As streaming sites continue to evolve (many times notfor the better, sad to say), it becomes increasingly difficult to predict what movies will suddenly disappear from their ever-changing sites / playlists and, even though they do still offer plenty to enjoy in terms of original programming, film preservation is certainly far from their first prerogative. Thankfully, independent Blu-ray companies (and the odd big studio label, such as The Warner Archive Collection) continue to ‘fill the gap’ by offering superb restorations of either important classics such as Christian Nyby’s / Howard Hawks’ THE THING (1951) or previously-forgotten / barely-released films such as J. Lee Thompson’s THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD (1975). It’s definitely a great time to be a film fan, and without such companies as AGFA, Arrow Video, Blue Underground, Code Red, The Criterion Collection, Indicator, Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Massacre Video, Mondo Macabro, Olive Films, Scorpion Releasing, Scream Factory, Severin, Twilight Time, Vinegar Syndrome, The Warner Archive Collection and Wild East Productions, it’s doubtful many of these films would ever get released at all; for that, we should be forever grateful. The titles on disc listed below are a mere fractionof this year’s highlights, all of which come highly recommended, of course.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD  (The Criterion Collection) – An undisputed classic, which, during the infancy of the home video boom at least, suffered from a number of poor transfers in indifferent releases by numerous cheapo fly-by-night companies who were merely capitalizing on the film’s public domain status. In 1994, Elite Entertainment provided the film with its first real restoration on laserdisc, and since then, NOTLD has appeared on numerous DVD labels, including Elite, Anchor Bay and even Miramax’s subsidiary, Dimension Extreme. And while most of these editions were fine, nothing can compare to Criterion’s 2-disc Blu-ray set, which not only features a stellar (quote) “4K digital restoration”, but also includes a workprint version entitled NIGHT OF ANUBIS, never-before-seen 16mm dailies, a number of interviews with the cast and crew, commentary tracks, a 2012 TIFF event hosted by former Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes, and so much more. A truly stupendous set, which is also beautifully packaged in one of Criterion’s fold-out digipacks. Needless to say, an absolute must-have!
THREADS  (Severin) – Only shown sparingly on U.S. television, this haunting U.K.-based ‘nuclear panic’ drama has finally received the recognition it deserves thanks to Severin’s newly-restored, special edition Blu-ray. Shown in its intended 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the gritty, documentary-like approach is nicely preserved in Severin’s transfer and only adds to the film’s foreboding and unforgiving nature. Of course, Severin also includes a number of illuminating extras, beginning with an indispensable audio commentary by the film’s director, Mick Jackson, which is expertly moderated by Severin’s David Gregory and author Kier-La Janisse. The disc also includes a number of extra featurettes, including one with the film’s DP, Andrew Dunn. And for those wishing to really splurge, Severin have also issued the film as a limited edition Blu-ray with a lenticular cover. As the film’s tagline proclaims, it’s “the closest you’ll ever want to come to nuclear war!” I couldn’t agree more. Devastating and unforgettable!
THE INCIDENT  (Twilight Time) – Never issued on DVD in the U.S. or Canada, Larry Peerce’s THE INCIDENT stars Tony Musante (in an electrifying debut) and Martin Sheen as a pair of ne’er-do-well troublemakers who board a New York City subway train and proceed to terrorize everyone thereon. A simple premise, which is grounded by a number of terrific, first-rate performances from the likes of Jack Gilford, Thelma Ritter, Ed McMahon, Diana Van der Vlis, Brock Peters, Jan Sterling and others. The stark B&W photography courtesy of Gerald Hirschfeld also adds immensely to the film’s grittiness and unflinching realism. TT’s disc contains a stunning transfer of this long-difficult-to-see film, which also includes an audio commentary from director Peerce moderated by Nick Redman. Needless to say, this limited edition (3000 copies) disc is likely to sell out in no time, so grab it while you can, as it’s well worth your investment.
