Tuesday, December 29, 2020


As we continue to grapple with the on-going global pandemic, several boutique home video labels this past year continued to unearth, preserve and release a cavalcade of cinematic riches on disc week after week. Labels such as 88 Films, AGFA, Arrow Video, Blue Underground, Camera Obscura, Cauldron Films, The Criterion Collection, Dark Force Entertainment, Garagehouse Pictures, Kino Lorber, Mondo Macabro, Scorpion Releasing, Scream Factory, Second Sight, Severin Films, Synapse Films, and Vinegar Syndrome need to be praised and applauded for their unwavering dedication to what was, undoubtedly, one strange year. The vast array of titles released in 2020 have once again been incredible, to say the least. So, let’s take a look at some of my favourite releases and honourable mentions.  

AL ADAMSON: THE MASTERPIECE COLLECTION [1960 - 2019] (Severin Films) – Anchored by David Gregory’s superb documentary BLOOD AND FLESH: THE REEL LIFE AND GHASTLY DEATH OF AL ADAMSON (2019), Severin Films have lovingly assembled all 32 of Adamson’s credited films in what is perhaps one of the most impressive collective undertakings on any one film director. Spread out over 14 discs (!) with far too many extras to even mention here; this already jam-packed set also includes The Blood and Flesh Files, a wonderful 120-page book with writing from Amanda Reyes and Bill Ackerman, who discuss each film at length. An unparalleled accomplishment in both content and packaging. 


AMERICAN RICKSHAW [1989](Cauldron Films) – One of the loopier and truly unforgettable Italian films you’re ever likely to encounter, Sergio Martino’s genre mash-up made its North American HD debut earlier this year thanks to Cauldron Films, an exciting new specialty label. Featuring an eye-popping new transfer, several worthy extra features (including a fantastic audio commentary from Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan) and very cool packaging, Cauldron’s new disc is absolutely first-rate and comes highly recommended. Read the review.


BAHIA BLANCA [1984] (Severin Films) – One of the more obscure and criminally undervalued titles in Jess Franco’s exhaustive filmography, this was nearly impossible to see outside of shoddy, grey market bootlegs. In Alain Petit’s book, Jess Franco ou les Prosperités du Bis, Franco said this was (quote) “one of my best-looking films,” which Severin shows off in grand style thanks to their new 4K transfer and several illuminating special features.


CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE [1980] (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) – Here making its worldwide HD debut, Antonio Margheriti’s hybridization of Vietnam-themed war pictures and Italian cannibal gut-crunchers arrived on Blu-ray looking better than ever, and with a whole gutful of worthy extras to boot, including an excellent audio commentary with Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas. Read the review.


COME AND SEE [1985] (The Criterion Collection) – An agonizing, nightmarish vision of cruelty, this is one of the most devastating anti-war films ever produced. Filled with unforgettable, hallucinatory images (Aleksey Rodionov’s camerawork is without peer) and a haunting performance from then-unknown actor Alexsey Kravchenko, COME AND SEE is a war film like no other. Previously released by Kino Lorber as a 2-disc Special Edition DVD, Criterion’s very welcome HD upgrade includes a brand new 2K restoration provided by Mosfilm, along with a host of archival interviews, making-of documentaries, and a recent interview with ace cinematographer Roger Deakins who acknowledges its many influences on his work. 


THE COMPLETE LENZI BAKER COLLECTION [1969 - 1972] (Severin Films) – Usually regarded as a journeyman director, Umberto Lenzi has, thanks to brilliant collections such as this, been finally getting the recognition he so richly deserves. Gathering together four of his collaborations with ex-pat Hollywood star Carroll Baker (which for the record include ORGASMO [a.k.a. PARANOIA, 1969], SO SWEET… SO PERVERSE [1969], A QUIET PLACE TO KILL [1970] and KNIFE OF ICE [1972]), Severin has rightly given prominence to this quartet of sexually-charged gialli, which all look uniformly outstanding in this new set. Lenzi’s once difficult-to-see ORGASMO is a particular revelation as it not only preserves the film’s original 2.35:1 Techniscope framing but includes both the Italian and very different US release version as well! On the extras front, Samm Deighan, Kat Ellinger, Troy Howarth, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, and Nathaniel Thompson all provide very engaging audio commentaries as they delve into plenty of detail for each film. As if this set wasn’t exhaustive enough, Severin has also included a pair of soundtrack CDs, which even consists of the heretofore unreleased-and complete-Piero Umiliani score for ORGASMO


DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS [1971] (Blue Underground) – A popular title within BU’s catalogue, Harry Kümel’s marvelous, one-of-a-kind and dreamy take on the Elizabeth Bathory legend has been beautifully packaged in a new three-disc edition, which not only features a stunning 4K UHD, but a new Blu-ray, and soundtrack CD as well. All of the extra features from previous releases have been thoughtfully ported over, but BU has also included a pair of enticing new trailers, an extensive artwork gallery, and a brand-new audio commentary with Kat Ellinger, who leaves no stone left unturned in her expert, fact-filled talk. 


