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 November 28th, 2023! This week’s home video selection includes Top Knot Detective, Count Dracula in 4K, and more. Check out our picks below.
Pick of the Week
Top Knot Detective [Umbrella]
What is it? A documentary about an unforgettable samurai series that never actually existed.
Why see it? As mockumentaries go, films featuring Christopher Guest tend to be the best. His presence aside, though, it’s something like Peter Jackson’s Forgotten Silver that takes top honors. Jackson tells his story straight and with extremely proficient technical execution to the point that you just might believe its premise to be true. Top Knot Detective manages the same feat — if you didn’t know better, you’d absolutely believe this show existed — while also being immensely entertaining in its own right as a story about a talent, an art form, and the steep price of success. The film’s format shifts to convince with clips from the television show, interview segments, and more. Umbrella’s disc also includes the first episode of the tv show adding to the illusion.
[Extras: Commentary, episode, featurettes, soundtrack cd]
What is it? A tale of political drama and family constraints.
Why see it? Bernardo Bertolucci directs this dense tale about a man tasked with assassinating his former teacher for being a leftist threat to the fascist regime. The otherwise clearcut premise is teased and tailored with an eye for the condemnation of both cruelty and wish-washy inaction. It’s a beautiful film with both production design and architecture aiding its atmosphere in big ways, and the performance by Jean-Louis Trintignant will have you both engaged and enraged. Raro’s new two-disc release offers up a fantastic picture and some enlightening extras.
[Extras: New 4K restoration, commentary, interview, documentary]
Count Dracula [4K UHD, Severin]
What is it? An old man with a peculiar affectation.
Why see it? Jess Franco’s filmography isn’t typically for me — he has dozens upon dozens of films, and I can count on one hand the ones that work for me — but this take on the familiar story of Dracula is one of the few. The highlight here is Christopher Lee, again, as Dracula, and he imbues the character with age, grace, and terror when necessary. Herbert Lom is no Peter Cushing but does fine work as Van Helsing. Franco manages some atmospheric thrills and visuals on a budget, and while Severin’s new 4K release won’t blow anyone away it does offer a finer presentation of the film than we’ve gotten previously. The extras are copious, and the soundtrack cd is a nice touch, but the price point still feels high for a single film. Worth it for serious fans, but the rest of you might want to wait on this one.
[Extras: New 4K scan, commentary, interviews, featurettes, documentary, soundtrack cd]
The Emerald Forest [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A man returns to the Amazon in search of his son who disappeared there.
Why see it? John Boorman’s epic adventure finds both action spectacle and thought-provoking looks at our effect on this planet. The action thread is good stuff, not showy but solidly produced set-pieces capturing battles between those who care and those who don’t. All of it unfolds against a gorgeous backdrop of the jungle in all its beauty and expanse, and Kino’s new Blu-ray makes the visuals a highlight. Powers Boothe is a standout in a rare leading role and brings heart to the tale.
A Haunting in Venice
What is it? Poirot faces a deadly mystery and a haunting secret.
Why see it? Kenneth Branagh’s work bringing Agatha Christie’s infamous detective tales to the screen is now two for three — Murder on the Orient Express is still great, and Death on the Nile is still… fine — as his latest is a spooky gem. Branagh finds even more emotion in his Poirot, and the character ties beautifully into this murder mystery touched by the dead. Jamie Dornan, Jude Hill, Kelly Reilly, and Michelle Yeoh all do great work, and Tina Fey is also here. It’s a great treat for a cold winter night.
[Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes]
The Monster Squad [4K UHD, KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A group of friends face off against classic monsters.
Why see it? This late 80s flick is considered a classic by those who saw and loved it as a kid, but coming to it as an adult leaves some of the seams and rough edges showing. It’s a fun enough time comedy wise, even if some of the language is understandably dated, but the big appeal here for me is the core idea itself pitting kids against the “Universal” monsters. The villains look good, and director Fred Dekker (and co-writer Shane Black) keep the adventure aspects rolling with silliness and gothic charm. The biggest draw here, though, is Kino’s new 4K which looks fantastic and makes the nearly forty year-old movie feel new again. And it also includes the popular Wolfman’s Got Nards documentary too. A good movie gets a great release, and that’s great news for everyone.