ALMOST HUMAN  (Code Red) – Despite directing a vast array of films from many different genres, director Umberto Lenzi has become best-known to those who care about such things (we at Unpopped very much included!) for his numerous Italocrime films, of which ALMOST HUMAN certainly ranks at the top while crawling along the gutters of crime-ridden Milan. Showcasing a jittery, paranoid, no-holds-barred performance from Tomas Milian and co-starring Henry Silva as the exasperated, outspoken commissario out to get him, this actioner barrels right along, ably aided-and-abetted by Ennio Morricone’s hard-hitting score. Previously available on DVD from No Shame Films, Code Red’s Blu-ray includes a superb HD transfer of the film, plus ports-over all of the extras from No Shame’s long-out-of-print DVD. As an added welcome bonus, Code Red have also seen fit to include Joseph Brenner’s U.S. edit in an appropriately beat-up scope print. WOW!! Read review.
NO DOWN PAYMENT  (Twilight Time) – From producer Jerry Wald, who seemed to specialize in these ’50s-era ‘soaps’ (Mark Robson’s PEYTON PLACE  and Jean Negulesco’s THE BEST OF EVERYTHING  are a couple of noteworthy others), NO DOWN PAYMENT is director Martin Ritt’s look at suburbia, in particular the lives of four couples living in Sunrise Hills, a new Californian housing development. Pat Hingle (who would later appear in Ritt’s NORMA RAE ) and Barbara Rush (from Nicholas Ray’s BIGGER THAN LIFE ) are the standouts here, giving beautiful, multi-nuanced performances, but that’s not to say that everyone else isn’t fantastic too; also including stunning thesping from Tony Randall, Joanne Woodward and Cameron Mitchell, whose work not only draw attention to the allure of suburban life, but reveals many of the underlying secrets and/or imperfections associated with this supposedly, picture-perfect, squeaky-clean lifestyle. The slick B&W scope cinematography by Joseph LaShelle (he also shot Ritt’s THE LONG, HOT SUMMER  the following year) looks dazzling on TT’s disc, which only further enhances the dreariness and thinly-veiled sordidity of these quickly-constructed neighbourhoods.
DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER  (Arrow Video) – Joe D’Amato’s first official directorial debut (which he signed under his real name of Aristide Massaccesi) has suffered from a number low-grade, bootlegs over the years, but thanks to Arrow Video this latter-day Italo-Gothic has finally been given some much-needed respect with a spectacular 2K transfer taken from the original camera negative. The disc also includes a highly informative audio commentary from Tim Lucas, a nicely-produced on-camera interview / documentary about the film’s star, Ewa Aulin; a video essay by Kat Ellinger, and a most-welcome 43-page liner booklet with writing from Stephen Thrower and Roberto Curti, plus a previously-unpublished interview with the film’s assistant director, Romano Scandariato. What more do ya need?! Read review.
THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD  (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) – Bypassing DVD altogether, J. Lee Thompson’s supernatural thriller had remained unavailable on home video since its long-gone VHS release from Vestron Video, so kudos to Kino for finally digging this out of the Paramount vaults! Transferred in 4K from the film’s original camera negative, Kino’s Blu-ray looks wonderful, with deep blacks and excellent detail throughout; a far-cry from Vestron’s muddy, pan-’n’-scan old tape! Kino have also included some choice extras, including an audio commentary from author and film historian Lee Gambin, who always has plenty of interesting things to say that reveal all sorts of interesting nuggets, and whose enthusiasm is always appreciated! Other extras include comparisons between the censored and uncensored scenes of Margot Kidder’s bathtub sequence, a number of stills galleries showcasing the film’s promotional materials, as well as trailers and numerous TV spots. It’s great to have this once-forgotten flick back in active circulation again!
COMBAT SHOCK  (Severin) – Buddy Giovinazzo’s unflinching portrait of a severely traumatized Vietnam vet has lost none of its power over the years and this Limited Edition Blu-ray certainly proves it! Scanned in 4K and including the full AMERICAN NIGHTMARE version, the disc also comes fully-loaded with extras. As an added bonus, Severin have also included the film’s first-ever soundtrack release on CD, original film frames from Buddy’s workprint, an autographed slipcover and a 96-page American Nightmares Scrapbook featuring the film’s shooting script, Buddy’s shooting diary and numerous on-set photos! Hard-hitting and fraught with desperation, Buddy G’s film continues to be an unnerving slice of cinema, and thanks to Severin, it can finally be viewed the way it was meant to be seen!
WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?  (Mondo Macabro) – 2018 was a very busy year for MM, with a number of outstanding releases from them. To be honest, just about everything they release deserves to be on this list, but Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (previously issued on DVD by Dark Sky Films) was the standout for me. MM’s new 4K transfer from the film’s negative is really quite a sight to behold and looks flawless and, to top it all off, the film is playable in no less than four (4) different versions (!), which include the full-length uncut version in both English and Spanish (with newly-translated English subtitles), as well as an alternate English version and AIP (American International Pictures)’s truncated ISLAND OF THE DAMNED stateside release version. Extras includes a wonderful audio commentary from Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger, who not only discuss the film in question, but also Serrador’s long—and continuing—career in television. Numerous featurettes with the film’s director and DP José Luis Alcaine are also included, and for those lucky folks who scored themselves a Limited Edition ‘Red Case’ copy, it also contains mini-reproductions of the U.S. lobby card set and a nicely-illustrated booklet featuring an excellent essay by scribe Lee Gambin. Essential!
THE COMPLETE SARTANA [1968 – 1970] (Arrow Video) – One of the many antiheroes who populated the world of spaghetti westerns, although Gianni Garko had played an otherwise unrelated villainous character named Sartana in “Albert Cardiff”/Alberto Cardone’s $1,000 ON THE BLACK (a.k.a. BLOOD AT SUNDOWN ), Garko was first ‘officially’ introduced as a new character named Sartana in “Frank Kramer”/Gianfranco Parolini’s IF YOU MEET SARTANA… PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH (1968), and he is the actor most-associated with the title role (although George Hilton and other performers also tried their hands at Sartana’s persona, with various degrees of success). Of course, there were many subsequent—often in-name-only—rip-off’s (some good, some, um, not so good), but Arrow Video only includes the five official films, and for the record, they include Parolini’s aforementioned film as well as Giuliano Carnimeo’s (directing under his usual “Anthony Ascott” pseudonym) I AM SARTANA YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH (1969), HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MYFRIEND… SARTANA WILL PAY (1970), LIGHT THE FUSE… SARTANA IS COMING (1970) and SARTANA’S HERE… TRADEYOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN (1970), with George Hilton assuming Sartana’s handle/mantle for that lattermost title. Each series entry is allotted its own separate Blu-ray and, outside of the first entry (which was transferred from a film chain and looks the weakest of the lot, but is still miles better than anything previously released), all the films look spectacular and include a multitude of extras. A thick booklet, which includes writing from author Roberto Curti, is also included. A truly wonderful—and essential—collection, this is!
LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT  (Arrow Video) – So many different editions and different versions of this oft-controversial film have come and gone over the years that it has become virtually impossible to choose the definitive one, but the fine folks at Arrow Video may have managed just that! A truly stupendous Blu-ray set in all respects, Arrow’s impressive 2K restoration looks fabulous, especially given the film’s low-budget origins and the grainy 16mm film stock, which also includes all three extant versions: the unrated one, the alternate KRUG & COMPANY cut, as well as the R-rated cut, spread over two Blu-rays. A massive amount of extras are also included, which are far too numerous to list here, but some of the standouts include a newly-recorded audio commentary with Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes from the Supporting Characters and Made for TV Mayhem podcasts, who both do stellar work here, shedding even more light on this significant film. David Gregory’s revealing doc Celluloid: Crime of the Centuryis once again included, as are a number of new and existing docs, location tours, over 45-minutes (!) of outtakes and dailies, plus tons more. Additionally, the film is packaged in one of Arrow’s sturdy hardboxes, which includes a thick booklet with writing from Nightmare USA’s Stephen Thrower, a doubled-sided poster, lobby-card repros and reversible artwork. Truly outstanding!