DAWN OF THE DEAD [1978] (Second Sight) – George A. Romero’s masterpiece is the definitive zombie film, and this highly-anticipated 4K UHD box set should now be considered its definitive home video presentation! Supervised by DoP Michael Gornick, all three versions have been immaculately restored from their original camera negatives and are, to put it mildly, stunning in their clarity. Lavishly designed and over-flowing with special features both new and old, Second Sight also adds three separate soundtrack CDs featuring Goblin’s iconic score and the complete De Wolfe library tracks! And to top it all off, a beautiful 160-page (!) hardcover book with all-new writing on the film is also included! This new box set is sure to keep even the most jaded fan entertained for hours on end. 


DEADLINE [1980] (Vinegar Syndrome) – Popular horror novelist Steven Massey (Stephen Young) is beginning to lose his grip on reality through a series of vivid and often gory hallucinations, which sinks him further and further into a world of self-delusion and tragedy. Mario Azzopardi’s effective, Canadian-produced shocker never did make the jump to DVD, but thanks to VS, this new 2K scan (taken from the producer’s personal 35mm print) is a significant upgrade in every way, far removed from Paragon Video’s muddy old VHS tape. Extras are limited, but Henry Lass and DoP Manfred Guthe appear in separate on-camera interviews, who discuss the Canadian tax shelter years and working alongside director Azzopardi.

DEMONIA  [1990] (Severin Films) – Despite the film’s litany of production woes, Lucio Fulci’s low-budget Gothic horror film still possesses flashes of style and imagination, but thanks to Severin Films’ major HD overhaul, it’s now an altogether more satisfying viewing experience. As for the extras, Severin includes many newly-produced interviews, but the highlight is a superb and very informative audio commentary from Stephen Thrower, author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (FAB Press, 2018), who not only sheds light on the present film but Fulci’s less-talked-about latter-day career as well. Read the review.


DIARY OF A MAD HOUSEWIFE [1970] (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) – Coming at the end of their fruitful collaboration, which began with DAVID AND LISA (1962), Frank and Eleanor Perry’s domestic drama focuses on Tina Balser (Carrie Snodgress), a Manhattan housewife who is alienated by her indifferent, socially-minded husband (Richard Benjamin). In the hopes of finding solace in another man’s arms, she begins an affair with a brash young writer (Frank Langella), who turns out to be a lot less than she initially hoped. Based on Sue Kaufman's novel, the film’s themes of isolation, materialism, and misguided ambition are as relevant today as they were fifty years ago. Bypassing DVD altogether, Kino offers a fine transfer of the film, which is nicely complemented by a rewarding audio commentary with screenwriter Larry Karaszewski and film historians Howard S. Berger and Steve Mitchell, who, as usual, find plenty to discuss, including some of the differences between Perry’s film and Kaufman’s book. 


FORBIDDEN FRUIT: THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE EXPLOITATION PICTURE (Kino Lorber / Something Weird Video) – Initiated with William Beaudine’s, Kroger Babb produced sex hygiene picture MOM AND DAD (1945), Kino and SWV have embarked on a series of ‘cautionary’ films, which, to date, consist of eight volumes. Of course, each Blu-ray comes loaded with a number of interesting, rarely-seen extras in which SWV is famously generous.


FORGOTTEN GIALLI - VOLUME 1 [1973 - 1978](Vinegar Syndrome) – A most welcome box set, this first volume certainly lives up to its title, which contains León Klimovsky’s unusually violent TRAUMA (1978), Javier Aguirre’s Ten Little Indians inspired thriller, THE KILLER IS ONE OF THIRTEEN (1973), and one last, head-scratching obscurity, Helia Columbo’s THE POLICE ARE BLUNDERING IN THE DARK (1975). Loaded with numerous extra features, informative audio commentaries (from the likes of Samm Deighan, Kat Ellinger and Troy Howarth) and a substantial audio essay from Rachael Nisbet, this impressive collection needs to be on the shelf of every self-respecting Eurotrash fanatic! Read the review.