[Extras: New 4K scan, 2018 documentary, commentaries, documentary, interview]
Tremors 2: Aftershocks [4K UHD, Arrow]
What is it? The graboids are back!
Why see it? The original Tremors may not have been a hit upon release — inexplicable in retrospect — but it found its way in the years that followed as a terrifically fun creature feature. The sequels that followed are all lesser affairs, some far, far lesser, but this first follow-up is actually a good time, hold the Bacon. The graboids are back, they’ve evolved, and it’s up to Fred Ward, Michael Gross, and some newcomers to stop them. We get some good fun, some great practical effects, and another good time pitting folks against monsters. Arrow’s new release gives the sequel a sharp 4K upgrade and a ton of extras, and it’s absolutely worth the upgrade for fans.
[Extras: Commentaries, interviews, featurette, outtakes]
Zombie Holocaust [4K UHD, Severin]
What is it? A trip to the jungle is unwise!
Why see it? Director Marino Girolami delivers a grindhouse classic with this one, a film that found new life after being re-edited and rereleased as Doctor Butcher, M.D., and it features everything you’d want from such a ride. Dumb white people head into the jungle confident in their superiority only to find cannibals, zombies, and numerous opportunities for disrobing. The gore is fun and plentiful, the nonsense is never-ending, and it’s just a good time all around for genre fans. Severin’s new 4K release pops with color, and the extras are bountiful.
[Extras: New 4K scan, both versions including Doctor Butcher MD, interviews, featurettes, anthology segment]
Assignment K [Imprint]
What is it? A secret agent finds trouble when he falls in love.
Why see it? Val Guest directs a swinging late 60s spy romp that has all the elements even if they don’t quite come together. It looks good with gorgeous locales in the mountains of Switzerland and the streets of London, and the atmosphere follows suit. Stephen Boyd lacks the charisma, though, to carry a spy film as he’s a bit flat throughout and outshined by the baddies and his new girlfriend. We get some minor action beats and some twisty story turns, but they’re not enough to lift this higher than the level of merely okay and somewhat interesting. Still, it’s great seeing Imprint give it a wide release as it’s been little known for too long.
Barbarella [4K UHD, Arrow]
What is it? A space vixen helps the president of Earth.
Why see it? Look, Barbarella is one of those movies that you either accept on its own terms or completely turn away from. Those in the former camp should pick up this new Arrow release immediately as its presentation and selection of extras are top notch. For the rest of us, though, the film is something of an oddity as it teases more than it offers up. It’s ultimately an innocent little goof, a silly ride with a game Jane Fonda traipsing from one weird locale to the next, all of them dressed to the decade the film was made — it’s the 70s, but, futuristic — and there’s no shortage of kitsch to be found. The 4K retains grain while highlighting colors, but even the new Blu looks good.
[Extras: Commentary, featurettes, interviews]
What is it? A kid looks for a break from the dreary world of adults.
Why see it? This short film from Denmark follows a child’s adventure in his own bathtub. It all seems simple enough, but the tub quickly takes the boy on a surreal adventure with magical creatures, ridiculous situations, and pure insanity.The animation is colorful and vibrant, and while very little of it makes any kind of sense, there’s an undeniable sense of fun and discovery. I’m not convinced that today’s American kids would sit still for it, but maybe it’s best suited for the young at heart instead.
[Extras: TV episodes, interview, commentaries, essay]
Blackhat [4K UHD, Arrow]
What is it? A convicted hacker is released to combat an even worse one.
Why see it? Michael Mann’s filmography features more than a few bangers, but this high-tech thriller is most certainly not among them. Chris Hemsworth stars as the good hacker who’s tasked with stopping a big bad, and that of course requires gun play and fights that Mann executes well enough. The big issue here is a script that never convinces in its characters or story beats despite Mann’s detailed precision throughout. It alternately drags and jumps around, professionals stand out in the open during a gun fight, and the love story is about as convincing as Hemsworth being a professional hacker. New 4K looks good, but given Mann’s camera choices it never feels like a major improvement.
[Extras: Three cuts including director’s cut, interviews, featurettes, commentary]
The Carpetbaggers [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A Harold Robbins bestseller comes to the screen.
