Sunday, January 2, 2022


Between long hours of work (which required many days of travelling away from home), raising a family, and a few other writing assignments, I was  unable to devote much time to my humble little blog, Unpopped Cinema. But despite not reviewing as many discs as I had hoped in 2021, I still put aside plenty of time to watch several notable Blu-ray releases from several incredible, hard-working labels. As I diligently compiled this list, it was rather astonishing to see just how many must-have box sets were released this past year. Unfortunately, a number of highly-anticipated collections such as Severin’s ALL THE HAUNTS BE OURS - A COMPENDIUM OF FOLK HORROR and NASTY HABITS - THE NUNSPLOITATION COLLECTION, as well as Arrow Video’s mammoth SHAWSCOPE VOLUME ONE, will fall outside the scope of this list. But, there is no doubt that they, too, would have made the cut if I had received them sooner. So without further ado, let’s take a look at the many notable 2021 Blu-ray releases below, which amount to a mere fraction of this year’s long list of highlights, all of which come highly recommended, of course.


BEYOND TERROR [1980] (Cauldron Films) – Memorably mixing elements of the ‘quinqui’ (juvenile delinquent) films and horror, Tomás Aznar’s chilling efficient film has remained most elusive to Spanish horror fans. But, thanks to the efforts of Cauldron Films, they have come to the rescue of this rarely-seen film, which features a brand new, eye-popping 4K transfer and a terrific audio commentary from Diabolique editor-in-chief Kat Ellinger. Read my review at Diabolique


BLOOD FOR DRACULA [1973] (Severin Films) – Paul Morrissey’s follow-up to his outrageous FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (1973) has been in desperate need of an HD upgrade for quite some time, so it’s great to see it finally get all the respect it deserves. A personal favourite of Severin head honcho David Gregory, this 3-disc set (one UHD, a Blu-ray and soundtrack CD) is a true labour of love that contains several excellent special features and a transfer that puts every other release to shame. Further icing on the cake includes a slick digipack housed in a handsome slipcase featuring eye-catching artwork from Elizabeth Yoo.


CAMILLE KEATON IN ITALY [1972 – 1974] (Vinegar Syndrome) – Never failing to impress, this 3-disc box set was a terrific surprise from VS. Gathering together Riccardo Freda’s TRAGIC CEREMONY (1972) and two of her most obscure films, namely Elo Pannaccio’s weirdly-hypnotic SEX OF THE WITCH (1972) and Roberto Mauri’s visually ambitious—and once impossible-to-see—MADELEINE (1974) made a lot of European fans very happy indeed. Of course, VS doesn’t skimp on the extras either with several worthy special features from film historians and authors Samm Deighan, Kat Ellinger, Art Ettinger, Rachael Nisbet, and Camille Keaton herself. 


CINEMATIC VENGEANCE [1974 – 1982] (Eureka Entertainment) – Having already released several martial arts films, Eureka surprised everyone with this elaborate 4-disc box set dedicated to the works of Taiwanese director Joseph Kuo. While not every title is a winner (the standouts being SHAOLIN KUNG FU [1974], THE 18 BRONZEMAN[1976] and THE 7 GRANDMASTERS [1977], in my humble opinion), this is a hugely entertaining set nonetheless that is jam-packed with plenty of extra features, and of course, the films themselves look better than ever. So snap this up while you still can!


THE CRIMES OF THE BLACK CAT [1972] (Cauldron Films) – One of the more memorable early gialli outside the works of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci or Sergio Martino, Sergio Pastore’s well-mounted thriller has been the victim of several shoddy transfers over the years. Cauldron Films’ new 4K restoration finally restores the film to its original luster, reinstating Guglielmo Mancori’s original 2.35:1 framing, which is a vast improvement over any previous release. Extras include a pair of very worthy audio commentaries from Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson and Fragments of Fear podcasters Peter Jilmstad and Rachael Nisbet. The original Limited Edition (sadly, now OOP) also included a bonus CD of Manuel De Sica’s superb score in its entirety, a collector’s booklet, and slipcover. 


DEAD & BURIED [1981] (Blue Underground) – This is yet another beautiful, perfectly nuanced 4K upgrade from BU, which brings out the best in Steven Poster’s atmospheric lighting, which only enhances the appeal of this already fantastic film. This 3-disc set, which includes a UHD, Blu-ray, and a soundtrack CD of Joe Renzetti’s score, is loaded with the usual illuminating extras BU is known for having. 


THE DEAD ZONE [1983] (Scream Factory) – In what is considered one of the best Stephen King film adaptations, David Cronenberg’s most accessible film finally gets the recognition it rightly deserves with Scream Factory’s new Collector’s Edition Blu-ray. Alongside a vast array of new and archival special features, SF’s flawless 4K scan of the original camera negative is a sight to behold and is the best it has ever looked. A superb release in every way!