FRIDAY THE 13TH COLLECTION [1980 - 2009](Scream Factory) – Readily available throughout home video's history, this hugely popular slasher franchise has been much-loved among collectors. Yet, it has never received the red-carpet treatment many fans have craved over the years. Well, thanks to Shout Factory’s Scream Factory line, this impressive “Deluxe Edition” box set brings together all twelve films and a huge assortment of special features spread out over 16 Blu-rays! The first four films all come with new 4K scans, while the New Line Cinema titles outside of Ronny Yu’s FREDDY VS. JASON (2003) are all given new 2K scans. While the rest of the films don’t receive the same facelift, at least they are properly restored to their original 1.85:1 framing, which should count for something. Despite the missed opportunity to properly remaster all the films, this is sure to remain the definitive box set for years to come.


THE FU MANCHU CYCLE, 1965 – 1969 (Indicator) – This brilliant collection includes all five Fu Manchu adventures (all beautifully remastered from the StudioCanal vaults) and a mountain of extra features, including several audio commentaries, interviews, documentaries, alternate title sequences, and a 118-page (!) booklet, which also includes more fine work from Tim Lucas. Beautifully assembled and incredibly thorough, this easily ranks as one of the best releases of the year!


THE FURY OF THE WOLFMAN [1972] (Scorpion Releasing) – A troublesome production with a very scattershot home video release history, Scorpion tried their very best to remedy this situation with their much-improved Blu-ray. Although the transfer still has some damage and speckling, this heavily-flawed Paul Naschy / Waldemar Daninsky werewolf picture has never looked better than it does here. Along with a pair of separate audio commentaries from Troy Howarth and Mirek Lipinski, Scorpion has also included both the theatrical and export versions, the latter of which contains some lesser-quality SD inserts. While not perfect, I can’t imagine this getting a better release anytime soon.


GAMERA – THE COMPLETE COLLECTION [1965 - 2006] (Arrow Video) – Much like their earlier, equally impressive Herschell Gordon Lewis SHOCK AND GORE box set, Arrow Video have outdone themselves yet again with this monstrous set dedicated to everyone’s favorite fire-eating giant turtle. Featuring all twelve films comprising both the Showa Era (1965-1980) and the Heisei Trilogy (1995-1999) and then finishing off with Ryuta Tasaki’s rather spineless GAMERA THE BRAVE (2006), Arrow’s oversized¾and beautifully packaged¾rigid slipcase is one very imposing collection. Because of the wide assortment of special features (including intros by genre expert August Ragone) contained herein, it would be virtually impossible to list everything. Still, it’s worth mentioning that an 80-page book with writing from Patrick Macias and a 130-page hardbound book containing reprints from a four-issue Gamera comic book are also generously included. It’s a stunning, incredibly obsessive set that’s well worth your hard-earned cash.


GRAVEYARDS OF HONOR [1975 - 2002] (Arrow Video) – Based on Goro Fujitu’s book on real-life post-World War II gangster Rikio Ishikawa, this unflinching, extremely violent portrait unfolds as a typical rise and fall gangster story, but director Kinji Fukasaku’s stylistic flourishes and kinetic pacing are bold and unique with style to spare – it’s a gangster film like to other. Although following a similar storyline, which is just as violent, Takashi Miike’s 2002 remake is an altogether different beast setting the film in then-contemporary ’90s Japan. Housed in one of Arrow’s sturdy slipcases, this 2-disc set also encompasses several immersive extras, including audio commentaries from Mark Schilling and Tom Mes, visual essays from The Projection Booth’s Mike White and Diabolique’s Kat Ellinger, several archival interviews with the cast and crew, and an informative book written by genre expert Jasper Sharp. 


THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE        [1974] (Synapse Films) - Released under many alternate titles and numerous different versions, Jorge Grau’s seminal Euro zombie shocker has been steadily available in several ‘special editions’ throughout the digital age thus far. However, the recent 3-disc Limited Edition Steelbook from those perfectionists at Synapse Films easily eclipses every single other release that preceded it. Without going into too many specifics, the image is virtually flawless. Synapse has also commissioned several new special features, including a pair of enthusiastic and highly-enjoyable audio commentaries from Troy Howarth and a co-commentary from Cinema Arcana’s Bruce Holecheck and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson. Other extras include a couple of on-camera interviews with Gianetto De Rossi courtesy of Eugenio Ercolani, and a feature-length documentary on director Jorge Grau. Enclosed in an eye-catching Steelbook featuring original cover art by Wes Benscoter (and a slick slipcover), this exemplary set also includes a DVD copy of the Blu-ray and a 15-track (29m59s) soundtrack CD of Giuliano Sorgini’s memorable score. Read the review.


