Those of us who grew up in the time of video stores still remember the sense of pride we felt when we watched a film that we thought nobody else knew existed. It became a badge of honor if we found someone else who had seen that random film, a bonding moment between two people who were “in the know” with esoteric cinema. We’d show it to friends, while we were proud of the notion that we were exposing them to something they had never seen. Then, something started to happen in the last 5 to 10 years. Suddenly, our fellow movie nerds now had companies that were releasing Blu-rays of all those strange gems we thought would get no better than those crappy DVD transfers so familiar to us.
For the longest time, Criterion was the only company that even remotely satisfied movie buffs with their releases. Now there’s an abundance of great companies like Arrow Video, Shout/Scream Factory, Kino Lorber, Mondo Macabro, Synapse and many more, that are turning out HD special editions loaded with extras to satisfy even the most insatiable of movie buffs. That being said, there are still some movies that have slipped through the cracks, movies that always seem to be brought up in conversation. The following are ten films we need on Blu-ray stat. *Note: I’m only including films in this list that have yet to be released in America.
Often mistaken for GHOULIES, this is one of those movies that I was convinced only I knew about for years. I had it on betamax and watched it constantly. As I got older, I realized there were quite a large number of folks that loved it just as much as I did. If you haven’t seen it, you really should seek it out because it’s amazing and has everything you could ever want in a movie. Telekinesis, telepathy, a cat boy, zombies, a spider-headed woman and farting mud people, to name a few of the wonderful nasties that await a group of teenagers (who honestly all look well into their late 30s) in this uber strange cult classic. If you aren’t sold on farting mud people, I have nothing to say to you.
2. MESSIAH OF EVIL
It actually irritates me that Scream Factory hasn’t swiped this one up yet to release. Messiah is a creepy subtle little shocker along the lines of CARNIVAL OF SOULS that has some incredibly unsettling elements along with striking cinematography. It’s criminally underrated and relatively unnoticed despite Rob Zombie’s reference to it in LORDS OF SALEM. Rebekah McKendry raved about it on Fangoria, and it seems to appear on every horror list I have come across discussing cult horror. Unfortunately, the DVD transfer is pretty sub-par and the sound leaves a lot to be desired. Any Blu-ray I’ve seen of it isn’t HD, just compressed with other films on compilations. So naturally the question becomes – what kind of witchcraft do we have to perform to get this in a special edition already!?
3. LIQUID SKY
As far as indie cinema goes, LIQUID SKY had surprising success. Made on a modestly small budget ($500,000), it went on to become the most successful indie of 1983, earning over a million dollars. Featuring a cast of unknowns, this sci-fi tale is about as strange as you can get. Margaret (Anne Carlisle) is a bisexual drug-addicted fashion model whose boyfriend (also played by Carlisle) beats and belittles her. Despite her troubles, Margaret finds a sense of freedom once aliens eventually land on her roof with the intent to extract the endorphins released when one has an orgasm (the drawback being, once you have one, you disintegrate). LIQUID SKY also features a bizarre synth score that’s begging to be released by Death Waltz or Waxwork and an ultra-new wave/electroclash visual aesthetic (possibly inspired by the costume design of BLADE RUNNER). The film was so popular that Playboy even featured a spread with Carlisle in character as Margaret. It’s begging to find a new audience to appreciate its strange happenings.
4. DEAD OF NIGHT
Though already available on Blu-ray in the UK, an American distributor has yet to release this overlooked creepy British anthology film. In it, an architect shows up at a home for consultation in the countryside. Once he arrives, he claims to have dreamt of the group of people gathered there, to the point of being able to predict little occurrences before they happen. Yet, he also reveals to them that something terrible will happen by the end of the day. In an effort to ease his increasing anxiety, the guests take turns telling their personal experiences with the supernatural – because that’s going to help, right? Each story becomes creepier than the former, leading us to the climax that may (or may not) prove that he was right all along. Nearly all of DEAD OF NIGHT‘s segments are pure nightmare fuel, highly reminiscent of the best “Twilight Zone” episodes, especially those written by Richard Matheson. The most famous story features a young Michael Redgrave and his menacing talking ventriloquist dummy. I’m actually still surprised that Criterion still hasn’t released a version.
5. THE KEEP
Widely considered to be the fly in the soup of Michael Mann’s career, released three years before his masterpiece MANHUNTER, THE KEEP was troubled from the start. Mann’s original cut, a whopping 210 minutes, rejected again after poor screening reactions, then cut to 96 minutes. Making just slightly over half of its budget, the film was a box office failure and Mann went on to disown it. When a group of WWII Nazi soldiers try to loot an abandoned fortress, they mistakenly awaken Radu, a Der Golem-like monstrous entity that picks them off one by one. Maybe its poor reputation comes from the sensitive subject matter (i.e. The Holocaust), or the complaints that the narrative is incomprehensible due to the various cuts and troubled production, but THE KEEP is actually a lot better than it’s made out to be. For starters, it’s cinematography is beautifully shot by Alex Thompson, who worked on both LEGEND and LABYRINTH, and has the same fantastical smoky aesthetic as the former. Besides that, there’s an amazing score by Tangerine Dream that accompanies the movie which deserves to be heard on vinyl. On top of it all, google “The Keep Bluray” and you’ll find an abundance of returns about fans’ requests to give this the HD treatment.
