Friday, December 18, 2015

VW's Favorite Blu-ray Discs of 2015 - Editor's Choice

Simon MacCorkindale and John Mills in QUATERMASS.
The following should not be mistaken for a list of my favorite films of 2015. Frankly, I didn't see enough new movies this past year to compile a proper list - I liked a few well enough, but the best films I saw this year were all vintage titles; the best film I saw in 2015 for the first time was probably Monte Hellman's THE SHOOTING (1966), which - with its companion feature RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND - was the subject of an excellent Criterion package late last year.

Therein lies the trouble with assembling these annual lists. The new list is always undone by one's attempts to catch up with what was missed last year, or last year's late arrivals, not to mention the intensified need to keep up with television, where more and more quality viewing tends to surface. (I racked up close to 40 individual seasons of different television series this past year.) My viewing this year was also somewhat stalled by the amount of audio commentary work I took on, which required me to watch close to a dozen different films several, several times.

So, this may not be a definitive list, but for now, it's mine. If there's something blatantly missing from my list, it's possible that I simply haven't seen it.

This year, because there were so many, and because the issues of film restoration and preservation should always be at the heart of what VIDEO WATCHDOG endorses, I am going to restrict my Top 10 (my list worked out to exactly 10) to those releases which embody the most important digital restorations of the year. This list is then followed by some other notable releases of this past year. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have orange bolded those titles which feature audio commentaries of mine. I'll comment on these as inspiration strikes.

Mary Arden in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE.


FAVORITE RESTORATIONS (in order of preference)

QUATERMASS, Network (UK)
     Hands down, this dual presentation of Nigel Kneale's final Quatermass teleplay in its four-hour miniseries and two-hour feature (THE QUATERMASS CONCLUSION) versions are the most radically improved digital restorations of the year - and the competition was intense.

BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, Arrow Films and Video (UK)
     This breathtaking 2K restoration is the most beautiful testament to the genius of Mario Bava to date.

VINCENT PRICE IN SIX GOTHIC TALES, Arrow Films and Video (UK)
     The closest thing we're likely to see to a proper box set of Roger Corman's Poe Cycle, missing only THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, but pairing state-of-the-art restorations of the remaining half-dozen with the best-available scholarly commentary in spoken and written form.

KWAIDAN, Criterion
     Masaki Kobayashi's masterful ghost story anthology has always looked sumptuous on home video, but this latest release adds glassiness, increased depth and more pregnant color to intoxicating effect. 

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE, Arrow Films and Video
     Filmed with a deliberately hazy look, giving it the appearance of a story dredged up from the subconscious, Walerian Borowczyk's wicked masterpiece must have been a devil of a job to restore digitally. The job has been done to perfection and - for the first time - is completely uncut.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, Twilight Time
     If you've bought this title before - even if you've bought this title on Blu-ray before - you need to buy it again. 4K restoration, and it shows. This beloved Jules Verne adventure has never looked or sounded better, not even on the big screen.

MASTERWORKS OF AMERICAN AVANT-GARDE EXPERIMENTAL FILM 1920-1970, Flicker Alley
     This collection cherry-picks for sterling preservation a number of the most essential experimental short films of the 20th century. Not all the contents are of equal value or improvement, but some titles here are revelatory and the validity of the project is unassailable. 

HOUSE OF BAMBOO, Twilight Time
     Another 4K 20th Century Fox restoration, and presented for the first time on home video in its original 2.55:1 screen ratio. A must see for the sheer shock value of its storytelling, its use of compositions in-depth, and its preservation of a Japan that no longer exists. 

IN COLD BLOOD, Criterion
     This is another 4K restoration but what it really sells is cinematographer Conrad Hall's penetrating use of black. And the 5.1 remix of Quincy Jones' abrasive, slippery, finger-popping jazz score is a powerhouse.

LEGACY OF SATAN and BLOOD, Code Red
     A Bryanston Pictures double feature from 1974 restored to a luster it couldn't have had on Deuce and drive-in screens back in 1974. with Andy Milligan's BLOOD the beneficiary of almost 10 minutes of never-before-seen footage.


Yul Brynner in KINGS OF THE SUN.

OTHER FAVORITES (in alphabetical order)

BLACK CATS (Fulci's THE BLACK CAT and Martino's YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY), Arrow Films and Video

BLACK SABBATH, Kino Lorber
     The AIP version of Mario Bava's anthology horror classic, available in the States for the first time since its laserdisc bow and appreciably better-looking than the greenish Arrow Video release. For the record, this disc also includes a brand-new audio commentary by me, different to the one I recorded for the Italian version a decade ago.

EATEN ALIVE, Arrow Films and Video
     One of my favorite Tobe Hooper films, filmed with so much atmospheric fog, haze and harsh color lighting that it must have been a particular challenge for the restoration team. Like seeing the film for the first time in some ways, and buttressed with the usual wealth of extras for which Arrow is reknowned.

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH, Twilight Time

EUGENIE... THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION, Blue Underground

EYES WITHOUT A FACE, BFI

JE T'AIME, JE T'AIME, Kino Lorber
     For many years almost impossible to see, Alain Resnais' French time travel opus - more LA JET√ČE than SOMEWHERE IN TIME - is now the American science fiction disc of the year, in my opinion. Also - as it is presented here, with bonus content related to screenwriter Jacques Sternberg - an important testament to an important national chapter in science fiction cinema generally overlooked in English language histories.

KINGS OF THE SUN, Kino Lorber
     This was a new discovery for me, but more than anything else I saw this year for the first time, it made me feel like I was enthralled in a third row seat at a kiddie matinee. With Leo Gordon as a Mayan warrior!

LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY'S ISLAND OF DR MOREAU, Severin Films

MARQUIS DE SADE'S JUSTINE, Blue Underground

NIGHTMARE CASTLE, Severin Films
     With the extended Italian export cut of the main feature (THE NIGHT OF THE DOOMED) and bonus Barbara Steele features CASTLE OF BLOOD and TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE, this is a generous package and a rich immersion in the Golden Age of Italian Fantasy. 

QUEEN OF BLOOD, Kino Lorber

STORMY WEATHER, Twilight Time

     A beautifully glossy disc, and the isolated music tracks make this one particularly appetizing for us jazz men.

TWICE-TOLD TALES, Kino Lorber

TWO FOR THE SEESAW, Kino Lorber

      Ted McCord's black-and-white widescreen photography on this one blew me away. An unexpected Blu-ray of tremendous visual force, particularly recommended for those who mourn the old New York.

VIDEODROME, Arrow Films and Video
     A movie that continues to reveal itself, and ourselves, to us as our society continues to mutate - and this deluxe set, with its bonus disc of short films, is the ultimate Cronenberg feast.

VOODOO MAN, Olive Films
     Frankly, this is here as a sentimental favorite only. The film is intact but the restoration has taken all the whites out of the picture, dulling its veneer. This is the only time I'll say this on this list: save a few bucks and go with the DVD. 

WOMAN OF STRAW, Kino Lorber
     This Basil Dearden thriller came as a real surprise to me. From its advertising, I had always assumed this to be a torrid romance picture, but it's a Hitchcockian thriller on par with, or better than, the work that Hitch himself was turning out during this troubled mid-1960s period. With Gina Lollobrigida, Ralph Richardson and Sean Connery, caught between his second and third Bond pictures and looking supernaturally handsome.
     
"X" - THE MAN WITH X-RAY EYES, Kino Lorber

Keep watching this entry in the days ahead, as I'm going to try my best to add a few more worthy titles before Christmas hits.







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