LUCIO FULCI 4K X 3 [1979 - 1982] (Blue Underground) – Having re-visited Fulci’s gore classics innumerable times on DVD and Blu-ray, BU has truly outdone themselves with their most recent 4K UHD releases. As impressive as their 3-disc Limited Editions of ZOMBIE (1979), THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), and THE NEW YORK RIPPER(1982) were, these new upgrades are truly remarkable in their clarity and detail without ever sacrificing their natural film-like structure – they are simply stunning. You need these!


MACABRE [1980] (88 Films) – Without a doubt, this remains Lamberto Bava’s best film, a languorous Gothic melodrama of obsession and madness, which has finally garnered a very handsome HD upgrade. Touted as a (quote) “new 2K restoration from the original camera negative”, 88 Films’ transfer provides a generous boost in details than earlier DVD releases. As for extras, director Bava appears in an excellent on-camera interview, cheekily entitled, Don’t Lose Your Head. However, the most significant bonus is an audio commentary from author Troy Howarth and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson, who provide another one of their absorbing and very entertaining look into the film. 88 Films have also seen fit to include a 12-page booklet with liner notes written by Rachael Nisbet. 


MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH [1976] (Synapse Films) – Not so much a slasher film as the title implies, this oddly fascinating film is more of a thought-provoking examination of social class structure, albeit a very violent one. Proving difficult to see since its 1981 VHS release from Electric Video Inc., Synapse’s new Blu-ray is a real sight for sore eyes, which features yet another one of their stellar restorations and a host of newly-produced special features.


THE McPHERSON TAPE [1989] (AGFA) – Long before directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez popularized the ‘found-footage’ film with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999), Dean Alioto did much the same with this SOV (shot-on-video) production, which he shot for a paltry $6500. Even though it contains all the usual staples associated with found-footage cinema, such as overlapping dialogue, video glitches, and shaky camerawork, it’s the film’s backstory, which proves to be far more fascinating than the film itself. Securing a distribution deal after the film had wrapped, all the master tapes burned down in a warehouse fire, only for the film to mysteriously reappear a few years later where it was traded among UFO conspiracy theorists and pawned off as the real deal! All of this and much more are thoroughly discussed within the numerous special features included on AGFA’s disc, which also includes Alioto’s 2017 director’s cut, UFO ABDUCTION


POLIZIOTTO SPRINT [1977] (Camera Obscura) - Unfortunately, outside of second or third-generation bootlegs, Stelvio Massi’s anarchic high-speed smash-’em-up was never easy to see, so Camera Obscura’s newest HD restoration is a much welcome release, indeed. Starring Italocrime icon Maurizio Merli without his trademark ’stache, this is much more of a showcase for the talents of veteran stunt arranger Rémi Julienne and his extraordinary stuntwork. As usual, CO’s all-region Blu-ray is yet another gorgeous release, boasting a beautifully-detailed and colourful image, with no digital enhancement of any sort. Although extras are limited, CO does include an excellent—and highly-appreciated—interview with author Roberto Curti. Read the review.


RUBEN GALINDO JR. X 2 [1985 - 1989] (Vinegar Syndrome) – Previously released on DVD in less-than-satisfactory condition via BCI/Eclipse, Ruben Galindo Jr.’s CEMETERY OF TERROR (1985) and GRAVE ROBBERS (1989) are a pair of latter-day Mexican horror films, which have never garnered any real attention. Thankfully, VS has come to the rescue of these scrappy—and at times very gory—films with brand-new 4K scans and some fantastic restoration work. Of course, VS doesn’t skimp on the bonus features as well, with numerous audio commentaries and interview featurettes. 


SHINING SEX [1975] (Severin Films) - A hypnotic, often bizarro melding of an experimental softcore sex film with science-fiction trappings, Jess Franco’s wholly unique film remains one of the director’s more unapologetically voyeuristic efforts. Only sporadically released on videotape, Severin’s edition of SHINING SEX boasts an all-new transfer taken directly from Eurociné’s original camera negative, which is very impressive. Beginning with a thorough audio commentary from Franco expert Robert Monell and NaschyCast’s Rodney Barrett, Severin also includes many fascinating interviews (including Gérard Kikoïne and Eurocine’s Daniel Lesoeur) and In the Land of Franco Part 3, which documents many of Franco’s shooting locations. The limited-edition release also comes with In the Land of Franco Vol. 1, a very welcome soundtrack comp CD (14 tracks, 54m) featuring music from several Jess Franco films, the present one included. Read the review.