THE DUNGEON OF ANDY MILLIGAN [1965 – 1984] (Severin Films) – Following their exhaustive AL ADAMSON box set from last year, the folks at Severin has outdone themselves yet again with this all-encompassing descent into the world of Andy Milligan’s fascinating filmic oeuvre. Highlighted by the once thought-to-be-lost uncut versions of TORTURE DUNGEON (1970), BLOODTHIRSTY BUTCHERS (1970), and THE MAN WITH TWO HEADS (1972), every film in this lovingly assembled box set features brand new transfers and a wealth of extras including Andy Milligan’s Venom, an excellent 128-page book written by Stephen Thrower. Again, the folks at Severin have truly outdone themselves, and this may well be the very best release of the year!


THE EUROCRYPT OF CHRISTOPHER LEE [1962 – 1972] (Severin Films) – Collecting together several of the iconic star’s more obscure European outings (including the worldwide disc debut of Giuseppe Veggezzi’s intriguingly odd CHALLENGE THE DEVIL [a.k.a. KATARSIS, 1963]), Severin’s meticulously curated box set also includes 24 episodes of Theatre Macabre, a polish TV show (for which Lee delivered the intro and outro), numerous rarely-seen documentary shorts, archive interviews and so much more. The set also includes a superb 88-page book from Lee biographer Jonathan Rigby. Essential!


FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN [1973] (Vinegar Syndrome) – Thanks to the tireless folks at Vinegar Syndrome, this long-awaited HD release of Paul Morrissey's undisputed cult classic has arrived in fine style indeed. Beautifully packaged with 2 Blu-rays and a UHD, the film includes Polarized 3-D, Anaglyph 3-D, and flat viewing options, as well as a multitude of archival and newly-produced extra features, including a new audio commentary from Samm Deighan, Kat Ellinger, and Heather Drain. It’s so great to finally have this film back in active circulation again and looking so good too!


FREE HAND FOR A TOUGH COP (Fractured Visions) – Although never released on these shores in an English-friendly version, this solidly entertaining caper from director Umberto Lenzi gets the royal treatment via Fractured Visions’ recent UK Blu-ray. The copious extras include two audio commentaries (one from Mike Martinez and the other from Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson) and a wealth of on-camera interviews with many of the film’s cast and crew courtesy of Eugenio Ercolani. Great fun and worthy of repeat viewings. 


HOMEBODIES [1974] (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) – Barely released theatrically and never issued on disc, Larry Yust’s black comedy (which occasionally and effectively delves into horror territory) is an offbeat sleeper, which deserves to have a larger audience. Six old folks refuse to move from their rundown tenement and eventually resort to murder, but despite their very unorthodox efforts, the wrecking ball looms closer and closer each day. Anchored by several terrific performances (with Paula Trueman being a particular standout) and plenty of insightful social commentary, it’s great to have this underrated gem finally available on Blu-ray. 


THE HOUSE OF LOST WOMEN [1982] (Severin Films) – Impossible to see for years, this is one of Jess Franco’s more twisted, iconoclastic works, which seeks to shock and provoke at every instance. Featuring standout performances from the ever-reliable Antonio Mayans and the utterly shameless Lina Romay, Severin’s new Blu-ray looks just about perfect especially given the inherent nature of such a low-budget production. Extras include Severin’s ongoing doc In the Land of Franco Part 6 with Stephen Thrower and Mayans visiting several filming locations in southern Spain, an on-camera interview with Thrower, a detailed audio essay from Robert Monell, and a bonus 16-track soundtrack CD of Daniel J. White music cues.


THE HOWL OF THE DEVIL [1988] (Mondo Macabro) – Never officially released on any home video format anywhere in the world, MM has come to the rescue of this excellent late-entry effort from Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy. Featuring a new 4K scan from the original camera negative, the fact that this even got released is a cause for celebration, so having it look this good is a minor miracle. MM also includes interviews, an archival promotional making-of doc, and an audio commentary from Naschycast’s Rod Barnett and Troy Guinn. 


HUNTING GROUND [1983] (Mondo Macabro) – Far from your standard rape/revenge film, Jorge Grau’s intelligent look at an idealistic defense attorney (Assumpta Serna) and the vagaries of justice is a real slow burn and possibly one of Grau’s darkest films. As usual, MM’s first-rate presentation of this once exceedingly difficult-to-see shocker looks just about flawless, which features a brand new 4K scan taken from the film’s OCN. Extras include a lengthy archival interview with the director, while the now OOP Limited Edition also included a 20-page booklet with writing from Ismael Fernández.


THE KINDRED [1987] (Synapse Films) – Showcasing loads of practical F/X work, this long-gestating project from the folks at Synapse Films arrived earlier this year and was well worth the long wait! Starring Amanda Pays, Rod Steiger, and Kim Hunter, this outstanding creature feature has never looked better than it does here with an exceptional new 4K transfer of the 35mm interpositive. Housed in a beautiful Steelbook and slipcover, this 3-disc set (one Blu-ray, one DVD, and one CD) also includes many extras, including Inhuman Experiments, a thorough documentary from Michael Felsher’s Red Shirt Pictures. Highly recommended!


