to their chronological proximity and successful mix of laughs and terror, they’re also bonded through their unique but equally mesmerizing werewolf transformation scenes. A very young Rob Bottin handled the effects for Dante’s film, and they’ve never looked better than they do on Scream Factory‘s brand new Blu-ray of the film.

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Rolling Thunder 6.tif

Cult movies are impossible to identify until years after their release, and even then it apparently takes Quentin Tarantino to point them out to the rest of us. (That’s not entirely true, but we’ll let him think it is for now.) One of the director’s favorite films, possibly even *the* favorite depending who you ask, is John Flynn‘s 1977 revenge picture Rolling Thunder. Having finally watched it I’d actually argue that labeling it as a “revenge picture,” which is how it’s been spoken of for over thirty years, is incorrect and ultimately reductive. Not that there isn’t some wonderfully wet and violent revenge action to be found here, but it’s hardly the film’s main focus or only strength. William Devane stars as a Vietnam veteran recently released from years as a POW. He returns home to a wife, son and a small town that welcomes him back as a hero, but when he attracts the attention of some mean-spirited and desperate ruffians it leads to an assault that leaves him and his family for dead. Amateurs. He survives, but his wife, son and right hand aren’t as lucky. So yeah, there’s some revenge coming.

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ds hg lewis lost films

It’s not uncommon for film directors to find themselves categorized into a specific niche, but it’s almost always interesting (and occasionally fun) to see their attempts at operating outside those expectations. Herschell Gordon Lewis‘ career has seen him work in all manner of genres, but the perception of him as “the wizard of gore” remains. Films like Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs, Color Me Blood Red, The Gore Gore Girls and others have made H.G. Lewis synonymous with goofy, technicolor blood baths. But he also had a softer, dirtier side made evident through a series of T&A films produced both before and after his horror flicks. Fans are aware of most of them, but three were thought lost to history… until now. Vinegar Syndrome is a brand spanking new specialty label, and their debut release is as important and well-crafted as any label could hope for. The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis collects three films from 1969-1971, all lovingly restored in HD, and while they’re not for everyone completists and fans of Lewis will find a lot to love here.

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ds wb musicals

I don’t like movie musicals. It’s probably more accurate to say that I strongly dislike the vast majority of musicals. Too often I find that the songs and dance numbers take priority over the film’s story and characters, and that disparity leaves me disinterested in the whole shebang. And if I’m being honest, I really hate it when complete strangers suddenly bust out with the same songs and dance moves as if they’ve been secretly practicing them for weeks. (Unless the story is about the history of flash mobs of course, but who the hell would want to watch that?) There are exceptions, but they’re usually films that place as high a value on the story being told and the characters within as they do on the music and dancing and other gibberish. Ones I do like include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 8 Women, South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut and Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris. You could say I lean toward less traditional examples of the form. Warner Bros. just released a series of 20 Film Collection box sets broken down by genre, and when the opportunity arrived to take a look at the one focused on Musicals I literally stood still at the chance. And yet… here we are.

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ds die hard 25th

The fifth film in the Die Hard series hits theaters in less than two weeks so it makes sense that 20th Century Fox would want to cash in on the impending excitement with the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray Collection. Sure the first four films have already been released as a set with the same transfers and features, and sure they could have waited until A Good Day to Die Hard makes its way to Blu-ray/DVD this summer to include it… but it’s not like film fans have ever shown an aversion to double or triple-dipping. And cynical commentary aside, I’m one of those fans. The new set includes all four current films as well as over a hundred minutes worth of new special features. The movie discs are essentially unchanged from their previous appearances, but Fox has vastly improved the case by making it a sturdy book-like model that slides into an outer sleeve with discs that slip into waxed sleeves instead of popping onto plastic buttons. It’s  a solid release on the outside, but how does it stack up inside? Keep reading for a look at Fox’s new Die Hard 25th Anniversary Blu-ray Collection.

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Bond 50 Blu-ray

We continue our look at one of 2012’s biggest and most anticipated Blu-ray sets… Bond 50. The set celebrates fifty years of Bond with special feature-filled Blu-rays for each film, and while most have already seen HD releases the collection also includes Blu debuts of You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds are Forever, The Spy Who Loved Me, Octopussy, A View to a Kill, The Living Daylights, Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies. The box-set breaks the 22 films into two halves, twelve from 1962-1981 and ten from 1983-2012, each in their own sturdy book. Due to the sheer volume of material this Disc Spotlight will be broken into two halves as well. Keep reading for a look at 1983’s Octopussy through 2008’s Quantum of Solace, and go here for part one covering 1962’s Dr. No through 1981’s For Your Eyes Only.

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They Live

John Carpenter burst onto the genre scene in 1978 with Halloween, but the bulk of his great films came in the 1980s with classics like The Fog, Escape from New York, The Thing, Starman, Big Trouble in Little China and Prince of Darkness. His final film of the decade was a bit of an odd duck though and one that saw his trend of releasing a new movie every year or two come to a halt. They Live was released, not coincidentally, in the last year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Sold as a sci-fi/action hybrid the film is a not-so thinly veiled critique of the growing class divide engendered by a Republican mandate that favored a corporate culture and rampant consumerism. The rich were getting richer, the poor were getting poorer and the middle class were doing very little to stop it all. Roddy Piper plays a drifter who arrives in Los Angeles desperate for work and relegated to live in a homeless encampment. He finds a pair of special sunglasses that reveal a world of subliminal messages and alien invaders masquerading as humans and discovers a stunning conspiracy behind America’s economic and social downturn. And, being Roddy Piper, he proceeds to clean house.

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