SINS OF THE FLESH [1974] (Mondo Macabro) – Rarely-seen outside of France, it’s distinctive titles such as this that makes me better appreciate the work everyone does at MM. Directed by iconoclast Claude Mulot (here employing his familiar Frédéric Lansac pseudonym, which he used for most of his subsequent adult titles), this is a twisted, erotically-charged, exploitation picture, which focuses on Benoît (Francis Lemonnier) and Jean-Pierre (Patrick Penn), a pair of ne’er-do-well’s always on the lookout for trouble. Considering its relative obscurity, MM’s Blu-ray looks terrific and includes a wealth of extra features, including several interviews with many of Mulot’s colleagues, who discuss his career and effectively summarize the burgeoning world of French sex films at the time. Unfortunately, the Limited ‘Red Case’ Edition (which included a set of postcards and a booklet with an essay from Pete Tombs) has since sold out, but the standard retail edition contains the same transfer and extra features.


TRAILER TRAUMA 5: 70s ACTION ATTACK [2020] (Garagehouse Pictures) - Yet another contribution to Garagehouse Pictures’ exciting Trailer Trauma series, their latest colossal undertaking is a magnificent, lovingly-put-together tribute to ’70s action pictures, which veers from badass blaxploitation to messily-dubbed, gimmicky martial arts films and everything in-between, even including big-budget Hollywood classics in amongst all the expected “B” and “Z”-grade trash. Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson and Howard S. Berger also provide a fantastic, comprehensive audio commentary and never fail to wax enthusiastic for each and every film. Read the review.


WAR OF THE WORLDS [1953] (The Criterion Collection) – Beautifully restored in 4K, Byron Haskin’s sci-fi classic has never looked better than it does here on Criterion’s spectacular Blu-ray, and it's loaded with tons of bonus features as well. Nuff said!


YETI, THE GIANT OF THE 20TH CENTURY [1977](Dark Force Entertainment) – Made hot on the heels of Dino de Laurentiis’ KING KONG (1976) remake, Gianfranco Parolini’s laughably awful giant monster movie has always been a personal ‘bad movie’ favourite. Usually relegated to inferior quality bootlegs, Dark Force’s new Blu-ray looks mighty impressive, and even though it’s a bare-bones affair, the fact it was released at all is cause for celebration. Plus, it’ll look good next to my 14-year old Beat Records CD of Sante Maria Romitelli’s disco-themed score. 





THE ALEJANDRO JODOWORSKY COLLECTION (Arrow Video / ABKCO), BEYOND THE DOOR (Arrow Video), THE BLACK CAT (Severin Films), BLUE MONKEY (Dark Force Entertainment), BRIDES OF DRACULA (Scream Factory), BRIGADE OF DEATH (Film Art), CISCO PIKE (Indicator), CRASH (Arrow Video 4K), DANGEROUS CARGO (Mondo Macabro), DEATH WISH 3 (Scorpion Releasing), FLASH GORDON (Arrow Video), THE GHOST BREAKERS (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), HE CAME FROM THE SWAMP: THE WILLIAM GREFÉ COLLECTION (Arrow Video), HUSBANDS (Criterion Collection), AN IDEAL PLACE TO KILL (Mondo Macabro), KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (Scream Factory), MALABIMBA (Vinegar Syndrome), MR. NO LEGS (Massacre Video), MOTHRA (Eureka!), NIGHT TIDE (Indicator), PATRICK STILL LIVES (Severin Films), SHIVERS (Vestron Video / Lionsgate), SLEEPLESS (Scorpion Releasing), THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH (Severin Films), SOLDIER BLUE (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), THE TENANT (Scream Factory), THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (M Square), UNIVERSAL HORROR COLLECTION VOLUMES 4, 5 & 6 (Scream Factory), THE UNTOLD STORY (Unearthed Films), WHODUNIT? (Vinegar Syndrome).


Unfortunately, I could not obtain Vinegar Syndrome’s most recent Black Friday releases to review them in time. There’s no doubt that FADE TO BLACK (1980), THE BEASTMASTER (1982), DON’T PANIC (1988), FORGOTTEN GIALLI – VOLUME 2, and SILENT MADNESS (1983) would have probably snuck onto this list as well.  

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