Streaming might be the future, but physical media is still the present. It’s also awesome, depending on the title, the label, and the release, so each week we take a look at the new Blu-rays and DVDs making their way into the world. Welcome to this week in Home Video for May 30th, 2023! This week’s home video selection includes Drowning by Numbers, Cliffhanger in 4K, and more. Check out our picks below.
Pick of the Week
Drowning by Numbers [4K UHD, Severin Films]
What is it? A Wes Anderson film for people who like to fuck.
Why see it? Peter Greenaway makes very specific films, ones designed to appeal to himself first and foremost. Happily, they often appeal to some of us pervy weirdos too. This late 80s feature is a lighter piece from him while still featuring lots of death and debauchery in the form of characters celebrating themselves, sex, and the occasional forced drowning. Greenaway captures beautiful imagery as often as he does the grotesque, and the attention to detail, symmetry, and color keep a level of visual engagement that accentuates the character and narrative. Here it’s a blackly comic tale of women offing their husbands, and it’s a quirky, goofy time. Severin’s new 4K UHD highlights all the skin, bugs, and silliness.
[Extras: Commentary, interviews, featurettes]
Cliffhanger [4K UHD, steelbook]
What is it? A man traumatized by a climbing incident is forced back into action.
Why see it? Renny Harlin may be relegated to churning out direct-to-video action flicks these days, but for a short while there he was crushing it on the big screen. This Sylvester Stallone film is one of his greats with its tale of heights, falls, and thrill-seeking baddies. Stallone plays a professional climber still reeling from a deadly fall that claimed a friend’s life. When a plane crashes in the mountains, though, he’s forced to rise to the occasion as gun-toting bad guys — including a fantastic John Lithgow — threaten lives with abandon. Locales and set-pieces up the suspense and thrills, and it all looks pretty great. The new 4K UHD ups the beauty and detail even more.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes]
Danza Macabra: Volume One – The Italian Gothic Collection [Severin Films]
What is it? Four Italian chillers from 1964 to 1971.
Why see it? The Monster of the Opera sees a dance troupe terrorized by a vampire, The Seventh Grave gives Agatha Christie an Italian spin, Scream of the Demon Lover pairs Jane Eyre with Frankenstein, and Lady Frankenstein delivers just what the title promises. It’d be pushing to claim that any one of these films is a lost gem, but combined — especially brought together in a slick box set — they make for a potent foursome. The set’s highlight is the fourth entry as it presents a lurid, debaucherous, and color-filled nightmare of biology and gender norms, and the disc features the most extensive extras too. All four are worth the time of genre fans, though, as they offer a look into European horrors that have yet to receive their due. Plus, volume one promises more to come…
[Extras: New 2K scans, commentaries, interviews, video essays]
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves [4K UHD]
What is it? A medieval comedy finding fun and respect in Gary Gygax’s imagination.
Why see it? Y’all dropped the ball on this one. The makers of Game Night delivered a legitimately fun time here while still respecting the source material — not an easy feat as the game is a nerd’s paradise — and this really should have kicked off a franchise. Chris Pine heads up the ensemble alongside Michelle Rodriguez, Sophia Lillis, Hugh Grant, and others, and everyone does great work committing to the bit and having a blast. Action scenes are good fun, visual effects are creative, and the whole is just an entertaining romp in a magical world. Special shout out to Grant who is his usual perfection as the villain.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, gag reel]
What is it? An act of violence born of worse.
Why see it? Gaspar Noe’s most devastating film plays out in three acts, but in reverse order. It’s no mere gimmick as the impact lands that much harder as we see consequences and horror before the innocence that was shattered, Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel shine as a couple broken by violence only to reveal the beauty of their love blissfully unaware of the nightmare to come. The Straight cut — a chronological retooling of the film — is an odd duck seeing as it removes the film’s core emotional power and leaves it sitting as a more traditional tale of brutal revenge. Interesting, maybe, but it can’t touch the film’s original intent.
[Extras: Two cuts of film, featurettes, interviews, music videos]
The Last Starfighter [4K UHD, Arrow Video]
What is it? A young man is recruited to help out in an intergalactic war.
Why see it? This mid 80s action/sci-fi adventure may not have brought in the big bucks, but it’s no less beloved four decades later. Lance Guest takes lead and plays a great everyman immediately thrown into a wild adventure involving aliens, spaceships, a villainous antagonist, and more. It’s great fun and a fantastic family film delivering warm laughs and explosive action. The CG effects come courtesy of Commodore Amigas — my childhood gaming machines as my parents never got us brand names! — and it’s just a fun, energetic ride. Arrow’s new 4K UHD sees colors and details pop while retaining depth and grain.