6. SOUL SURVIVOR
The overlooked creeper was the debut feature written and directed by Thorn Eberhardt, who went on to create another cult classic you may have heard of, NIGHT OF THE COMET. The story follows a woman who survives a plane crash, only to be hunted by zombie-like people who leer at her from afar and pursue her. If the concept sounds familiar, that’s likely because IT FOLLOWSowes a great deal of debt to SOUL SURVIVOR. In fact, a remake of SOUL SURVIVOR would be the perfect sequel to the indie hit, as blasphemous as that may sound. The similarities are striking. Both films have ominous synth scores, that Gregory Crewdson-style cinematography, somnambulist villains slowly and methodically pursuing the heroine and a visual aesthetic steeped int he early 80s (though one is actually from the 1980s). SOUL SURVIVOR itself owes a great deal to CARNIVAL OF SOULS but is just as effective in unnerving the viewer. It would be nice if the fans of NIGHT OF THE COMET could be able to see the film Eberhardt made only one-year prior.
7. TOURIST TRAP
Now, this one is technically a cheat because Full Moon has already released a Blu-ray for David Schmoeller’s beloved cult horror film. Yet, here’s the thing – it’s a shitty transfer. The picture is too dark, there is no restoration because it’s the same quality as the DVD, and they cut at least five minutes off the end of the film. Naturally, fans were none too pleased with the shoddy way TOURIST TRAP was handled and even Schmoeller himself took to the internet to voice his displeasure. This one is in serious need of a company that is going to treat it with respect and not just trying to make a quick buck off of the fanbase. If you’ve never see TOURIST TRAP, I suggest you do so immediately. To explain the plot would ruin the surprise of this unique low-budget creepfest. For extra credit, watch the 2005 HOUSE OF WAX remake, which is a lot better than people give it credit for, because it’s got more in common with TOURIST TRAP than the original HOUSE OF WAX.
Gregg Araki’s NOWHERE is probably the best of his “Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy” that followed cult faves THE DOOM GENERATION and TOTALLY FUCKED UP. Araki has since become a bit more nuanced compared to his earlier work, with indie darlings like MYSTERIOUS SKIN and WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD, as well as directing three episodes of the controversial “13 Reasons Why”. NOWHERE is his magnus opus though, a chaotic and trippy ride through a day in the life of a group of LA teenagers that includes alien abductions, sexual promiscuity, graphic violence and a giant talking cockroach. It was also known for featuring a bevy of stars who went on to become famous like Mena Suvari, Ryan Phillippe, Denise Richards and Kathleen Robertson. Aside from that, there’s a barrage of cameos by folks like John Ritter, Beverly D’Angelo, Shannon Doherty, Rose McGowan, Christina Applegate, Traci Lords, and more. With a soundtrack filled with Araki’s impeccable musical taste featuring Lush, Slowdive, Elastica, Radiohead and many others, NOWHERE is the quintessential teen angst film of the late 90s. Here’s some real bullshit – there has never even been an American DVD release! C’mon guys, seriously!?
MALEVOLENCE was the debut horror film of director Steve Mena and was one of the first adopters of the nostalgic style so many films possess now. With a similar mood to that of HALLOWEEN (slow burn horror with a brooding synth score), the film follows four bank robbers who choose the wrong farmhouse to meet up at after their heist. In 2003, nobody was doing homages to the 70s and 80s horror yet and though some of the acting in MALEVOLENCE is a bit questionable, it nevertheless remains an original film and a creepy effort for its time. You more than likely have heard of its prequel BEREAVEMENT, that was released 7 years later, starring Michael Biehn and then-newcomer Alexandra Daddario before she went on to play a pivotal role in HBO’s “True Detective” and the lead in the abysmal TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D and equally terrible-looking BAYWATCH remake. Mena planned a third film but unfortunately scrapped it due to budget issues and the lead dying after already shooting 75% of the script.
10. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
Before you say anything, I know there are Blu-rays of George Romero’s classic. However, the film still being in the public domain creates a problem. That basically means that anyone can distribute a version of the film. ANYONE. The old lady down the street can technically sell copies of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as long as she reprints them. So, said “Blu-ray copies” tend to be reprints with little restorative effort. What I want, what all of us horror fans want, is a Blu-ray that treats the beginning of his legacy with the utmost respect it deserves. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is not just a classic – it’s culturally significant. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is just as important as GONE WITH THE WIND, CASABLANCA, CITIZEN KANE or any other number of cinematic historical landmarks. I know most of you agree with me that it would be a shame, especially considering his recent death, if George Romero was not given the proper honor of what he contributed to cinema, by having his debut film immortalized by someone willing to treat it as the seminal work it is. Remember, there would be no “Walking Dead” without this film, nor would there even be a “zombie film” subgenre. Take note Criterion: if you are willing to declare every Wes Anderson movie an “important classic” by adding it straight to your roster, give Romero some goddamn respect for what he contributed to film history. Give Barbara, Johnny, Ben (and even that asshole Cooper) the “highest technical quality” that you give to far less significant films.