MAGDALENA POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL [1974] (Dark Force Entertainment) – This unapologetically lewd German rip-off of THE EXORCIST (1973) from Schoolgirl Report director Walter Boos’ has finally been given a much-needed overhaul. Long unavailable, Dark Force’s new uncut—and properly framed—transfer is quite the revelation. To make up for the lack of extras, an appropriately lurid slipcover was included with the first pressing. 


MAIL ORDER MURDER: THE STORY OF W.A.V.E. PRODUCTIONS [2020] (Saturn’s Core Audio & Video) – Even if you’re entirely unfamiliar with Gary Whitson’s W.A.V.E. Productions, Ross Snyder’s and William Hellfire’s documentary is sure to entertain. Set-up in 1987, Whitson, a dedicated horror fan, began making SOV (shot-on-video) films, which he churned out quickly and very, very cheaply. Anyone willing to fund one of his productions that had a particular fetish or bizarre request resulted in several far-out films, many of which generally revolved around horror or sleaze. Interviews with many of the actresses associated with W.A.V.E. (including Tina Krause) and an embarrassment of video clips from the over 400 films Whitson produced keep things from ever getting dull. While it may not convert newcomers to appreciate Whitson’s zero-budget efforts any better, it’s a great doc nonetheless and a fantastic debut for Saturn’s Core Audio & Video.  


NIGHTMARE ALLEY [1947] (Criterion Collection) – Set against the seamier side of carnival life, this is the darkest of film noirs, with Tyrone Power and Joan Blondell giving unforgettable performances. Criterion’s new restoration is a noticeable improvement over Fox’s 2005 DVD, further enhancing Lee Garmes' outstanding photography. Thankfully, James Ursini’s and Alain Silver’s audio commentary from that earlier disc is ported over alongside several new interviews and extras. 


QUEENS OF EVIL [1970] (Mondo Macabro) – Frustratingly difficult to see for many years in anything approximating a decent English-friendly version, thanks to the continued efforts of MM, Tonino Cervi’s mesmerizing film finally arrives on Blu-ray in spectacular fashion. Aside from a much-improved transfer, the disc also includes several worthwhile extras including an audio commentary from Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger and a wonderful interview with the film’s late star Ray Lovelock. For those lucky enough to snag the 2-disc Limited Edition, a 20-page booklet with writing from Roberto Curti and a DVD of the full unexpurgated 3h20m interview with Lovelock was also included. Read my review at Diabolique.


PRIMETIME PANIC [1981 – 1983] (Fun City Editions) – Highlighting the works of producers Leonard Hill and Philip Mandelker, this 3-disc box set includes a trio of must-see TV films including Joseph Sargent’s FREEDOM (1981), Roger Young’s New York set DREAMS DON’T DIE (1982), and Jonathan Kaplan’s DEATH RIDE TO OSAKA(1983) starring Jennifer Jason Leigh. Several illuminating audio commentaries from Amanda Reyes, Dino Prosperio, Lars Nilsen and Fun City’s Jonathan Hertzberg add further enjoyment to this already spectacular release. A fantastic set, which gets my highest recommendation!


RAIDERS OF ATLANTIS [1984] (Severin Films) –Missing-in-action since Prism’s 1983 Beta/VHS videocassette, Ruggero Deodato’s indescribable, crazy mix of sci-fi, post-nuke and ’80s action finally gets a new lease on life via Severin’s beautiful new Blu-ray. As usual, Severin adds plenty of bang for your buck with a couple of on-camera interviews with Deodato and the film’s DP Roberto D’Ettore Piazzoli and an entertaining audio commentary with Vinegar Syndrome’s Brad Henderson and actor Tony King.


ROBOTRIX [1991] (88 Films) – Category III superstar Amy Yip headlines this wildly entertaining Hong Kong action film mixing elements from both THE TERMINATOR (1984) and ROBOCOP (1987), martial arts, gore, and a healthy dose of erotica to max out that Category III rating. 88 Films’ Limited Edition Region B Blu-ray contains the uncut film with both English and Cantonese audio options along with several unique features and an 80-page perfect-bound book on the film and Cat III cinema. 


WEIRD WISCONSIN: THE FILMS OF BILL REBANE [1965 – 1988] (Arrow Video) – Usually relegated to cheap, non-authorized bargain DVDs, most of Bill Rebane’s work has never acquired any sort of respect. While not for everyone, Arrow Video has nonetheless compiled most of the director’s work into a lavishly-produced 4-disc box set, which houses six of his films along with David Cairn’s feature-length documentary WHO IS BILL REBANE? (2021). Of course, as with any box set from Arrow Video, they don’t skimp on the extras, including several newly-produced featurettes, interviews, and Discovering Bill Rebane, a terrific overview of the man’s films from Stephen R. Bissette. 


YEARS OF LEAD: FIVE CLASSIC ITALIAN CRIME THRILLERS, 1973 – 1977 (Arrow Video) - Encompassing a wide array of subgenres, including troubled youths, terrorism, high-octane action, and even a giallo-styled thriller, this staggering, beautifully-packaged 3-disc Blu-ray box set should whet the appetite of anyone looking to branch out into unfamiliar—but highly-rewarding—Eurocult territory. Highly recommended! Read review.






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