GIALLO IN VENICE  (Scorpion Releasing) – Easily the most notorious giallo of them all, Mario Landi’s film gets a (quote) “brand new 2018 HD scan”, which is a real eye-opener for anyone who has suffered through all those dreadful bootlegs over the years. While it’s not the prettiest film to look at, the new-and-improved transfer makes a world of difference, and to top it all off, it’s uncut as well. Even though extras are limited, a fun, fact-filled audio commentary with author Troy Howarth is also included. The disc also includes reversible artwork, a nicely-illustrated—and appropriately lurid!—slipcover courtesy of Devon Whitehead, and a collectible poster too. Read review.
MEMORIES WITHIN MISS AGGIE  (Vinegar Syndrome) – Difficult to see for years, especially in something even resembling a decent version, Gerard Damiano’s horror-infused psychosexual shocker receives the red-carpet treatment by VS. One of the more compelling hardcore films to emerge from the era of “porno chic”, VS’ new 2K transfer taken from 16mm archival elements brings out much of the film’s oppressive atmosphere, and is just about perfect, considering the film’s humble origins. A short-but-excellent poster/still gallery is also included with numerous articles related to the film’s controversial theatrical run, as well as a video-sourced trailer, whose lesser quality makes you truly appreciate just how good everything looks now. The initial 1000 print-run (now OOP) also included a collectible slipcover. Read review.
INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS  (Olive Films) – With its potent and frightening themes of total collectivist dehumanization and loss of individual identity, this film remains as highly topical/relevant today as it ever was, if not even more-so. In what was surely one of the more anticipated releases of the year, Olive lent Don Siegel’s enduring sci-fi classic their ‘Signature Series’ treatment with a fine-looking HD transfer and a wealth of special features, many of which have been lying dormant since Paramount’s proposed DVD in 2006. These extras included excellent interviews with the film’s stars Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, both of whom have since passed away, and there’s a terrific audio commentary (also recorded in 2006) with McCarthy, Wynter and celebrated film director Joe Dante. Numerous other worthy extras are also included, which only sweetens the deal.
NIGHT OF THE DEMON  (Indicator) – An absolutely stunning, topnotch 2-disc Blu-ray set that is a necessity for anyone’s collection! Based on M.R. James’ short story “Casting the Runes” (1911), superb filmmaking makes this a true gem if ever there was one. Indicator have really outdone themselves with this magnificent release of Jacques Tourneur’s occult masterpiece by including six (yes, SIX!) different editions of the film, along with so many extras it’ll make your head spin.
THE BLOOD ISLAND COLLECTION [1959 – 1970] (Severin) – Encompassing not only Gerardo de Leon’s and Eddie Romero’s BRIDES OF BLOOD (1968) and MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1968), as well as Romero’s BEAST OF BLOOD ( that is only available in this boxset), the three official films which constitute the “Blood Island” trilogy, Severin’s impressive set also includes de Leon’s and Romero’s TERROR IS A MAN (a.k.a. BLOOD CREATURE ), their ‘downsized’ if nonetheless effective and atmospheric take on H.G. Wells’ influential 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. Amazing transfers (including a stunning 4K transfer of MAD DOCTOR taken from the original camera negative) highlight much of this collection, with each film looking far better than any previous release(s), and of course, Severin also provides plenty of extras, including documentaries, commentaries, trailers and lots more! The initial 3500 print-run has already sold out, so if you luck into one at an old brick-and-mortar store or online for a decent price, snap it up!
TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE  (AGFA / Something Weird Video) – Long thought to be lost, approximately 70 minutes of outtakes from this Edward D. Wood Jr. film were released onto VHS videocassette by SWV in 1995, but according to the audio commentary on this disc by director Frank Henenlotter, author and Ed Wood biographer Rudolph Grey and AGFA’s Joseph A. Ziemba, the only known 16mm print was obtained from actor / stuntman Ray “Crash” Corrigan’s son. The disc also includes the aforementioned outtakes and a decent 2K scan of Joseph F. Robertson’s THE LOVE FEAST (1969), which also co-stars cult poverty row filmmaker Ed Wood. A nice booklet with liner notes from Grey is also included in the package.
THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS  (The Criterion Collection) – Thanks to the imprudent studio bosses at RKO, Orson Welles’ film will never be reconstructed into its original form, but Criterion’s Blu-ray is yet another ‘magnificent’ 4K transfer of this heavily-compromised masterpiece, which, even in its bowdlerized version still leaves us so much to enjoy from the performances (Agnes Moorehead received an Oscar nod), Bernard Hermann’s music and the fluid photography. Lots of fascinating extras (including a 57-page booklet) are included, which further establishes Welles’ unfortunate luck with RKO.
THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD  (Warner Archive Collection) – Christian Nyby’s and Howard Hawks’ tremendous, ground-breaking sci-fi film—one of the earliest ‘alien invasion’ outings—arrives on Blu-ray in a first-rate transfer without any of the noticeable quality disruptions seen in previous versions. Although it’s a relatively bare-bones disc boasting only a couple of trailers (the original and a rerelease trailer), this new-and-improved transfer comes as a real revelation.
ZOMBIE  (Blue Underground) – Pretty much available since the dawn of home video on a number of different formats from a whole slew of labels, Lucio Fulci’s most-iconic achievement has recently been released in what shall quite likely remain the definitive version. This 3-Disc Limited Edition (offering three different slipcovers to choose from!) assembles together extras from BU’s earlier 2-disc Ultimate Edition along with a number of new ones, including an audio commentary with Splintered Visions author Troy Howarth, plus a newly-shot on-camera interview with Beyond Terror author Stephen Thrower. And not only that, but you also get Fabio Frizzi’s complete soundtrack on an extra CD too! Read review.
HIGHLY HONOURABLE MENTIONS.
ALICE, SWEET, ALICE (88 Films), BASKET CASE (Arrow Video), BEWARE THE BRETHREN (Vinegar Syndrome), BLOODLUST (Mondo Macabro), THE BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY (Arrow Video), BLUE COLLAR (Indicator – Region B), CHARLEY VARRICK (Indicator - Region B), THE CHANGELING (Severin), THE CHILDREN (Vinegar Syndrome), CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (Arrow Video – Region B), CREEPSHOW (Scream Factory), DEATH LAID AN EGG (Nucleus), THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Mondo Macabro), EATEN ALIVE (Severin), EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS (Severin), ENTER THE DEVIL (Massacre Video), THE EXECUTION SQUAD (Al!ve / AG Films), EYEBALL (88 Films), FIVE TALL TALES: BUDD BOETTICHER & RANDOLPH SCOTT AT COLUMBIA, 1957-1960 (Indicator), GAMES (Scream Factory), GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS (AGFA / Something Weird Video), GOLD (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), THE GRISSOM GANG (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), HAMMER VOLUME TWO: CRIMINAL INTENT (Indicator), THE HIRED HAND (Arrow Academy), THE HOT ROCK (Twilight Time), IMAGES (Arrow Academy), THE INCUBUS (Vinegar Syndrome), LADY FRANKENSTEIN (Nucleus), MANIAC (Blue Underground / 3-disc Limited Edition), A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (The Criterion Collection), MAUSOLEUM (Vinegar Syndrome), MURDER ROCK (Scorpion Releasing), ORGIES OF EDO (Arrow Video), PERVERSION STORY (Mondo Macabro), REQUIEM FOR GRINGO (Wild East Productions), SHAMPOO (The Criterion Collection), THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME (Severin), THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (Warner Archive Collection),SHOCKING DARK (Severin), SINFONIA EROTICA (Severin), SISTERS (The Criterion Collection), SNOWBEAST (Retromedia), THE SWINGING BARMAIDS (Code Red), THE TREE OF LIFE (The Criterion Collection), THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES (Twilight Time), THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA (Scream Factory), THE WASP WOMAN (Scream Factory), WILLIAM CASTLE AT COLUMBIA, VOLUME ONE (Indicator) and ZOMBIE 3 (Severin).