[Extras: Commentaries, interviews, featurettes]
The Night of the Hunter [4K UHD, KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A preacher comes to town.
Why see it? People often ask what the best film is by a director who only made a single movie, and the responses typically land heavily in favor of Charles Laughton’s 1955 masterpiece of tension and terror. A wild Robert Mitchum plays a traveling preacher with a trail of murdered women behind him, and his latest target promises the satisfaction of ending a life and collecting $10k in cold cash. All that stands before him are two little kids… Gorgeously shot and immaculately staged, the film is a masterclass in suspense as the preacher’s efforts lead to death and horror. Mitchum is playing things with a darkly twisted enthusiasm, and the character becomes an unnerving nightmare in his pursuit of the prize. Kino’s new release ports over familiar extras, but the real star is the new 4K transfer which finds secrets in the shadows you may have previously missed.
[Extras: New 4K scan, commentary, interviews]
The Saragossa Manuscript [Yellow Veil Pictures]
What is it? A soldier finds himself lost in the mountains.
Why see it? While that simple premise seems to set up a straightforward tale of survival, Wojciech J. Has’s most acclaimed film is far more of a surreal nightmare. The officer instead finds himself jumping from one unexpected location to the next confronting offbeat and strange characters at every turn. The film also looks fantastic thanks to varied and eclectic group of locations both real and imagined. I’d be lying if I said I fully understood each story turn and character appearance — I’m not even sure I comprehend most of them — but there’s an undeniable sense of purpose to it all anyway that leaves you satisfied in the soul if not in the mind.
[Extras: Introduction, essays, interview]
Showgirls [4K UHD, Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A midwestern girl heads to Las Vegas to make it big.
Why see it? While it was reviled by many upon release, Paul Verhoeven’s wildly entertaining T&A romp has only increased its fanbase over the years. Part of that is people coming to terms with it as an unintentional comedy gem — the director claims now that it was intentionally over the top and goofy, but earlier interviews see him taking a more serious stance. Either way, the damn thing is hilarious as Joe Eszterhas’ script makes some spectacular choices at every turn. Elizabeth Berkley’s poor acting (sorry, whether due to lack of talent or Verhoeven’s direction, she is entertainingly bad) adds to the fun, as do the supporting turns by Kyle MacLachlan, Gina Gershon, and others. Its excess brings it close to perfection, something ruined only by an unnecessarily vicious rape scene (similar to the one that hurts Verhoeven’s Hollow Man. Vinegar Syndrome’s release is fantastic and loaded with fun extras.
[Extras: New restoration, commentary, interviews, featurette]
The Tale of Tsar Saltan [Deaf Crocodile Films]
What is it? The heir to the Russian throne finds adventure on his way back.
Why see it? Deaf Crocodile Films have been doing glorious work bringing Aleksandr Ptushko’s rich fantasies and fairy tales back to life on home video, and that trend continues with this late 60s effort. The story comes from an Alexander Pushkin tale, and the hallmarks of both men’s work remain as a simple enough story and its requisite moral beats are paired with sumptuous visuals and imagination. The imagery is where these movies ultimately shine, and these newly restored Blu-rays absolutely pop on the screen with color, matte paintings, and visual splendor. The extras add more context to Ptushko and Pushkin, but it’s the look of the film and the world it creates that will have you back for more.
[Extras: 2K restoration, interview, commentary, essay]
Transformers – Limited Edition Steelbook 6-Movie Collection [4K UHD]
What is it? A tech demo masterclass.
Why see it? I’m admittedly not the biggest fan of the Transformers films. The first is okay, I’m a sucker for Dark of the Moon, and Bumblebee is a breath of fresh air, but generally speaking they’re just not for me. So why is this set under “the best” section? Well, despite my disinterest in the films themselves, they are frequently tech marvels that look and sound fantastic. Want to impress someone with your audio/video setup? Pop in one of these, and you’re off to the races. The box is also beautifully crafted with a magnetic closure housing six individual steelbooks featuring the film on 4K UHD and an abundance of special features on a Blu-ray. (Note, the films aren’t on the Blus.) These are the same transfers and extras from previous releases, but if you haven’t picked them up yet this collection is as slick as it comes.
[Extras: Commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, interviews]
What is it? A man fights for survival against dinosaurs after crash landing on an alien planet.
Why see it? The premise feels like the start of a simple, straightforward banger, but what starts well quickly gets a bit bogged down as the man (Adam Driver) finds another survivor who becomes an emotional surrogate for his own daughter he left behind. Time spent on that familiar-feeling subplot detracts from the fun the film should otherwise be delivering. And there is fun here! How can there not be with dinosaurs rampaging and threatening Driver’s life? But at just ninety-three minutes, too much time is spent on beats that aren’t dinos. The result is a minor, easily forgettable diversion.
[Extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes]
At the Video Store
What is it? A documentary about the loss of the video store.
Why see it? There are still a handful of video rental places left around the country, but they used to be almost as ubiquitous as fast-food joints. Just as they helped squash drive-in theaters, the video stores were squeezed out of existence by the internet. This doc features talking heads sharing memories, highs, and lows from their years as clerks and owners, and while some are still standing strong, several go out of business by the end of the film. There are some fun beats here that bump your nostalgia (provided you’re of a certain age), and the interviewees include Bill Hader who is always a joy to hear chat movies. There’s not much else to it, though, no grand conclusion or reveal, just a sad truth.
[Extras: Introduction, deleted scenes]
Attack of the Demons
What is it? An animated tale of demonic carnage.
Why see it? Director Eric Power and friends created this animated feature brought to life through paper cutouts, and it’s an impressive feat. It plays out like a traditional coming-of-age tale until the gates of hell open onto a small Colorado town. There are some fun elements at play here as character dynamics and escalating story keep things interesting, but the gory sequences are the film’s real charm as they find life in paper glory.
[Extras: Commentaries, featurettes, music video]
The Boogey Man [4K UHD, Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A supernatural presence causes havoc from within a mirror.
Why see it? Ulli Lommel’s breakthrough hit was a big deal back in 1980, and while it remains a cult favorite for many it’s a movie with more than a few problems. Lommel’s direction lacks pacing and finesse making for a sometimes sloppy watch that leaves a distance between characters and viewers. All of that said, there are a handful of effective scenes here bringing the horror home with minor atmosphere and chills. The bigger deal, though, is the look of this new 4K UHD release as Vinegar Syndrome has gone all out bringing it back to life ensuring it’s a must-own for fans.
[Extras: New restoration, commentaries, interviews]
Dracula: The Dirty Old Man [AGFA]
What is it? Dracula likes the ladies.
Why see it? Dracula employs a werewolf sidekick to find him babes, preferably naked and nubile babes, for him to enjoy and feast upon, and that’s not exactly a terrible setup for a horror film — except the film’s original soundtrack was either lost or intentionally set aside so that new audio could be recorded. New “comedic” audio. It’s, of course, nothing of the sort, but as regional oddities go this is definitely something.
[Extras: Commentary, alternate cut, bonus film]
What is it? Women lured to an island party are actually intended for murder.
Why see it? Shot on video genre films can sometimes leave a lot to be desired as the artistic limitations go well beyond the camera equipment, but Gary Whitson almost cracks the code with this whodunnit. At nearly two hours it’s way too long, but there are some inspired elements strewn about the film from what he accomplishes (legit underwater filming!) to the fun he has (beaten to death with a severed leg!) to the general thriller aspects, so it’s not an SOV film to be written off lightly. The Blu-ray comes packed with extras ensuring lots of detail for fans to enjoy.
[Extras: New transfer, commentaries, extended cut, short film, bonus film, booklet]
Joy House [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A man, two women, and whole lot of misdirection.
Why see it? Alain Delon is on the run from poor choices and the mob, and while he temporarily escapes the latter he just keeps embracing the former. Two sultry women enter his view, Jane Fonda and Lola Albright, and what seems like simple flirting soon shifts into murkier motives and dangerous seductions. Rene Clement’s mid 60s feature is powered by sumptuous black & white photography and the screen presences of its three leads. It’s an intriguing tale that engages as much with its dialogue as with its knowing glances.
[Extras: New 2K restoration, commentary]
Maximum Overdrive [Vestron Video, steelbook]
What is it? A fun movie despite its numerous shortcomings!
Why see it? Stephen King’s sole directorial effort remains a bad film by most metrics, but there’s no denying the entertainment his blend of incompetence and enthusiasm brings to the screen. The film, based on King’s short story “Trucks,” sees a mechanical devices come alive and start murdering people. Trucks, lawnmowers, vending machines — the carnage is fun as hell, and I’m not just saying that because a kid gets smushed by a steamroller. Everything feels dialed up a notch or two, from the dialogue to the performances, but it’s just a lot of good, clean fun. This is Vestron’s first reissue of a film they previously released, and the only difference here is the steelbook packaging.
[Extras: Commentaries, interviews]
A New Old Play [Kani Films]
What is it? An acclaimed clown revisits his life after it ends.