Why see it? While salacious for the times, this mid 60s melodrama fails to find a spark for today’s audiences. George Peppard is fine, and the old Hollywood atmosphere is engaging enough, but an overly long running time keeps the drama muted and a bit silly. It’s ultimately worth a watch for the Howard Hughes-like rise to power and Alan Ladd’s final screen appearance, and Kino’s new Blu sees a fine picture thanks to its new HD master.
[Extras: New 4K scan, commentaries]
The Christmas Martian [Canadian International Pictures]
What is it? A martian hangs out with two kids in a small Canadian town.
Why see it? One of the joys of the CIP label is their dedication to celebrating and giving new life to all kinds of Canadian oddities that have been basically forgotten over the years. This feature from 1971 fits the bill, especially on the oddity front. Two kids recall the day they spent playing with an alien, and that alien is, well, it’s a chubby guy in a ski mask, but that’s what you get for a micro budget north of the border. He’s creepy through today’s eyes, but stretch back for a more nostalgic and innocent look and there’s a quirky charm to this weirdo’s look and behavior. The film itself is silliness from start to finish, and today’s kids will want nothing to do with it, but it’s still an interesting peek into simpler times.
[Extras: New 2K scan, commentary, interviews, featurette, short, film series trailers]
Le Combat dans L’Ile [Radiance]
What is it? An extremist goes on the run.
Why see it? Also known as Fire and Ice, Alain Cavalier’s drama with a tinge of suspense and danger, this is an engaging tale about personalities tested by belief and emotion. There’s a love triangle at the heart of the film, but it’s never very interesting and certainly can’t compete with the clashing of ideas. It’s a shame then that the love story doesn’t get out of the rest of the film’s way. We don’t buy it, and we don’t care for these people, and that quickly begins to affect the rest. Still, there’s something to Cavalier’s approach that intrigues, and you really can’t argue with Romy Schneider and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Plus, its presence in the Radiance line means it needs at least a watch.
[Extras: New 2K restoration, featurette, interviews, short films]
Death Wish [4K UHD]
What is it? A man fights violence with violence.
Why see it? The filmmaker duo behind Rabies and Big Bad Wolves were originally set to direct this new adaptation of Brian Garfield’s novel, but there were creative differences between them and the film’s star, Bruce Willis. So of course they were replaced by… Eli Roth? The guy can make entertaining enough fare — his best film just opened! — but this is as generic a revenge thriller as you’re likely to find. Willis’ character, the action beats, and the various story elements are all fine, but nothing stands out. It’s far from the dud that some claim, but it’s still somewhat forgettable.
[Extras: Commentary, deleted scenes, featurette]
Eye for an Eye: The Blind Swordsman
What is it? Justice is blind and carrying a sword.
Why see it? Tse Miu — the kid from Jet Li’s The Enforcer! — stars as a man who intervenes when justice needs morphing into vengeance. He has strong action chops, and at under eighty minutes this is the kind of action film worth watching. It’s fairly generic in too many ways, and the budget is low, but good enough action and a short time commitment can’t be undervalued. If you really want to see Miu cut loose, though, check out his new film Fight Against Evil 2.
Fögi Is a Bastard
What is it? A teenager is pulled towards destruction by the man he loves.
Why see it? Years before Timothee Chalamet broke onto the scene with his role of a teenager discovering his sexuality in Call Me By Your Name, this late 90s film told a similar tale with an eye for the bleak and depressing. Young Beni falls for a band’s lead singer, and while the two hit it off, the older man’s addictions to drugs and beyond might just doom them both. This is a tough one, and there’s real beauty in the first act as the pair’s relationship feels genuine and entrenched in truth, but the oppression that takes over once Fogi’s addiction and cruelties take hold is arguably too much to maintain the film’s high. It’s a taste thing, as evidenced by the love others feel for the movie.
I Blame Society
What is it? A pseudo documentary about a girl gone bad.
Why see it? Gillian Wallace Horvat, playing a fictional version of herself, is a woman pushed too far with only murder left on her plate. There’s always room in the Falling Down subgenre for new movies about average folks who aren’t going to take it anymore, and there’s definitely some charm to this effort. It’s a limited supply, though, and while some humorous beats land the film is too often saddled with thinking it’s smarter and funnier than it actually seems. No harm, no foul, and it is what it is, but there’s just not enough to carry the eighty-five minutes.
[Extras: Commentary, short films]
Journey to the West
What is it? A man searches for the truth both inside and far away.
Why see it? Another mockumentary of sorts, this fake doc follows one man’s search for answers when it comes to UFO sightings in rural China. The central thread follows him and a handful of cohorts as they head west to a small village in search of witnesses and evidence, but while the laughs land and it’s interesting enough, the film’s true joy is found in the emotional journey they never knew they were on. It feels a bit long at nearly two hours, but there are some powerful beats and character moments here alongside the silliness.
[Extras: Introduction, interview]
The Last Tycoon [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A Hollywood executive chases movie dreams and love.
Why see it? Elia Kazan’s final film isn’t quite the high point the filmmaker might have wanted, but it’s difficult not to see the appeal of a dashing Robert De Niro in a lead role encompassing power plays, dramatic conflict, and romance. That said, it falters in the back half as the more interesting elements are replaced by a romance that fails to grab hold. Still, look at this supporting cast — Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum, Jeanne Moreau, Jack Nicholson, Donald Pleasence, Ray Milland, Anjelica Huston, Seymour Cassel, Theresa Russell, and many more — bringing the Old Hollywood tale to life. An interesting watch even if it isn’t a great one.
[Extras: New 4K scan, commentary]
The Man in Half Moon Street [Imprint]
What is it? An old man stays young… through murder!
Why see it? One of the great things about labels like Imprint Films (out of Australia) is their commitment to releasing movies that are otherwise unavailable — and that other labels are wholly uninterested in. This mid 40s dramatic thriller (with a smidge of horror) is solid enough even of it never crosses the line into truly good. Nils Asher is the man who removes human glands without consent, and Helen Walker is the woman he falls in love with. Good luck with that, buddy! It has a stagey feel, but it’s never dull through the ninety minutes it takes to get to the big finale complete with some fun f/x work. It’s mostly a romantic drama, but the mad scientist, Dorian Gray elements keep it interesting enough.
What is it? The true story of a murdering prick.
Why see it? Serial killers sometimes seem like a creation of the United States, but they actually exist wherever people gather in large numbers. This guy terrorized Vancouver, BC Canada for nearly twenty years doing nasty things to women and letting his pigs share in the results. It’s a sloppy, grotesque tale, and the film’s low budget ooze follows suit. Fans of sadism and Jake Busey might find some value here, but it won’t be of the artistic variety.
[Extras: Featurettes, deleted scenes, Q&A]
The Runner [Yellow Veil]
What is it? A long-form music video made by genre fans with musical talent.
Why see it? “Experimental” turns me off faster than any other word when it comes to describing movies, but long-short film — forty-one minutes — uses its atypical approach in service of concept video for a Boy Harsher album, and it works like gangbusters. It’s an interesting watch weaving a loose tale of one woman’s journey heading either towards or away from terror, and the context cues are more than enough to fill in narrative gaps. I’m an easy mark for the band’s moody synth sounds too meaning we get some eye-catching imagery alongside some atmospheric tunes.
[Extras: Introduction, interview, music videos, short films]
Valmont [KL Studio Classics]
What is it? A different take on some dangerous liaisons.
Why see it? The classic French novel about devious betrayals, heartbreak, cruel intentions, and love has hit the screen a few times, and Milos Forman’s effort went head to head with the bigger and better known Dangerous Liaisons. (Neither can compete with Cruel Intentions, though.) There’s dark, sexy fun to be had here with Colin Firth, Meg Tilly, Annette Bening, Fairuza Balk, and Jeffrey Jones, and it’s arguably every bit as good as the more famous competitor. Kino’s new disc
[Extras: New 2K scan, commentary, interview]
Also out this week:
Boyfriends and Girlfriends, Cuadeluc Vampir/Umbracle [Severin], The Killing of Bobby Greene, Magellan – The Complete Series, Monk – Season One, Shredder Orpheus, WandaVision [steelbook], Warm Blood
Related Topics: Home Video