Why see it? One man’s life is the history of modern China as he looks back at his start in the early 20th century on through a life of ups and downs both personal and nationwide. Writer/director Qiu Jiongjiong’s film, inspired by his grandfather’s life, explores what it means to be an artist in a country that hasn’t always appreciated such things. He tells the story in a sometimes drawn out way — at 180 minutes and a snail’s pace, the film is at times an endurance test — but he does so with creative imagery and a sense of purpose.
[Extras: Short film, featurette, interview, booklet]
Night Screams [4K UHD, Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A teenage house party turns into a slaughterhouse.
Why see it? The ingredients are certainly here for a perfectly solid slasher — a mysterious killer, a bevy of horny teens in an isolated locale, a pair of escaped madmen from the asylum nearby — but the film is ultimately something of a snooze. The kills are pretty darn boring, the teens go out of their way to avoid having sex with each other, and the identity of the killer isn’t the big mystery the filmmakers are hoping for. As with The Boogey Man above, though, it’s a release guaranteed to be loved by fans as Vinegar Syndrome gives it the gold treatment from the restoration to the extras including an alternate cut of the movie.
[Extras: New restoration, commentary, featurette, pre-release cut]
What is it? An assassin fights for his life.
Why see it? Action fans might remember a direct-to-video picture from a couple years back called Last Man Standing. It stars Daniel Stisen as a wood-cutting dude in a vaguely post-apocalyptic world, and it is garbage. Well Stisen is back in a wholly unrelated action picture, but while this one is a bit more competently made, Stisen is still firing blanks. His muscles are evident, but unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stisen has zero charisma or personality. That’d be fine if he had some action chops, but he’s a dull one on that front too. Anyway, if you disagree with this assessment of the man’s screen presence, then The Siege is now available to rent or buy.
Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds [Umbrella Entertainment]
What is it? A stranger offers an escape to a lonely couple in the Outback.
Why see it? Alex Proyas would go on to find success with The Crow, but his first feature is Australian through and through. A couple hiding from the world is visited by the stranger who offers to help them get even further, but it will require the building of a flying machine. This is a surreal tale, somewhat languidly paced, and built almost entirely on a peculiarly Australian quirk. It ultimately overstays its ninety-six minute running time, but it’s interesting seeing where Proyas got his start.
[Extras: Commentaries, interviews, featurette, music video, booklet]
Trouble Every Day
What is it? A man with needs finds violent satisfaction.
Why see it? Claire Denis is an acclaimed filmmaker who has no need for my seal of approval, and that’s for the best as her films have yet to click with me. I’ve tried more than a few, and this bloody tale is my latest attempt. Lip service is paid to the narrative ideas here, but Denis relies mostly on atmosphere and carnal antics to hold attention. Vincent Gallo is the lead is already a negative — so sue me! — and his violent assault on a woman is doubly upsetting for reasons that are less earned than exploited. Meh, not for me.
[Extras: Commentary, video essay]
Undefeatable [4K UHD, Vinegar Syndrome]
What is it? A gang member fights to earn money for her sister’s education.
Why see it? This is an odd one as the theatrical cut given the 4K love here is a pretty bad movie. Incredibly weak action kills the film, and Cynthia Rothrock can’t do a thing about it. Instead, it’s the shorter, wildly different alternate cut (referred to as Bloody Mary Killer) that brings the goods with more action from both Rothrock and Robin Shou. It’s the vastly superior watch. Vinegar Syndrome’s release is packed and looks great so fans will be pleased, but for the rest of you I’d recommend jumping straight to the alternate cut on the second Blu-ray disc.
[Extras: New restoration, commentary, interviews, video essays, alternate Bloody Mary Killer cut]
Young Bodies Heal Quickly
What is it? Two brothers on the run find more trouble.
Why see it? Andrew Betzer’s feature debut is something of a rambling road trip punctuated with violence both physical and verbal. The core beats are evident despite the indie nature, but while we get the “what” of it all there’s little effort to show “why” we should give a damn. Neither character is appealing, and the nuances of their sibling relationship never quite gel into anything tangible. That said, there are some offbeat moments here that earn a smile even if they feel disconnected from the whole.
[Extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, short films, booklet]
Also out this week:
The Boy with Green Hair [Warner Archive], Debbie Does Demons, Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema XIV [KL Studio Classics], A Good Person, The Haunting [4K UHD], Inside, King Solomon’s Mines [Warner Archive], The Nutty Professor [4K UHD, Paramount Presents], The People Under the Stairs [4K UHD, Scream Factory], Please Baby Please, Queen Christina [Warner Archive], Spinning Gold, Thelma and Louise [4K UHD, Criterion Collection]